Terms of Use

Oral histories are intimate conversations between and among people who have generously agreed to share these recordings with BHS’s archives and researchers. Please listen in the spirit with which these were shared. BHS abides by the General Principles & Best Practices for Oral History as agreed upon by the Oral History Association and expects that use of this material will be done with respect for these professional ethics.

Every oral history relies on the memories, views, and opinions of the narrator. Because of the personal nature of oral history, listeners may find some viewpoints or language of the recorded participants to be objectionable. In keeping with its mission of preservation and unfettered access whenever possible, BHS presents these views as recorded.

The audio recording should be considered the primary source for each interview. Where provided, transcripts created prior to 2008 or commissioned by a third party other than BHS, serve as a guide to the interview and are not considered verbatim. More recent transcripts commissioned by BHS are nearly verbatim copies of the recorded interview, and as such may contain the natural false starts, verbal stumbles, misspeaks, and repetitions that are common in conversation. The decision for their inclusion was made because BHS gives primacy to the audible voice and also because some researchers do find useful information in these verbal patterns. Unless these verbal patterns are germane to your scholarly work, when quoting from this material researchers are encouraged to correct the grammar and make other modifications maintaining the flavor of the narrator’s speech while editing the material for the standards of print.

All citations must be attributed to Brooklyn Historical Society:

[Last name, First name], Oral history interview conducted by [Interviewer’s First name Last name], [Month DD, YYYY], [Title of Collection], [Call #]; Brooklyn Historical Society.

These interviews are made available for research purposes only. For more information about other kinds of usage and permissions, see BHS’s rights and reproductions policy.

Agree to terms of use

Evangeline Porter

Oral history interview conducted by Walis Johnson

June 07, 2017

Call number: 2016.027.2.03

Search This Transcript
Search Clear

PORTER: We went through when I came, what I did, how I did it, who I did it to, and who did it to me, and oh God. It was just, it was just a long-- But he was very thankful, because he wrote me a nice little note to say, "I really thank you for all that you did. I wasn't able to get this from any neighborhood person. And I'm very thankful." So I guess, his theses-- when he finishes it-- will be OK.

JOHNSON: So why don't we just begin? I'll just talk. You know, I'm just going to --

PORTER: Can you see?

JOHNSON: Oh yeah. Yeah. OK. So today is Wednesday, March 8, 2017. My name is Walis Johnson. And I am representing the Brooklyn Movement Center for the Voices of Crown Heights Oral History Project. I am in the home of Evangeline Porter on Schenectady Avenue and Empire Boulevard in Brooklyn. And today, we 1:00are doing an oral history of Evangeline and her experience of Crown Heights, living here and raising her children here. No? OK. No, OK. And so we're going to start with just a very general question. So I like to always start in the past, and then we'll start working up into the present. So what's your earliest memory?

PORTER: Of Brooklyn?

JOHNSON: Of Brooklyn, of--

PORTER: Well, in my earliest memory of Brooklyn, because I came from North Carolina, I was nine years old. I came to New York at nine, going on 10, alone. Because I told my-- I lived with my grandparents, and I told my grandmother 2:00that I was grown. And the fact I felt-- The reason I felt I was grown is because my grandmother-- who couldn't read or write, not good-- I paid her bills and I banked her money, the little that she had; that she made in tobacco factory. And I took care of all of her shopping, you know, buying her stockings and hats for church on Sunday. And I just felt that I was grown. So I asked her if I could come to New York to see my Aunt Edna and my Aunt Mary and my Uncle Jerry, and she said, "Sure." And with that, my grandmother didn't tell me anything that couldn't be done. I said, "OK." So I said, "You're going with me?" She said, "No." "Well, who's going with me?" She said, "You're grown. You go by yourself." And I did. I was determined to do it. I was a big girl. 3:00And I came by myself with a, with a notice around my neck telling where I was going, my name, and my granddaddy did that. He wrote, "My name is-- I am going to 1338 Bergen Street, Brooklyn NY. I am going on the 7:15 train. And that was it. And the telephone number that I was to call once I got to where I was going. And I did it. I wasn't afraid. I was more excited than afraid, because I just felt that I was grown. And I came to New York. And to make a long story short, I came here and I had a shoebox full of chicken and biscuits. That was 4:00my lunch. And I shared it with the conductor. Then my grandmother got on. She said, "And you've got to take care of this woman. You understand?" And he said, "I will." And he took care of me until we got to Washington. Little did I know that in Washington, you change the trains from diesel to electric or whatever, vice-versa. But he passed this chicken serving on to the next conductor, and he took care of me from Washington to New York. And when I got to New York, I thought my uncle or aunts would be there to meet me. But they weren't. But I had a telephone number. So I went to the phone booth and put my dime in. And I called. And they said, "Oh, you made it." They told me, "You are to get on a subway." I said, "Another subway? Train?" "You are to tell them to tell you where to get the Independent Line." I'll never forget that, 5:00Independent Line. "You are to take the A train. You know how A, B, C. A train to Kingston and Throop. And it's spelled T-H-R-O-O-P. Not--" I said, "That's not the way you spell 'Troop.'" She said, "That's the way it's spelled here. And you're to get off there, and you're to walk across the street and get the streetcar." It wasn't the bus. It was on the, another train. And I got a streetcar. And she said, "You're to get off at Kingston. You're to get off at Kingston Lounge. It says-- big, up top-- L-O-U-G-E." I said, "Oh God." That's when I started to get nervous, because now, I'm here. But I'm not-- I've never seen so many people and so much, so many houses, and so-- I'd never seen all of 6:00this. But I did, and I got off, and I walked home. And they welcomed me and said, "You made it. You're grown." That was my first-- being able to understand "away from home." That was my first Brooklyn travel. That was during the summer, because I was in school. And they were glad to see me. And they laughed, and they joked, and then they said, "Oh, I think you think you're hot stuff." And blah blah blah. I said, "Yes." But anyway, I did go back home with my uncle, who drove me back home-- and-- for school. That was my first time. And second time, I was in th-- I was in high school. I came to New York, and that's when I started-- I worked for Jacob Javits; intern in a summer program they had and I worked for him. And he told me, he said, "If you want to 7:00do anything in New York, do it in your community where you live." I'll never forget those words. I said, "OK." And I started with that at the age of, I must have been six-- 15, and 15 or 16, because that was a summer youth job, internship. And ever since then, I came to New York. Or I went where I wanted to go, because I was grown. I went to Washington on summers, summer vacations. When I graduated, when my grandfather passed away, we moved to Washington, D.C., where I graduated from Dunbar High School. And that's where it all started. And I would have stayed in Washington, but I was working in a cleaners as a 8:00cashier. And the owner of the cleaners told me that after working there for about three and a half, three and a half, no, a month and three weeks I worked there. He told me he liked my job. He liked what I was doing, and he liked my handwriting, and he liked the way I spoke to people. I was neat and all of that. But he had to let me go. And I said, "What?" He said, "Yes, I've got to let you go." "Why?" He said, "Because I'm losing business. All of the cleaners in this area are taking all my business because I have a colored girl working at the cashier. And they don't want to give a colored girl their money." I said, "But I'm taking their dirty clothes. It's the cleaners." He said, "Yes, but they don't want to-- They don't want you to be in charge of the 9:00cash register. So I'm losing business." So I left. And at that time, my grandmother was still alive. I came to New York for good. And I got a job.

