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Dellon A. Wilson
Oral history interview conducted by Jill Vexler
November 10, 1993
Call number: 1994.006.32
JILL VEXLER: This is an oral history interview with Dellon Wilson for the CrownHeights History Project. This is Jill Vexler on November tenth, 1993. Dellon, where were you born?
DELLON WILSON: I was born in Jamaica.
JILL VEXLER: What part of Jamaica?
DELLON WILSON: Saint Anne.
JILL VEXLER: I've been there. And how old are you?
DELLON WILSON: Thirty-six.
JILL VEXLER: And are you a citizen of what country, now?
DELLON WILSON: Of the U.S. I feel like I have dual citizenship because [unintelligible].
JILL VEXLER: And since when have you been a U.S. citizen?1:00
DELLON WILSON: [unintelligible]
JILL VEXLER: But you live -- where do you live most of the time?
DELLON WILSON: Here. I've been here twenty-three years.
JILL VEXLER: Oh, wow. So what year was that that you came in?
DELLON WILSON: Well, I came in 1987 [unintelligible]. No, 1970. That's what Itook 23 from.
JILL VEXLER: Did you first come to New York or what was your route from St.Anne to Kingston to --
DELLON WILSON: Did I first come to New York?
JILL VEXLER: Yeah.
DELLON WILSON: Yeah, I grew up and was born in Saint Anne, I grew up inKingston. I was five years old. I remember going to Kingston with my aunt. From there, I went back and forth to the country. I remember my Mom came and got us 2:00and we left from Kingston to the U.S.A. and I went up to Westchester. That's where I grew up.
JILL VEXLER: And so you went to school --
DELLON WILSON: I was in school in Greenberg first. [Unintelligible] …seventh grade.
JILL VEXLER: And high school?
DELLON WILSON: And then I went to high school… Part of my time was inGreenberg, at Woodlands High School and then I, my parents moved to White Plains and I went to White Plains and I finished high school in White Plains.
JILL VEXLER: White Plains High?
DELLON WILSON: Yeah.
JILL VEXLER: I used to teach there.
DELLON WILSON: Really?
JILL VEXLER: Yeah, it was a short, team teaching project pairing an architectand an anthropologist to teach for two weeks a semester.
DELLON WILSON: I graduated in '76. You were a baby then, right?3:00
JILL VEXLER: '76? No, I graduated. I finished my doctorate in '76. I'm a littleolder. And you've been living here on Eastern Parkway since -- ?
DELLON WILSON: Since 19… 80.
JILL VEXLER: Long time. Is this a co-op?
DELLON WILSON: No, rented.
JILL VEXLER: And did you go on to college after?
DELLON WILSON: Well, it's a long story. After I graduated high school insteadof enrolling into a college, which I did, but I really thought about helping my parents out by joining the U.S. Army, so whereas I had a better plan, and instead of them spending money on me, what I could have done, what I did was I joined the service and I got my education while in the Army and I also got their 4:00basic education.
JILL VEXLER: So that with, as an enrolled --
DELLON WILSON: Volunteer enlisted person.
JILL VEXLER: Volunteer enlisted person, you could go to the college of yourchoice or was it --
DELLON WILSON: No, you go to the college that affiliated closer to the ArmyBase, where they could give credit. Certain colleges took Army credits and you could go there at night.
JILL VEXLER: So where were you based?
DELLON WILSON: I was based at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
JILL VEXLER: I'm from San Antonio, Texas.
DELLON WILSON: Yeah.
JILL VEXLER: In fact, my high school was very close to Fort Sam. My mother grewup on Army Boulevard. You know that street on the side?
DELLON WILSON: Yeah? Really? Great.
JILL VEXLER: No, I know it real well.
DELLON WILSON: I like Texas. My family's there: half my family, my sister and5:00her husband and her kids. They're in Houston, though.
JILL VEXLER: There's a large West Indian community in Houston. It's the onlycity in Texas that has a sizeable West Indian community.
