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Constance Lesold

Oral history interview conducted by Amaka Okechukwu

April 07, 2017

Call number: 2016.027.1.10

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OKECHUKWU: Okay this is Amaka Okechukwu interviewing Constance Lesold. It is April 7, 2017 and this interview is for the Voices of Crown Heights Project. So to begin if you could just state your name, your birthdate, and where you were born.

LESOLD: My name is Constance Lesold, often called Connie. My birthday is [date redacted for privacy], 1938 and I was born in Durham, North Carolina.

OKECHUKWU: Thank you so much. [laughter] Okay. So, to begin, can you tell me some of your first memories about moving to Crown Heights?


LESOLD: Some of my first memories? Well, I moved to Crown Heights; it seems to me that it was spring. And I particularly remember -- I'm an outdoors person, so I remember the park across the street and all the young people gathering from the three high schools, the girls' high schools, and the boys coming over to meet them in the afternoons. It was a gathering place anyhow, I remember, particularly meeting a young Italian man. There was, there were Italians in the neighborhood who wanted to be like Frank Sinatra, and he's telling me all this, his history. Across the street, across Classon was a Greek family, and they 2:00still had their trellises of grapes and what have you. It was a wonderful scene in terms of nature. There were still the mulberry trees on Eastern Parkway and Classon, and the, the elm trees, the trees lining the parkway were already suffering and that's a lot of how the Eastern Parkway Coalition, which I was part of starting, got founded, around trying to preserve those and cooperating with the landmarking of the parkway. But this building that we're in right now, at 225 Eastern Parkway, outside was a gorgeous garden. I was just thinking, coming in today, is, "Why can't people garden like they used to?" But they had 3:00a wonderful -- I believe they were from Poland -- family, and just was gorgeous. Filled with, it was filled with very colorful flowers and it was their joy and, and all.

OKECHUKWU: So, you mentioned a little bit around-- the Eastern Parkway Coalition forming around saving those trees. Can you talk a little bit more about the emergence of the Eastern Parkway Coalition?

LESOLD: Well, you know, Bishop -- now, Bishop, he was not Bishop Owen Augustine at that time -- he was, I believe, the head of the chemistry labs at Long Island College Hospital and he lived down at the other part of the parkway, just off Eastern Parkway on Schenectady, where he still is and owns the building. The 4:00Eastern Parkway Coalition got started-- Certainly my agenda, if you like, at that time was primarily about the beauty of the parkway and the trees that we were losing. Of course, there were always questions of safety, questions of, of, of building's safety. There were always many tenant organizations in the beginning, along the parkway, and larger ones. The Metropolitan Council on Housing, which still exists. The Brooklyn Tenant's Union predated, I think, the 5:00Eastern Parkway Coalition. So, we, we were concerned about that, but if you talk to Bishop Augustine, which I highly recommend, you would find that his agenda was probably from the beginning not just the trees. If the par-- if the coalition had gone the way he might have been more interested, he would probably have gone in the direction of something like a development corporation or something like that. That was not my concern. I was concerned with the buildings and the individuals as individual buildings and all. I worked very well, at that time, with the owners of the buildings around here. They were not big corporate entities, as they have become. And they were interested, of 6:00course, in making the parkway more beautiful, and, and so, you know, there wasn't this-- they lived, or were, more hands-on. They were here. The owners, the people who are involved at least, in the ownership of these buildings, they now, I think they may live wherever, you know. They've got management companies, and one of the amusing things to me along the way is that at one point, the management company -- I don't remember the name of it right now -- but one of the people of it was related to me by marriage. [laughter] He, and he wanted to fix my apartment up beautifully, because this was a Arabic Christian family that had married into my family down south, some of them, and 7:00they are very family-oriented and if you're part of the family, they're going to, they're going to do for you, and I said, "Don't, don't, don't, don't, don't do anything for me you're not doing for everybody else, please! You know, I live here!" [laughter] He, he, I guess he understood. But that, that, even at that point, the ownership of the building, here, was Jewish and Arabic, Christian and, and probably Arabic otherwise, too. I mean, it was, it was a very -- and it was, it was African American or African something. The, the people who were interested in making money of the parkway never had any problem getting together, but [laughter] they, they, they figure out how to do it. But anyhow, you have to stop me when I get off track because I'm famous as a Southerner for going way off to China --


OKECHUKWU: You're perfect for oral history because--

LESOLD: -- and coming back. [laughter] You hear that? Anyway.

OKECHUKWU: --we encourage that. So, when you moved to the neighborhood, what were the race and class dynamics of the neighborhood?

LESOLD: Well, as I said, this neighborhood, this -- not neighborhood. This building was all White, and I wasn't all that comfortable with that. I worked at Harlem Hospital at the time. My husband had found the building. He had grown up on Ocean Parkway, which was a beautiful, tree-lined parkway, too, and he had been born in Berlin and his family had come here to escape Hitler. And his mother was one of the typical Jewish mothers. She wasn't Orthodox or Hassidic, but if you read Chaim Potok's books about Eastern Parkway, which I highly recommend, you will see the mothers bringing their children to the 9:00Brooklyn Museum-- the gardens-- in those books, and that's exactly what his mother did. So he loved this part of the neighborhood. So when he found this apartment through a real estate agent downtown, he grabbed it up. Eight-room rent controlled apartment, and he had grown up in, in a very small room on Ocean Parkway, near Prospect Park. They loved the park, too, and so this was, this was very spacious and he didn't want to give up his cheap little one, two-room apartment over there, either, I assure you. But I wasn't, I wasn't going to live in a walk-up and have children, and so forth. His mother and father lived across the street from the place that had originally been their apartment, and I mentioned that because his mother said to me, "Why are you moving there? 10:00Everybody else is moving away." Meaning the, meaning the Jewish community and, and, and because that would be the community she was more in contact with. But I said, "Look, this is the cultural center of Brooklyn. If the city allows the cultural center to deteriorate, do you think anything else is going to be left?" And I think my prediction was more [laughter] whatever, than hers was. But she loved the neighborhood and she was, she was a wonderful person, very open to learning. Her -- I was scared to death of her, but she was very open to learning and I'm very sad that my in-laws did not live a long time after we were married. She lived long enough to see my son born here, and that was about it. 11:00But we, we were very happy to be here. The first place, I think, that my husband ever brought me in Brooklyn was the Botanic Garden. I was living on the Upper West Side, and you'll see in the papers from the art exhibit that the Eastern Parkway Coalition did, called "Beware of Elms and Thunder," down at the Muse, and that was a cooperation, really, between the Upper West Side and-- my old college roommate was an artist up there -- and you know, the artists and musicians and all down here on Eastern Parkway. Reggie Workman, for example, was part of that exhibit. And Sophie Johnson, who's another person whom you definitely should interview. Sophie still lives on Washington Avenue and she was tremendously important to every, I'm, every artistic place around here. And 12:00environmental locations. She founded the Bergen Street Garden, was one of the founders. She lived there in earlier years; '70s, '80s, whatever. She and her husband were both leaders in the community. He was a pastor and a leader in the NAACP, which was then a very strong organization down on Fulton Street. But Sophie and her children are still living, and Sophie is still a practicing musician and teacher, although she's older than I am, and she worked for the Brooklyn Museum and she was the, their representative to the coalition that we formed-- that the Eastern Parkway Coalition was part of-- to save the Franklin Avenue Shuttle. She represented the museum in all those things, and later on, 13:00she went to run the Magnolia Tree Earth Center and Hattie Carthan-- who was as you know the founder of Magnolia Tree-- she was always connected to Eastern Parkway. She was tremendously important. Before the -- the year before we built the garden, we did a project fixing up benches and trying to protect trees and everything on Eastern Parkway, and Hattie Carthan was very much watching that and advising us and helping us along the way. She was a fantastic person. I mean, she was just -- she should have been in the diplomatic corps. Because everybody loved Hattie Carthan, and down south, they read her-- about her. Yes, for years, about how she took that magnolia tree [laughter] and then built 14:00around it in Bed-Stuy. So there are all these connections between Crown Heights and Bed-Stuy that have gone on over environmental issues, and it's very hard to work on environmental issues in these neighborhoods. There's not been a lot of support for it in-- I, I don't understand it. But some of it comes out of, I think-- both in the Caribbean and the southern American communities-- the feeling that you know, we want to get away from the, the poverty of rural life, and so I think that's a part of it. But I think also somehow and, and I-- you 15:00would need to talk to somebody else about that-- but somehow government and corporations have not supported this kind of development, particularly in these neighborhoods where they want a free hand. But we, we did the best we could to, to build a better -- better neighborhoods. Because of the Franklin Avenue Shuttle, we always worked with neighborhoods all over Brooklyn. The-- that's why the shuttle existed. I can give you for your collection-- if Mr. Zarrillo wants it-- a Masters project, Masters from MIT, done by Mr. Ng, on the Franklin Avenue Shuttle which makes me tempted to apply to MIT for my PhD, because I just do not like his conclusions. If you, he, he, I'm not going to even -- well, 16:00maybe I should. He's really -- it looked like he was attempting to denigrate the contributions that my husband made to the Franklin Avenue Shuttle, which were tremendous, but they-- the contributions that the whole neighborhood made to the shuttle. He was a young man, and I got this because I had hired somebody to do some family research for me, and she's the one who came up with this. I would have never seen that otherwise. But we, we worked with the borough president and his Committee on Better Transit, under Howard Golden, which gave us contacts to every single borough board in Brooklyn that supported -- they all supported the Franklin Avenue Shuttle. But especially 2, 3, 8, and 9, you know, 17:00downtown Brooklyn and all supported it-- and it may seem that that's not relevant, but it is very relevant because that's why the garden started. That's part of why -- that's, the Eastern Parkway Coalition started. In 1977, the Transit Authority started trying to close the Franklin Avenue Shuttle. That's one date I know [laughter] clearly, and there was a group, a little group of us, mainly from Eastern Parkway, who went down to City College to testify against it. There's a guy from 263 who still works -- unless he's just retired -- for Amtrak. Vera Walker, who is a little further down. Myself and my husband. The principal of-- Prospect, not-- Clara Barton High School was there. One of the, 18:00I guess, probably public relations director of Interfaith Hospital, which was Brooklyn Jewish, then, and one of the business leaders from down on Dean Street. We were down there. Not that big -- but we made a lot of noise. Vera had been, I think, a volunteer police person, and she kept yelling, "10-4," through the whole thing, and [laughter] I got up and testified that this was just like in Germany -- which it was -- because if they had cut off the shuttle, it was like cutting off transportation to the ghetto, and that's the first thing the Nazis did, was cut off transportation to the ghetto. In my mind, anyhow, because my husband loved trains. He had been rescued from Berlin by a train. No train took him to a concentration camp. Unfortunately, it took other members of his family, one of whom was lucky enough to jump off the train and escape and 19:00get back to Belgium and be protected by the nuns throughout. He was a very charming man. I'm sure the nuns enjoyed him tremendously, [laughter] and vice versa. And, true to-- I guess-- this family, when the war was over he went back to Germany and married a German woman. Hitler wasn't going to tell him how to live his life. Of course, that made some people who were living in Paris mad, because they didn't think you should go back to Germany and marry a German woman. But, it may seem off the track, but I don't think it is in the sense that Eastern Parkway and Crown Heights has always attracted people that not only love the beauty -- Berlin was never more beautiful than under Hitler before he succeeded in having the whole thing destroyed -- you know, they weren't just 20:00attracted to the beauty. But they were, they were urban people. They were able to work together across ethnic lines and color lines and whatever kind of lines. Of course, that most famous, probably, in that sense because of the writers like Richard Wright and John Oliver Killens, whom I knew. He was a, he was a wonderful guy, and he, he did cross all those lines. I met him personally through a Jewish poet who lived on Eastern Parkway, down pretty near Kingston, and had a wonderful interview with him and told him a story from my family in the South. He told me, "Connie, that is a very good story." It is [laughter], but I won't go into it all. He lived in Crown Heights. He wrote a wonderful 21:00article, I think for the Times, called "Crown Heights is My Turf."