JOHNSON: Can I ask you, how old are you and where were you born? What [inaudible]?

PORTER: I'm 84 years old. And I was born in Nash County, North Carolina. Rocky Mountain, North Carolina, Nash County. And I went to school in North Carolina and in Washington. I went to Howard for a semester. I would have stayed in Howard if I could have stayed on my job. But no job, no school. Even though it was, tuition was only about $35 to $40, I couldn't afford it. And so 10:00I came to New York. And I came to New York in 1952. I met and married a man in 1953. And I had my first child in 1955. And my second one was 1957, and then 1959. Every two years, I had a child. But I was working constantly, and my husband was working. He was an auto mechanic out in Sheepshead, out in Coney Island area. And we stayed on Chauncey Street, until I was-- I'm always, I have always been aggressive. We stayed on Chauncey Street, and I found out that every Friday, Friday and Saturday, he would spend his time outside with the fellows drinking and partying and having a good time. And I decided I wanted 11:00something better. So I engaged my family, my aunts and everybody, in finding me a place to stay. And I moved to Sterling Street. I bought a house. I bought a house. The lawyer that I bought the house from told me, "I have this house. And what I want you to do is to write me 12 checks for $75 each. And that will be your down payment." And every month, I gave him that check. And every month, I put moneys toward that check to pay it. And that was my down payment for the house, at 75, at 17-- I mean at 75 Sterling Street, between Bedford, 12:00Washington and Bedford.

JOHNSON: Did you have a traditional mortgage with a bank, or it was just a m--

PORTER: It was through this lawyer that I knew for a long, long time. He apparently owned the house. But because he knew me and he knew-- I had explained to him, "I can't stay on Chauncey Street much longer. I can't stay where, you know, I can't-- My husband is out there drinking and having a good time at the bar around the corner, and he's just having a good time. I'm not going anywhere. And I thought coming to New York would be, you know, an uplift." So he said OK. And that's what he did. It was his house. It was his house. I stayed there. And when the down payment was made, I paid $175 a month mortgage to him. And that went on for a while.


JOHNSON: Yeah just, just-- I was just saying just watch the microphone.

PORTER: OK. So but that was what really happened. And from there, because Sterling Street was so beautiful -- it was beautiful -- Mid-County Buick was on the corner where the grocery store is now. I forget the name of it. It was around the corner from the skating rink. On the corner was, there was-- It was in a good neighborhood, I thought. I had never been in a neighborhood like that. And my children were going to school at IS 320, where Ebbets Field is. 14:00They were going to IS 320. And I just thought it was wonderful. And the neighbors were nice, because all of the neighbors had children, same age. They would start at this end, and by the time they got to the corner, there must have been 20 children. And I thought that was nice. And at that time, I worked. I was one of the first women toll collectors at the George Washington, Holland, Lincoln, Bayonne, Goethals Bridges and the money was good. In fact, toll collectors made more money than any woman employee in New York, I understood. I thought, I heard, I don't know. It wasn't enough for me. And I would, I would 15:00work all hours. I worked every hour on the clock-- seven to three, three to 11, 11 to seven, around the clock-- because they had different shifts. And then when I became permanent at the Holland Tunnel -- because I was going around -- when I became permanent at the Holland Tunnel, I started to get my children and my life together. Because it was time. It was time. At that time, my husband had left, had gone back home to Mama. Mama thought-- Mama was a full-blooded Indian. Mama thought that he did no wrong. So I keep saying this, "I sent him home to Mama." And he was no longer with me, so I was alone. So I had to take 16:00care of the three children alone.

JOHNSON: You talked about Sterling Street. Sterling Street was in Crown Heights, right?


JOHNSON: What do you remember about Crown Heights at that time? What year was this, by the way?

PORTER: You know, when people ask me about years, this was in-- ('53 I got married.) [inaudible] This was in the '60s. This was in the sixties. Yeah, this was in the '60s. Crown Heights was quiet. You didn't hear of the crime that you hear of today. If you did, I didn't hear it. I mean, maybe I was living in a different world, and I didn't get out to see all of this. And by me 17:00working around the clock, sleeping when I wasn't working, it was nothing to hear. I was very active in the school system with my children. And I felt that that was necessary, because they were not good. The children were, you know, they were acting up. But I don't think Crown Heights was as active as it is today, or as it became. It might have been, but I wasn't aware of it. All I know is that, in my block where I lived -- it was only that block from Bedford Avenue to Washington -- we did a lot of things together. When they had cleanup days, we were all out there sweeping. When they had birthday parties, we were 18:00all chipping in to cook something. And we would always have it in the front. If it was wintertime, we would have it in somebody's basement. I got to know a lot of people in that area. Mr. Sneed was Harry Belafonte's and Lena Horne's assistant in their business. And from time to time, they had parties and they brought in some people that you would never see ordinarily.

