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Oral history interview conducted by Sady Sullivan
May 23, 2012
Call number: 2011.019.032
SADY SULLIVAN: So we're rolling, and I will slate the interview. Today is May23, 2012. This is Sady Sullivan from Brooklyn Historical Society. This interview is for the Crossing Borders, Bridging Generations Oral History Project, and if you would introduce yourself to the recorder.
PETE BEVERIDGE: My name is Pete Beveridge. My real name is Lowell PiersonBeveridge, Jr. Uh, I've lived in Brooklyn since 1954.
SADY SULLIVAN: And for the archives, what's your date of birth?
PETE BEVERIDGE: [Date redacted for privacy]
SADY SULLIVAN: And where were you born?
PETE BEVERIDGE: In Newton, Massachusetts, but I didn't stay there long. Imoved to New York City before I was a year old.
SADY SULLIVAN: Great, so let's start with that. Tell me about your parents andyour family growing up. 1:00
PETE BEVERIDGE: My -- (cough) my -- my father was a, uh, professor at -- uh, atfirst at, uh, Wellesley, and then at Columbia, and he was -- uh, he was a musician. My mother was trained as a school teacher, but she -- when she got married, as was the -- the case in those days, she had to stop teaching. And, uh, so I was born in Newton, and my parents -- my parents moved to New York in, uh, 19-- in the fall of 1930 where my father started work at, uh, the faculty at Columbia University. I grew up there, uh, and -- uh, but that was only -- that was -- part of my life was in New York City, but every summer, for three months, 2:00uh, during my father's vacation, we returned back to an island off the coast of Maine where my grandfather was born, and my father, uh, and his siblings were, and spent a great deal of time. There -- there was still fam-- family land there, so we had sort of a family compound on the island where my father, and his seven siblings, and their partners, and my 16 cousins spent most of the summer. So that was a very important part of my upbringing and my education. I went to, uh, private schools in New York City, and to -- attended Horace Mann Elementary School, which was then part of, uh, an experimental school for Columbia's Teacher's College. I had a progressive education, never learned to spell. Uh, then I went to Horace Mann School for Boys up in Riverdale for six 3:00years, uh, which is, uh, one of the so-called Ivy League Prep Schools in New York City. And, uh, from there, I went to Harvard, uh, where I studied history. Um, while I was at Harvard, I was, uh, involved in, uh, in -- in, uh, student politics, to a large extent. That was the -- the time when, uh -- well, in 1948, Henry Wallace was running on the progressive ticket on -- for -- on the -- for president, and, uh, I was very much taken by his campaign and became -- I was involved in it. And, uh, then out of that, it became -- a progressive 4:00movement was organized, and I was the head of the Young Progressives at Harvard, uh, for several years, uh, and while there, I also joined the Communist Party, and I was active in the Marxist Study group, uh, John Reed Society. Uh, I became interested in uh -- in, uh, African history, uh, which -- which became my major, and I studied, uh, later at Columbia, where I got my MA, um, mainly because, uh, my -- uh, when -- when I started studying history, I realized that, uh, there were no courses in -- in African history, or African American history being given at -- at the college level. And this, uh, peaked my interest, as well as my anger, and, uh, I decided to do something about it. 5:00
SADY SULLIVAN: And where do you think that -- where did that interest comefrom, or where did that awareness come from?
PETE BEVERIDGE: It's -- it's hard to say, because, uh, up until -- uh, up untilI went to college, I had had virtually no contact with Africans, or with people of African descent, uh, except for, uh, in a service capacity. Um, when I went to Harvard, at that time, there were four African Americans in my class of 1,000, which was about the highest percentage they'd had until that time. (laugh)
SADY SULLIVAN: And what graduating class were you?
