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Linda Patricia Leach-James

Oral history interview conducted by Vivian Millicent Warfield

January 12, 2017

Call number: 2016.027.3.05

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WARFIELD: Well, here we are. Today is January 12th, 2017 and I am Vivian Millicent Warfield from the Weeksville Heritage Center. I am with Linda Patricia Leach James and we are here at the Weeksville Heritage Center today. This oral history interview is from Brooklyn Historical Society's Voices of Crown Heights project. Now, if you would, Pat, please introduce yourself, giving your full name, your birth date and where you were born.

LEACH-JAMES: Hi. My name Linda Patricia Leach-James and I was born in Crown Heights, Brooklyn in 1951.

WARFIELD: Oh, thank you.

LEACH-JAMES: You're welcome.

WARFIELD: Well, may I call you Pat?

LEACH-JAMES: Sure, of course.

WARFIELD: Okay, for the interview purposes, how, describe your childhood, growing up in Crown Heights, if you could.


LEACH-JAMES: My childhood in Crown Heights was a great childhood. We had so much fun. And really, I had forgotten so much of my childhood, I'd really not thought about it in so long until I started, you know, talking to people and, for this project and trying to jog my memory because it has been a while, but in looking back I really realize that, you know, I had a great time, a great childhood in Crown Heights and in Brooklyn in general.

WARFIELD: What were the demographics in those days? I mean, when you were growing up in Crown Heights.

LEACH-JAMES: Well, my street, my particular street was pretty mixed. We had Black and White. We actually had a Hasidic family on the corner, who I pla-- she wasn't allowed to co me out of the gate. It was like a yard that was fenced in. But we would play. I'd be on the sidewalk and she would be inside the gate and we would play and we would talk and I remember her name was Blima, to this day, I don't know how I do, but I remember her well and I can still see her 2:00face, which you know, I hadn't thought about her in quite a while.

WARFIELD: Did she have, was her father, were they Orthodox? I mean, did they --

LEACH-JAMES: They were Orthodox, yeah, yeah.

WARFIELD: The Hassidim.


WARFIELD: Did you have extended family? I mean, well, tell me about your family makeup, your nuclear family.

LEACH-JAMES: No, I didn't have an extended family. My mom and my father were married for 62 years until my mom passed away and I have a brother, a younger brother and a younger sister.

WARFIELD: Mm-hmm. Did you all have the same playmates? I mean, basically.

LEACH-JAMES: Well, my sister is 12 years younger than I am, so it's kind of like a totally different upbringing that she had than my brother and I had. But my brother and I did share some of the same playmates, especially on the block and around the corner and we all played together, you know, guys, girls, we played together and also back then, since we did a lot of visiting from 3:00house-to-house, my friends would come to our house, his friends would come to our house, so we all knew everybody and --

WARFIELD: What kind of games did you play? Like in-house, like on a rainy day what a game would be, versus a sunny day.

LEACH-JAMES: Oh gosh, we played -- In house, my brother and I would play, you know, gosh, I can't even think -- just in general, just you know, we'd watch TV. We played Monopoly, we played -- oh gosh, I can't even think. I think of more outdoor games. We played Hot Peas and Butter, we played Red Light/Green Light, you know, I jumped Double Dutch with my friends, my girlfriends and we'd run up and down and skate and ride our bikes. We were outside all the time. I mean, winter, spring, summer and fall we were outside.

WARFIELD: And again, your block, what were the cross streets?

LEACH-JAMES: Between Brooklyn and New York, Lincoln Place, between Brooklyn and New York Avenues.


WARFIELD: And there was the one Hasidic family. Tell me more about the --

LEACH-JAMES: That I remember. You know, and I really don't remember that much about them. I remember her and I do remember that that house was right on the corner and there is a garage, I guess, behind the house that was fenced in and she would come out in the yard into the garage area. There was no building, but just a parking pad, I guess. And I don't know, we just kind of formed a friendship and we would talk and we would, you know, play, whatever we played, you know, whatever kind of little game it was and you know, it was fine.

WARFIELD: What was the relationship between your parents and her parents? Was there any communication?

LEACH-JAMES: I don't know. You know, I really don't remember any more than maybe they might have said hi and bye if they saw each other in the street. I really don't know. I remember asking my mom why she couldn't come out, you know, of the area, so she just said, "Oh, well you know, I guess her parents 5:00don't want her playing on the sidewalk or don't want her playing in the street," I mean, I don't think there was too much more she could have said, but you know, I did ask her why.

WARFIELD: And what do you remember about the other ethnic groups that lived in your immediate neighborhood?

LEACH-JAMES: Well, we had I guess a couple of Jewish families, but I guess, I don't think they were Orthodox. We had a judge, Judge and Mrs. Cohen, who lived a few doors down and then I had another woman, Mrs. Tuley, who was right next door. I don't know what her origin was. And then a lot of Black families on the block. Because I guess when my parents bought the house, they bought the house in 1949, I think it was, and I guess that was, you know, when the White families started moving out of the area, I guess. Because we did have more Black families on the block than we did White, but there were still some. And 6:00everybody interacted, you know, with everybody. It was fine, you know.

WARFIELD: Had your father been in the military?

LEACH-JAMES: No, he did not go in the military, no.

WARFIELD: So Crown Heights was where you, I mean, this street in Crown Heights is where you were born and raised and your brother, your siblings as well.

LEACH-JAMES: Mm-hmm. Yep, that was it. We still have the house there. My brother and my sister still live there, yeah.

WARFIELD: Is that a block of attached houses? Or single --

LEACH-JAMES: Mm-hmm. Yeah. Mm-hmm. Brownstones.

WARFIELD: Okay. How about your summers? How did you spend your summers, you know, what do you remember about, for you specifically? Did you go away? Did--?

LEACH-JAMES: We spent a lot of time playing outside, but we did go away. My parents would take us on, you know, car vacations. You know, we would go upstate or out of state or wherever it was and you know, I remember we always stayed in like these little motels where you park the car right in front of the 7:00room and that kind of thing. And I guess in, later on in the '50s, well, earlier, my parents or my father and my two uncles bought some land out in Speonk, Long Island, which is right, Westhampton, it's in the township and so we used to go out a lot there in the summertime. My uncles both bought, built houses and my parents held out until the '90s and finally built a house out there. But we used to go out and spend, you know, summers and weeks at a time at my uncle's house, on both sides, so yeah, we did that a lot during the summers.

WARFIELD: What about your peers? I mean, who were your peers? I mean, who did you socialize with during the summers? Did you do --?

LEACH-JAMES: Well, out there is was primarily family, because both sides of the family had children and they were our age, so we did a lot of that. There was a lot of family stuff out there. At home in Brooklyn, you know, I socialized with 8:00my friends from school, who became my friends outside of school, who are still my friends. I socialized with kids on the block. You know, with some friends around the corner who, you know, we would just meet each other. It was that kind of environment, that kind of neighborhood. You just met each other and you became friends. And sometimes you know, my parents even became friends with their parents and you know, friendships that have lasted and you know, many, many years, many decades. And you know, I guess, and actually two of my friends who actually started, well, one of them I started second grade with at St. Gregory the Great on St. John's. The other one who was a year ahead of us. I spoke to them, too, to you know-- go-- oh, you know, "What did we do? Do you remember, you know, do you remember this? Do you remember that?" So we kind of had a little stroll down memory lane. But yeah, you know, I socialized with 9:00them a lot, because we were back and forth to each other's houses. We went to the -- the library up on, you know, the Brooklyn Public Library and also the library that was on Eastern Parkway and Albany, I think it was. We would go there, we'd go to the Loew's Cameo on Eastern Parkway. We did a lot. We, you know, we really -- In looking back I can say we really, really did have a great time, a great childhood [unintelligible].