JOHNSON: Who were those people? The people that --

PORTER: Lena Horne.

JOHNSON: Yeah. She would come to the party?

PORTER: Lena Horne, Harry Belafonte. Oh my God, Jesus. I met, I met-- This 19:00goes back so far. I met-- I'll think about it. I'll think about it, because I, I, they are not on my-- I met-- Mr. Sneed would turn over in his grave if he thought I missed this. Well, I'll get back to that.

JOHNSON: You'll get back to it. It'll come, it will come to you. [Interview interrupted.] OK. We're going to start again.

PORTER: No, it was not mixed. Crown Heights, to my knowledge, in my block where I lived on Sterling Street, there were five White people, White families. Five. The rest were Black. I don't like to say Black, because I started out as 20:00a colored person. Then I went from colored to Negro, Negro to whatever. And now, all of a sudden, I'm African, Afro-American. I don't know what I am. There were the Levy's. There were five. And they were on both sides of the street. On Lefferts, which was behind us, there were more. But I didn't-- I wasn't affiliated with that street, so I had no knowledge of how many. But basically, it was an Afro-American community. It was. Ebbets Field had just been finished, so most of the people that were in Ebbets Field, which is up the street, was Afro-Americans. So it was not-- It wasn't integrated or mixed like 21:00it is today.

JOHNSON: When did those White people leave? I mean w-- did it ever become this neighborhood where really no White people lived?

PORTER: Not to my knowledge, because there are still some there today that were there. The offsprings, [sic] the children of the people that were there then are still there now.

JOHNSON: So you talked about community. So how did you gain a sense of community when you were living in Crown Heights?

PORTER: When you have children going to school, you either become community or you become-- you go to jail. You either get involved in the community for the sake of your children, or you go to jail fighting for your own rights. Because 22:00having children in school meant that you had to monitor their every move. And seeing the things that could be outside for their entertainment or their pleasure, if somebody didn't do it, it would never get done. Because communities are very, very lazy. People are very lazy. They watch their stories. You know, I can't leave because I'm watching my stories. Or I can't do this because I have to do that, or I have to do this. And by me being a person that was constantly going all hours of the day and night, I found that a lot of things needed to be done. And as I looked around, there was nobody doing it. There was nobody making sure that the children didn't play down by Mid-County Buick or where the cars were coming out, going in and out of the 23:00garages. So we had to make sure that they had safety gates there. Because kids don't think. They do things, and they think afterwards. But they don't think before. So as a group, we learned to get together and monitor these places. The safety for Mid-County Buick, the bowling alley that had people coming in and going, you know, going and coming. Make sure that they closed certain doors on the side, because they had side doors. I think community involvement came from living in North Carolina. Because in North Carolina, when I got out of school and take my school clothes off, I had to sweep the yard. And it was not a cement yard. It was a dirt yard. I had to sweep the yard. I had to hang the 24:00clothes that was washed. I had to feed the chickens. I had a lot of chores, even though I had cousins living with me that, all of us had chores. But we had a lot of things to do. It wasn't-- We had to scrub the floor until it looked like that. We didn't, you know And they weren't w-- they weren't this kind of floor. It was a wood floor. We made s-- We had to wash the walls until there were no scars on the wall. Wash the dishes. That's community. I mean, it may seem like home work, but it's really the same thing you do in a community. If you live in an apartment and you have to go outside, you should be able to walk down the stairs with clean steps. Or walk outside where the garbage is not all 25:00over the place and in the barrel. And that's what we learned to do as children. So it's not something that-- Either it's in you and it stays and it's done, or it's in you and it stays and it's never done. I believe that my grandmother taught me a lot. She says, "It's not always what's done for you. It's what you do for other people, with a heart." And that's how-- Actually, community in New York, in Brooklyn, came about when I used to go outside after getting off work to buy a few things. And somebody would come up and said, "Give me your pocketbook." My pocketbook? Or going to a store and the store is being robbed. 26:00Or wearing-- At that time, wigs were just put on your head, or somebody would come and snatch your wig off your hair. Or your bracelet. I remember going, and I had my school ring. And the fellow says, "Give me that ring." And I says, "I can't take it off." And he said, "But your finger can come off." Those things if you let it, if you let it fester, you could become very bitter. But what happened, I became very knowledgeable about what needed to be done out there, out there in the streets. And I did it. I wasn't afraid to do it, but I did it. I organized. I tried to organize, and there were a lot of people who didn't want to be bothered. There were some who did. And that's how we started 27:00Crow Hill. We started Crow Hill because Franklin Avenue was the only place you could shop for the streets -- St. Charles, St. Francis, and all of that. St. Johns-- the only place that you could shop without a problem to buy anything. But you couldn't go out after a certain time, because there was always somebody out there waiting to get your pocketbook or take your groceries that you had already bought, so they could sell it. And I said, "Oh no. This can't be." So we organized, and we met. And we started from there. We started with seven people.

JOHNSON: What year was that?


PORTER: In-- Seven people in '70-- I would say it was '69, '70, '71. Somewhere around there. Yeah. And we started-- I was president for 27 years and [unintelligible] rather think back. Seventy, '80, '90, yeah. I just couldn't-- I just couldn't see coming home from work and needing a loaf of bread, and couldn't go out to get a loaf of bread. And it was right on the corner. It was just too much for me to even think about, especially when I needed this. And if I did this, then there were other people who couldn't do it, either. So we started Crow Hill. It was called Three Saints. I'm sorry. It was called Three Saints. St. Charles, St. Francis, and St. John.