DELLON WILSON: Yeah, in Houston.
JILL VEXLER: The man who sat next to me on the flight Sunday is Jamaican andlives in Houston. He was telling me it's growing a lot.
DELLON WILSON: Yeah, my sister, she's one of the organizers there of a group.
JILL VEXLER: He was telling me. "It's new."
DELLON WILSON: Yeah. Yeah, so I joined the service and I did four yearsvolunteer service and then I came out and did two years reserve. You know, while I was working.
JILL VEXLER: What did you study while you were -- ?
DELLON WILSON: They call it lab specialist. It's like a lab technician. And yougot credit, college credits for that, plus I went to school at night, so I got 6:00like, I could take my electives there, when I was in training. Oh, I went to Baylor University in Houston. I got my credits there, also.
JILL VEXLER: Were you affiliated with the med school?
DELLON WILSON: No, I didn't have enough credits, you know, to do what I wantedto do there. Then after basic training, my assignment was at Fort Knox, Kentucky. I mean, of all the places. So I was at Fort Knox. I wanted to go to Europe. Far. There I went to Kentucky University and I got more credits [unintelligible]. From there, I continued. I got a Base side swap, they call it, from Fort Knox, Kentucky, to Fort Dix, New Jersey, because I thought I wanted to 7:00be closer to home and that worked out pretty good also. I went to Burlington Community College there for some extra credits and then when I was in Kentucky I went to Kentucky University, so I had all these different credits and everything, and short my degree. When I got out, I just finished up at New York University and Hunter College.
JILL VEXLER: In what?
DELLON WILSON: So, I have a biology degree and I also have a theatre and filmproduction degree.
JILL VEXLER: Is that a B.S.? B.A.?
DELLON WILSON: I have a M.S. and a B.A. And a certificate from New York8:00University, as a field engineer, because at that time, I was working at the Medical Examiner's office for around eight years.
JILL VEXLER: Forensic medicine?
DELLON WILSON: Yeah, forensic medicine. I specialized in that. So I wanted todo something extra in computers, so I took some courses in the subject for a year or so at New York University for computer field engineering. You know, just knowing different aspects and how to fix them and so on. But I never got the job I wanted.
JILL VEXLER: Are you working at that now?
DELLON WILSON: Unfortunately, I'm on disability because I got exposed to, afterworking in the laboratories for eight years, I got exposed to the chemicals: benzene, phenol, while I was working at the Medical Examiner's office.
JILL VEXLER: Oh, no.
DELLON WILSON: Yeah, so it's like my days have been changed.9:00
JILL VEXLER: So it's toxic --
DELLON WILSON: Yeah, exposed to toxic chemicals. So I have like cancer. I'mworking with that. Well, the name of it is aplastic anemia which is [unintelligible] so I'm getting treated for that.
JILL VEXLER: So the treatments, you have your energy?
DELLON WILSON: No, [unintelligible] I don't. We get good treatment at SloanMemorial, which is one of the best hospitals in the world. It's a private hospital and they offer [unintelligible] exams but all of that doesn't stop me from being that person I want to be. I'm discouraged because I'm not working, making money.
JILL VEXLER: What's your favorite aspect of the work?
DELLON WILSON: As far as microbiologist?
JILL VEXLER: Right.
DELLON WILSON: My favorite part is to do diagnostic tests like doing special10:00procedures and staining and actually see the product of the -- because I worked in, specialized in histology, you know -- to see the product at the end, my end result, whether I do a special slide for the pathologist -- you know, that microscopic slide, that slide that comes out perfect.
JILL VEXLER: That's the essential step so that the pathologist…
DELLON WILSON: Right. We work with a lot of decomposed tissues and variousdifferent things. We have to do a lot of microscopic evaluation, and we have to 11:00bring the tissue, take it through many different steps --
JILL VEXLER: Was that in the Coroner's office?
DELLON WILSON: Yes, it was the Medical Examiner's office on 31st at that time.That area grows [unintelligible]
JILL VEXLER: I've heard. I'm sure.