WARFIELD: And in the summers was there any Sag Harbor or Martha's Vineyard [unintelligible] --

LEACH-JAMES: Yeah. When I went out to Sag Harbor, because my parents had friends out there, but it was usually on a daily basis, so you know, from time to time. But we did, in later years, I guess in my high school years and late elementary school we went up to Oak Bluffs, out to Martha's Vineyard for two weeks every summer, you know. So that was great, too.


WARFIELD: Nice. [Interview interrupted.] You were -- We were talking about, this is interesting, we were talking about Oak Bluffs and your mom's friends and all of them. What were you saying about that?

LEACH-JAMES: Well you know, it was, my mom was, she was a member of Jack and Jill, so we were in Jack and Jill when we were children.

WARFIELD: Just for our listeners, what is Jack and Jill? Could you define what Jack and Jill is?

LEACH-JAMES: It's a social group. I guess there was one maybe in about 1951, 1950, around that area because I think when I joined I might have been, gosh, I was really three, four years old, something like that. And how it originated I really do not remember off the top of my head, but it was a social group, a Black social group made up of middle class Black families, you know, doctors, lawyers, businessmen, that kind of thing, to kind of put your children in 11:00contact with children of a like upbringing or a like family dynamic. And it was, it was social, you know, it has grown into more civic now, I think. But back then, you know, we did a lot. We were in groups, divided by age. We, you know, had activities, we had meetings, and we socialized with each other. We got to know children that we, you know, have maintained friendships with, some of them till to this day.

WARFIELD: And from what I understand, it's national and international, it's grown to be that large.

LEACH-JAMES: Yeah, I think it is international now, but it's definitely national. And even when I left the country for a while and when I came back and my children were in high school, they didn't know anyone here and they didn't know any Black families or any Black children here at all. So I joined Jack and Jill and [laughter] you know, there were Jacks, they were Jills, so yeah.


WARFIELD: What decade, what years are we talking about when your children returned to the States?

LEACH-JAMES: In 1993 we came back after 10 years in France. So they grew up over there and so consequently we would come home during the summer from time to time, you know, to visit but they didn't know anyone here other than family. And they would stay on Lincoln Place also with my mom, when you know I'd go to work at Cambridge & Leach during the summer sometimes and so my mom would keep them and they got to know kids on the block and they played with kids on the block, but other than that, you know, they really didn't have any friends. So when they came back, my oldest one was a sophomore in high school and I just wanted them to know some people and that was the way that I knew how to get to know people, because even I had lost contact with a lot of people that I had known, so.

WARFIELD: He was a sophomore in high school in Europe?

LEACH-JAMES: No, when we came back here, she was a sophomore in high school.


WARFIELD: Oh. What school was that?

LEACH-JAMES: She went to Midwood. My oldest went to Midwood and the youngest went to James Madison.

WARFIELD: What's interesting about the educational side of the equation, you were born and raised in Crown Heights and what schools did you attend?

LEACH-JAMES: I went to P.S., the school that's on Eastern Parkway now and I think Utica, is it 167, I think. I went there for a really, really short term in kindergarten, but then my mother became Catholic and I transferred to St. Gregory the Great on St. John's on the corner of Brooklyn. And that's where I stayed for elementary school until I went to high school at Bishop McDonnell on Eastern Parkway between Franklin and Classon.

WARFIELD: Do you remember your parents, any discussions, did you overhear any discussions about, amongst the family members as to why you would be sent to a 14:00Catholic school, parochial Catholic schools versus public education?

LEACH-JAMES: I don't really remember. It was just I think that when my mother converted to Catholicism and joined St. Gregory's they had a church, or they had a school, rather, and it was right next door and so that's where I ended up going.

WARFIELD: What order of nuns did you have? Do you remember?

LEACH-JAMES: Oh gosh, they were --

WARFIELD: What did they wear? [laughter]

LEACH-JAMES: Oh my goodness, you know, they wore the typical nun habit. I do not remember the order.

WARFIELD: Were they strict?

LEACH-JAMES: They were very strict. Oh my gosh, they were very strict. Yeah, especially with the boys, the poor boys. [laughter] They really had a hard way to go, but they were strict and we did not mess around, I will say that.

WARFIELD: Did any of your peers, I mean your playmates from the neighborhood attend the school as well?

LEACH-JAMES: Mm-hmm. Yeah, yeah. Two of my best friends who are still two of 15:00my best friends today, yeah, we started second grade together.

WARFIELD: What were the demographics in those days? The ethnic makeup of the school.

LEACH-JAMES: Well, the school was mixed. It was primarily Black. But there were still white children in there, quite a few, but it was primarily Black.

WARFIELD: And the white youngsters, what was their ethnicity? Do you remember?

LEACH-JAMES: Well you know, a lot of Italian. Polish, I believe. There were a lot of Black children from the Caribbean coming over, who began to come over and then, yeah.

WARFIELD: Now that's interesting because, you know, Crown Heights is known for its diversity and at one point the Caribbean community started coming in en masse. Do you remember? What are you memories of that? Were there always the Caribbean families? Or did you notice that it was an increase at some point?


LEACH-JAMES: Well you know, when I was younger I really didn't notice a lot of Caribbean families. I really, really didn't. I did have a really good friend around the corner whose parents were from Jamaica, but it was more of the -- I really don't know how to phrase it; I don't want to say old school Caribbean, you know, where you know, they would come and it would be more of an assimilation than it may be now. You know, it really didn't come up, that you know, they were from the Caribbean or they were from Jamaica. It was just you know, they were here and you know, we knew that they were from Jamaica, I guess because it was conversation, you know, just in general, but I really -- it really made no difference one way or the other, frankly.

So Kay and I also are still friends, you know, to this day and our parents were friends and you know, they were in Jack and Jill with us [laughs] and the whole 17:00thing, so yeah, so yeah. I do remember a Caribbean influence starting, but I guess it started more so when I was in high school, maybe, more so than grammar school.

WARFIELD: Well, at St. Gregory's, was it recognized? Was that, well again, you said that people didn't put it out there, that they were from the Caribbean, but was it, do you discern that it was recognized by the faculty administration that there were people from the Caribbean in the school student population, so that's maybe the extracurricular activities; what were the extracurricular activities at St. Gregory's?

LEACH-JAMES: At St. Gregory's, I tell you, we really did not have a lot of extracurricular activities. We really did not. There were activities that involved the church because the church and the school were closely-- you know-- involved, closely intertwined. And I really can't think of anything other than 18:00I guess when we were in eighth grade we got to go to Rye Playland and that was our graduation trip, you know and oh gosh, we looked forward to that tremendously and you know, I --

WARFIELD: What about arts and education? Did they integrate the arts into the curriculum? Did you do anything, any drawing, any music classes?

LEACH-JAMES: We had not, you know, not that I remember any necessarily music classes in elementary school. Wait, no, I take that back. Because we did have the choir and I did sing in the choir. And that I think is probably mostly the music and I don't remember if they had a band with students or not; I really don't remember. But I do know they did have the choir and we did sing at the Christmas shows and the Easter shows and that kind of thing. And we put on 19:00plays, you know, I think that different grades would, you know, have a little skit to perform or a dance or a little show or something that you would do.

We did that. What else did we do? Hmm.

We had to attend 9:00 mass every Sunday without fail, and if you were not there you'd better bring a note on Monday. So we were at mass every Sunday until my friend Kay and I decided that we were going to go to the ice cream parlor on Nostrand Avenue for mass instead of actually the church and then we'd, you know, scoot on home after. But -- yeah, we, yeah, I guess that was pretty much it.