JOHNSON: So let me just clarify. So the organization you started wasn't named Crow Hill right away. It was called --

PORTER: Originally. No, I didn't start the Three Saints. Three Saints was already in existence. It was-- And they stipulated that you had to be a homeowner, a homeowner to be a part of the Three Saints. So when they had meetings, only the homeowners were there. And I thought that was ludicrous. What about the people who are living in your homes, paying you rent to keep your home? So I went to the library, and I found out-- And it was before Googling. I went to the library to find out the areas. There was Pigstown [sic] across Eastern Parkway, Weeksville over here, and Crow Hill over here. And that's when we chose the name Crow Hill. Crow Hill because-- And the only reason it was 30:00changed from Crow Hill to Crown Heights is through the realtors, who thought that was-- There were a lot of people complaining, "I don't want to be called crows. You're from Crow Hill? You're crows." And that was stupid. But we went back to Crow Hill, and that's where we got our name. It's in the library. The whole history of Crow Hill is in the library.

JOHNSON: So what were the issues that you worked on primarily with-- from the Three Saints?

PORTER: To get people, to get them to understand that there were people who were interested in working in the community, but they did not own a home. They were renters, like myself. I was a renter when I first moved here. And they 31:00said, "Well, you can come in, but you can't say anything." Well that's not, that's not good. Because if you have ideas and you can't express them, why go to the meeting? And that's what a lot of people thought. So we decided that we would have a little meeting of our own. And from that little meeting, it went bigger and bigger and bigger. And then the homeowners started coming in to find out what we were talking about. But we--

JOHNSON: And that was when it became Crow Hill?

PORTER: Yes. We wanted new lights. You know, we wanted lights. We wanted the curbs to be cut. We wanted the storefronts that had papers up from years back that you couldn't see through the windows, we wanted taken down and cleaned. And you'll see that in the [inaudible]. We did a color scheme of putting up 32:00awnings by the stores and doing all of their windows, making it so you can see inside. They were mom and pop operations, but if it looked nice, people would go in to shop. And we changed Lincoln Place to go in the opposite direction, because Lincoln Place and St. John's was going in the same direction. And in order to get into St. Charles Place, you had to go all around and into St. Charles. This way, you could come either St. John's or Lincoln Place and go into your street, because it was a two-way street. So we had that changed. It took us 10 years to do that, to change Lincoln Place to go in the opposite 33:00direction from Underhill to New York Avenue. The monastery, the Catholic home on St. John's and Bedford Avenue, it was in the process of being downsized. And we spoke to Mr. [Tining?], who was the overseer of that building, to find out what they were going to do. And they said they were going to tear it down and make it a low-income housing. No, you can't do that. We said, "No, you can't do it." He said, "Oh, yeah. We can do it." I said, "No, you can't." And that's when we really started organizing, getting with the political forces, and 34:00getting things together. You cannot do that. We have the Studebaker House, which is a home for-- We have the house on the corner of Bedford and Lincoln, which is a home for unwed mothers. We have the Studebaker House, and we don't need a home. We don't need a house that will bring all kinds of people in, like a project. We don't need that in our neighborhood. They said, "But we have already gone to draw up the blueprints." "Well, you just have to re-do them." They said, "Well, what would you all suggest we put here?" We said, "Seniors. You know, seniors need living space. But low-income anything would deteriorate 35:00the neighborhood. You'd have people yelling out the window asking what's the number for the day, and go to the store." And I said, "No no no no. No no no." So they were-- They had already drawn up the plans, and we met at-- We met at the, at the St. Teresa's for the meeting. And I remember saying, "Well, if you put it there, we'll burn it down." And they went back to the drawing board, and they bought a senior citizens' home. And they said, "Well, the choosing of people to come in will be by the rolling of the barrel." "Good. I'll roll the barrel." And I did. I told everybody who wanted to come in, "On the outside, 36:00you will put a red mark or something noticeable on your envelope. And when I roll the barrel, I'll pull it." And I did. Well, a Jewish lady told me, she said, "Anything you want done, it's not done recklessly. It's done carefully." And she was, she was my best friend, because that's what Jews would do. That's how Jews get a lot of things. So the first person I was-- At that time, I was working at the Haitian-American Daycare Center, right across the street from the area. And the young man that was working lived in Queens, and his wife was very sick. And he said, "I would love to go over there." I said, "OK. Just put a little red mark on your envelope." He was the first one to be moved, the very first one. He's no longer with us. He's dead now. But he was-- He and a lot 37:00of other people were the very first. They had 74 openings. I mean 74-- They had 14 openings and 74 people to move in. That's when the other building was started to be built, the one that's on Rogers Avenue. But those are the things that-- And I worked day and night. And I was a person of very-- I didn't mince words. I call a spade a spade. When Roger Green-- I had called Roger Green to give us money. He was a politician. He was an assemblyman. And I called Roger Green to give me money, give us money to help with the defraying of 38:00all the ugly stuff and refurbishing. He never called me back. I wrote. He never answered. So I told Letitia James, before she became a councilwoman-- She was upstairs working. I said-- She said, "Why don't you ask Roger for money?" I said, "I did, but he hasn't answered, and he hasn't called me back." So she said, "Well, I would ask him." I said, "Well, you do this favor for me. You go downstairs and you tell him that I think, E. Porter-- Just say E. Porter thinks that you are a little piece of shit." And he said, "What?" She said, "Well, that's what she told me to tell you, that you are a little piece of shit." And in two weeks' time, he called. And he said, "Could you meet with me, meet down at 55 Hanson Place?" I said, "Yeah." But I don't meet alone. I 39:00took the captain of the police, the president of the police council, and four other policemen with me. Because you said this and I said that, nah. But I went down, and he's-- And I took Sarah Taylor. Have you heard the name Sarah Taylor? OK. Sarah Taylor and I went, because she and I worked like that. And we went down. And he said, "Well, we're going to give you 250." And I said, "What does he think $250 is going to do for our neighborhood?" So he said, "I'm going to give you and Ms. Taylor a little something for the work you've done." So I said, "You give the block $250, I guess we'll get $50." But anyway. And then he said, "Well, with the grant from Dormitory Authority, $250,000." I said, "Oh, God." Oh my God. "You will have to get the work done, receipted, 40:00and we will reimburse." And we did. We got it down to $86,000. We couldn't get anybody else to do anything without getting paid right away. And there was $86,000 left in the-- after doing curbs. We even had the sewers removed, the sewers done, because the water had started to get muddy. We did lights. We planted trees, because Franklin Avenue had no trees. We planted trees. We did stoplights, stop signs for streets that didn't have it. We did seniors' backyards. We had people to come in and clean their backyard. And through the 41:00banks. My thing was, if we-- There was a gas station on the corner of Eastern Parkway and Bedford. There was one across the street, too, but one over here. My thing had always been: If we give to you, you've got to give back. So I begged, and I got moneys from the gas station and from the stores and the bank. We brought Chase Bank to Brooklyn. The bank was on-- Manufacturers Hanover was on Eastern Parkway and Franklin. The high rise that's there, Manufacturers became Chemical, then Chase. So we wanted, we wanted our neighborhood to have a bank.


