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William D. Pointer Jr.
Oral history interview conducted by Craig Wilder
August 10, 1993
Call number: 1994.006.25
CRAIG WILDER: What languages do you speak at home?
WILLIAM POINTER: English.
CRAIG WILDER: Where were you born?
WILLIAM POINTER: I was born in New York City. My family's place of residence atthe time was in the Bronx. I believe I was born in Sloane Kettering Women's Hospital. I guess I'd have to check that with my mother. After residing in the Bronx for a year, my parents purchased a brownstone in Brooklyn, on Carroll 1:00Street, between Brooklyn and Kingston Avenues. There I resided for the next 23 years of my life, until getting married.
CRAIG WILDER: What year was it that you were born?
WILLIAM POINTER: I was born in 1952, [date redacted for privacy].
CRAIG WILDER: Can you tell me about Carroll Street when you were growing up,your memories of it?
WILLIAM POINTER: We were the second Black family in the Crown Heights area.There was another family present at that time. I think they were originally from Bermuda. I remember the neighborhood being-- Well, as far back as my 2:00recollection can go, I remember the neighborhood being a mixture of Jews, Italians, Polacks, and then us. All of my friends growing up were a mixture of all of those various nationalities. My brother and myself and my sister were the only Blacks in our group of friends. As we went into our teenage years, I remember there being other families of color in the basic neighborhood. Very 3:00few, but there was always a natural camaraderie that existed among us as youth. I really didn't experience any form of racism. I'm sure my parents could relate some incidents that happened to them, but as for myself, we were embraced by the families that were there. We had very close relationships. We were in each other's homes. We played, we ran in the neighborhood. We played stickball outside, went to the park, played football. We had a very healthy relationship, and I remember my friends' parents gathering all of the fellows together and 4:00taking us all out to go roller skating or go swimming, or my father doing the same. When we were members of little league baseball teams, my father would gather all of the guys together and give everyone a ride over to the little league field where we played. I had very healthy memories of living together with many nationalities.
CRAIG WILDER: Who were your best friends?
WILLIAM POINTER: My very best friend… We had a very interesting little groupthere. My very best friend was named Larry Lefkowitz. Larry and I were a year apart; I was a year older than him. His birthday was the same day as my brother's, which was the [date redacted for privacy]. To this day, Larry and I 5:00talk for hours over the telephone, usually on his birthday. We'll get a call from him, from wherever he is. He's a geologist now, and he has lived in Spokane, Washington, Redlands, California. At present, last time I spoke to him, he was living in Las Vegas. That was my childhood friend. We grew up, we were close. We were very tight. Our home was as though it was his home. We were like brothers, and to this day, we maintain a contact.
CRAIG WILDER: Is he the only person you keep up with from that time, or arethere others too?
WILLIAM POINTER: To be perfectly honest with you, I run into a few people sincethen, but Larry's about the only one that I have contact with on a regular 6:00basis, and that's only once or twice a year.
CRAIG WILDER: Describe the house that you grew up in.
WILLIAM POINTER: I can remember it being large. It only shrank in size as I grewin size. It was warm, a loving home, always had lots of kids running in the front door and straight through the house, out the back door, or in the back door, through the house and out the back door. I don't how my mother and father put up with it, but they just seemed to love people. They seemed to embrace the 7:00needs in children, and they had a tendency to be able to recognize when there was something missing in the relationships of the children, something they weren't either getting at home, or something that they were missing, and they were willing to open their home and be that for them. Consequently, they always had a good relationship with both my friends, as well as their parents. I can remember my brother and my sister and myself creating games that took us from one end of the house to the other by climbing on the molding and on the 8:00furniture, trying to go from the upstairs to the downstairs portion of the house without touching the floor. All kinds of crazy things like that, but I remember a home that was full of love and compassion for all people. My parents taught us to have compassion for all people, and that there was no one superior to us, but there was also no one inferior to us, and certainly we were not inferior to anyone, nor were we superior to anyone. People were just people, and we embraced all people.
CRAIG WILDER: You described a period when a number of Black people came into thearea; you said your teenage years. Did they come in as owners or renters?
WILLIAM POINTER: It was a combination of both. I think there were more9:00homeowners that entered in than renters at that point. I don't know. Maybe our entrance into the neighborhood sparked folks to think the neighborhood was going down, so they moved out. Whatever the circumstance was, it created an opportunity for other Blacks to be able to move in and purchase homes. It's interesting, when speaking to some individuals who had left the neighborhood and were gone for years, who happened to just drive through and just wanted to see what the neighborhood was all about, they were surprised that at least the homeowners' portion of the neighborhood was still maintained and kept the way it was. There was a strong block association, and they sought to maintain the 10:00neighborhood and the beauty of the neighborhood, and did a very good job.