WARFIELD: Now your brother, what schools, what elementary school did your brother attend, and your sister, you had a brother and a sister.


LEACH-JAMES: My brother went to St. Gregory's also.

WARFIELD: Was he there the same time as you?

LEACH-JAMES: Yeah. He's two years younger than I am, so he was two years behind me in school. But yeah, he went to St. Gregory's until graduation and then he went to Power Memorial. But he only stayed there a short time. He didn't stay there long. The brothers were just a little too strict and I think that's where maybe some discrimination might have come into play. You know, they were very strict, especially with the Black students and so my parents took him out and he ended up going to Midwood.

WARFIELD: Did you, the two of you compare your school experience [laughter] at the end of the day? His being a boy and you're being a girl, did he have more stories to tell about his interaction with [laughter] the faculty [unintelligible]?

LEACH-JAMES: No, not really, you know, because I guess by the time we were in high school, you know how brothers and sisters can want, you know, the brother goes his way, the sister goes her way and so we really didn't have a whole lot 21:00of interaction as far as schooling and things like that. We really didn't discuss that much at home.

WARFIELD: Mm-hmm. But his experiences and you, as far as you remember, his experience at, what was his experience at St. Gregory's? Pleasant?

LEACH-JAMES: Yeah, I think you know, as much as everybody, anybody can, you know, their experience in elementary school and grammar school, I mean. It was a good time because as far as you know, your friends and recess and things like that. But then you know, again with the nuns, they were strict, to the boys really had to, you know, toe the line because they, you know, back then the teachers were allowed to slap you or they were allowed to hit you with the ruler and the eraser and I remember a lot of times the boys in my class, you know, having their knuckles, you know, beaten with those, with those rulers and you know, the erasers flying through the air and, you know, that kind of thing.

WARFIELD: What's your take on that; corporal punishment? [laughter]


LEACH-JAMES: Terrible. Oh my goodness it was. It was scary because you were really scared. You know, it was like oh, there was a hush in the class and you could hear a pin drop, you know, when the teacher would start to, you know, kind of reprimand somebody, because you were just hoping it was not you the next time. [laughter]

WARFIELD: Were your parents aware of the strict discipline and the hands-on penalties?

LEACH-JAMES: I think so. As long as it didn't go too far. Luckily I, you know, as being a girl, I didn't have to suffer too much of that. Now I do remember my friend Monica --as I was talking to her -- saying, "Oh, I remember getting slapped a couple of times." I was like, wow, really, [laughter] I don't remember that, but yeah. So I didn't have to deal with that, and my brother, you know, I don't know, really. Knowing him, he might have felt the wrath of the ruler from time to time, but I don't know. [laughter]


WARFIELD: Any experience with summer school; to make up classes or to get ahead?

LEACH-JAMES: In high school I did go to summer school, to Erasmus High School. Because -- I don't know, for some reason a good friend of mine was going to Erasmus after school, after elementary school and I was going to Erasmus, you know, my mother was like, oh no, you are not. You're going to Bishop McDonnell's. [laughter] So I did go to Erasmus for summer school. I think maybe one or two summers. Just to kind of advance and to, you know, kind of, well, one summer I did have retake a class in math, but you know, but I was happy to go there because it was a different-- It was a totally different, totally different experience than Bishop McDonnell's, because Bishop McDonnell was all girls.

WARFIELD: Now Bishop McDonnell, describe to me, give me a definition, Bishop McDonnell's was a--?

LEACH-JAMES: --was an all-girls Catholic high school and we also had nuns of 24:00different orders. They weren't all just one order. With St. Gregory's it was just one, and in Bishop's there were a number of different orders that taught there.

WARFIELD: Academic?


WARFIELD: Versus commercial, you know.

LEACH-JAMES: Well, it was both. You know, they had academic programs and commercial programs. But yeah, I was in the academic program.

WARFIELD: How many children of, you know, Black ancestrage were in the school -- during your time?

LEACH-JAMES: Bishop McDonnell was primarily White, a lot of Italian students. But I guess there were, oh gee, maybe 30 percent Black or you know, of ethnic origin rather than just the, you know, the Italian students or -- or the 25:00Europeans, you know, European students.

WARFIELD: Was there a Mother Superior?

LEACH-JAMES: Yeah, there was a Mother Superior. There was a whole chain of command, of which, now --

WARFIELD: Tell me about that, tell me about that.

LEACH-JAMES: -- I really don't remember too much about it, but I do remember that there was a Mother Superior. And a principal and -- Our Mother Superior I think was the head of each order, so at Bishop's it was more of principal and a vice principal and that kind of thing. At St. Gregory's there was a Mother Superior who was the head of the order.

WARFIELD: Were there convents associated with these schools?

LEACH-JAMES: Yeah, yeah. There was a convent, a brand new convent built, which is still there and it's funny because when I ride past there sometimes now I often wonder what is in that convent. Is it still the nuns or--? But it's right on the corner of --

WARFIELD: Probably condominiums. [laughter]

LEACH-JAMES: Probably. Probably. Right on the corner of Brooklyn Avenue and maybe -- Sterling? St. John's, Sterling, might be the corner of Brooklyn and 26:00Sterling, right across the street from the church, from the rectory.

WARFIELD: The rectory, now again, you know, for non-Catholic audiences, a rectory versus a convent, how did they function? What was the function of those?

LEACH-JAMES: Well, the convent was the nuns and those were the nuns that taught at the school.

WARFIELD: That's where they lived?

LEACH-JAMES: That's where they lived. And then the rectory was for the priests who, you know, administered the church and that's where they lived. Mm-hmm.

WARFIELD: Now, interesting, the uniforms. Because I know in those days the Catholic school children had to wear uniforms. Public school students didn't. They didn't have a uniform. What were your-- What was the St. Gregory uniform for girls?

LEACH-JAMES: We had white blouses and navy blue skirts and little navy blue crossties. And I guess we wore loafers or saddle shoes back then.


WARFIELD: And what kind of hosiery were you permitted?

LEACH-JAMES: We had, we could wear socks, regular socks, or we had tights in the winter.

WARFIELD: Mm-hmm. And the boys wore?

LEACH-JAMES: The boys wore basically white shirts with-- I think-- navy blue pants, if I recall, and the same little crossties.

WARFIELD: So, now the fact that you, let's go to the Bishop McDonnell, the secondary school, because -- percentage-wise, of your peers, your social peers, what percentage would you say attended Catholic parochial high school versus public school? Can you estimate?

LEACH-JAMES: I think in general most of my peers that I did attend elementary school with went to public schools.

WARFIELD: Mm-hmm. How did that make you feel?


LEACH-JAMES: I didn't really care one way or the other. I had never been to a public school. So I really didn't know the difference, other than that the public schools were, you know, and the high school were coed and I was in an all-girls' school so -- and actually I, in looking back, we really had a good time in an all-girls' school. It was different but you know, I really can't compare it to something else because I don't know the other.

WARFIELD: Did you have retreats? Did you go away for those retreats that Catholic schools had a tendency to organize?

LEACH-JAMES: Yes, they did have retreats, they did have retreats. I don't recall going on any, though, because I think they were, they were optional and I do know there were retreats, yeah, now that you mention it. I had forgotten all about that, but yeah.

WARFIELD: And how about your sister? What was her schooling?

LEACH-JAMES: My sister, since she was so much younger, St. Gregory's I think had closed for a while or it had turned into something else, I don't know. And 29:00she went to -- Woodward Elementary.