JOHNSON: This was in the 1970s?

PORTER: Late seventies. Late seventies. We wanted the seniors not to have to go so far to bank. So we bought the drugstore that was on the corner of Bedford Avenue and, and Eastern Parkway. We asked him to move around the corner. He was one of our good members. Could you move around the corner? Because we have, now have Chase to go in the various spaces to find out if it was conducive for building a bank. And the only place they found was that corner. So Chase-- Chemical became Chase, and that's where they are today. And it was brought there by Crow Hill. The Henry House-- Do you remember Henry House? That was a big building on Lincoln Place and Bedford. It's now a medical center, OK. 43:00Henry House was where we did a lot of meetings. And Henry House was going-- they became a catering house. They catered food. They had dances and parties and what have you. The owner and his son ran the place. His son died. The owner kept the place. But because he was not as business-minded as his son, apparently, he lost the place. But that was one of the places that we had planned to have as Crow Hill's community building. He was working with us, but it never went through. It never went through.

JOHNSON: I just want to, you know, circle back around to this whole Franklin 44:00Avenue and the crime situation there. And get your, kind of, take on, sort of, what happened; what the community-- What was the police presence like at that time, when there were so many problems?

PORTER: Well, let me see. I was going to the precinct council meetings. I was, I'm, secretary for 20 years, you know. The captains of the police were busy in the area, you know, the Seventy-Seventh is at Bergen and Utica Avenue. They were busy in that general area, Rockaway Avenue and that area. My thing 45:00was: You need to have beat officers. So they started beat officers; that there would be two officers in every area. That's when things started to change, started to change for the better. But it couldn't, it couldn't do that until they implemented that situation where the beat officers would be there. And if you had a problem in your area, right here; this is my area here. I could only take care of this area. But the police, the policing-- the community council started getting on the police back. And it started to get better. They started having patrol people in the area. Prior to that, there were no, there was no 46:00patrolling in the area unless somebody shot somebody. Then, they would come. But until that time, you wouldn't see a policeman standing in the doorways or on the streets. But through Crow Hill, we were able to get them there because we had-- We didn't want them to be there with crime. We wanted them to be there to prevent crime. And it did help a lot. It helped a lot. It helped, it helped to a point where we couldn't, we didn't have to worry about it as much. Because I went through nine captains at that 77 Precinct. I had to sue one for hitting my car. But they were good. They were good, too, because we have a great community relationship. The police now, we have a great community 47:00relationship. And it was through the effort of-- not only Crow Hill, but-- other block associations who was there at the meetings to say, "Look, you've got to do this for our community. You're doing it for Crow Hill. You've got to do it for this one." And they started doing something. A lot of those men are no longer at the Seventy-Seventh, like Todd Taylor, who's now doing music, and there's a couple of fellows that's on Law and Order on TV and all that. But there's a lot of things that was done through the effort of people, just people like us, who didn't mince words. You know and, and that's the only thing that I can say that helped. You know, I wasn't, "No, you can't do this." "Yes, you can do it." And I believed in that. I had the police to come to the school, to 48:00the daycare center where I worked, in the evening to speak to the students. To let them know that, "Don't be afraid of us. You know, we want to help you to help us." And the kids-- And they were very, very helpful in getting us to get the kids to basketball games in Coney Island, and busing us to Washington when they put the, when they put the, the monument up for Martin Luther King. We were able to take children to see that. Otherwise, they never would have seen it, because most of these kids will never get off the streets they live on. But through the police department, we were able to do a lot of things with the children and with seniors. Once a year, we'd take seniors to eat, out to eat. 49:00And of course, we have the Night Out Against Crime in the, in the Brower Park the second week of the month. Well, every police is having Night Out Against Crime. But on the, on the second week in August, we do that. And I have a Christmas party every year. For the last 20 years, I've had a Christmas party where I give toys to kids; toys, books, gifts to kids.

JOHNSON: What-- So you all were active in 1991 when there was the --

PORTER: Riots? Oh, yeah.

JOHNSON: What was your experience of that like?

PORTER: I didn't get involved. Normal-- I got involved, but not out there. Normally, it would have been all of us, you know, in one group. But I was, I 50:00was kind of leery about the people who were getting in the riots. If you came to a meeting, if you-- If I saw your face at a meeting every month, and you and ever--and all the neighbors, then I'd say, "Oh, yeah. We're going to do this." But when you get a riot group who don't go to meetings, don't help you to keep your sidewalks clean, don't help put garbage in your garbage can, and will ask you, "Why did you do that? Why did you do whatever you did?" Then I didn't think it was necessary, personally. I was for it, but I wasn't going to get in the outside.