PETE BEVERIDGE: Uh, 1952. Uh, one of them, Jim Harkless became a good friendof mine. He was part of our Tuesday night poker group, and he was President of 6:00the Glee Club, and -- of which I was a member. And we were also in agree-- in agreement politically, although he was not active as I was, and he never actually joined any of the political groups. Uh, (cough) but we -- uh, so I -- I guess you could say he was my first, uh, social contact. Actually, the year I went to -- the year I went to college, uh, the year be -- the summer before, I was part of a, uh, Quaker study group in Philadelphia called, uh, Interns in Industry. And (cough) they got a group of -- of college level people together 7:00for the summer to learn more about, uh, industrial relations and unions, and the idea was we would all go out and get jobs in industry in Philadelphia, and then have seminars at night. And that was a period of depression, and very few of us actually got jobs, which was an education of itself, just trying to get work, uh, in Philadelphia. Uh, I ended up, uh, with a job for Heublein, sweeping the floors in the distillery. Uh, but that was all to say that, uh, I met there, uh, Ojeamiron from Africa, uh, who, uh, for that -- for that brief period, became very -- a close friend of mine, and he, I guess, peaked my interest in Africa. Uh, it's hard to -- it's hard to pinpoint why -- why my -- why my 8:00interest went to that direction, but that's--
SADY SULLIVAN: And what was the reaction when you were -- when you wanted tomajor in African history at Harvard, and what was the reaction of faculty and other students?
PETE BEVERIDGE: Um, there was -- uh, the -- the -- in my -- my classmates werenot particularly interested one way or the other. Uh, they -- uh, the faculty, uh, didn't -- since they didn't have anyone who knew anything about the subject, 9:00uh, were, I think, amazingly accommodating. They allowed me to declare that as my major. I should correct that. My -- my major was -- was just a -- was just history. It was not designated, but I was allowed to write my thesis, and take -- and take courses in -- uh, the only -- the only courses available were in the anthropology department, and in the -- and courses in, uh, British, uh, Colonialism industry. I took that, and I did -- and I did an independent thesis on, uh, South Africa. When I got to Columbia, uh, where I went for my MA the following -- after -- the year after I graduated, (cough), uh, I -- I -- I wanted specifically to -- to, uh, specialize in African history, and they 10:00allowed me to -- to designate that as my major, but I still did my -- I still had no -- uh, no one on the faculty who -- well, no one who was competent to examine me, which was nice. Uh, but I had, uh, courses, uh, again, in anthropology and -- uh, and, uh, British Colonialism. I was fortunate that year that there was a visiting professor (cough) from South Africa, uh, by the name of Z. K. Matthews, who later became, uh, very active in the, uh, ANC, African National Congress in South Africa. Um, he ended up being indicted as one of the 11:00-- uh, in the treason act trials after he went home. And he was a -- a very impressive instructor. His field was anthropology. (cough) And, uh, I became quite close to him that year that he was here. Um, I was with Gene Weltfish, who was a, uh, anthropologist, and was under investigation by the, uh, House un -- un-American Activities Committee. (cough) The following year she was dismissed from Columbia faculty. Uh, and I did my, uh, master's dissertation on 12:00-- again, on South Africa on the, uh -- (cough) on the, uh, development of the -- of the Constitution around -- in, uh -- when the, uh, Boers took over the control of the government. And that -- it was that year that my -- that I met my wife. Um, I became -- when I was at Columbia, I became active in the, uh, Council on African Affairs, which was a -- uh, a group organized by, uh, Doctor W. E. B. Du Bois and, uh, Paul Robeson, and headed by Alphaeus Hunton, the -- he 13:00was the executive director. And I did, uh, research and writing, uh, for their newsletter. And, uh, it was -- sometime that fall, they had a -- a-- uh, a fundraiser for a film that they were, uh, producing called Action in South Africa. Um, the editor of the film was my future wife, Hort-- Hortense Tee, and she was the hostess for this fundraising party they gave, and, uh, I attended, uh, the party. And even though the great Paul Robeson was at that party, I 14:00didn't -- I had eyes only for Hortense Tee.
SADY SULLIVAN: Can you describe the party, what the space was like, what werepeople doing?
PETE BEVERIDGE: Hortense was -- what we called Tee was living, uh, on the topfloor of a four -- four -- four -- four-story walkup on 125th Street on the east side with two women room -- roommates. Uh, it was, uh, a typical Harlem, uh, tenement. Uh, I couldn't really tell much about her from that evening, since it was full of people. Uh, I really can't -- I don't -- I don't remember who else 15:00was there, but -- uh, except that there was a -- that we showed -- we showed the film, and Paul was full of praise for the film, and anxious to get it -- it's got it's ways of getting it out to be shown. Uh, but the rest of the party was like any other party, a lot of drinking, and dancing, and a lot of talk. (laugh)
SADY SULLIVAN: And was it a mixed crowd?