WARFIELD: What kind of school was that? Was it public or?

LEACH-JAMES: It was a private elementary school.


LEACH-JAMES: In Brooklyn. Not in Crown Heights, but it was in Brooklyn; I think on the other side of Atlantic Avenue, over in that area.

WARFIELD: How did your parents find that? How did you know about that school?

LEACH-JAMES: That I do not know. I really don't know. I guess through friends or you know, research that my mom had done. My mother, after my sister started school, was a school secretary, you know, a secretary in the school system. So you know, maybe she had a little bit of insight in, on the educational and you know, what was the good school, you know, where she could really, you know, be comfortable.

WARFIELD: In your household, insofar as including the disc-- the young people, the children, the offspring, did you have any-- did you and your brother and 30:00sister have any choice in the matter, as to where you were going to go to school?

LEACH-JAMES: No, we had no choice. [laughter] We went where we were told. No, we had no choice.

WARFIELD: Well, if you had had your druthers, where would you have, would you have changed your educational path?

LEACH-JAMES: Well you know, being young and crazy back then, I wanted to go to Erasmus because that's where, you know, the boys were, you know, the fun was, but you know, my parents were like, "I don't think so. You're going right up there to Bishop McDonnell," and that's where I ended up.

WARFIELD: Tell me more about the summer school, when you went to Erasmus, I mean. Did you notice a discernable difference in the deportment of the students population then, versus what you were accustomed to?

LEACH-JAMES: Yeah, I think so. I mean, you know, in Bishop's you know, the nuns were very-- they were strict as well and they definitely taught you what at that time a lady was supposed to do and not do. You know, a lady didn't chew gum, a lady didn't whistle, a lady didn't wear short skirts or --


WARFIELD: You didn't wear patent leather shoes because the boys could look up your skirt. [laughter]

LEACH-JAMES: Right, oh my gosh, yeah. It's -- Oh Lord, [laughter] right. So yeah, so when I went to Erasmus it was, you know, wow, this is so-- you know, there was, everybody was congregating outside and the boys and the girls and you'd go to the soda shop on the corner after school and hang out and it was, it was different. It was definitely different. Which I guess the boys made it different, [laughter] so. But you know.

WARFIELD: And what were the social activities in those summers? I mean, you had grown up at this point, so I don't know if playing in the street was part of your summer, if you didn't go away. What would you do?

LEACH-JAMES: No, but you know, I visited friends. We would visit each other's houses. You know, we'd go to the beach. We used to take the bus out to the 32:00junction and then take the bus out to Riis Beach every Sunday. Every Sunday and I think every kid in the Brooklyn-Queens area was on Riis Beach on Sundays. During the week we kind of, you know, we'd be I guess just-- you know-- around and-- You know of course, we'd go on vacation, you know, for a couple of weeks during the summer with our families and otherwise we just kind of went back and forth to each other's houses. We went-- You know, we listened to music, we went shopping downtown at A&S and you know, Korvette's and all those stores that used to be down on Fulton Street many, many moons ago. And we'd do that, we'd go to the movies.

We would go to skating at the Rollerdrome. We would do that a lot. We'd go bowling at Bedford Bowl up on Bedford, which is now-- which used to be across from, I think it was a block up, or maybe it was across the street from Ebbets Field, the apartments. And you know, we did a lot, we did do a lot.


WARFIELD: You know, I forgot to ask something about commutation. How did you commute to school? I mean, how far, let's say St. Gregory, how far was St. Gregory's from your residence?

LEACH-JAMES: It was around the corner. So we just walked, yeah. I was about a block and a half away from there, so it was really easy. But I went to high school, we either walked or we took the subway. You know, it was either the subway was, well, for me, Nostrand Avenue was one stop, but for my friend Kay it was two stops, because she got on at Kingston, so sometimes we would try and coordinate so that we could get on the same train and we'd get off and you know, walk on up to school.

WARFIELD: Did they have the strike, the transportation strike? I remember there was a large, a huge transportation strike in New York in the 1960s. I don't know if that affected you, but the school seems close enough where you could get there anyway.

LEACH-JAMES: Yeah, we would just walk. Mm-hmm. We'd walk.


WARFIELD: And how about your sister being younger, what high school did she attend?

LEACH-JAMES: She went to, oh gosh, it was St. Angela Hall.

WARFIELD: And where was that?

LEACH-JAMES: That is also on the other side of Atlantic, I don't think it's, is it Washington Avenue? Or -- it was a Catholic high school as well. Mm-hmm.

WARFIELD: Interesting. [Interview interrupted.] Okay. So I think, just generally, how do you think Catholic school prepared you for your adult years? And your successes. And failures, if there were any.

LEACH-JAMES: Well, they definitely did give me a -- you know, sense of, even outside of my home, because I guess my parents basically did this for me, but you know, just in general how to act and how to, you know -- turn that off. [laughter]


WARFIELD: [Interview interrupted.] Yeah, so we were saying, you know, how do you feel about your parochial Catholic school education prepared you for your successes in your future career, your future life?

LEACH-JAMES: Well, they did give me a great background as far as English and reading and writing and being able to write, you know, business letters and to be able to speak correctly and you know, to -- to have some kind of idea of where to go from here. You had to carry yourself, more or less. As far as the arts, I really don't think they did too much of that at all-- other than, again, having a choir and I think they did have a band. But as far as music or art, as far as drawing or painting, I don't think there was anything as far as that goes.


English, math was emphasized. Not so much science that I recall, but it was a big emphasis on English. Of course, we had to take religion, as long as we were in Catholic school. And also there wasn't a bit push towards language, as far as foreign language. We took foreign language, but it was on a very basic level.

WARFIELD: That's a high school level, say Bishop McDonnell?

LEACH-JAMES: Yes, high school. Mm-hmm. I don't think that they really paid much attention to the Black students. Excuse me. As far as trying to push you to higher education. I mean, they really did not give you any counseling. They did not help you with college selection or what you might want to major in or 37:00what your interests were. They really didn't help us with that at all. That was from my parents. But I can say that they did give you a good education as far as English and reading, business writing, you know, how to type, different things like that, that were required back then.

WARFIELD: Did you fi-- did you think that-- did the White students at school, were they treated differently with respect to college preparation? Or you know, like you were saying, what you didn't get a lot of, was it strictly the Black students or--?

LEACH-JAMES: We felt that it was strictly us. I don't know what they did too much with the Black students, but I know we didn't get anything -- with the White students, rather. We did not get any kind of college counseling, college, gearing us towards, you know, wanting a higher education or you know, it was pretty much, well, you know, this is high school and you know, after that you're 38:00on your own. I guess they did kind of try and steer us to the commercial program that they had in the high school. But we were in academics and now when I look back, there were a lot of the White students that were in the commercial program.

WARFIELD: Now, if you don't mind, what were parents' educational background?

LEACH-JAMES: Well, both my parents had some college. They did not graduate, either one, but they did have some college. My father went to work, you know, pretty early and my mother, as I said, she attended college and when my sister went to school, she went to work, well, back to work--as in, in the school system.

WARFIELD: Your mother, when your sister went to school?


WARFIELD: You mean elementary?

LEACH-JAMES: Elementary school. When my sister started school, yes, uh-huh.

WARFIELD: I see. So your mother -- was your mother at the headquarters for the Department of Ed? Or the Board of Ed? [inaudible]


LEACH-JAMES: No, she worked at the, one of the actual neighborhood schools, as a secretary, administratively. Yeah, she was in the administration.

WARFIELD: Now, when did you graduate from Bishop McDonnell?