JOHNSON: So when you say you were for it, you were for--Yes, so--


PORTER: The reason of the riot. I believed in it. But I didn't believe in getting out there to rally around it when we had talked about these same things in meetings, gatherings, to outline what could be done. A riot was not in our, in our agenda. We didn't think of rioting. Because rioting only gave people a feeling that, "Oh, yeah, we were out there. We were screaming." It's just like Black-- What's that, Black Lives Matter? Of course. I've known that ever since I was born. But why get out there with signs up there to say that? Doesn't make sense. When if Black lives matter, why can't Black people support each other? And you can attest to that. Black people will not support each other. If I were to open a store right downstairs, right downstairs, and that 52:00store has been down there for years. And everybody's in and out, in and out. If I were to open a store downstairs, the Black people in this neighborhood would not come to my store. Maybe the first time to see what it's like. But when they found out it was Black, no. My girlfriend opened up a nail salon because she'd been going to this Chinese all the time. And she said, "I'm going to do this, because I can do this." She had to close it up. They looked in and saw Black people working, and they said, "No. Ain't no Chinese in there." And they didn't come. But if we could support each other, we could do a whole lot more with each other. Because we could own half of Brooklyn. But we don't. We 53:00don't own anything. Our restaurants can't stay open more than two years without something happening to close it down. We've had nice, nice entertainment areas on Atlantic Avenue. You can't get it, can't keep it open. Soul food, soul food on Saratoga Avenue; was it Country Kitchen or something? They were doing wonderful. I was so glad to be able to get some country food. Couldn't stay open; they couldn't stay open. They were in a beautiful area, where the cars go in from Atlantic Avenue into Saratoga. Couldn't stay open. I just think Black 54:00people don't support each other, never. Never. And when they do, it's an ulterior motive behind it.

JOHNSON: So, so after 1991, I mean, what was the police community relations before the--

PORTER: The riots?

JOHNSON: --the riots. And what was it afterwards?

PORTER: Before, it was not good. And I can say this in one sentence. Before, it was not good, because there were police police. Police, gun, police. Afterwards, having met with people, having seen what was going on, having seen the, the improvement of neighborhoods, it became better. It became better. But 55:00before it was, it was not good. They, you know-- I remember going up to policemen and saying, "Oh, I'm so happy to see you in the neighborhood." And they said, "You're welcome." And I said, "Why are, why are two of you standing in this doorway when there's-- This is a doorway, and two of you standing in the doorway. Why can't one stand here and one stand here? If you're patrolling the area, because if it happens here, it can go around and land here." But it became better. It had gotten, it had gotten to be much better.

JOHNSON: So just to kind of reiterate. So what was bad about it, in your opinion, before?


PORTER: They didn't have as many Black policemen as they have today. That's one of the reasons. They didn't have as many concerned-- Most of the policemen that we scanned lived outside of the area that they were patrolling. And some of them were just as afraid of the hoodlums in the streets as the hoodlums were of them. So they didn't, they didn't get involved unless shootings, knifings, or drug, you know, a big drug thing happened. But because they didn't live in the neighborhood, they were just as afraid of these people out there, screaming and hollering and cursing, as these people would have been of them if they had done something about it. That was-- That's my opinion. That's my opinion. And 57:00a lot of other opinions. They just didn't live in the neighborhood. They didn't know what it was like to live in the 'hood. And because they didn't live in the 'hood, they became, really, policemen. "I am a policeman." But we needed somebody who was saying, who would say, "I understand what you're going through."

JOHNSON: So just taking that question further; so 1991 happened. And then what? So I think you were saying that the policing got better because--

PORTER: It got better because they started hiring Black policemen from the 'hood, you know of, from the area; who lived in the community, who understood the community. And they were able to help the community because of their 58:00knowledge of the community. But until they did that, it was no good.

JOHNSON: And so, as Crow Hill grew and became successful in its work, what're your, what is your thoughts now, looking out over Franklin Avenue and looking at the newly arrived people? I mean, what is your sense of their connection to the community and to the police?

PORTER: I think they would do very well. I'm not, I'm not a racist, you know. And I'd say this: I said to the lady, "Have you ever seen a lady this color, a man this color?" She said, "No." I said, "What color is it?" She said, "White." I said, "Have you ever seen a person that color?" She said, "No." I 59:00said, "What color are they?" She said, "Black." I said, "So when you think of black and white, you think of color, right?" I said, "So stop thinking like that. Because I haven't seen a White person with a tail or a horn since I've been alive. So just think of people as people." And I think that that would help a lot. And that's what has helped a lot on Franklin Avenue. To speak to people. Just because you are Black and they're White don't mean you can't say, 'Hello. How are you?' To speak to people, to be kind to people. To make sure that they don't feel superior to you. Let them know that, "Hey, I wear shoes, too." You know. "I, I have a dress on, just like you have." You know. But what has happened -- and I can say this in all sincerity, and I can say it to you--Not going to be saying it [inaudible]-- we are the most prejudiced people 60:00in the world. We are the ones who are prejudiced. We are the ones who are prejudiced. You know, you hear us saying, "Oh, she thinks she's White." "What do you mean, 'she thinks she's white?' What difference does it make? Or, "She's acting, she acting like White. She's speaking like White, like she's White." "Who, how do they speak?" But we have more prejudices in our minds, in our hearts, than they have. They're afraid. They are literally-- I went to a meeting in the Jewish synagogue, in the Jewish area. I wasn't supposed to be there, but my girlfriend said, "You go with me." And I went with her. And I sat in the back, and I listened. They don't have no prejudices among themselves, among the-- us. They're whole thing is to be together. I don't 61:00care if, I don't care if I like you or not. If you call on me and your name is Leibowitz, I'm going to help you. If you say you want to buy that school on the corner, and your name is Bernstein, I'm going to help you. I don't have to like you, don't have to know you. But you are one of us. But when we say, "Could you help us do something?" They want to know how much money you're going to pay me.

JOHNSON: I'm sorry, who? Who?

PORTER: We, us. Us. We are the-- We have, we have less respect for our race than we should have. We should have more respect for our race. You hear people say, "Is she Black? Is she White? She told me that I don't have a job anymore. 62:00Was she Black? Was she White?" What difference does it make? She told you. She must have been in charge. And that's my feeling in the matter, that we do not respect our own race. There are more-- If you were here at night, there are more of us out there calling each other niggers than you could possibly go to sleep in an hour. "Nigger, why you sitting on my car? Nigger, you doing this." But now, if that was a White person doing that, they'd be wanting to fight. So if you don't want to be called a nigger, why do you call yourself a nigger? Are you following what I'm saying? And that's what's going on. If you w-- This is the noisiest area out here. And I'm in the front. There's more yelling and screaming and cursing and calling people names than you can possibly 63:00shake a stick at. But they're all Black.