OKECHUKWU: And he has a book that's partially set in Crown Heights.

LESOLD: Oh yes, oh yes, a lot of his work is set in --

OKECHUKWU: Do you know where he lived in the neighborhood?

LESOLD: I don't remember. I'm sure I knew at one time. But I really don't remember. Somewhere in the middle of the neighborhood. It wasn't right, right here.

OKECHUKWU: OK. So, you mentioned that this, in trying to cut off the shuttle, was like trying to cut off transportation from the ghetto. You gave the metaphor that you make there; that comparison--

LESOLD: Well, it's real, because --


LESOLD: -- I don't know what you were going to say next. But to explain that, see; the A Train came into Franklin and Fulton and the only access -- I was head of the Parks Committee at that time, of Community Board 8, so I was very concerned about how children got to go places. I was on the board of the Haitian American Daycare Center, and my son was in public school as a 22:00four-year-old and I thought it was very important for children to be able to use all these facilities. And if the shuttle had been destroyed, children out in East New York would not have had a way to get to the Botanic Gardens and the museum and Coney Island and what have you. They could go to Manhattan and do all that stuff up there. Of course, sadly enough, we don't have children so much riding the trains in classes now. Anyhow, we've scared them off, and the teachers, and we spend huge amounts of money taking them off on school buses, which are just as dangerous if not more. But at any rate, at that time they were still going on the school buses, and my concern-- as I say-- was mainly with the children, but also with, with the workers. There was one -- and the students -- there was, there were a couple of wonderful cases at the hearing in 23:001977. There was a student who had to take about five or six different means of transportation to get to her school, and one of them was the shuttle. And then people working in East New York who might be, I mean, living there, might be going to work at Coney Island Hospital. I think there was somebody -- there was -- somebody there testifying there about how they needed it in terms of getting to work, and of course the principal of Clara Barton High School was talking about it in terms of both parents and students. So, and, and it was very interesting. We worked diligently as a coalition formed to save the shuttle. It was very interesting talking to the parents from those schools and finding out why they wanted that shuttle open. Because they knew the schedules and they knew if their child got on that shuttle when he was supposed to, what time he 24:00would get to school! They didn't want any of this bus stuff. They don't want their kids standing out on the street. [laughter] No, no, no. And so, and, and the -- there was a wonderful woman, lived down -- well, she actually lived in the middle of Crown Heights, but she worked for HPD and sadly she's been dead for many years now. But she was instrumental in those first low income co-ops that were formed on Eastern Parkway, and the Eastern Parkway Coalition had nothing to do with that. But we were very pleased that those were, I think, the first in the City of New York, but they may not have been -- that they were the first in Brooklyn. And she was very instrumental in HPD in helping to save the shuttle. Because she would make them come up with how many people were supposed to be in the new buildings -- they had destroyed the buildings on Lincoln Place; 25:00totally wiped out the buildings back there.

OKECHUKWU: Lincoln Place and where?

LESOLD: Right here! Yes. When I first moved here, or when my son was small -- he was born in 1970 -- and around '74, give or take or what, we formed something which was really preliminary to the Eastern Parkway Coalition, and that was the, we called it the Eastern Parkway Lincoln Place -- only I think we put Lincoln Place first for political reasons. [laughter] Because the streets behind Eastern Parkway always felt that they were treated as second class citizens, so we called it the Lincoln Place Eastern Parkway Block Association, and it went from Washington Avenue to Franklin and it went around the block. And we did our best to work together and the head of that was a woman named Mary Swanner who lived 26:00on Lincoln Place and ran a summer feeding program out of her building, 520 Lincoln Place, and that was an experience. Because I helped her with that. That's how I got to know -- oh my God. I never saw people in my life who looked like they had lived through so much. This was a huge Haitian neighborhood at that time, as well as other parts of the Caribbean and everybody else. And there was an old Belgian priest that had been in Haiti and had become alcoholic, who lived on that street and hung out, and there were women who were scarred up like I never saw before. You know, but so that program was primarily for children but I think we fed the adults, too. I don't know whether we were 27:00supposed to or not, but it was, it was a real experience and but, I-- I can't tell you all the owners or what that took over the land there, and just ran everybody out. It, it was -- I mean, they used every method. Fire, cutting off heat, water -- one winter they, they flooded one of the buildings right back here and there was a layer of ice on the floor. And one of the women in the building -- makes me cry to remember it -- asked me -- my husband didn't want to give away his mother's clothes. And she asked me for the coats, so I got him to give them to her and she sewed them together to make very heavy blankets for her 28:00children. People really suffered. I was telling you before we came in about the only building on Eastern Parkway in this block, and really-- I think maybe the only one on Eastern Parkway, although I could be wrong-- they got totally was the one next to the school for the deaf, now, which was earlier the catholic girl's school. That, that building; the same kind of thing happened. Wherever there were a lot of immigrants that were afraid, that had been here not that long at all. You know, a whole generation has grown up now and people are now in political power, they won office. But they were, they were just here, then. And some of the children in that building went to school with my son and I knew the parents and all, and that, that, that -- What happened in that building 29:00really motivated those of us who were involved in housing organizing to, to try to work harder.

OKECHUKWU: When they ran people out of the buildings, did they -- did the buildings stay abandoned, or what happened?

LESOLD: Oh, it wasn't totally -- they got everybody out. Well, that building, I'm not sure if it became a co-op or not. It got totally renovated and, and then people moved back in and it's, it. You know, they, I'm sure they paid higher rents than everybody else. And I'm sure that some of them, I hate to say-- because what happens when you-- when you demand higher rents than anybody can pay, you're always going to get some drug dealers going in together so they can pay. That's true at Trump Tower. That's true here. [laughter] I'm quite 30:00sure that the FBI was investigating Trump Tower, because I know a little bit about it but they probably were investigating the drug kingpins in there. Had just, by accident, got all, got all the stuff. But anyway, that's -- they, but there were wonderful people moved in there, too, and you have some of their pictures. And anyhow, I should let you ask some questions. That -- those buildings did get built, rebuilt, back on Lincoln Place, and a garden was-- a little garden-- was established there, which no longer is there. But it, gardens were very popular in this neighborhood and still are, community gardens.

OKECHUKWU: We talked a little bit on the phone about this, but can you tell me about Arthur Miller, who he was, and I guess the events surrounding --