WARFIELD: Now that's the same year that they had the Oceanville-Brownsville teachers' strike? Were you aware of that?

LEACH-JAMES: No. Not at all. I really knew nothing about that, to tell you the truth. No, I didn't --

WARFIELD: And you didn't hear your parents talk about the --?

LEACH-JAMES: No, not really. No, not that I can recall.

WARFIELD: What about the other -- Black consciousness movements that were taking place in the '60s, the mid-late '60s and onwards -- any influence in your life? Say at Erasmus, for example, afros and different attire, dashikis or any of that nature. Anything with changing socially?

LEACH-JAMES: Not so much at Erasmus, I don't think. But I think more or less when I started college, or even still in high school, maybe I remember there was an office of the Black Panther Society up on Nostrand Avenue. So I do remember 40:00that and I remember walking on Nostrand and you know, I'd see some of the Panthers outside of the office, you know, across the street and you know, my parents always kind of cautioned me to stay on the other side of the street, you know, but -- I do remember that. And I guess more, you know, when we got to college, I think we became more conscious.

WARFIELD: Now after school, at Bishop McDonnell's and we're going to flip over the-- to [unintelligible] -- where did you go to undergraduate?

LEACH-JAMES: To Hampton Institute, it was "institute" back then when I went; it's "university" now.

WARFIELD: Hampton Institute of Virginia?

LEACH-JAMES: But yeah. Mm-hmm.

WARFIELD: With Bishop McDonnell, after school, what did you do? I just want to get a sense of the social life. What were your favorite places to visit after class?

LEACH-JAMES: After coming out of class? Oh gosh, we all went to -- I think it was Sal's Pizza, around the corner. On Franklin Avenue. And that was the first 41:00place everybody headed to, Sal's, and you had to get there so you could get a table, get a booth, you know. You would go in and there would be so much smoke and-- because everybody smoked back then.

WARFIELD: Smoking?

LEACH-JAMES: Oh my gosh, everybody then smoked.

WARFIELD: Teenagers?

LEACH-JAMES: Yeah. Girls were smoking. And I didn't smoke, of course, but -- [laughter] and actually my friends and I did not smoke. But I'm telling you, there was a lot of smoke in that place. But anyway, that's where we would head to, every day after school we'd go there. We'd, you know, have a soda or whatever, maybe a slice of pizza, and then we would head on home.

WARFIELD: And who would be there? I mean, would there be students from other schools there?

LEACH-JAMES: No, it would be pretty much Bishop McDonnell. It would be Bishop McDonnell, you know. It would be all us in our little uniforms. There, you know, around the corner there was Prospect Heights and there was also Clara Barton, but they really did not socialize with us and we really did not socialize with them.


WARFIELD: Was there any tension between the girls from Clara Barton or the other school, Prospect Heights School? When they would see the Catholic schoolgirls, any tension?

LEACH-JAMES: You know, not really. I can say that, you know, we just kind of kept our distance because we were a little bit afraid [laughter] and the tensions I think were more between Prospect Heights and Clara Barton more so than with Bishop McDonnell girls. Because like I said, we just kind of kept to ourselves and you know -- I remember many a time, you know, we would come out of school and there would be a fight on the corner and it would be the girls from Prospect Heights and Clara Barton, you know-- or within each school. But we really didn't have a problem.

WARFIELD: Now tell me more about how your college selection took place. If you weren't supported in that effort from the faculty administration at Bishop 43:00McDonnell, how did it turn out that you, what was the process of your selecting your school?

LEACH-JAMES: Well, it was my parents and Jack and Jill. You know, Jack and Jill also, you know, was very, you know, definitely geared you towards college. I mean, there was no question and so you know, we had literature from, you know, we had college books that our parents would send for and we'd look through. And of course, you know, being Black, you know, it was Howard and Fisk and Hampton and Spellman, you know, the schools that you know we were kind of geared to and so I was happy as I-don't-know-what to go to Hampton Institute, I really was. You know, so-- [Interview interrupted.]

WARFIELD: [laughter] We were talking about--


LEACH-JAMES: College and college selection.

WARFIELD: --college, the college selection process. What about your peers, at this point socially, were you involved with any other social groups, other than Jack and Jill, were you getting into -- well, let me ask you something about your parents. Were they affiliated with any social groups?

LEACH-JAMES: Well, my parents had a social group of their friends and family that was the guys and gals and you know, they had their own little social events, you know, dances and fundraising events and we also did a lot with them in the summer, too. They would have a Father's Day Picnic and we'd go probably out to Sunken Meadow and you know, we'd-- I'll be out there and they'd have an auction; everybody would have to bring a little gift and they-- We would love to, you know, have our little pennies and bid on these items up for auction and so that was a big thing, too. But they, my father -- he was Hermit. One of the 45:00social groups also in, I don't know if it's just in Brooklyn. I think it's in Queens and-- Something like the Girlfriends or the Smart Set or something like that.

WARFIELD: What was it called?

LEACH-JAMES: The Hermits.

WARFIELD: The Hermits.

LEACH-JAMES: You know, he was not a member of the Comus, but he, you know, attended a lot of their-- They had social events. My mother, too, went to the Comus every year to the dance they have around Christmastime.

WARFIELD: Was there any, at this point when you're growing up now, and you're on your way to college and your brother's, you know, in his last couple of years of high school and so on, what -- did you start noticing, did you know? What did you notice about the interaction of the Hasidic community with the Black community? Since there was more Caribbeans coming into the community, did you discern any change in neighborhood relationships with people or how the Hasidim 46:00was reacting to the additional Blacks coming into the community? Any, just anything noticeable or--?

LEACH-JAMES: Well, I don't know. It just seemed like they became way more plentiful. I mean, there were a lot more Jewish families coming into the neighborhood and they were spreading out, you know, a lot more. In the beginning, I guess, they were primarily on, you know, Kingston Avenue, that area up there. But it seemed like the homes and you know, their places that they frequented were spreading out more. So when we were kids, they had the Jewish Center that was right on Eastern Parkway between Brooklyn and New York and my cousin lived across the street, so his backyard kind of abutted the backyard of the Jewish Center a few houses down. So my brother and I would go over and the three of us would climb through the backyards over the fences and up the poles and all so that we could get to the back of the Jewish Center and just look in 47:00the windows, just to see what they were doing in there. Because it was such a, you know, something that we knew nothing about, you know, so we were curious to see what are they doing in there? You know, how do they play? How do--?

You know, but all-- They had a basketball court and I remember seeing the guys in there playing basketball. [laughter] And that was about it. But we would do that all the time, we were so fascinated to see what was actually going on.

WARFIELD: What was your reaction to leaving town to go away to school and live on campus and away from home for the first time?

LEACH-JAMES: Wow, it was so exciting. I was definitely ready to leave home and see something different and I already had friends who were going to Hampton. My good friend around the corner, her brother had gone to Hampton the year before, and he's actually the one who really spurred my interest because he had such a great experience there and he would bring his friends home, too and you know, so that was a big draw. So I already knew some people there and-- So yeah, so I 48:00went there. A girlfriend of mine also, Krishna, who lives in Queens, she and I hopped on a bus at Port Authority with our trunks and our suitcases and we got off the bus the next morning, I guess, in Hampton, Virginia and we thought we had been transported into another world. Coming from New York City to Hampton, Virginia, it was like, "Oh my God, what have we done? Where are we and what do we do now?"

WARFIELD: [laughter] What do you mean? What kind--? What experiences would make you feel that? I mean, what was it, the way--?