JOHNSON: Do you think who you are in the community has an impact on how you view the police? Like, in 1991, you know, there was this uprising, right, riot. And you'd said that you agreed with it but didn't w-- didn't become involved. But you know what was, what was your opinion of how the police approached the different communities? Or did you have an opinion?


PORTER: It depended largely -- and like I said -- on where they were from. If they were from out of the area, they treated it terrible. If they were from the area, they tried to reduce all kinds of excitement and uprising. But because I didn't get involved in the-- I tried to keep out of it. I had enough on my plate at that time, enough. Because we had, we had marched for people losing their homes, people getting, people getting shot recklessly. We had marched for all kinds of things. But to no avail. My thing is, if you're going to march, 65:00at least get something out of it. Get some results. When we marched on getting-- When we fought on getting the street changed, if we thought it wasn't going to get changed, we probably would have stopped. But we were forcefully thinking it was going to get changed. So we kept with it. I don't like to waste time. And my time is valuable. And if, if I can't get something out of it, I try to stay out of it.

JOHNSON: So what's your experience of community safety and policing now that all these changes have happened and different, new people are moving in?


PORTER: Safety?

JOHNSON: Yeah. Earlier, you described --

PORTER: You know, well safety to me would be doors locked. You mean that kind of safety?

JOHNSON: Well what-- How safe do you feel in the community now, as compared to long ago in the seventies, when you started --

PORTER: I feel safe in my, in all the communities, because everybody knows me. I don't know everybody, but everybody seems to know me. I feel safe because I've never done anything wrong to anybody. Even though they were doing something wrong, I have gotten a lot of-- I've written a lot of letters to get young people from going to jail, because I knew them when. I don't-- Safety.

JOHNSON: Police safety, safety from crimes--


PORTER: Well, I think if we just --

JOHNSON: Have things improved?

PORTER: Things have improved because when we go to precinct meetings they, they stress, you know, cars. Cars; roll your windows up. Make sure you don't have a pack of cigarettes, an empty pack in there. Or money's in the glove compartment, what have you, or in the, in the tray. Don't make-- Don't let anything a person looking at it think that they can take it, or break into it and take it. One of the few things that I've learned, oh-- It's kind of hard to say, because safety-- You could be safe here, and go to the corner and get shot. If we could get more people to join organizations, it would be better. 68:00Or get people to help with children. Get people to help with seniors. I saw a man, I saw a man on the street with a, with a, what's that? A walker, one that you can sit down in but you roll it. The hoodlums came and took the walker from him. The man sat down on the streets, and they looked around and laughed. But with the community involved, that would never have happened. Or it might have happened, but they would have been, you know, they would have been taken in by some group of men or women or what have you. Women are stronger than men. The only thing I think-- I feel safe here. But yet, it's the noisiest place I've 69:00ever lived in, because I hear everything that passes Schenectady Avenue. And because there was a bodega there and a restaurant on the corner, I get all of that. I get all of that. But I'm sure that I'll get used to it. I just moved in in December. I'll get used to it. And already, people around here know me from over there. And the Seventy-First knows me from Seventy-Seventh. I have church members that live down this street. I go down to visit people in Kingsbrook, because I know people from the area, different areas, who are in Kingsbrook. And I visit there. I tutor in a building down here, so I knew several people over there in the three months. When I put my wig on, you know, 70:00I look a little better. But it's-- I think it's better. I think it's much better. I can, I can come up my walk, and I can say, "Fellows, please. Not the "nigger." Please." And they say, "You right. Ma. You right." They all call me Ma. You're right, Ma. Pull it up a little bit, you know. Pull up your pants a little bit. OK, OK, Ma. And they do it. They do it. I don't hear-- I don't hear what I have heard on Franklin Avenue, "You kiss my ass." And I had to slap him. I had to slap him. And of course, because I knew all the other fellows standing around, I knew that I was protected. They said, "You, you told Ma to kiss your ass? Man." And they beat him up. They beat him up. But out 71:00here, there's a different group of people. Even though they're Black, and they're loud, if I say-- And I don't say it belligerently. I say it with love. I say, "Sweetheart, pull it up a little bit." Or, "Don't say 'nigger.' Say 'bruh,' 'bro,' whatever y' all call each other. Bro or Bruh." The women are just as bad as the men. And when they see me coming, they-- And I feel respected. I do feel respected when I go out among the group. And I hate to think of what summer is going to bring outside. But you gotta face it. I hope I'm here, allowed to see it.


JOHNSON: So maybe we can wrap up and just say, is there anything more that you would like to say about Crown Heights?

PORTER: Crow Hill.

JOHNSON: I mean Crow Hill.

PORTER: Crow Hill is my baby.