LESOLD: Well, Arthur Miller was a wonderful -- to me -- businessman and, who lived over near the Brooklyn Children's Museum, in the Brower Park area. And he was the head of a block association over there called the Four Star Block Association. And he was a part of -- I knew him because he was a part of a coalition that formed around the New Muse that won a CETA contract while Carter was President. That contract included the Brooklyn Tenants Union and it included the, the public housing that's in Crown Heights over on Albany Avenue. I think, the Albany Houses. In this neighborhood, it included Old PS 9, which 32:00is now, I guess you could call it luxury housing. It's supposed to be artist's housing, but it had, it had been a wonderful resource for the neighborhood. It had theaters and it had children's programs. It had art exhibits. Some of the Black artists that are in this article I gave you from the Village Voice had offices in there. It was a magnificent place, and-- that was a part of it. But it was a city-wide project. It included a group from Staten Island. I think they were a theatre group. It included the Carl Clay's Black Spectrum Theatre, out in Queens. It included -- there was a group from Harlem. It, it, 33:00it, it really was a city-wide, powerful effort on the part of the Black community to, to gain some foothold and whatever you would call it into nonprofit building. The building nonprofits, and having some, you know, and there was -- it was a million-dollar project. That sounds like no money nowadays. But it was like seed money to, for all -- some of these places were city-funded. The, what's now called the Grace Agard Senior Center, 966 Fulton Street, was a part of it. That was a very activist senior center at that time. 34:00That was one of the first senior centers in, I think, in Brooklyn, and there, there were -- there were a lot of, in fact, one of the most interesting ones was the, the West Indian Day Parade. The founder -- I'm blocking out his name now -- a wonderful guy, he had a, he was in, in the beginning. Because he was just wanting to develop the Children's Parade, and he pulled out pretty early because he, he did think that he could do more on his own. And he saw how the political winds were blowing. But his project, which was just starting as you know, developed into the wonderful Children's Parade and the education of Caribbean 35:00children to their artistic culture and all that. So, it was made up of a lot of groups from all parts of the Black community, and Arthur was an important part of that coalition. He, his funds went for kind of a neighborhood watch kind of thing, and the police department is not totally in favor of these kind-- they see that as a, as a getting into their business-- and so he, he was involved with Mary Pinkett in cleaning up Nostrand Avenue; the obvious thing, cleaning up the trash. But I think aside from that was the issue of drugs on Nostrand Avenue, which were said to be mafia-controlled. He had his business on Rogers 36:00Avenue. I had summer programs, that's the summer he was killed -- I was, I represented the Brooklyn Tenant's Union in the coalition. But, and, and we also, the Haitian American Daycare Center, had a summer youth program that included about 20 different projects that I was overseeing. So, I had kids out all over the place. When Arthur was killed, coming out to try to help his brother, whom the police had -- they ticketed and kind of harassed and followed 37:00him around to Arthur's -- from Nostrand Avenue, where he was, I think, taking up some things around to his brother's place. Arthur came out to, to help his brother, and the police jumped him. He was carrying a gun legally, and they, they could see it with his hands up. But he was also known as a community leader. I don't know if any of the police knew him. I do not know, because when he died in their custody on the way to the police -- the police department does not like for me to say that he was murdered by the police. But they have no objection to me saying that he died in their custody because they know it's the case, and they threw him out in the yard and there was Stanley Gibbs, was a 38:00community officer at that time, in the police department. Marvelous person, and he said-- so, of course, he knew Arthur-- so he said to them, "Do you know who you have killed?" And Stanley Gibbs marched with the rest of the community. The whole community mobilized to march over the Brooklyn Bridge to City Hall, and before that, the people of the coalition of the Muse mobilized at the Muse to go out and try to find the witnesses. Of course, when I'm telling you, I did not witness, myself. And we would have -- we went out, one, we all met at the 39:00Muse and I guess it was a weekend morning and went out looking for the witnesses but the polit -- elected officials told us to back off. That the district attorney had promised that he would do a full investigation and he would open up the records. And Andy Gill, the head of the Muse; Arthur was his very good friend. He was distraught, of course. He and the others -- I guess the others had a hand in the decision about it, made the decision to, to stop their own efforts at finding witnesses. But some of the -- I believe -- that some of the children who were in my summer youth program did witness it. There were a lot of witnesses. From what I hear, they had the whole place, you know, they were 40:00all around, watching, and saw what happened. I doubt many of them were ever called before the grand jury. The grand jury did its, whatever it did. The-- It was never opened up. And the police department became so corrupt as a result that eventually the entire precinct had to be moved out, and some of them went to jail. That was years down, but it was very tragic and no one ever was brought to justice over it. And I would remind you that there is no statute of limitations on murder. So, and as this did happen at the hands of the police, and to give you an example of how police were so afraid to say anything; Stanley Gibbs, after marching over the bridge with all of us to City Hall, left New York 41:00and left the state and never returned. Because his life would not have been safe. I was very busy building the Franklin Avenue Shuttle. I wasn't building it. The summer youth program built that garden over there. Mainly kids from Prospect Heights High School. Maybe Clara Barton or what have you, and a lot of them have done very well. When I went to court, in, in housing court, about this building, when I was so fed up with the way no attention was being paid to the problems in my apartment, and-- and you know, got six months [laughter] not having to pay any rent because they were serious violations-- and then I decided to take the buy-out, the clerk, the law clerk to the judge was one of our 42:00students who had helped build the Franklin Avenue Shuttle Garden. That's what we called it in the beginning, we called it the Franklin Avenue Shuttle Neighborhood Garden. Then it became the Eastern Parkway Coalition Garden, and now under the leadership of Gloria Briggs, who has been the leader there since the '90s, and has done a wonderful job of keeping it all together. Gloria's somebody that you, it would be very wonderful for you to interview because Gloria feels she's never gotten the appreciation that she should for the work she's done. [laughter] And, and it is definitely where we sort of left off. 43:00Because at any rate, going back though to Arthur Miller-- which you were asking-- I was busy with the young people keeping that garden; getting that garden going and that kept me sane. Because Arthur was a good friend. He was totally without racial or ethnic prejudice. Was a wonderful person; the father of all these children, and did everything he could for his children. My child was going to a privileged little federal project-- the Bilingual Center-- which is now 189, and everybody can go. But at that time you had to get selected and Arthur hadn't got selected, and he was mad so he was marching at the school. [laughter] The principal did not love Arthur, but --

OKECHUKWU: I think eventually his youngest daughter -- because I recently got in contact with the family, and eventually the youngest daughter was there for a short, maybe a short time, I guess, before they moved.


LESOLD: Oh, well, I don't know if that may have come about as a result of his death. Jo Bruno was a wonderful principle and she was right across the street. She was the most extraordinary woman and as I told you in that telephone interview, the, the school had two major purposes. One was to show the value of bilingual education, and bringing up the language development in the Spanish and the Haitian community, and the Russian community. That was in a separate part, but those three parts, and it was a wonderful school. I wouldn't have sent my son anywhere else, but I was privileged to be chosen. Arthur was English-speaking, and so he had never been through the language business. We 45:00got chosen because my husband had been going to public school as a little boy who spoke only German, and they felt that would help, whatever. But at any rate, Arthur; he was a wonderful friend to me, and I don't -- it's very hard for me to believe that anybody would want to murder him. But he was-- I think that he didn't expect anybody would want to murder him. He just wanted to clean up his neighborhood.

OKECHUKWU: So, you mentioned the police department was corrupt. I mean-- Who? If, if it was a political murder, who would have been connected or responsible for that?

LESOLD: Well, I, I don't think that you would want to say, necessarily, that it was a political murder because the police murdered him. I don't say anybody in 46:00the political arena ordered that, no, no, no. I, I do say-- as you know from the telephone interview-- that the regular Democrats were not happy with the New Muse because Andy, if he had been in wanting to just run his nonprofit, he could have done all kinds of things with it. But he was getting into the political arena. I think he himself was running for district leader. But he was helping to run a-- for Congress-- an educator, a Black man who was wonderful in his field, but who wasn't a politician. And he was running him against Fred Richmond, who was a very rich White guy and who was very popular with much of the community because they felt he brought home the bacon, but he was very 47:00corrupt himself. If you know the history of Fred Richmond, he eventually went to jail and [laughter] he didn't spend a lot of time there you know, but he did go to jail and all that. And people were found dead in his bed and all kind of stuff, and I mean you know, you can get the newspapers out and you can read all about it better than my memory. But Fred Richmond definitely was not a, a nice guy. I already had contacts with Fred Richmond through my work over the fire issues, because the [unintelligible] that I mentioned to you and myself and our two little children -- they had a boy the same age as mine -- had met with Fred Richmond once over the, the fire issues, and all he was interested in is that 48:00[laughter] Ron and Debbie's little boy was drilling a hole in his gorgeous antique table. I'm sorry, but that's the way it was. Any rate, and the district attorney of that period went to jail; Eugene Gold. And the sexual stories and innuendos in regard to both those guys were not nice. And I don't know what happens to people when they get into politics, you know. They say that power is an aphrodisiac. With some, folks forget how to handle themselves. And, but at any rate-- both of them certainly-- they had a large amount to gain 49:00or lose by how this was handled. In my opinion, they handled it very badly and the regular Democrats, one of whom I worked for; Woody Lewis, I worked one assembly session. He was the assemblyman around here. See, it was much easier to form an Eastern Parkway Coalition to keep it going at that time, because the entire assembly district around which your politics is based was in all of Eastern Parkway. The area, the tree lined area, was in one district. And, and I, by the way, got to know him and got involved to some extent in the politics of the area. Not because I'm always interested in politics but because I was fighting the drugs in the area myself, in a different way. I was a part of a group that formed, I think probably formed, maybe, out of the precinct. They 50:00existed before me; I joined in with them. That included the Jaretzkis, who lived down in 40 Eastern Parkway, and were an important part of making the Eastern Parkway Coalition a real thing. They had real power, to put it bluntly. Mr. Jaretzki was an important professor at, downtown, now Polytechnic. And he also was, he and his wife, were refugees from Berlin. They were a little older than me, but they had always been very active with the precinct counsel. They, they weren't too fancy and all that they didn't get involved in local issues. 51:00In fact, it was Mrs. Jaretski's, Ruth Jaretski's niece who was the first director of the summer youth program in the garden. We had all these connections. When I say to you that it was better in those days than it is now, I mean it in the sense that people really did work together who had any little tiny bit of power. It was a terrible time in terms of violence and of course, if your police department is entirely corrupt, what else do you expect? But people really did try to work together, and, and that, despite the fact it was a time when the community boards were being divided.

OKECHUKWU: Can you speak about that? The division of the community boards?


LESOLD: Well, I don't remember exactly what year it was. But you know, it followed a period where there was a lot of tension and between the Hassidic and the Black communities, and the Hasidic community really wasn't getting much of a piece of the action and Howard Golden decided to, you know, that, that, that they could do it. They could div-- all of it was Community Board Eight, Eight and Nine. All of it was eight, and he decided to divide the communities and make two boards. And you know, because of the population, he could do that. However, he was never justifying in what, in what he did, which was to create a board which is nothing but a miracle of the fact that people really want peace that we didn't have something terrible happen when he put, created a board that 53:00was almost all Hassidic. I mean, it's unbelievable when you look back on it, how people, now, when Ruth Goring was the head of Board Eight. She was a very powerful woman in this community, and she taught me all I know, so that's-- You know, people think a lot of things, but Ruth and I never had any problems with each other. We disagreed with some things, but we didn't have any problems. Because we knew both of us were workers, and she, she tried to fight that division. I remember she got a bus to go down to City Hall about it and I think I was about the only person on it. There was a handful of people on that bus going there, because people -- what did people say, "Oh, what do we care about a community board division? What?" And there had been the Office of Neighborhood Government before that, and the Office of Neighborhood Government, I knew the 54:00young people who ran that. Lovely young people, and in fact, the young man went to Washington and was there when Reagan was elected, and he was very upset. He, he just saw -- and he had said, when he was head of the Office of Neighborhood Government here, he said, "If the Black middle class and the White middle class ever get together in Crown Heights, God help the poor." And that's what, and he was prescient in that regard. I was prescient that they wouldn't let the cultural center collapse, but he was prescient that you know, the temptation to go for your own economic gain and what you want as a quality of life and all and 55:00so forth. He foresaw what could happen with, with, thank God, a growing power in the Black community year after year after year. So--

OKECHUKWU: Can you tell me -- you mentioned you were, you had done some work around, working with, or, the group that came out of the precinct, around the drug issue in the community? Can you tell me, like, when drugs became, started becoming a major issue in the neighborhood? I guess really across Brooklyn, unless it's just --

LESOLD: Across the country.