LEACH-JAMES: It was just the country. It was down South and it was the country and we were, it was a tiny little town, I guess the biggest thing in the town was Hampton, was the school. Tiny little bus stop, tiny little building, the 49:00bus pulled up, you got off and that was it and we were like, "Oh my God," you know, "What do we do now? How do we get to the campus? Where are we?" You know, "This is crazy." So we, okay, I pulled up, you know, we got a cab and got us to campus. And once we got on the campus we were good, you know. We got our assignments, our room assignments, our roommates, the whole thing and so we integrated into the college life, which was a lot of fun. It was exciting, but it was really a totally, totally different thing, a total departure from New York City. Definitely was.

WARFIELD: And what years did you attend Hampton?

LEACH-JAMES: From 1968 and I was class of '72.

WARFIELD: Your brother, did your brother, after he was educated at Midwood, he finished at Midwood High School, what did he do? Did he go to undergraduate school?

LEACH-JAMES: He went to Howard. He went to Howard.


WARFIELD: And your sister?

LEACH-JAMES: My sister went to -- Fredonia, upstate, yeah.

WARFIELD: How do you feel that your education, again, your education at St. Gregory's and Bishop McDonnell prepared you for the undergraduate work at Hampton? What was your major? Did you have a major in the early days?

LEACH-JAMES: At first my major was communications, but then I changed to business. So, yeah. But I, you know, I really don't know what I could say about as far as elementary school having a real -- play on my college years or-- I really can't, I really can't remember anything more than, you know, just an elementary school.

WARFIELD: Did you continue -- what about your religious observations? Having been so, you know, indoctrinated in Gregor--


LEACH-JAMES: Yeah, I was definitely raised Catholic, like I said, in St. Gregory's we went to church every Sunday. When I went to high school my parents expected me to keep going to church every Sunday, which I did do for a while. But then I did stop going every Sunday and once I got to college, I mean I very rarely went to church and now it's the same thing. You know, I'm not a religious person. I guess I'm more of a spiritual person, but I just don't go into an organized religion at this point.

WARFIELD: And Virginia, you were there, did you stay beyond your undergraduate years?

LEACH-JAMES: No. I left after school and by that time I had a boyfriend who actually didn't attend Hampton, but went to Virginia Union. But was from the area and so I moved back, subsequently got married and had two daughters and I --


WARFIELD: Moved back to New York?

LEACH-JAMES: To Newport News, Virginia.

WARFIELD: Oh, I'm sorry.

LEACH-JAMES: Yeah, which is right next to Hampton and I had two daughters and then years later left there and then came back to New York for a while and then moved to France.

WARFIELD: Were your children educated in any schools in Crown Heights?

LEACH-JAMES: No. My children were educated in France.

WARFIELD: In France.


WARFIELD: And you were in France from?

LEACH-JAMES: Nineteen-eighty-three to nineteen-ninety-three.

WARFIELD: Oh, so you were in France during the Crown Heights riots.

LEACH-JAMES: Yeah, but strangely enough, I was home that summer that the riots happened. Yeah. We had come home for to visit for the summer and we were here.

WARFIELD: Now tell me about your parents. Your father had his own business, correct?


WARFIELD: Which was located?

LEACH-JAMES: On Nostrand Avenue. Which I don't know if that's really considered Crown Heights anymore, but --


WARFIELD: Mm-hmm. The zip code would tell you. Yeah.

LEACH-JAMES: But yeah, he had, when we were kids he worked for transit and he did insurance from our home, from our house and I guess in 19--, I guess it was '68 or '70, around there-- I can never remember which-- but he went into partnership with Pearl Cambridge and stayed that way for a few years and then she retired and moved and my father bought the business from her and just kept the name because the name was already known in the community, so.

WARFIELD: So you're being in Crown Heights during the riots, I mean, you were in the Brooklyn --

LEACH-JAMES: Yeah, I was right there, right around from Lincoln Place, right there, it's a [unintelligible] --

WARFIELD: Tell me about this.

LEACH-JAMES: It was just crazy. It was people in everywhere, in the streets. I mean you couldn't drive and I-- Having been, you know, away for so long, I 54:00really felt like a fish out of water because I didn't want to, you know, be outside at all. So we kind of stayed from that area where it was. But we were right in pretty much, you know, just at the very borderline of where everything was going on and I know my mom was, because of the way my father looked, she was terrified for him to go outside. Because she was so scared that the people, the Black people would mistake him for Jewish and beat him up, you know, because my father was light skin, light hair -- by that time he had white hair, you know.

So she was terrified for him to go and of course, he wanted to come out and he wanted to go up to the office and you know, check on the business and you know, make sure there was no damage and that kind of thing. But she was adamant that you know, he stay in the house.

WARFIELD: Was there damage to the, any personal or business property?

LEACH-JAMES: No, not that I remember, no. Mm-mm, no, we were good, you know, we--


WARFIELD: How did you learn of the cause of, of the riots? How did the information actually start to surface, that you remember?

LEACH-JAMES: I guess just, you know, on the news, on the TV, like you know, everyone else, I guess. You know, we heard, you know, all the sirens and the ambulances and the this and the that going on, you know, when the accident occurred. But I guess, you know, we learned like everyone else, through the news, you know, the media.

WARFIELD: And your children, where were your children at that point?

LEACH-JAMES: My children were with me. They were here. They were here. And of course, they didn't go outside at all. I mean, they were terrified of, you know, [laughter] going -- they -- It was funny because I mean, their upbringing was so much different from mine, you know, having grown up in France. Because when we left they were, I guess, what were they, three? Three, two and three? Something like that, or three and four, maybe. Because they started, I think 56:00Ashley was in kindergarten and Tiffany was in nursery school, when we first went over there. So they knew nothing of life over here at all. You know, the only thing they knew was coming home in the summer, you know, to visit my parents. So you know, they didn't venture out that much as, you know, not by themselves at all.

WARFIELD: What part of France?

LEACH-JAMES: Different places. We lived in a town called Malus, which was right on the border between Germany and Switzerland. Then we lived in Brest, which is on the other side, totally the other coast. And then we moved more towards central France, I guess, to a little tiny town called Autun and then we moved to Dijon, which is more known because of the mustard, so, yeah. [Interview interrupted.]


WARFIELD: So what was your reaction? What were the discussions you had, you know? Since you were inside watching the riots, you know, not to get what, what you're your reactions, your parents' reactions and--? What do you remember some of the defining discussions about this and who, what, where, when and the mayor of the City of New York, David Dinkins' involvement?

LEACH-JAMES: You know, I really can't remember a whole lot about that, I really, really can't. I remember the riots, I remember the people in the street. I remember my parents being really nervous and scared about what was going on and what the outcome would be and what the repercussions would be. You know, and other than that, I tell you the truth, I really don't remember too much more about it. As far as discussions, no more than the usual, you know; 58:00what happened, how awful it was. How, you know, and David Dinkins, what was he doing about it? You know, why was this continuing? You know. And again, my mother's worries about my father and his wanting to go, you know, check on his office to see, you know, how everything fared, but --

WARFIELD: And then it calmed down, life went on.


WARFIELD: In retrospect, what do you consider have been the strong points of the educational offerings in Crown Heights; just in generally, all the different types of schools and choices people had? What do you think were the strong points, if any and -- Crown Heights, versus maybe what you might have heard from peers who lived elsewhere? Just generally.

LEACH-JAMES: Well, you know, looking back or even then, you know, as far as having come up in Crown Heights, there were things other than the school, I guess, that were pretty much educational in that regard. There was the Brooklyn 59:00Children's Museum that we used to go to a lot and you know, that was an amazing place to visit. There was the regular Brooklyn Museum that, you know, we used to go to. My brother and, you know, our friends would walk up sometimes on a Saturday and we'd go in and just roam around, walk around. I remember they had a huge doll exposition and I would just go in there and look at the dolls and you know, time after time, it never got old.