PETE BEVERIDGE: Uh, yes, but not very mixed. I was -- um, at that time, I hadbecome -- as I said, become active in the council, and also in African student's group, and I began -- used to be one of the very few white faces at social 16:00gatherings, uh, and which was the case then. The -- the -- the supporters of the council, and the people who did the hard work in the office was an integrated group, one of the few places in the city where that happened at that time.
SADY SULLIVAN: Can you talk more about that? I'm interested to get into yourrelationship and marriage, but can you talk more about how you -- what was your process of political awareness, awareness of addressing privilege and racial justice? Tell me about your growth in that time period. 17:00
PETE BEVERIDGE: At -- um, at the time, when I looked -- when I graduated fromHarvard, uh, my social circle was, uh, almost entirely white, with the exception of Jim Harkless, uh, as I said before. Um, when I went to -- when I went to Columbia the following year, uh, it -- uh, still, most of my classmates and most of my social activity at the beginning was predominantly white. There were a -- there were a few more African Americans at -- at Columbia than there were at 18:00Harvard, more in the graduate school, um, but, uh 19:00 20:00 21:00 22:00 23:00 24:00 25:00 26:00 27:00 28:00 29:00 30:00 31:00 32:00 33:00 34:00 35:00 36:00 37:00 38:00 39:00 40:00 41:00 42:00 43:00 44:00 45:00 46:00 47:00 48:00 49:00 50:00 51:00 52:00 53:00 54:00 55:00 56:00 57:00 58:00 59:00 60:00 61:00 62:00 63:00 64:00 65:00 66:00 67:00 68:00 69:00 70:00 71:00 72:00 73:00 74:00 75:00 76:00 77:00 78:00 79:00 80:00 81:00 82:00 83:00 84:00 85:00 86:00 87:00 88:00 89:00 90:00 91:00 92:00 93:00 94:00 95:00 96:00 97:00 98:00 99:00 100:00 101:00 102:00 103:00 104:00 105:00 106:00 107:00 108:00 109:00 110:00 111:00 112:00 113:00 114:00 115:00 116:00 117:00 118:00 119:00 120:00 121:00 122:00 123:00 124:00 125:00 126:00 127:00 128:00 129:00 130:00 131:00 132:00 133:00 134:00 135:00 136:00
0:27 - Introduction and involvement in student politics
5:00 - Majoring in African history at Harvard University
13:36 - Political awareness and racial diversity in social circles
20:54 - Background and childhood of wife, Hortense
26:28 - Courtship with Hortense and encounters with racism
37:26 - Family tension following engagement to Hortense
48:14 - Marriage to Hortense
57:55 - Housing discrimination and white flight in Brooklyn
70:53 - Community organizing and political activism
77:14 - Belonging to an interracial family
80:51 - Local activism and involvement in racial politics
86:42 - Joan Maynard and work on The Liberator Magazine
97:19 - Contributions to the African history curriculum
101:47 - Shirley Chisholm's congressional campaign
107:56 - Pursuing a career in interior design
113:21 - Adoption of son, Jesse
128:39 - Parents' backgrounds and conclusion
Oral History Interview with Pete Beveridge
Pete Beveridge was born in Newton, Massachusetts and raised in New York City. His father was a college professor at Columbia University in New York City, and his mother was a teacher. Beveridge received a B.A. in history from Harvard in Cambridge, Massachusetts and an M.A. in African history from Columbia University. While in college, he became involved in student politics and activism. He later lived in Harlem and Brooklyn with his wife, Hortense.
In the interview, Beveridge discusses his initial interest in African history, civil rights, and communism as a student, as well as the subsequent activism that led to FBI scrutiny. He also discusses his courtship and marriage with his wife, including the prejudice and racism they experienced as an interracial couple in the 1950s and 1960s. In addition, he talks about adopting and raising their son, Jesse.
CitationBeveridge, Pete, Oral history interview conducted by Sady Sullivan, May 23, 2012, Crossing Borders, Bridging Generations oral history collection, 2011.019.032; Brooklyn Historical Society.
- Beveridge, Pete
- African Americans
- Community activists
- Discrimination in housing
- Education, Higher
- Interracial marriage
- Racially mixed families
- Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
- Manhatten (New York, N.Y)
Finding AidCrossing Borders, Bridging Generations oral history collection