LESOLD: Well, drug-- I got interested, to be honest, in, in the drug issues because my brother had, was dead as a result of the drug issues. Not directly, but indirectly. We grew up in Durham, which is a university town. We grew up a couple of blocks from the university and before that we lived in Chapel Hill and that was a university town, and so we were, you know, we were expected to do 56:00well. All of us. And, and in spite of problems in the family where my father had been very disabled by his part in World War II. So, I was grief stricken over what had happened to my brother, and the Jaretzkis, whom I knew -- don't ask me how I first met them. It may have been -- but I did. They were active with the precinct council, and I believe that's how I got started. There were the Short family, Lexi Short and, was the woman, and I can't think of the other Black woman. Wonderful woman; she was part of, a founder of a daycare center back here near Brooklyn, what was Brooklyn Jewish. Anyway, there was, there was 57:00this, this little core group that was trying, through Phoenix House. Phoenix House was already in the neighborhood, in Prospect Heights, and, and by the way, Prospect Heights was always an interesting place, too. Because they always wanted to join with somebody else. They never wanted to be in Board Eight. They wanted to be with Park Slope or they wanted to be with Fort Greene or what have you and, but, some of them, some of them. But at any rate, we, we broadened to include some marvelous people. A man who lived in this building, Margolis, Reuben Margolis. I'm not sure if Reuben is still alive, because he developed some problems in his later life, health problems that-- I think he may 58:00be deceased. He became very involved with it. He was a psychologist, and went on to become, I think, head of the psychology department at Kings County Hospital. As a result, his wife said, of his work with our group. So, I don't know if that's the case or not, but that's what she said. Reuben, Peter Meyer, who lived in 263, who was a leader of the Brooklyn Tenant's Union at that time. He was very active in that, and he went on to work with the musician's union and other things. Peter was a real organizer, and his wife still lives in 263 Easter Parkway and is an artist, and you might want to interview her. She is from Scotland and she's been here a long time. She worked for the Haitian American Daycare Center. But she's a wonderful artist and she could tell you, 59:00if you were interested, in how some buildings around here have stayed rental. And anyway, there was a core group that worked on -- we actually tried to get the Knox Hat factory, that great huge place, was, was just, you know, the Knox Hat factory. They actually had a whole what looked like a library full of used books in there and other things.

OKECHUKWU: Where was that?

LESOLD: It's, it's right down here. It's now renovated into housing. I think they did a horrible job in a way, because I don't like anything renovated without greenery. But you know, they mad apartments out of it and it had been considered for restoration. It was one of the places that was considered. And 60:00it's, let me, I hate to give the wrong streets. But anyway it's, it's, it's down around--

OKECHUKWU: I can look it up.

LESOLD: Knox Hat factory is, it's in Prospect Heights. Near Dean Street, and it's a huge place. Civil War building, lot of those buildings down there were manufacturing.

OKECHUKWU: What were the boundaries of Crown Heights? Because I feel like especially with the gentrification, you know, like the boundaries around like what is actually Crown Heights as opposed to Prospect Heights, or [inaudible].

LESOLD: Well, I think of Crown Heights as Community Board Eight and Community Board Nine, and that goes form Grand Army Plaza to Ralph, and Community Board 61:00Eight is north side of Eastern Parkway to Atlantic Avenue. The, the southern border of Board Nine, I believe, goes all the way down to King's County Hospital. I'm not exactly sure, just exactly where the southern border ends, but that, that's where that is. But we, we were, we were working very -- I'll tell you what ended our project. I ended our project. We were, we were doing very well. We probably could have gotten some funding. [laughter] I don't say we could have gotten the Knox Hat factory, because that was a huge place. Better, really, better, but it was one of the first really big renovations. It's interesting in and of itself, if you, if you were to look at it.


The -- Simon Short, who was Lexi Short's brother, became a part of this. I knew him because Simon was always around in all the political settings. And so, I knew him from way back, not real well, but this was the early years. Probably -- when we were doing this anti-drug thing, it was one of the first things that I tried to do in this neighborhood. If you, if you watch Errol Louis on channel one -- do you ever watch Errol Louis on channel one? Did you see him when he was sitting down on the steps in Crown Heights? Well, he was sitting down on the steps in Crown Heights the other day and he was saying, "In Crown Heights, 63:00when we don't, when we don't like something, we get out and try to change it." [laughter] I laughed when I saw that, because it's really true to this day. But Simon Short got very involved in it, and it became clear that -- remember, I'm a professional social worker by training -- that if we succeeded in building this project, creating this project, that Simon's agenda was a little different from mine. Mine was definitely a therapeutic agenda, innocently, I might say. [laughter] But you know, I, I, I wanted to try to do things to help, and I'm always drawing on prevention. I think prevention's the best thing. But Simon, 64:00he really wanted an undercover angle in this; a police angle. After all, remember, we kind of were connected to the police department there. So he wanted an angle that would give information. I said, "No, this is not the kind of project that I want to do. I'm not doing -- no." And that ended it. Now, Simon asked me to run as district leader with him. After I-- after this, I believe-- I ran as a delegate for Jimmy Carter, and Jimmy Carter never sent me a thank you letter or autograph. I'm still trying to get it. [laughter] Don 65:00Elliot, do you know that name? Well, he's the head of the -- one of the big blockers with the Downtown Brooklyn development, everything. He ran for Congress, too, against Fred Richmond one time. And I was helping -- trying to help -- him. And all that came about because of my involvement with this little anti-drug program. Because I was trying to find a way, you know, that we, we could see the problems with drugs in the neighborhood, and so Don Elliot and I were on that ticket together. And Simon was not on the ticket. But he wanted me to run for district leader with him, and for some strange reason beyond my understanding, I said I would, and you know, made up the, the things that you, 66:00you know, the petitions and all. And then he told me that he had been part of one of these secret organizations that preceded the CIA in World War II, and that you don't ever get out of these things, sort of, you know, and he would tell me all about his connections to, you know, the Mississippi senators that were on those committees and everything and I said, "No, I'm not running with you, Simon, I'm sorry, I can't do this. Politics is supposed to be an open, democratic process. I'm not running with you. I'm sorry, I can't do it." And he was very hurt, you know, because he had actually helped a great deal in this neighborhood, with a lot of things. We had, in this building we were being threatened by a gang called the Savage Skulls. In the very early gang days. My 67:00son was just a little boy, and the Sollises-- I had forgotten until I talked to Dolly, that's why I was telling you that-- that the Sollises had a son who was a teenager who they were trying to induct. They would force these kids to join the Savage Skulls. They, and they couldn't -- they'd get beat up if they didn't, and all. So, we had a group of men in this building; Dolly's husband, I particularly remember, but other men in the building, too, who would stay downstairs you know, near Lincoln Place and watch, you know. They really prevented the Savage Skulls from doing much organizing in this group. Now, we, we went even further. Mary Swanner, who I told you about, ran that program on Lincoln Place at that time. Mary and I -- I mean, you know, I was very innocent when I was young. I can't believe it. We went to visit the parents of the head 68:00of the Savage Skulls. [laughter] They lived on -- he lived on Lincoln Place. And it was Haitian, and so maybe that's why we thought we could do it. I don't know what we thought. Anyway, we got down there. I think one of us tore our dress going in, we were so nervous. The mother pretended she didn't speak English, but we knew she did and we told her, you know. We were down there to ask her to do whatever she could, you know, to get her son out of the Savage Skulls and to quit, you know, harassing everybody in the neighborhood and these children and so forth and so. We said our piece and we went home. Simon was very much a part of watching all of this and helping us to, you know, do what we did. There was one older guy named "Blue Eyes." I never met "Blue Eyes." Don't know what he looks like or what, but he was the real head, and he was, he was older. He was an adult. And, and the police department, their answer to 69:00this -- get this -- was to give bicycles to the Savage Skulls! [laughter] To give out, you know, whatever. We said, "No, that doesn't work, uh-uh, no, no, no, no." Maybe it works somewhere. But we weren't having any part of it. I don't say it never works, but we were having any part of it. We wanted our kids to stop being harassed right now. We wanted them to go to school in peace and what and [inaudible]. "Blue Eyes" went to jail and the Savage Skulls fell apart. Now, I can't tell you what maneuvers went on behind the scenes with the police department-- possibly others-- that people decided: This is going too far, the opposition is getting too big, put "Blue Eyes" in jail, we better go do other things. You know, I, I, I don't know, you know, who decides what, when, 70:00where, but "Blue Eyes" went to jail and Savage Skulls were gone, and Simon warned us, "Now you have to be sure that another gang doesn't develop," or what. But I wasn't run-- nevertheless, I wasn't running for office with him, because I'm not undercover. I couldn't be. I used to be on the board of a group called the Generation After, which is, it's a group of men and women who wanted to form an organization that their children would continue, to fight the Holocaust and to remember it, and that kind of thing. And one of their leaders asked me to go undercover to do something. I said, "I can't do it." And I know that I couldn't. It's just not -- I would of not, I would be found out very fast. 71:00[laughter] I don't even think they'd have to go look up the records, but I would be found out. So, I'm not, I'm not doing anything undercover. So, I took it to Don Elliot, though, because I, I wasn't happy with the whole thing. Don called the governor's people into his house and had them talk to me. And they said, "Oh, it's all right! It's all right if somebody -- don't you think the people from the CIA should be able to vote? Don't you think -- don't you think the --" [laughter] Oh well, you get the idea. I'm not sure Don would be pleased with me -- he's been very helpful to me -- for saying this, on your record, but-- No, you can interview Don for the Downtown Brooklyn [laughter] rebuilding project. But no, he, he, he has been a good friend in many ways. Because you know, there 72:00was an effort downtown to wipe out any history of the abolitionists, any. And they had to hold hearings and carry on and all to even get a street named Abolitionist Place, and I did testify about that and I was very lucky that I had lived up in Niagara County for two years at that point. Because I could go and testify about how Niagara County has done all this wonderful stuff to remember the, you know, and so forth, and so on. And then I went to Don Elliot and I said, you know, "What are you doing? Are you--?" and I think he helped to get that little sign put up there. But I, I don't know that this is very apropos to the history of Crown Heights, except that it is. There's nothing that's not connected. That six degrees of separation applies and it's, it's everywhere. But you were asking about the drugs.