CRAIG WILDER: Were your parents active in the block association?
WILLIAM POINTER: Yes they were.
CRAIG WILDER: What types of things did the block association do besides maintenance?
WILLIAM POINTER: One thing they did was they met head on, immediately anythingthat seemed as though it was going to bring the face of the neighborhood down. Of course homeowners have a tendency to take better care of their property than those that rent. So consequently, when people would move into the apartment buildings around, they thought it was fine to use the street outside their 11:00buildings as a garage for the repair or rebuilding their cars. Homeowners were not having it, and they would see to it that things of that nature were not permitted. When elements would come into the neighborhood that would want to turn the neighborhood into a place to hang out and make it as though it was a sense of lack of safety, even if it wasn't necessarily that that was the case, if it tended to move towards the feeling of that element, they would deal with 12:00it immediately. I can remember when some of the local prostitutes that would work the neighborhood from over towards Lincoln Terrace Park or from off Eastern Parkway somewhere would seek to use the block, Carroll Street, as the place to bring their johns to. They were met with the community coming out and definitely letting them know that this will not be a block where you will be stopping on. They policed the neighborhood quite well. Though in Crown Heights there has been tension down through the years that has occurred from time to time with the Jewish population and the Black population, it's not something that readily was from in the Crown Heights community itself. It always seemed to be something 13:00that came in from outside the community. I personally had friends, good friends, who were religious Orthodox Jews. We talked, we shared. We spent time with each other, standing on the corner relating information about each other's background. To this day, there are Hebrew prayers that I know. There are Yiddish sayings that I can speak, as a result of our interactions. It just seems that a lot of things that are present now come from outside, an element that doesn't 14:00understand our community. It's not like being brought up side by side where you have a respect for one another's life and what it means to be who you are, and we had that growing up.
CRAIG WILDER: During your childhood and your teenage years, the Hasidicpopulation increased in Crown Heights, I assume. Can you describe that process or your memory of it?
WILLIAM POINTER: It's not something that I remember. It just seemed to me asthough the population was always there. How much it increased wasn't something 15:00that I was really that aware of. I think probably the most increase happened during the years that I was kind of out of the community. My life was flourishing in other areas. I was broadening my horizons and those who I interrelated with took me more out of the community. As far as I can remember, there's been a healthy Hasidic population there.
CRAIG WILDER: Was your interaction with Hasidic children different than yourinteraction with children who weren't Orthodox?
WILLIAM POINTER: Yeah, in that with other White children in the neighborhood,16:00our interaction was more like children. We played games. We got involved in some of the same things. We played stickball, we played football. We did all those kinds of things. Basically, our interactions with the Hasidim in the neighborhood was basically conversational. It didn't include the childhood games part of childhood. It was a mutual respect. They were certain things-- It might've been we were following the news, it might have been things that 17:00concerned Israel, it might have been concerning baseball or something of that nature, but it was basically the sharing of basic feelings about information that we had. Then they would move off to wherever they were going, or whatever was called for from them out of their tradition or ritual. There were times when we were asked during certain holidays to come in and turn their air conditioner off or answer the phone for them, because they aren't allowed to. There were little things they had forgotten. We would go in the house and do it for them. 18:00
CRAIG WILDER: But there was still interaction and sort of understanding. So youreacted to that sort of limited role that you played in their lives by simply understanding their tradition and their heritage.
WILLIAM POINTER: For me, one of the things that helped, as far as that'sconcerned, was my Christian upbringing, and understanding the role that they played in what my Christian faith was, and that the origin of what I believed was that our Christian faith originated with them. So there was a respect that was had for them. There was an understanding of the instructions given to us in scripture to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, and that were entire events that 19:00were going to revolve around Israel, so there was a respect for them. There was a respect for the nation of Israel and there was a desire to see, for me personally, when they adopted their slogan "Never again," I was in complete agreement for the things that they have had to suffer. Of course, I have experienced things that… You know, in going through their shops and things of that nature, you experience that there are always those individuals who, because 20:00of your color, feel that you've come in to rob or steal from them. We've encountered that kind of prejudice. We've encountered them… We've seen them giving favor to their own, and in a sense, giving you the shaft. At the same time, there were many people in the community and store owners whom we knew very well and who were very kind and loving individuals. I guess the bottom line is that you will find in any people those that are the "bad apples." You'll find them in every race of people. Because the reason why you're a "bad apple" is 21:00because you don't like the color of my skin, is not a reason for me to then turn around and call all of your nationality racist. You just have a problem. Your problem may not be what his problem is. His reason for liking me may not be because of the color of my skin. He may not like me because he didn't like the way I smile or the way I look, the way I dress. There's so many ridiculous reasons that people have for disliking one another. I thank God for the balance that was given in my home, to realize the people are people, and I've never judged. I was taught and I learned that each man was to be regarded on the merit of his own character and his own personality.