So we would walk up there and we'd look at the exhibits and we'd, you know, check different things out, you know. So that was a big part of our education as well. I think -- and again, the Children's Museum, too, you know it was so, nothing like it is now, but it was so interesting to go in there and spend the day and you know, the scientific, little scientific things that they had, you know, exhibitions and things that they had back then. You know, it was just 60:00enjoyable and you know, even -- we'd spend a lot more time in the library, you know, than we do now, of course, than people do now, but we were in the library all the time, for book reports or for, you know, for information and looking things up for reports that we had to do for school or -- and then just you know, a lot of education; just on how to socialize and get along with people and different people and you know, how to act with adults and you know, just from everyday life, just you know, from meeting your neighbors, from your friends.

WARFIELD: Did Bishop McDonnell have a library in the school?

LEACH-JAMES: Mm-hmm. Yeah, we had a library in the school, yeah. Mm-hmm.

WARFIELD: And in retrospect, were the books very, I mean, were they -- what did you think of the collection they had? Can you remember?


LEACH-JAMES: You know, they had books. I don't remember what the genre necessarily they had, but they had regular books, I mean --

WARFIELD: Not Catcher in the Rye. [laughter]

LEACH-JAMES: They didn't have Catcher in the Rye. I was just going to say, they didn't have that one. But yeah, you know, they had a small library. But I mean, you know, when we wanted to really, you know, step outside the box, I guess, we would go to the Brooklyn Library up here.

WARFIELD: You said-- Just to go back to the -- what you indicated, there wasn't a lot of science. Was there a chemistry lab on the, at the school?

LEACH-JAMES: Yeah, there was. There was biology and chemistry and we did take biology and chemistry. But it wasn't something that was really emphasized, I must say. You know, you took a year and that was it, you know. You took biology for a year and then the next year you took chemistry and then I think the senior year you would take physics, if you were so inclined. But you know, at that point I was not so inclined, so I did not take physics. But --


WARFIELD: Are any of your family in Crown Heights now, in the school system, any grandchildren or anyone experiencing Crown Heights' education, occasional offerings now?

LEACH-JAMES: In Crown Heights necessarily? No, not that I can think of. My grandson goes to school in Brooklyn, but it's not in Crown Heights, it's in Bed-Stuy. But no, I really don't know anyone in the school system now, as far as that, in Crown Heights.

WARFIELD: Give me some thoughts, your thoughts on gentrification, what's going on in Crown Heights now and just, I mean, you're in, your profession is --

LEACH-JAMES: Insurance broker.

WARFIELD: Insurance broker. So -- how has the gentrification affected, how has gentrification affected your business, number one? And are there more educational institutions that you know of? Or anything that would lead you to see changes in the educational system, vis-à-vis the gentrification, like 63:00private schools, charter schools and brokerage negotiations, so on and so forth.

LEACH-JAMES: As far as the business goes, the business has definitely changed. We, you know, back years ago we had only Black clients, pretty much, I can actually say. But now we do have a mixture of clients. You know, the new people moving into the neighborhood, you know, buying the homes and renting apartments; coming in for renter's insurance, come in for their homeowner's policies, things like that. So the business has changed in that regard. Because our clientele has definitely changed. There have been so many changes just in the neighborhood in the last, I sure don't know how many years, but it seems like in the last really maybe five or six years it's really, really picked 64:00up to the point where it's almost unrecognizable, you know. It really is.

I remember -- Franklin Avenue, you know. Franklin Avenue, you would be leery riding down there in your car with the doors locked and the windows up. But now the restaurants and the little pubs and the little places and the people on Franklin, it's a totally, totally different scene. Which is funny because when I was coming up, you know, the area was mixed. There were, Nostrand Avenue, the businesses were Jewish-owned. Kingston Avenue, they were Jewish-owned. You know, we would go up to Nostrand Avenue and do shopping for shoes and for glasses and you know, there would be, Woolworth's I think was up there for the five and dime and you know, and all the other businesses were Jewish-owned and then it did change to, you know, most of the businesses being owned by the, you know, Caribbean population coming in or you know, the Black population that was already there.


But now it seems like, you know, it's changing back. And you know, I have mixed feelings about it, really. I really do. I think that all the -- the changes that have been going on with the businesses in the area, all the new restaurants, all the new things that have, are taking shape and they are good things, but I am just sorry that this is what it took for us to get them. You know what I mean? I just feel like Crown Heights has always been an area of beautiful homes. It's a beautiful area. It is-- Eastern Parkway is right there; it's a main thoroughfare through Brooklyn, Atlantic Avenue, a main thoroughfare. You know, the area should have been up-kept, invested in. We should have had a lot of the things a long time ago that we're getting now and why is that?


You know, why is it just now? Well, we know why. But I feel -- and again, it's, I feel that these things are good. It's nice for the neighborhood. But you know, it's just sad that we didn't have them before.

WARFIELD: And with all of the, the little, the munchkins, the toddlers that come along with the new families, the gentrifiers, I mean, they're very big on pre-kindergarten and daycare with their kids. So again, do you see some influence in the number of educational opportunities for--? Well what changes do you-- any discernible changes with that? And has it reflected in your business and brokerage insurance coverage and--?

LEACH-JAMES: Well you know, as far as that goes, my children are so much older that I really don't have too much knowledge about what's going on in the educational area, in the educational system right now, because I'm not involved anymore. My grandson is 10 and like I said, he goes to a charter school. It's in Bed-Stuy. As far as in Crown Heights, I do know that there are a lot more 67:00daycares than there used to be, a lot more daycare centers than there used to be. Which is good, because that has given us more business as well, [laughter]; commercial businesses, because we do get a lot of daycare business. So, but you know, I don't really see the children going to the public schools. Because when I -- there's a public school around the corner on Prospect between Nostrand and Rogers, I guess.

WARFIELD: That's Crown Heights?

LEACH-JAMES: Yeah. P.S. 138, maybe? I don't know. And that's right in the heart of the area that is being gentrified, you know, in Crown Heights, but when you go by there and you school letting out, you really don't see anything other than, you know, Black students coming out. So I really don't know what they're doing as far as schools and where they're going or if they're all going to 68:00private school, or if they're going to schools outside of the area, you know.

WARFIELD: How do you feel about your schools? One's relocated. St. Gregory's is no longer in the same space. Bishop McDonnell closed.

LEACH-JAMES: Yeah, it's a school for the deaf now. Yeah.

WARFIELD: Power Memorial closed, I believe. What are your feelings about the -- do you think -- what are your feelings [laughter] about that?

LEACH-JAMES: Well you know, I think it's a shame because you know, I can look back on my Catholic school education and there were a lot of positives to that. Definitely. And -- but I think just also a change of the times, too, because the Catholic Church has, you know, has remained pretty rigid in their doctrine and they don't really change much and I think they have lost a lot of people to the, to other religions or people who just, you know, have shied away from actually being in a -- I can't think of the word. A strict religion, let's say. 69:00So I do think it's a shame, but I think it's just also another -- you know, sign of the times, it really is.

WARFIELD: Where-- just I guess one more thing, in terms of, you know, you're being in the neighborhood and your business being around, you know. You're close by, and where do you see Crown Heights in the next 10 years?