LESOLD: You know, there, back on Lincoln Place, behind Eastern Parkway, there was a building that was said to bring in the finest drugs in the city, practically.

OKECHUKWU: So, right over here? Right behind this building?

LESOLD: Behind the block where 135 Eastern Parkway is. And to be honest, 135 was a wonderful -- I had many wonderful friends in there. And you know, when the owners absconded with the money, they were politically astute enough to be able to get control of that building, and I think they intended to keep it a moderate income building. [laughter] It's now, you know, no. But they, they -- 135 had a lot of recreational drug use going on in it, by a lot of prominent 74:00people. And since I'm naming everybody else, but the-- everybody else I've been naming is just about dead and I didn't say anything about Don Elliot. I don't think I want to name the people in 135 that were-- for a variety of reasons. They're not there anymore, the people I'm thinking about, and if -- when he dies, I'll tell you. But right now, I just don't feel like it. Don't feel like it. I should, but anyhow, no, but what -- the reason I say that is the drugs are not a problem, just -- that's why I don't live in 135. I was invited to come up there and take the [unintelligible] when they were turning it into a co-op. I had many, many friends in there. There were a lot of judges in there and ex-judges and everything else. And I could've gone up there, but I knew 75:00about the recreational drug use and the tragedy in my family -- no, I was not taking my boy up there into recreational drug use amongst judges and, and everybody else. I'll take him right down here where you see that if you get into that kind of, you get into a lot of drug use, you may end up dead, this, that, or the other. Because the super in this building tragically, and his son was a -- I mentioned, when I first moved in? His son, wonderful young musician, played with his band in the basement, and he was a part of a group of young White people who were trying to stop drugs then. People've been trying to stop drugs around here, forever. And he ended up murdered in the basement. I don't -- next door, in 255. Killed by a, it is said, a professor at Brooklyn College. 76:00Now, you know, I don't know his name. You can research it, whatever. But it was a very great tragedy, of course, for that family. And I mean, this was the same time we were trying -- I was describing, with the Jaretzkis, that we were trying to do the anti-drug program and Phoenix House was building up and then this poor kid gets murdered, amongst the White young people running around looking like hippies! But they were fighting drugs. You know, all hippies weren't stupid. People thought I was a hippie because I didn't keep on working as a social worker, but I did things in the neighborhood. I'm about as hippie as, I don't know who. Anyway [laughter].

OKECHUKWU: Can you -- I mean, you can talk a little bit about the New Muse-- or the Muse, I guess, depending on what year it was-- in relationship to the CETA 77:00contract. Can you just tell me more generally about like what was the New Muse and I guess when it ended? When it, when it closed.

LESOLD: Well, it will never end. It's in people's minds. The New Muse is like, you know, there are some places around here, they will be remembered whether you write them up or not. The New Muse was the temporary Brooklyn Children's Museum, when the Brooklyn Children's Museum was being built, and it was supposed to focus, I guess, well, when the Muse, when the new museum-- At any rate, whatever it was supposed to focus on, it had a little bit of everything in it, just like the Brooklyn Children's Museum has everything in it. It was a fantastic place. It, it had a lot of history in it. It had arts and 78:00crafts and music. Reggie Workman ran the music department. Sophie ran the whole Muse at one point, Sophie Johnson, and after Sophie -- Andy Gill -- Sophie and Andy were not on the same page. Sophie wanted, wanted to stay out of politics. Andy wanted change. He wanted it very fast. I think I told you in our interview that the feds came down to investigate us and supposedly they were-- came down because Andy was talking to somebody in the Middle East about getting oil, was a part of some of the group. There was not a communist in the New Muse. These guys were very, let's build our community, you know, going through the channels, politics, what have you, you know. These guys were not 79:00from the Left. But they, they cared about the, building the Black community, and Andy, the Muse, that got started, oh, I think the, I think the New Muse was starting out before my son was even born. You can look up the dates. You can look up the dates. I was minimally involved when I was not working because my brother lived with me for a while in this building and, and there were drugs. Where we have that church back here, when you go out, there were drugs. It was a, it was a bar. There were drugs back there then. They wanted to get him back involved in drugs. They probably did, to some extent. And I'm getting off the 80:00subject, but I want to make sure that you know that, you know, a woman was found dead, murdered, by the back of that bar. That's what finally closed it down. Nothing closed down before that. And Reverend Walker who, he and his wife moved into this building. I don't know whether they already lived there then, but they wanted to get control of the bar. They wanted to turn it into a church. And I helped them to find, you know, the political process they had to go through to get it. I didn't do a whole lot. But I helped them to do that, and they turned it into that church which has been a very, very beneficial to the community, with its summer-- with its feeding program. Everything's a continuation of everything else, you know. You have Mary Swanner out there on 81:00the street doing that, then you got back there on Lincoln Place, the church doing it every week. And, and Ms. Walker lives in this building, still. She lives up above Dolly, I think, in four-- E, F, G, H, 4H. I don't know if she's well enough to, for you to interview her or not. But it would be very interesting to get, you know, some of these people who, who don't get interviewed except through their, through their churches, they're known. I mean, the first time I ever saw praise dancing was when Reverend Walker died. [Pause] It's very hard for me to, [laughter] you know, and it's very hard at 82:00this season, because this is Passover and Easter and I'm Jewish. I'm a convert to Judaism. And my husband is gone and we used to have wonderful Passover Seders here in this house, and we had -- They weren't so much family Seders, but they were -- we would have family there, at times, and, but we had people from all over the community. And-- I guess it's-- It's, it's good, because-- to do this, because I do see that everything is a continuation of something else. Like we started out with those books. And Hannah, you definitely have to interview. I mean, she's fantastic, because the children of this community lost so much when they lost the Muse. The, the Muse was very focused on the young. 83:00It was fant-- they had a planetarium in there.

OKECHUKWU: I saw that in your papers. That was some of the best part of your, of the papers for me; the planetarium stuff.

LESOLD: And Hannah, when she started out, she was the lot. Mainly, working with the children. Those children on that block, they are not privileged children. And she had them dancing in the Brooklyn Museum. Olga Bloom, down at Barge Music, she started out very much with the children. I mean, she started out with her husband's Veterans Administration money, and Olga always got along with everybody. I, I just met a rich woman that had helped Olga, that, down at the barge. But I, I bring that up because she taught children, so she'd get the publicity of being the nice lady teaching the children for free down on the 84:00barge, and it worked. The Botanic Gardens has always worked the children, with their children's guard. Children work. And my, my friend Haddie Bowers -- I wish she were alive -- you could interview her. She was head of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Corporation for a while over there, before she died. And she said, "Connie, we should have stuck to trees and children." [laughter] That's exactly what she said to me, because she got all involved with the housing and all. But it is because of her work that there's anything left of, of, you know, rent stabilized housing. I mean, a lot of it, I don't say-- especially over in Prospect Heights. St. John's Place, for example, which is a huge block over there. But I got off the, the Muse there, which I know you are so very interested in, and it is, it was a fantastic place. It's like Icarus. 85:00It flew too high for a while. But --

OKECHUKWU: What do you mean by that? You said it flew too high, like Icarus?

LESOLD: Well, they, they tried to fly on all-- And everything, if they had stayed, just focused on the nonprofit work and not got into the politics. But the politics were important and they were, they were trying to -- they were trying to get respect for the Black community and the Black children. People were being accused of abusing Black children all over the place and some of them caught and sent to jail for it. So, it wasn't all, you know, children-- I, it's not a part of the Muse, but you know, I think what I told about the child who was murdered over there on Washington Avenue, and the body attempted to be 86:00covered up by a fire, and evidently when I was thinking about bringing this up and I still am, in taking it-- Because there is no, no statute of limitations on murder. And it happened. I know, because I went to the fire department and talked to the fire marshals and they had all the information I had. I was recently staying with someone in this building for a while. She went out and asked questions about it. They told her it never happened. There are still people who don't want it to be known. But, and those people that did it, who were on diplomatic passports, they ain't got those diplomatic passports anymore. I don't even know if they're alive or in this country.

OKECHUKWU: He was Haitian, right? He was a Haitian child.


LESOLD: That is a Haitian way of saying, "Back off." Just pick somebody and kill them. Don't have to kill the leader. Happens in Haiti, can happen here. But it was a child, and I felt very, very bad that I could not-- at that time-- follow through. Because I couldn't get anybody to help me. The, I guess the, I don't know what persuaded the fire marshals to share so openly with me, everything. I guess they thought that I better know for my own sake, just what powerful forces I had been dealing with, and I once-- The Black Veterans for Social Justice asked me once to come in and talk to them about how to get funded. And I told them that story. They didn't ask me to come back again. [laughter] Don't blame them. But anyhow, it's, it's, the -- and I told you that 88:00over the phone, because I wanted, I-- I want it to be said that the murders that happened around here that I know about are not your everyday murders that you, you would think, you know, from reading the papers, "Oh, Crown Heights was so violent," and [unintelligible] and it happened. The garden over there; the super, who was on the right hand side of the garden, who helped so much -- both supers on the two sides of the garden, when we were building it, helped so much -- he was murdered that same summer as Arthur Miller. That was one of your neighborhood murders that never got solved. He was out there making eyes at somebody's girlfriend, and a whole bunch of guys murdered him, and it was never, 89:00never resolved and I, I feel very badly that -- I'm, I'm not the bravest person on the planet, and I wouldn't have known where to start and remember, this is the same time that Arthur had been murdered and what kind of police department was I having to work with? Of course, that was the 71st precinct, but we all know, but it, it was a terrible, tragic murder. He wasn't a perfect guy. But he didn't deserve to get killed.