DELLON WILSON: I worked there for about seven years. Over seven years.
JILL VEXLER: Oh, Dellon. We could talk all day about the stories from there,I'm sure. Gruesome, some of them.
DELLON WILSON: Yes, yes, got a lot of publicity from the media. I'm not thereanymore, for the past six years. I've been doing like volunteering myself for different odd jobs.
JILL VEXLER: In the --
DELLON WILSON: I'm doing pretty -- in the theatre, in the arts, because I lovethe arts. That was my best subject, maybe. The thing that I liked most. But my 12:00parents were like, "You have to be a lawyer, doctor. You can't be an actor. Come on, these people don't make any money." You know, so, they're always … West Indian parents are very pushy when it comes to what they want for their children, because they want you to be better than them. You must be the best. You must be if not the best, you must have a profession that stands out, that has that pride and dignity. You must work hard and get it, because if we don't have it, we want you to get it, and if we have it, we want you to achieve much more than what we do. It's always to become better and better and better. But my thing was "forget all that, Ma, I just want to dance! I love dancing, and I love acting. Let me do the things I want to do."
JILL VEXLER: You can be great within those.
DELLON WILSON: So what I did, I did both.
JILL VEXLER: Great. And what theatre or dance groups are you involved in.
DELLON WILSON: At this point I can't, you know, I haven't done anything in the13:00past six years because my whole physical body has, you know, I call it erupted, in its own method. I mean, I'm very tired, I can't let my joints rub too much, or it's a breathing problem, or what have you. I do a lot of visualization, or I do more so, like I'll put on productions or do things that I don't have to exert myself at. I work a lot with the women's movement. I [unintelligible] I've done 14:00a lot with kids. I help with you know the AIDS community.
JILL VEXLER: In Brooklyn, here? Manhattan?
DELLON WILSON: Yeah, Gay Men's Health Crisis.
JILL VEXLER: Yeah, I've done some volunteer work with them.
DELLON WILSON: And I went to Jamaica and I also -- they had formed a groupthere for getting together the AIDS crisis for the people of the Caribbean, you know, it's like helping everyone, it doesn't matter who they are.
JILL VEXLER: Are you familiar with a group, women's drama and different aspectsof cooperative programs based in Kingston called Sistren? 15:00
DELLON WILSON: Yes. Yeah, I know those groups, some of them.
JILL VEXLER: I'm trying to think-- the last time I was in Kingston was sixyears ago. I was working on a UNESCO project and my friend, whom I've known for twenty years, almost, said come see this production, and then the whole gang wound up taking me with them for the weekend, because it was a three day weekend for a holiday, and fantastic women. Absolutely great. And they were approaching health and childcare through drama and through their programs and through artwork and selling tee-shirts, and artwork cards, because it was a source of income to finance the programs.
DELLON WILSON: Yeah, it's really very difficult because the government really16:00don't finance or help to finance the group. It's just like the AIDS program, the projects that these young men and women that formed in Jamaica. It's not government, it's definitely not, the governments really don't help with the projects or help with money or what have you. So these people get together and do their own benefits and you know, just trying, and also, with the Gay Men's Health Crisis here, they get a lot of condoms and various different things there, so it helps whoever's around, because it's there. AIDS is there, it's all 17:00over the world, and somebody has to start it. And how they started it, they were walking by somebody's apartment and they had foul smell in it, and when they walked in, you know, there was this person who was dead in his apartment, for days or weeks and no one knew.
JILL VEXLER: And he had died of AIDS?
DELLON WILSON: Right and no one knew what he died of. I mean, no one knew atthat point that that's what it was. The only thing is that the group of theatre people there who helped to start this project. They went in and got this body out and what have you and later, at a later point, they found out this person had the virus, but they didn't care. They just wanted to, they said if this is what's going on and a lot of people are unaware of it and they're so afraid of it, it's time for somebody to do something.