LEACH-JAMES: I see Crown Heights being way, way too crowded. I mean, with all of the apartments that are going up in the area, I mean just everywhere, there's construction everywhere. I just see that it's going to be overrun, I really do. I mean, I think it's going to lose a lot of its neighborhoodiness, [laughter] if that's a word. You know. I don't know. I really don't know. I just see it's going to be so, so crowded. Because even now, you know, traffic is bad, 70:00parking is bad. You talk about, you know, the younger children who are now coming into the area and that kind of thing. Well you know, are they building new schools? With all of these mega apartment houses that are going up, are they building new schools? You know, are they building new grocery stores? New, you know, things like that that people need. You know, but now it's just like you see all of these apartments everywhere and you don't see much else. So you know, I wonder. But as far as I can see, Crown Heights in 10 years; I see it being, again, predominantly White and I do see it being overcrowded.

WARFIELD: And if you had your druthers, if you were able to sit back and design an educational curriculum, K through 12, for -- for whatever. Who, how, what would you include?

LEACH-JAMES: God, you put me on the spot there. [laughter] I have no idea.

WARFIELD: I mean, just a little bit of this, a little bit of that. Thinking 71:00about your best, your best educational experiences and what you enjoyed the most about your 12 years of education, if you could just pick and choose and plop this course, that course, this experience, that, what would a 12-year experience look like for a child?

LEACH-JAMES: One thing I would definitely put into my curriculum would be the requirement to learn a second language early in school, starting in elementary school. Just from my experience in France. I mean, my children, you know, they learned, they learned English in school. Because when they went, they went to French schools. But they learned English in school. And it was started in, I think it was maybe junior high or right before junior high, they started language classes and I think learning a second language is so important in this day and time. You know, whatever the language is, to be able to communicate in another language is fantastic. So that would be definitely one of the things 72:00that I would incorporate.

I'd also put a lot of emphasis, I mean of course, there's math and science and English and you know, the basics that we've always learned and science seems to be, you know, the deep way to go as well. I mean, it's important. Computer sciences, of course, have to be integrated into the schools and I'm sure the kids nowadays, they do have the computers and the, you know, computer science is a big part of their curriculum.

Arts. You know, the arts, music, and dance I think is so important to, you know, get your creative juices going, you know. Back then, back I guess when I was in school it wasn't emphasized so much because that wasn't really the way you wanted to go necessarily. But now, you know, there's so much to do in the music and in the arts and in dance and -- so yes, I would definitely incorporate a lot more emphasis on that as well.


And also you know, just on -- what is the word? I don't want to say-- social interaction. But how to, you know, understand people from other ethnicities, from other countries, from you know, different places, to understand the different cultures and you know, just more of the integration and to getting to know what somebody is about other than just, you know, looking straight ahead and just, you know, seeing your own. So I think that would be a good part of schooling and education as well.

WARFIELD: And if there was one defining experience [laughter] for you as young person growing up in Crown Heights, one defining experience, what memory sticks with you? [inaudible]

LEACH-JAMES: Hmm. One defining experience.


WARFIELD: That's the kind of thing --

LEACH-JAMES: Wow. I don't know. Yeah.

WARFIELD: Yeah, that's hard. Okay. There you go.

LEACH-JAMES: No, yeah, did, there have been so many good experiences growing up here and a couple of not-so-good. But you know, there have been so many good experiences, yeah, I really can't imagine growing up anywhere else. So.

WARFIELD: OK, wonderful. Anything you'd like to add? Because I think this is like, just been a perfect interview.

LEACH-JAMES: [laughter] Thank you.

WARFIELD: You've been a wonderful narrator.

LEACH-JAMES: Thank you. I've enjoyed it.

WARFIELD: Anything you'd like to add, just in terms of, you know, under the rubric of education and Crown Heights and your experience, anything else? Otherwise we're fine because this has been wonderful.

LEACH-JAMES: No, I really can't think of anything, because like I said, you know, I've been out of the educational system, it's been so long, I really don't feel like I'm, you know, that comfortable to really expand on that so much more. Because I really don't know what the schools are like now. You know, as I said, my grandkids are school now and the other ones are too little for school. So they haven't even started.

WARFIELD: The grandkids are in school in Bed-Stuy? Is that because-- Do they live in --?


LEACH-JAMES: Yes, the 10-year old, yes.

WARFIELD: Do they live in Bed-Stuy?

LEACH-JAMES: He used to, yeah. He lives over -- I guess it's Prospect Park, Lefferts Gardens now. But yes, he was, he's been there and he's in fifth grade so he's getting ready to go to junior high.

WARFIELD: So there were no schools in Crown Heights that were of interest for his education, versus there?

LEACH-JAMES: You know, I -- I don't know how my daughter decided on a charter school, I really don't. I think she applied to a lot of them and this was one that -- and actually the charter school that he's in does have a large emphasis on music and the arts. They have dance classes. They have music. They're learning, you know, instruments. They have music and my grandson enjoys it, he loves it.

WARFIELD: In Bed-Stuy.

LEACH-JAMES: So yeah. Mm-hmm.

WARFIELD: Well, thank you very much.

LEACH-JAMES: Thank you. I've enjoyed it.

WARFIELD: This has been wonderful.

LEACH-JAMES: And it's a stroll down memory lane.


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Interview Description

Oral History Interview with Linda Patricia Leach-James

Linda Patricia Leach-James was born and raised in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. Her parents, Walter C. Leach and Rosalind Boston (nee Leach), also raised a younger brother and sister. Leach-James attended St. Gregory the Great Elementary School and graduated from Bishop McDonnell Memorial High School in 1968. She went on to an undergraduate degree at Hampton Institute in Virginia. After marrying, starting a family, and taking the family abroad to France, she raised her children in France from the early 1980s to early 1990s. She then returned with her family to live full-time in Crown Heights. Leach-James took her father's previously-held position as a co-owner in the local storefront insurance brokerage firm, Cambridge and Leach. She is also a grandmother.

In the interview, Linda Patricia Leach-James speaks about her experiences in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn as a member of a middle class African American family. She discusses her upbringing and her educational experiences in Catholic parochial schools. Leach-James recalls key biographical turning points. She remembers arriving to college and attending Hampton Institute, a historically Black school. Leach-James references her time living in a few towns in France. She reflects on how her family reacted and coped during the August, 1991 event that's sometimes known as the Crown Heights riot. Interview conducted by Vivian Millicent Warfield.

This collection includes oral histories conducted by Brooklyn Historical Society (BHS), Brooklyn Movement Center, and Weeksville Heritage Center beginning in 2016 and collected and arranged by BHS in 2017. Each organization's interviews form a series within the collection. This oral history is one in the Weeksville Heritage Center series. The assembled collection was part of broader programming efforts by the three organizations to commemorate and examine the transforming Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn a quarter-century after the August 1991 conflicts and unrest sometimes called "the Crown Heights riot." The oral history collection features a broad range of narrators; educators, community organizers, activists, entrepreneurs, artists, bloggers, and longtime neighborhood residents, who describe the changes they have observed in their neighborhood over decades.


Leach-James, Linda Patricia, Oral history interview conducted by Vivian Millicent Warfield, January 12, 2017, Voices of Crown Heights oral histories, 2016.027.3.05; Brooklyn Historical Society.


  • Bishop McDonnell Memorial High School for Girls (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • Brooklyn Public Library
  • Erasmus Hall High School
  • Hampton Institute
  • Leach-James, Linda Patricia
  • Saint Gregory's Roman Catholic Church (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)


  • African Americans
  • Church schools
  • Community centers
  • Community development, Urban
  • Community identity
  • Education
  • Gentrification
  • Race identity
  • Race relations
  • Riots
  • School children


  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
  • Crown Heights (New York, N.Y.)
  • France
  • Virginia


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Finding Aid

Voices of Crown Heights oral histories