JOHNSON: Crow Hill. And the policing or community relations or--

PORTER: Policing is much better in Crow Hill now, because they help with the-- They help with the restructuring of stores. They help with the little people going in to rob. They help with that. There were, there were young teenagers who felt that they could go in and take a bag of potato chips and walk out. And I spoke, we spoke to the storeowners, because we had them to belong to Crow Hill. And if anything happens, they will let us know. And if the bodega on 73:00this street says, "Ms. Porter, that young man right there came in and took potato chips," see, I have to talk to the young man. And the young man, I had to talk to the parents. And I had to talk to a lot of parents. And they appreciate it, because they're working. They don't really know what their children are doing. And most children are following other children. So, I got a lot of respect. I got a lot of respect, believe me, from the area. And I'm getting some from over here. And the policing, it was-- It's much better. We had our first Black captain, Eddie Lott. He's no longer with us, not at the precinct. But that was the first Black offi-- captain that we had had. And I 74:00tried to explain to all the people who had never been to a precinct council, "Come on out." And a lot of them came because they didn't know that we had a Black captain. I said, "You talk about blackness, blackness. We got one. We got one." And he was one of the nicest ones that we could have had. But he was promoted, and he went to One Police Plaza. But now, we have-- I don't know what this man is. He's not white. He's not-- I think he's-- I would think he was-- He's Asian some type, but I don't know. But he's also brown-skinned. And he seems to be very, very nice. But I think we have done marvelously well in the last 10 years. I say 10 years. We have done surprisingly well in the 75:00last 10 years over what we had in the years before that. The police, we are very, very helpful with them. They are very, very helpful with us. If I pick up the phone right now and call the police and say, "I have to go across town," they will send somebody to pick me up. And that means a lot. When I go to meetings and I can call Detective Lynch or whoever, Julie or whoever, or the young lady who works in community affairs, Detec-- Officer Laverne Green or Pierre-Louis, I have no problems. I don't drive since I turned 80. I got rid of my car. So they know that I'm away from the area, and I have to take two 76:00buses to go anywhere. So they come and pick me up. If they don't come from the station, they will send somebody in the streets to pick me up. And that, that's respect. That is respect. And I feel very good about it. And I don't-- I think it would happen to any of us that are still alive. Sarah Taylor, if, she drives. It would happen to any of us because of the relationship that we had with each other for years. And we did-- Whenever they called on us, we were there. So we felt, we call on you, you've got to be there, too. I've taken breakfast. Made salmon and salmon, salmon croquettes and cheese grits and take it to the precinct, and they all, "Oh my God." And they ate like crazy. Or I help make a cake, take it, when I feel like it. And so I feel like it's one 77:00hand kind of washes the other. And we're doing much better today, 10 years, than we did back then. I'm no longer president of Crow Hill. I understand the president is not doing that well. But I am still a member. And I don't want to get with the Seventy-First Precinct or anything around here yet, until I see that that's not working out. But so far, it's working out good. And they come and pick me up to-- They come to pick me up, they said, because if they don't, I will be at the Seventy-First before you know it. And I don't want to be-- I don't want to get involved with anything else. There's too much on my plate. I 78:00want to lay down on that couch. And that comes up so I can lay back, lay back on my couch and look at my television and enjoy it. That's it. That's what my kids want me to do, because they said anything I had 50 years ago they throw, they threw it out.

JOHNSON: [laughter] Well, I just want to thank you so much for talking with me about your experience in Crow Hill.

PORTER: That book will give you-- I have some more pamphlets. I have some more newsletters that I can make sure you get that will help with the-- I've sat on Franklin Avenue in front of Hart, in front of Hart's building. I didn't 79:00see but seven or eight Black people. The rest were all White. And I spoke to them, and some of them remembered me. And they spoke, and they asked how was I doing, blah blah blah blah. But, it's amazing that they wouldn't even come near Franklin Avenue 20 years ago. And now, they're walking with their children. They call me to-- Their children was having a contest, and they wanted me to be one of the people to award the gifts. What am I supposed to do?

JOHNSON: This is a release, so you sign here. [inaudible] read the whole thing 80:00again. I just --

PORTER: I can't read it. I really can't read it, because I don't have glasses. I'm not-- I can read it outside.

JOHNSON: Do you want me to read it to you?



Read All

Interview Description

Oral History Interview with Evangeline Porter

Born in North Carolina in 1932 and raised there by her grandmother, Evangeline "Eve" Porter came to Brooklyn in 1953. She married at that time and lived on Sterling Street. In 1973, she moved to her own apartment on St. Charles Place. Eve Porter attended Howard University and graduated from the College of New Rochelle's School of New Resources in Brooklyn. She volunteered at her children's school, and later worked as a paraprofessional at Paul Robeson High School. Porter was a toll collector and a Passenger Service Agent at John F. Kennedy Airport; both under the aegis of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority. She also worked as a guide for builders at the construction site of the North Tower at the World Trade Center. She has been a leader of the Crow Hill Community Association for decades, oversaw an offshoot organization in 1999 called the Franklin Avenue Commercial Revitalization Project, and acted as the secretary of the 77th Precinct Community Council.

In this interview, Evangeline "Eve" Porter vividly remembers her first trip to New York City and Brooklyn when she was nine years old; traveling to visit relatives by herself. In 1952, she recalls, she came back to Brooklyn, married, and had three children. They lived on a block of Sterling Street, with neighbors who she remembers as a cohesive unit. She speaks about what makes a good community and the values of her upbringing in North Carolina. She talks about street crime on Franklin Avenue and Crown Heights in general in the late twentieth century. Referring to Crown Heights as Crow Hill, Porter tells of her community work with the Three Saints Association. (This was the precursor to Crow Hill Community Association, which she founded.) She points out the need to include tenants in community organizing and the improvements to security via community policing and police presences as beat officers. In closing, Porter speaks to how Black people and the youth of the neighborhood interrelate, how social interactions there have improved, and the effects of having a local police captain of color. Evangeline Porter was also recorded for the Listen to this: Crown Heights Oral History collection in 2010 (2010.020). Interview conducted by Walis Johnson.

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 Brooklyn Movement Center series. The assembled collection was part of broader programming efforts by the three organizations to commemorate and examine the transforming Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn a quarter-century after the August 1991 conflicts and unrest sometimes called "the Crown Heights riot." The oral history collection features a broad range of narrators; educators, community organizers, activists, entrepreneurs, artists, bloggers, and longtime neighborhood residents, who describe the changes they have observed in their neighborhood over decades.


Porter, Evangeline, Oral history interview conducted by Walis Johnson, June 07, 2017, Voices of Crown Heights oral histories, 2016.027.2.03; Brooklyn Historical Society.


  • Crow Hill Community Association (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • Green, Roger L. (Roger Leon)
  • Porter, Evangeline


  • African American neighborhoods
  • Community activists
  • Crime
  • Family life
  • Gentrification
  • Housing
  • Multiculturalism
  • Older people
  • Urban renewal


  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
  • Crown Heights (New York, N.Y.)
  • Franklin Avenue (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
  • North Carolina


Download PDF

Finding Aid

Voices of Crown Heights oral histories