JILL VEXLER: But the public health institute of Jamaica hasn't established any18:00form of programs for --
DELLON WILSON: Well, I think now they're doing, they definitely have to be apart of it, because it's part of the people, it's part of the community. So hopefully, eventually-- they're aware of it. Whether or not they're helping, I don't know at this point, but hopefully they'll start, because it's really going to look bad when the public health system there. You know, but I plan on helping also, at various benefits. Like I threw a benefit party in honor of this project. That's what I do. I try to help people that need help at this point in time. I really concentrate on the women's community because there isn't much 19:00help as far as --
JILL VEXLER: Are you speaking about the Jamaican community in New York?
DELLON WILSON: Yeah, yeah, the Jamaican community, but overall, even thewomen's community here, there's a lot of projects and a lot of offers, but sometimes people don't know about them, so it's a matter of just connecting.
JILL VEXLER: Absolutely. What do you find the best means of communication, ofmaking those connections is? Or are there several?
DELLON WILSON: Well, there's several. First it's, I have dialogue with a lot ofpeople because my situation number one, and what is, it's like, you call a friend, or you call an associate, or you call these different groups because they're out there, and through counselors and various different things, you just 20:00have a network of what's happening. And you call these different groups and it's just like they're "Hey!" They're ready to help you out there. They're looking for people to connect with them, you know, and sometimes it's hard for them to connect with people, especially people of color, because it's like a communication problem with some of us. So you know, it's like, okay, you need help, or whoever needs help, this is the way you do it. It's like that method of communication that you go to them and say, if anyone needs help, this is the way you do it. Here are some pamphlets; this is the way you have safe sex, blah blah blah. It's like you have to go in and educate, because we do have a lot of illiteracy in the community, so we go in and help to educate the people and to 21:00let them know we have all of this here. It's up to you.
JILL VEXLER: Do you find that the English you use, the way you communicate thisgut behavioral information, has to be adapted or is adapted to an African-American born in New York, to a Caribbean, to different specific countries within the Caribbean?
DELLON WILSON: The way we speak?
JILL VEXLER: The way you talk, the way your communication is successful.
DELLON WILSON: Well, we -- speaking with someone from the West Indies, orCaribbean, or Africa, where have you, people are very sensitive. Like with Black Americans, I'm comfortable most of the times because I can just say, that's that 22:00and you know, they understand because this is the way here. But with the West Indian folks, you really have to sit down and make them feel comfortable so they can trust you, because we are very paranoid of people who want to give us information about things we don't understand or might not know, so you have to have that trust. First they have to trust you and then they'll open up. But the dialogue, yes it's a little bit different. And knowing both customs and both cultures, I find it easy to have dialogue with whether it's Black Americans or West Indians, you know. I have that mobility to do either/or.
JILL VEXLER: That's the word I was thinking of, mobility. Just going back for a23:00second, Dellon, I thought of something. In White Plains, you graduate from high school seventy something?
DELLON WILSON: Yeah,'76.
JILL VEXLER: '76. White Plains High School in '76-- Let's see. I knew WhitePlains High School in '86. And it was really very diverse, much more than I had ever imagined. There were ten different Latin American countries there, people from Ecuador there in that high school. And an enormous variety in '86 of West Indian countries. What was it like when you were there, and what was your circle of friends like?
DELLON WILSON: Mind started out really -- can I just go back a bit?
JILL VEXLER: Oh, of course.
DELLON WILSON: When I first came here to this country and I started school, itwas a very difficult period for me because first of all, the Black Americans, 24:00you know most of them; they did not hear anyone with an accent in the 70's. There was a little turmoil there also because there was like, in what? '68 with Martin Luther King and all that, so there wasn't a lot of Blacks in my school. And the ones who were, it was a little bit difficult to communicate with them because I spoke with an accent, and by them not knowing or everyone has an accent. But mine was really deep and different, you know. So it took them a little time to get used to me. I had to fight my way through school until I was recognized as a person speaking with a different accent. Anyway, there was a little problem, but after fighting a couple of fights and getting in trouble and 25:00all of that, I got recognized. Then it was more so like in high school. My first year in high school where there was a small percentage of Blacks and Spanish, the percentage was really -- we stood out -- that people began to really accept us. But it was like a couple of us there who were like either they were West Indian first generation, or new West Indian young kids who came in, we had to 26:00fight our way in for other West Indian folks to come in and to just feel right. We all had our own circle. We gathered together as one.