AMAKA OKECHUKWU: You mentioned Vander Beatty too.

LESOLD: Vander Beatty was murdered right out here, and the-- as I am told -- now, you can do more research on it -- the person that murdered him never, hardly spent any time in jail. That was, you know, Vander Beatty had-- I think-- had been his lawyer, and he had lost the case and the guy killed him, but the guy was an ex-policeman or somehow or other involved in, I don't know. There, there was a teenager back here on Lincoln Place who was murdered by the 90:00police and I never even knew it until late, years later. It was one of those cases where the mother was upset with the teenager; that she was doing something, you know. I'm sure she really was a big problem, and the police came to the house, and shot this child dead. You know, the police went to 125 Eastern Parkway, where Celia Hong was a leader in this neighborhood. She was on the board of the Brooklyn Tenant's Union. She was on the board of the Haitian American Day Care Center. A wonderful, beautiful woman, and her younger son was one of the tragedies of Rikers Island, after she was dead. He had mental problems, there was no question about it. But he stayed in Rikers Island for a long time before his first case. This is a college-educated boy, and very 91:00middle class kind of Black family. She was from the Caribbean, and his father was a Holocaust survivor. But he somehow left the family when the two boys were very young and she married a Hong and changed all the children to Hong. And, and he got arrested over in Park Slope over a fight with the teacher, and he got the book thrown at him and all. But he stayed in Rikers Island for a long time. I don't know who, what, when, and where. I'm not saying he was not guilty of something. I'm not saying that. But when-- after he was in there a long time and came back home-- he got arrested again, probably in Park Slope again. I'm not, I'm not sure of that, though. But what I am sure of is that this time, it 92:00was a total -- No, the first time, it was the one reason he stayed there so long, because it's not fair to talk about the police and not talk about the just-- He stayed in there so long because the first judge that heard the case didn't believe he was Hong. He didn't have any state issued ID. He had his business cards. Didn't believe he was Hong. So, he was in the mental hospital first. Bellevue got the papers all mixed up. Then he went there. He was never finger-printed! I was in court trying to watch his case and help out, and solve how they would bring him from Rikers Island and never finger-printed him, and I felt so sorry for the judge. It was a woman judge, and she ordered them to finger-print him over and over-- over this question of his identity. I was down 93:00there everybody -- others were down there. We can all vouch for his identity, but they had to have the fingerprints. So the next time that he got arrested, sometime later, he stayed in Rikers Island for a year. Some of these -- they don't like me down there in the court too much. I'm a do-gooder. But honey, I don't like the nonprofits down there that are going to tell me-- because somebody's got a mental problem, who's not being tried in any mental hygiene court, regular criminal court-- that, "Well, you know, he really ought to go to the, the, the, the prison." That he ought to go that way. Uh-uh. You're entitled to a trial by jury! You trial, try the evidence up there. Don't tell me you're going to send him off here yon or somewhere because he's got a mental problem. They found out -- which they knew all along, I hope, but if they did, 94:00I wish they didn't -- they found out he wasn't guilty. They had the cameras. He didn't do it. He didn't do it. But by the time he got out, that time, he really was not in very good shape. So, and we tried to help him in the garden. Some of the men who worked in the garden who had been part of 125-- who make me cry-- they, they really tried to help him. Some of them in the garden really wanted to help him, because some of them have been in, I'm sure. But he wasn't home one day. He was not a perfect guy. I had him at a Seder one year. He acted terrible. Person's conducting the Seder finally had to send him home. He -- the police came to his door, suppose it was some kind of warrant. I'm not 95:00even sure they came to the right door. I'm not even sure what precinct they came from. But, he went out the window. I don't know whether he fell out, they pushed him out, I don't know. This is one that doesn't get -- because you have to have a family. His mother was dead. His brother wanted nothing to do with him. The brother was out in California, engineer, doing well with his life, didn't want anything to do with his crazy brother. And it's -- I didn't even find out about it until, you know, months later. I think a month or so later. But you have got terrible tragedies in this community, of all kinds, and I don't want anybody out there in my name saying Crown Heights was some kind of whatever, violent community. We were always out there trying to make it a more 96:00peaceful community. But we weren't doing it in an oppressive fashion, I hope, and it didn't work, obviously. You know, I told you, I don't know what we did wrong, but (groans).

OKECHUKWU: We don't have too much longer, but I have two more questions for you. The first is dealing with the, I guess somewhat related, to the monitoring of Brooklyn mental hygiene --

LESOLD: Clinic. [laughter]

OKECHUKWU: Yes, if you could tell me more about that, I know that there's people at Brooklyn Historical Society who are interested about public health in Brooklyn, and --

LESOLD: Oh, really?

OKECHUKWU: So, that. So, that's one question--

LESOLD: Oh, yes.

OKECHUKWU: And then the second question is just more around gentrification in Crown Heights.

LESOLD: Well, as far as that is -- the Brooklyn Mental Hygiene Court Monitors Project -- the, the strongest part of the Eastern Parkway Coalition work I did 97:00was in the -- I did, or was part of -- was in the late '70s and the '80s. In the late '80s, my husband had a stroke and I went back to work and I still did things. But the, the, the major strongest part was earlier and it was around gardens and, and beautification and land marking, and fire issues, always. From beginning to end, and, and you really want to interview the guy who's head of the church down there at the end of Eastern Parkway. I can tell you another time. When my husband died in '94, after being sick to one degree or another for like five years-- a couple of years after that, I guess around '96-- friends 98:00asked me to join them with monitoring the Mental Hygiene Court. This was a consumer and survivor's project. This was not the Legal Aid Society or something, and we did go in to monitor Judge Duberstein's court, at that time. Because the people who had gone before it had many complaints about Judge Duberstein. She didn't let them get up and testify. She didn't let them take notes in court. There were, there were a lot of things that Judge Duberstein didn't let them do. And so, after demonstrating in front of the court, dramatically -- and there are pictures in the court -- with the help of a, of a lawyer that one of them got, we -- and we were invited to come into her court. Judge Duberstein, in all fairness to her, never objected to being monitored, and 99:00so, the following judges did not put up an objection to being monitored. Unfortunately, the last judge in the Mental Hygiene Court-- whom I understand has now quit it, a Black woman, I can't think of her name right now-- I never did get to see her in court. 'Cause we pretty much by that time, quit monitoring. But we did monitor for many years there. The people who started it -- Tina Minkowitz went on to become, to be working with the United Nations on the Treaty on Disabilities and, and she's very much of a feminist, too, and so she's very active on the LGBT and feminist issues. And Tina's somebody that I think-- if they're going to work on mental health issues-- they might want to, somebody might want to talk to. She's in New York State. She's not in 100:00Brooklyn. She grew up in Brooklyn. She definitely came out of the more Orthodox southern part of Brooklyn, and went to the Orthodox schools, and she's a tough lady intellectually. Those schools, they did good work-- I have to say-- if Tina's any example. And Laura Ziegler, who is up in Vermont and a very good friend of mine and I'm going up there to her town, probably. Because I can't find a place to live in New York that I can afford any longer. But we monitored the court and we did -- Judge Duberstein did not try to throw us out or anything. She was not happy when we brought in a reporter and he wrote an article that was not real ugly, but was -- did ask questions, and ended up by 101:00saying, "If you want to love the law, don't go to court." [laughter] So, Judge Duberstein called us harpies. Now, I have been called worse, maybe. I've been called the barbarian, part of the barbarians at the gates, by Columbia University, when we tried to challenge through another organization-- not the court monitoring project. As you can tell, I started out in Crown Heights with mental health type issues. So, that's where I'm ending up, because that's where my, I need to be emotionally and other ways. That's where the problem is, and may be growing greater. I don't know, in the Trump administration. I don't 102:00think he's shown his hand in regard to mental health. I was somewhat impressed that he was kindly towards-- what's the Black artist that ended up in the hospital, mental hospital, and Trump went to visit him, or had him visit him?

OKECHUKWU: Kanye West?