CRAIG WILDER: You had said that the block association, the homeowners on the22:00block, were extremely good at sort of guarding and protecting the neighborhood. How important were strong families in that whole process of keeping the neighborhood up?
WILLIAM POINTER: The bulwark or the sustaining factor to any community is itsfamily, because it's from out of family that the very fiber of our society either is held together or falls apart. I think that's one of strengths that we 23:00were able to witness by the Jews in the community, that there was a sense of family, a strong sense of family, and it didn't have to be blood or an immediate relative to gain that sense of family. For that reason, there was power. There was the ability to get things done, to move things. The homeowners in our community recognized that. That was the sense that was in the Black family for years, that we recently have allowed to go. The root of society, as society seeks to re-label and redefine family; the process is actually tearing it apart. 24:00The strength was literally in the family, and what we experienced when I was growing up was not only the strength in family, it was the strength in extended family. If my mother and father weren't around, I had many other mothers and fathers on the block, because the neighbors were able to step in and would step in, and if you got in trouble with, let's say Mrs. Price down the block, then you were in trouble with your own mother and father. It was that sense of family. It helped us, it made children who are always trying, children who are 25:00always pressed to the limit to find out how far they can go and what they can get away with, always had a sense and knew that in the community and in the neighborhood, there were many eyes that were watching you. So that kept you kind of constrained. You went but so far. Nowadays, children are aware of the fact that if you get out of line and somebody caught you on it, you just go home and tell you mother and father and the whole family would come back willing to fight, take somebody's head off. The sense of family was very strong in the community, and thereby the community was a strong community.
CRAIG WILDER: Do you think that the sort of dissipation of the family has causedCrown Heights' current problems or do you see the link there?
WILLIAM POINTER: I see the link in the problems that exist citywide, nationally.26:00The Bible says that a child's glory is his father. The glory of an object is its worth, its intrinsic value. If a child can see no glory in his father and that is, him as a provider, a person who is there emotionally for them, can sustain them, meeting needs not only financially, not only physically, but emotionally, spiritually, then the child lacks his glory. He'll try and find it in other ways, and what happens very often is he'll look for it through peers and instead 27:00of aspiring to achieve and to accomplish something that he might see and hear his father say, "well done," he'll strive and achieve to hear his friends say, "well done." The only thing is, their limited understanding, their lack of wisdom very often puts the emphasis in the wrong place. The decisions are not wise. Family is a large part of a lot of the problem that we have. If you take God out of the family, then you have literally removed Him from the community. Then you've taken Him out of the city, the state. You removed Him out of the 28:00nation, and then ultimately, you've removed Him out of the world, and without God, there are no absolutes. The period of time that is spoken of in the scriptures says that there was a period of time when every man did what was right in his own sight, and that's what we are experiencing. We're experiencing every person wanting to determine and decide what's right for him, but we are not intelligent enough to know how that affects another individual. We aren't intelligent enough to know the things that we are doing scientifically, how it affects the next generation, how it affects our environment. We are always coming along later, trying to clean up the mess we've made, because we don't 29:00understand enough about the issues and the circumstances that are brought about as a result of our actions, but yet we want to be totally "free will" agents. When you recognize that there is God, who did formulate the home and its structure, and then gave guidelines for its operation, and how the interaction between the role of parent and child set boundaries, there was a reason. Remove those boundaries, and you have anarchy, and that's what we are experiencing today. Family is definitely important, and when we had a stronger sense of family, we didn't have as many of the problems that we have today, even in Crown Heights.
CRAIG WILDER: To take you off on another angle, if I were to ask you -- we're30:00doing a museum exhibit -- What things represent African-American culture in Crown Heights, what things in your life would you point to material things, spiritual things?