JILL VEXLER: Regardless of country?
DELLON WILSON: Regardless of country, because the fact that we were West Indianand we spoke differently, and even though we all spoke differently and we all came from different countries we could communicate with each other, or we felt comfortable enough. So when a new student came in, we befriended that person immediately, so they could feel comfortable. So we were the ones that had to fight and had to go through whatever it was to be accepted. But once we were there, we contributed, whether it was dancing, we started having a Caribbean club, and different things we could participate in. A lot of people didn't know how to play the sports. We taught them the sports because we knew the sports -- 27:00
JILL VEXLER: The American sports?
DELLON WILSON: Yeah, the American sports. And then the Black Americans startedappreciating us and bringing us in a lot, but most of my friends when I grew up in White Plains, you know, they were White, because the Blacks would not accept me, and the Whites they knew well, there's a country here, Jamaica's Jamaica. And of course people at that time were saying, "You came on a banana boat," and I'm saying, "Well, I flew over here on a 747," you know. But they could not understand that. It was still that 40's and 50's and 30's and 20's when the West Indian migrated over here and that banana boat period, so it was very tough to explain to the Black Americans that, "I didn't come over here on a banana boat, and how dare you," so even though there was a lot of prejudice and a lot of things going on, the whites like, took us in, basically as friends. They were my friends until like, once they saw that, once the Black Americans saw that, it 28:00was a way of saying, Okay, if the Whites will accept you, you must be okay. And its --
JILL VEXLER: Interesting circle.
DELLON WILSON: It's really weird and I have yet to tell a lot of people, but Ido share with my American friends at times, because it was really strange back then in the early '70s, because we had a very difficult time, an extremely difficult time in the West Indies. Forget it. There was comments like, "Oh, you don't wear any clothes. You live on a tree," you know.
JILL VEXLER: That African Americans made.
DELLON WILSON: Yeah. Yeah. It was that cannibalistic type of lifestyle that welived, and I'm saying, I always fought. I always fought for my country and 29:00fought for the right. I would say, "If only you knew. I'm coming from a paradise. I didn't ask to be here. My parents wanted us here. Because where I'm coming from, the sun shines."
JILL VEXLER: Saint Anne's gorgeous.
DELLON WILSON: You know, it's a garden parish. The ocean is so beautiful.
JILL VEXLER: Absolutely beautiful.
DELLON WILSON: And we had to dress in uniforms to go to school. So there was alot of changes for me, because that wearing jeans for me, my high waters and sneakers at that time, it was difficult because my parents bought stuff for us, we weren't used to that to wear to school. We had uniforms.
JILL VEXLER: How is it that your parents made the decision to come?
DELLON WILSON: Well, you know in the West Indies a lot of time, in the 50's andthe 60's, they were called with an opportunity to have a better life. My father, he was a school teacher and carpenter, and had all these trades, so he was fine, 30:00but my Mom, you know, she was a housewife and she also, she was like a midwife. She delivered a lot of kids on the island. But not a certified midwife, no. She wasn't certified. It was like they trained these girls how to do this, these nurses.
JILL VEXLER: How did your mother learn?
DELLON WILSON: Well, she learned from the nurse. We called her the matron. Shelearned from here. She went with her each time, and my Mom was pretty good at that. She came here and just like anyone else, she was sponsored by a family and she worked as a maid, for a while until she got on her feet, then she sponsored 31:00her family over here, and then she went on into the nursing field, and that's how we got here. And my father was totally objecting to that, because, you know, he did not want to leave this country. He had his thing he wanted to do. But she had to make a move, and when she made that move, he didn't like it, but she did it, and once she did that, he appreciated it. Because once he came here he saw, well, you know, he couldn't, he had opportunities of doing certain things and he did it, and then he decided to leave after I went to colleges or what have you, we grew up to be a certain age. My Dad left and my Mom after a couple of years had to retire to go take care of him.