LESOLD: Yes. Kanye West! I was somewhat impressed with the humane way that he treated Kanye West, and he does have a son who has some, some problems that are usually, you know, all put in together in the basket of, of mental health, cognitive functioning. People tend to put everything in the basket together. But the, the people who founded the Mental Hygiene Court Monitors Project -- the four of us who founded it -- the other three had been hospitalized as young 103:00people; very young. Tina had been knocked out cold by some drugs that they gave her, and she wouldn't take a shot now for nothing. The law school at CUNY took Tina, despite the fact she refused to have any vaccinations. Because they wanted her so bad. So, she put out a very good report on Judge Duberstein's court, that -- Laura went on to do a lot of work in the mental health system in Vermont. She's quit now, because she says she can't even get anything done in Vermont. Eva, or Judith, she had been, had had her serious problems as a young person, too. She had gone into the peer work in New York City. She knows all about the beginnings of that, and she was very-- affecting that, wonderful. We 104:00were all Jewish. This was a Jewish team. [laughter] You had -- you had converts, people at least, you know, living and educated in the orthodox community. I don't think Tina's mother was that much Orthodox. She was a teacher and all. And, and Laura's family, her mother was a, a -- came out of the Holocaust as a child, went to England. So, you know, and I have about seven boxes of papers that have to do with it, and of course the part that is court records are in the court. But they're all confidential and I have mixed feelings about sharing with anybody. The court -- for a while the court allowed us to have the agendas, which have the names on them. We always kept everything 105:00confidential and we, we did the best we could. And that project is not over. We're always talking about rebuilding it again. And, because there is a great need. It is horrible what is happening in mental health, horrible, absolutely horrible. It's-- on the one hand, you have the build-up of all the peer programs that help each other and they're wonderful and all, but they're not allowed to talk politically. They're not allowed to go out and lobby. NYAPRS's the main lobbying organization with mental health in Albany and all. It's, it has big days in Albany and everybody pretty much goes. But if the peers were 106:00allowed, if we had free speech it would be a different story. But people are getting jobs this way and they're doing good things and they're helping, helping each other. So you know, they, they may feel that free speech is something you can give up. But this business of outpatient commitment, which we've been fighting ever since it was passed, years ago now; there are only two states in the country that don't have it, and it boils down to that, you know, you can be out of the hospital and a judge can order you to everything under the sun. This is a very dangerous development, especially when you consider that people with 107:00mental illness -- I don't usually use that term, but since it's the common term -- live 25 years shorter lives than the rest of us, something is not right. They ain't all committing suicide. And part of the problem is that the drugs that they're being forced to take affect the body very, very seriously. And the psychiatrists know that, but they're afraid to speak up. Because if you're a psychiatrist and you speak up, you're going to lose the job, and you're not going to get the next one. I sat in that court monitoring it for the very first case in outpatient commitment, of outpatient commitment. Judge Duberstein was long gone. And the other judges, they, they did go through changes that seemed like they were going to make things a little better for a while. But that, that 108:00first case was a Black woman. Most of the people in outpatient commitment are Black men, Black and Hispanic-- and most of the people who go through that court are immigrants, and this, all this business about immigrants is not new. We had ICE running through this building with their guns drawn at one time. We put a stop to that, many years ago, many years ago. But as far as that particular first case, she was a Black woman veteran. Her main problem, I think, was substance abuse. All she asked for was to have a case manager from her own ethnic group, from her background. They, like, laughed at her. The people 109:00putting these programs together were all White, young, professional, you know, wanting to go forward. What did they care what this aging Black woman wanted, who hadn't ever done anything to them? And I don't believe that she was ever accused of doing anything violent. You don't have to have done anything violent to be put in outpatient commitment. I was not happy with the Mental Hygiene Legal Service lawyer who did the case. He was the best they had, supposedly. He didn't defend her. I mean, defend her, that's not the right word. But he did not speak up on her behalf; that he did not -- he didn't try to negotiate for a Black case manager. He could have done that. I criticized him for it. I 110:00had had good relations with the Mental Hygiene Legal Services. They had had hopes that we could do-- because they, they-- His, his answer to my criticizing him was to try to prevent us from even coming to outpatient commitment cases. From then on, we had to ask the permission of the person to come. Now, I don't think there's anything wrong with that, mind you, but I know what he was doing. He was just telling me he thought, probably, we'd go away. I never had one single person refuse to have me sit in. Because our policy from the beginning was that we don't sit in on any case where the person doesn't want us there, or where we know the person, for the most part, and trust me, if you sat in there long enough you would meet somebody's mother, somebody you knew, some kid, a kid 111:00from this building. I saw his name. I never saw him in court. It broke my heart, because I knew the kid. But -- go ahead.

OKECHUKWU: Sorry. Can you speak about, you know, when -- I guess, when did gentrification kind of begin in the neighborhood? Like, when did this neighborhood become so unaffordable in relationship to your own experience?

LESOLD: Well, I think it was always becoming unaffordable, because, partly, of the rent control and rent stabilization program itself. Once you had them working so hard to increase the rents, up and up and up, and the answer to that was simply to create DRIE and SCRIE and so older people got it capped and those with disabilities finally got the rents capped. But I think, you know, everything has contributed to it. I, I don't know what you can do to stop it, 112:00truthfully, because this is of course the most wonderful place in the city to live. You have wonderful transportation. We had even better transportation when my husband was alive and he got that bus going from Park Slope and back, and we have not been able to get that back yet. But it, it, it -- what, I think, could have been stopped is just the total, the total disregard of the law. Which, once again, gets back to politics and police and everything else. Housing court has been a disgrace forever. I, I've been very involved with housing court issues, not just because of my own case. But I used to go down to 113:00court, sometimes, with friends, like Vera Walker, who I suggested.

OKECHUKWU: What was your own case?

LESOLD: Well, the -- when we first moved in here, we were young. We did everything ourselves; we painted our own apartment, we did what we wanted to, and it looked like-- My husband was dead, I was getting older, I certainly wasn't going to undertake--or we paid, you know. And they weren't doing anything, and in fact the stove that I had was very dangerous, and I had a very good lawyer. I didn't go in there without a lawyer. We have, now that the horse is out of the barn and the barn has burned down, we passed the law so that anybody got to have a lawyer, you know, to go into housing court. That's fine; that helps some. And that's because of all the work that tenant's associations 114:00have done now and, and people like the Crown Heights Tenant's Union and, and other groups. So that if you're, if you're in a rent stabilized housing now, you have half a chance. I just went to a rally-- down on, I think it was Dean Street-- where they had the young people there; said they were paying $4,000 for an apartment, and some of the people were rent stabilized and they were mainly young, White and old, Black and they were working together because they hadn't had any heat all winter long! Landlord didn't care, wanted all of them out; [laughter] more money, more money. And then the foreign money coming in here. From Sweden and from this place and that place, and like, they don't know nothing about New York housing law or they act like they don't and they go ahead 115:00and then you've got people who are afraid and they have not -- They don't teach you tenant organizing in school. But I, I don't -- basically, I, I don't -- like I said in the beginning, if they allowed this old neighborhood to go down the drain, then there wouldn't be anything left in Brooklyn. I, I think pure selfishness did us in, to some extent. One thirty-five Eastern Parkway didn't stay moderate income when the people in the building took over. I don't think that the low-income co-ops down here at the end of the block are low-income co-ops anymore. I hope they are, but I don't think they are.

OKECHUKWU: In this building, 225 Eastern Parkway, was turned into condos?

LESOLD: You can't turn a whole building into a condo because you buy your condo 116:00one apartment at a time.

OKECHUKWU: Right, right, right.

LESOLD: And you have rent stabilized tenants still in the building. I was rent controlled, and I wasn't paying a real high rent. But I wanted services for what I did, and also, I was mad as hell-- if you want to know the truth, and still am-- because I gave my life to making this a place to live in. I literally gave most of my adult life to things like the shuttle, the land marking of the Parkway. I have no regrets. I made wonderful friendships. I, I got to know about all kinds of things, and I'm sorry since we didn't talk that much about the Eastern Parkway Coalition, you cannot leave it out of here, of how the transit police destroyed the garden. Oh no, that cannot be left out. Because probably, well, we know they said they wanted cars, you know, a parking 117:00lot. That's -- done with that forever. But there were other reasons too, probably, because we had just been collecting food and clothing for the homeless in the garden and I had just been up there working with homeless women, you know, demonstrating in front of the Emergency Financial Control Board chair's house-- because of homelessness-- and homelessness and mental health are my issues; core issues, down there. I, I grew up amongst trees. I lived under a tree all my life-- as a child-- so trees, I love. I have to have them. I have to live in a beautiful place and I've been lucky I have lived on Riverside Drive. [laughter] I've, you know, lived here and you know, I've-- I've been very fortunate that when I first came to New York, if you were young and White, you could get a place and a job just like that, that you could afford. It was 118:00harder for Black people, but Black people could find a place easier than they can now. And as I said, this building right here decided that it wanted to be integrated and petitioned the landlord to do so, which he did. I think Dolly's told me she moved in in '69, so he acted very fast. You know, and the judges; I do not want you to think that I am totally negative towards the judges and the court. Because my father, who has serious problems and had not voted for years, came and lived with me for a while and I took him down to vote and I took him-- I don't remember why we were in the supreme court-- but I introduced him to judges that I knew down there, and it made tears come down in his eyes the way they treated him with such courtesy and all and welcomed him and told him how glad they were that he could vote. And so, you know, people died for our right 119:00to vote. We have to vote, whether you think it works or not. I mean, it's not right, not to vote, I'm sorry. I didn't think I had a presidential candidate to vote for this year but I voted anyhow, and I think from what I've said, you can guess who I voted for. It was not Mr. Trump. [laughter] But at anyhow, no, the judges down there made it possible for the Brooklyn Tenant's Union to get their 501(c)(3) fast. The lawyers told me that was the fastest they had ever got. Probably all of these things are probably due because I was a member of Union Temple, and the judges were down there. Some of them were on the board and the head of the MTA was on the board and I wrote to the MTA because everybody thought that the garden was the property of the Transit Authority. None of us knew they had already transferred it to the city. And that's how we got the 120:00garden; when we finally found out through contacts with the MTA, which referred us to the gentleman who gave us the information of where to go, gave me the information, because I did the work on getting the garden. The gardeners did all the [laughter], the garden work. I'm one of those who mother never wanted to go back and put her hands in the soil. [laughter] She [unintelligible]. I, I did, but I mean, I'm, I'm not really the gardener. I'm the, I was part of the planning and the -- and I do not want you to go away without knowing that Medgar Evers College played a major part, because Marcella Maxwell-- who was dean at that time-- gave the summer youth program space in Medgar Evers College to do their work on rainy days. So, we had -- as I said, total cooperation from a lot 121:00of places, and from the court system. I could walk into that court and, and talk to Judge Duberstein without fear, because I had that kind of connection. Roger Green's mother helped me get into the [laughter], the judicial convention. And see what was going on. You know, it's -- we, it was easy to have connections then, if you -- it was easy to be a parent then, if you knew how to do it. Because there were so many places where your child could get the best education the country can offer. I did not want my child going to a private 122:00school and coming out thinking he was better than anybody else, any more than anybody else because he went to a private school. No, no, no. I come completely from a public school background, until my last Masters of Education at Smith College School for Social Work. But, and they didn't want me in the beginning. The people who supervised me at work-- because I was already doing social work in the children's court, so I knew something-- told them that if they didn't take me, they were not going to supervise their other students. If they weren't good enough for Smith to take their recommendations, then they weren't good enough to supervise their students, so I'm used to being protected. I'm used to having connections that a, allow me to get on with life. I have denied for a long time that I was homeless, but I'm homeless now, I'm homeless. 123:00Yes, I took a buy-out. When, when it was all settled from the court, I said, I mean, in terms of my challenging them to fix the apartment and then I said, "Now, if you want me to leave here, you had better buy me out now, because I'm not leaving and I'm not dying." That's what they count on. With older people, they think they can do anything and they're not going to give them any buy-out, because they think you're going to die. But I wasn't planning to. I didn't take a big buy-out. I just took enough to -- I wish I'd have stayed here and got my million dollars. But [laughter] no, I don't, either, because I was able to do a lot with, with what I did get.