WILLIAM POINTER: Wow, in Crown Heights. I would have to say that that's adifficult question. You know why I say that? Because I've always related to-- I remember there was a period in my life when I got heavily involved in the ASA, 31:00the African Student Association. Les Campbell was head of that organization when I was in high school. I was heavily involved in the Black militant movement, although my involvement in it was never one that-- I never hated anyone. I would march down the hill to Boys and Girls High School. I held the position of Minister of Defense of the ASA, coordinated many activities in the school as a result of those tumultuous times that were going on. My purpose always then, though hate, fear, racial discontent seemed to have been the things that perpetuated and moved that movement along, my intention was always the need to 32:00see Blacks come together, though I never hated anybody. The proof of that was I would march up the hill from after school with the members and the President and the Vice President of the ASA, with our Black Power emblems, red black and green colors, our dungaree outfits, combat boots, great big afros, staffs, canes, would march up the hill with all of them to be greeted by my best friend, Larry Lefkowitz, whom they all knew and respected as my best friend. He attended Erasmus High School at the time, and in my home, they all interrelated with him 33:00as they interrelated with me, as being my best friend, and they understood. I dislike and hate no one, because everyone has a purpose and a value under God's heaven. But my involvement was for the purpose of understanding that Blacks were disjointed, confused, unorganized, and needed a sense of solidarity before they could move forward and embrace other peoples. Consequently -- out of some tumultuous times that happened in Wingate High School -- there were some racial 34:00things that went on, there were some racial struggles and battles that happened. As a matter of fact, as a result of a play that we had, matter of fact, it was the line that I had in the play that incensed the teachers. I can remember the line to this day. It says, "We can't continue to obey the racist pigs by buying their dope, kissing their rear end, allowing them to label us." That line incensed the teachers, the White students and everyone got angry, and the result was a gang of White boys in Wingate High School beat up three of the girl dancers that were in the show. Our organization turned around and for every three that were beat up, they beat up seven, so the ratio became 21 to the 3. 35:00But the thing that was so disheartening about it was that-- What we couldn't understand was, why did individuals feel as though they were being called racist pigs, unless they were the ones who were putting the dope in the neighborhoods, they were the ones that were attempting to label Blacks and put them down. Because that's what the line of the play stated, and it was speaking to the Black students, saying, "We must stand up on our own feet, stop allowing ourselves to be put into this category, in this place, and realize that the individuals who are perpetrating it don't mean you any good." But as a result, sheer bedlam broke out in the school. We had to have policemen in the building 36:00and all kinds of things. There were actions that we coordinated as a result of that time, that was to disrupt the school and all of those things. At that time, I spouted all the rhetoric folks wanted to hear, but that wasn't my intention, not to foster hate. What I wanted to do, actually finally did come to pass.
Oral History Interview with William D. Pointer Jr.
William D. Pointer Jr. was born to William and Louvenia Pointer in New York City, 1952. He was raised on Carroll St. in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights, along with a brother and sister. Pointer graduated from George W. Wingate High School in 1970. He is married to Elder Lillie Pointer, who serves with him at the Christian Cultural Center (CCC). Since 1992, Reverend Pointer has served at CCC as Associate Pastor and Senior Elder, as well as Director of the Performing Arts Ministry. He and his wife have traveled and ministered across the globe. In 2009, his book "Moving from Pain to Power" was published.
In the interview, William D. Pointer Jr. recalls his childhood, his relationship with his best friend from the Jewish family next door, and home ownership of different ethnic groups; all in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. He describes his activism as a Black militant teenager and how the African Student Association effected change. In describing the climate that led to turmoil between the cultures of Crown Heights in 1991, Pointer sees a challenge of how the nation and culture at large values the family unit and community. Interview conducted by Craig Wilder.
This collection contains oral history recordings and transcripts, as well as exhibit materials, from Brooklyn Historical Society's Crown Heights History Project, also known as "Bridging Eastern Parkway." Crown Heights History Project oral histories include audio and transcripts created and collected within the context of an exhibition project undertaken in part by BHS in 1993 and 1994. Three interviewers recorded conversations with over forty narrators. In addition to exhibition product value, the oral histories were conducted as life history and community anthropology interviews; topics of discussion include family and heritage, immigration and relocation, cultural and racial relations, occupations and professions, education and religion, housing and gentrification, civil unrest and reconciliation, media representation and portrayal, and activism. The series of exhibition research materials document the outreach efforts for interviews and materials from the community as well as exhibit scripts and curatorial notes.
CitationPointer Jr., William D., Oral history interview conducted by Craig Wilder, August 10, 1993, Crown Heights History Project collection, 1994.006.25; Brooklyn Historical Society.
- Boys' High School (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
- Christian Cultural Center
- George W. Wingate High School
- Pointer, William D., Jr.
- African Americans
- Christian life
- Community activists
- Ethnic neighborhoods
- Family life
- Home ownership
- Jewish neighborhoods
- Race identity
- Race relations
- Bronx (New York, N.Y.)
- Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
- Crown Heights (New York, N.Y.)
Finding AidCrown Heights History Project collection