JILL VEXLER: So it was really her move to the states.
DELLON WILSON: Yeah, it was my mother's move. The women there are very32:00aggressive. And a lot of times they take action.
JILL VEXLER: When you say "we," how many brothers and sisters are you?
DELLON WILSON: Well, I have a lot of half-brothers. My dad. I have fourhalf-brothers, as far as from both parents, it's two of us. Two girls. But I have one half-sister and the rest of them half-brothers.
JILL VEXLER: So all of you came up?
DELLON WILSON: No, not everyone, just Mom and Dad and my sister and I. That wasit. Then everybody came after.
JILL VEXLER: And that's your sister who lives in Houston, right?
DELLON WILSON: Right.
JILL VEXLER: So you're the only one in the East? The Northeast?
DELLON WILSON: I have two brothers living here in Brooklyn. Two brothers.
JILL VEXLER: What part of Brooklyn do they live in?
DELLON WILSON: One lives in Crown Heights. He was my roommate for a while. And33:00as he brought his family up here, and he has of course first, second generation kids here, that first, second, first I should say, yeah, he had to move out and he has his own place with his family, here in Crown Heights on Eastern Parkway.
JILL VEXLER: So, just again, when you decided to move to New York City, how didyou select this part of town to live in?
DELLON WILSON: Brooklyn?
JILL VEXLER: Brooklyn and Crown Heights?
DELLON WILSON: Well, after I got out of the service, I moved to Gramercy Park.At that time, with my lover, and after the relationship was on the outs, I decided that I had to move, and living in Manhattan was really beautiful in the 70's, I mean the 80's, early 80's because that was like '79-80. I needed a space 34:00that was large and, as a matter of fact, we both decided to move to Brooklyn, and we both got this large apartment, because I was -- first I chose a one-bedroom apartment, but it was too much for me because, you know, there was a lot of rodents and it was just awful. I mean, it looked good, but after a while living there, I couldn't tolerate the noise because I was going to school full time, I was working full time, and I needed a space that would be very quiet. So this apartment was like totally renovated, it was very new. It was renovated and it had this new look, and some friends connected me with the manager and I moved in here in this large apartment. And I've been here ever since. 35:00
JILL VEXLER: So you've been here since '81?
DELLON WILSON: Yeah, since about '81.
JILL VEXLER: '83?
DELLON WILSON: No, I've been here about twelve years. 1980.
JILL VEXLER: So you know the neighborhood pretty well then.
DELLON WILSON: Yes. I know the neighborhood, because I used to ride my bike, mycycle through the neighborhood. Plus I do a lot of driving, and the West Indian community, this is also a part of the West Indian community to me. And I felt very comfortable because the food, the food that I ate was important to me, and I like West Indian food. I like American food, but I love West Indian food, so I could get both.
JILL VEXLER: Right here.
DELLON WILSON: I would just have to walk a half a block.
JILL VEXLER: So Franklin is pretty much the commercial center for the WestIndian shopping? 36:00
DELLON WILSON: Well, Franklin and Nostrand, all the streets parallel to it. Youcan get your food --
JILL VEXLER: Have you seen in these twelve, thirteen years you've lived in thisneighborhood, a change in the commercial, in the ways that the stores reflect the Caribbean community? Or was that already pretty well established then?
DELLON WILSON: Back then, it was, but now we do have more of a competition,like you have a lot of West Indians, they're owning stores, more so restaurants, take-out food. But you definitely see more of a variety of food and vegetables, and dry food and canned food some time. I tend to stay away from the canned food 37:00and chemicals, but a lot of the products much more. But at that particular time, twelve years, well, actually thirteen years ago, I could get the same things that I want now, the dry food, the yams and the bananas, and codfish and things like that.