OKECHUKWU: And what year was that? When did you --

LESOLD: It was about 10 years ago. I've been to Haiti and helped with a school there. My focus is on, right now, my focus had better be on settling down somewhere, which it looks like will be Vermont. But I have been, had the chance 124:00to go to Haiti. I had the chance to live in upstate, near my grandchildren; get to know them better for a couple of years in Niagara County. Democrat like me should never go to a Republican county. [laughter] The Salvation Army won't even let you ring the bell at Christmastime. But they will let you work for the Board of Elections, because you've got to have some Democrats. Small places, but you know, I've had a chance to go to Paris again and see my husband's relatives there, and I've had a, you know, I've had a chance to do a lot of things with that hundred thousand, hundred and twenty-five thousand dollar buy-out. I say that because you know, people think buy-outs are a million dollars, but they're not usually. I was horrified to find out last year some people on the Upper West Side were taking buy-outs of $25,000! Can you imagine? 125:00They were really taking advantage of, ignorance. But you asked me something else and I, except for the --

OKECHUKWU: Yes, no, I was just asking about your experience of gentrification, how the neighborhood has changed.

LESOLD: Oh, yes, yes, I did get into that. Well, you know, I don't hate rich people. I hate rich people who think that this is all done for them. And they wouldn't lift a finger to help a tree out here. Of course, it was always very hard to get people -- anything done for the trees. The Parks Department; I had good relationships with Liam Kavanagh and other people in the Parks Department. Even though once the Parks Department put in their program of making people work for their welfare check and destroyed the union -- I'm a strong union person -- that was the stupidest thing the Parks Department ever did, was to allow that. 126:00Because they, they lost all their workers so they ain't got no union anymore. And you know, supposedly Steve Banks is working on, and the mayor is working on totally getting rid of the WEB program. Good. If he's building ninety shelters, he won't get my vote, and he will be a one-term mayor. Shelters spread disease. Shelters do not allow people to have any privacy, so how are they going to do any useful work for themselves? This business of-- I don't know what the mayor is thinking of. It looks like he came from Park Slope. [laughter] Oh, are we going to go? She had the -- anyway, no, I, I, I am very-- Homelessness, mental hygiene issues-- that's an old word-- mental health issues, and I will not go inside the Office of Mental Health, hardly, you know. I, I am 127:00very unhappy with the whole direction of how the company, country is going. And it's all related. You can't get an apartment unless you've got a mental health designation, nowadays, unless you've declared yourself crazy and gone through a hospital and you can't get hardly any then. It's, it's outrageous, what, what we've come to in terms of the economics of this country. It's outrageous, but we're afraid to tax the rich, and that's what it boils down to, fear.

OKECHUKWU: All right, well if -- is there anything, because we covered a lot, but, and yet didn't scratch the surface, right?

LESOLD: That's right.

OKECHUKWU: There's so many things that we could talk about. Is there anything that you want to make sure is reflected on the recording before we end?


LESOLD: Well, I, I do want to say, again, about those murders in the Eastern Parkway Coalition, because that's my connection to the Brooklyn Historical Society. I want to remind you that one of our founders was murdered, and that's another one of those where you know, there is no statute of limitations on murder. Probably her killer is dead now, because it was many, many years ago. But this was a woman and a woman from the Hassidic community and it makes me very, very sad that I have been totally uneffective, ineffective, and we have been totally ineffective in bringing to justice those who have murdered our leaders and even the super from next door was a leader. He was, got himself into it, but, and I, I-- We have tried very hard in this community, under Ruth 129:00Goring's leadership in Board Eight and Anna Marie Blinn with the fire committee. Board Eight doesn't even have a fire committee anymore! They voted to go for the rich, thinking they were going to be able to get some middle-income housing. But instead what they got was a lot of homelessness and now they have a lot of rich people and the mayor threatening to put in all these shelters. It's, you know, it's, it's very strange. I don't know what's going on, but I, it looks like those folks that have always said that those in elected office have no power may be right. Because I don't think that de Blasio would be going in the direction he's going if he weren't scared to death. And I, I just write off 130:00Cuomo. He's, I, I just -- and, and so it's, it's, it's a very scary time when people like me, who, who grew up during the Civil Rights Movement and, and, you know, I didn't do no heroic things. I did little things, like other people, and-- But you know, it looked like things were getting so much better; that people were getting the right to vote and people were working together and the colleges all got integrated and the, the public accommodations and the housing and what, and what. What's happened? What's happening is continual wars have got to stop, because that is feeding this mental health business, and the court. Don't ever go to a mental health/ hygiene court, if you have a, a record as a 131:00veteran. Whether it was good, bad, or indifferent, you are trained in the arts of war. You are trained in the arts of violence. You're not going to have a chance in a mental hygiene court, and so it's, I, I, I just -- I don't know what's going to happen. Crown Heights is just a little, little piece of the pie, and up in Vermont, if I go up there do you think I'll stay out of trouble?

OKECHUKWU: No. [laughter]

LESOLD: I won't fit in. That is a very civilized place. But they tell me that Homeland Security has jurisdiction of everything which is in 100 miles of the border. And they tell me, now, that all of Vermont is within 100 miles of the border. Now, I can't quite figure it out on the map. [laughter] I have to go back -- but that's what they're telling me up there. But they are so civilized, 132:00I am not that civilized.

OKECHUKWU: Yes, we might see you on the news.

LESOLD: No, you won't either. [laughter] Except as -- I did go to this little demonstration. I mean, I don't fit in in New England. I, I, I wouldn't, anyhow. It's just -- I'm too much of a Southerner. I spent three summers in New England at Smith, and it's a, it's a wonderful part of the country, but it's not my -- it's not my deal. And I, I -- it's going to be an interesting experience. I had a chance at an apartment in North Carolina, which I wish I had taken, back, right before Christmas. I wish I had taken it. It was close enough to Chapel Hill and-- where I have family, still, some and, and friends-- and it's not as cold and I wish I had taken it. But, I didn't, and you can't 133:00find anything you can afford down there.

OKECHUKWU: Everything is overpriced now.

LESOLD: Something's got to give. The first thing that's got to give is all these wars. I mean, I feel sorry for the people in Syria and I hope something is going to develop that-- But well, we could be on the verge of war with Russia. [laughter] I don't, I hope not, I, I -- every president that's ever tried to deal with Russia's ended up either dead or--

OKECHUKWU: Well, so we have -- thank you.

LESOLD: Oh, you're welcome.

OKECHUKWU: For the interview.

LESOLD: Thank you.

OKECHUKWU: [unintelligible] I don't know what, you know-- I know that you have a roaming address right now, so I don't know what you --

LESOLD: I'm not putting any -- I'll put down, as a mailing address-- What's the date of today? The seventh?


OKECHUKWU: Yes. Thank you again. And if you have contact information for --

LESOLD: Interviewer name? You, you'll put that in? You've got to write down your last name for me.


LESOLD: No, nothing's ever over, it just all-- Twenty, forty-five, twenty one--

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Interview Description

Oral History Interview with Constance Lesold

Constance "Connie" Lesold was born in North Carolina in 1938. Lesold attended the University of North Carolina, Greensboro (when it was a women's college) and moved to New York City after graduation in 1961. She first visited the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights in 1966 and had an apartment at 225 Eastern Parkway with her husband, Helmuth Lesold, by 1967. The couple had one son who was born in 1970. A social worker until retirement as well as an engaged community member and activist, she was president of the Parkway Independent Democrats and an official of Community Board Eight. Along with her husband, several Brooklyn community boards, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and a public coalition, she opposed the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's move to end service on the Franklin Avenue Shuttle. Lesold also served on boards of organizations and daycares, and in leadership in the Eastern Parkway Coalition for many years. A widow since 1994, she also volunteered with the Brooklyn Mental Hygiene Court Monitors Project.

In the interview, Constance Lesold talks about her many memories of the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. She discusses her longtime residence of thirty years at an apartment building on Eastern Parkway. She focuses on the battle to save the Franklin Avenue Shuttle from permanent closure. Throughout she names other activists, community leaders and organizations, and politicians; these include her husband, Community Boards Eight and Nine, Borough President Howard Golden, Arthur Miller, the Brooklyn Museum, New Muse, and the Children's Museum. Lesold chronicles the politics affecting social issues in Brooklyn, often referencing the Eastern Parkway Coalition Garden above the Franklin Avenue Shuttle. The gentrification of Crown Heights, tenants associations and how neighbors run their buildings, and justice for those with mental health issues are other concerns for Lesold. She concludes by contemplating Vermont, where she'll be living next. Interview conducted by Amaka Okechukwu.

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 BHS 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.


Lesold, Constance, Oral history interview conducted by Amaka Okechukwu, April 07, 2017, Voices of Crown Heights oral histories, 2016.027.1.10; Brooklyn Historical Society.


  • Brooklyn Mental Hygiene Court Monitors Project
  • Brooklyn Museum
  • Carthan, Hattie
  • Eastern Parkway Coalition
  • Lesold, Constance
  • Lesold, Helmuth
  • New York (N.Y.). Police Department
  • Richmond, Frederick W., 1923-


  • Community activists
  • Community development
  • Community gardens
  • Crime
  • Environmentalism
  • Gangs
  • Gentrification
  • Housing
  • Local transit
  • Race relations
  • Social justice
  • Subway stations
  • Subways
  • Tenants' associations
  • Urban beautification


  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
  • Crown Heights (New York, N.Y.)
  • Eastern Parkway (New York, N.Y.)
  • Franklin Avenue (Brooklyn, N.Y.)


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Voices of Crown Heights oral histories