JILL VEXLER: The chilies. A lot of the West Indian community here: does itkind of break down in your mind to certain countries that have more residents here than others, and which seem to be the dominant countries?
DELLON WILSON: Well, here in my area of Crown Heights, Panamanian, well,Panamanian is the large element around here.
JILL VEXLER: English speaking.
DELLON WILSON: No, Spanish speaking. Yeah. They do speak English because, ofcourse, they're here in America, but the majority of them speak Spanish. But in this area I have a cross between Americans from the South and West Indians, a 38:00lot of Jamaicans. I would say the dominance here is Jamaicans and Black Americans. Then come Panamanians. We have a large group of Panamanians.
JILL VEXLER: What about some of the other islands?
DELLON WILSON: Yeah, we have definitely Trinidadians. They're right behind thePanamanians. Then we have Antiguans. We have a lot of Barbadians. I don't know the survey.
JILL VEXLER: Craig knows.
DELLON WILSON: But a lot of Barbadians, you name it. Of course, we have a whole39:00bunch of Haitians. That I should even say is close to the Panamanians, the amount of Haitians. Of course the Spanish is the Panamanians and the Dominicans and the Puerto Ricans. We do have a lot of Puerto Ricans, more so Panamanians.
JILL VEXLER: How do you --
DELLON WILSON: And the Jewish community. You can't forget that. Because it'slike four or five blocks and then you have the Jewish community. And it's really, it's so unique because on the outskirts, you have the West Indians and 40:00the Black Americans, and on the in-skirts, you have the White community, you have the Jewish community. And it's like they're very much, they stick very much to themselves. And I guess all the other communities, it's like we mix outside, but they stick very much to themselves because they have the synagogue on Eastern Parkway and everything is within. Their stores are within the community. But we all can go and buy from their stores and everything. But they don't come out of their community and buy from us. And the people who are within that community, that's where we go for the dermatologist. We have a few Blacks who live in their community, but more so they're professionals, doctors and the majority are doctors and lawyers. You'll find a couple of Blacks there. 41:00
JILL VEXLER: Do you have any encounters, conversations with any of the Jewishresidents? It's really so close.
DELLON WILSON: Yes, I do have encounters, but as far as problems, no. Because Igo in, like I might have a doctor, one of my doctors is Jewish, and his wife. I will go in and I'll get taken care of. Matter of fact, they have a lot of Black patients, you know. I'll just go in and six, seven blocks. I go home, come home, and I don't have any problems. But that big riot that we had, that problematic situation was devastating, because I know West Indian people, they really don't get upset. They really don't get perturbed unless a situation upset them. I've 42:00never seen in like that.
JILL VEXLER: Were there many West Indians involved?
DELLON WILSON: Yes, there were West Indians involved, because you know, theywere. Because once you say black, it's not even about Black Americans. It shouldn't even be like Black Americans, or Black West Indians, because people from the West Indies, the majority of them, 99 percent of them are Black. I mean, or 95 percent, whether you're mixed or whatever, you're Black. So, it's a matter of -- because the family was West Indian, that the kid got hurt from, and I think when that was out, it was that big news flash, the West Indian people they're first, they're part of it. They're a big part of it, because it's like we don't bother anyone, but when it comes to kids, or the elderly, or a person that's sick, it's like, the West Indian community gets upset. Especially they 43:00love their children, and elderly persons, because we're brought up like that. You have to always respect. And you stand up and fight when it comes to family or a situation like that. The injustice…
JILL VEXLER: Have you sensed, in conversation and just kind of vibes, animosityamong your circle of friends, your circle of people, whether they're friends or not, be they African-American or Caribbean, about the Jewish presence in the neighborhood? 44:00
DELLON WILSON: No, we don't have problems with the Jewish presence in ourneighborhood. That's not the problem. The problem occurred when the accident occurred back then and the kid was hit and you know, there wasn't anything done -- and those days of waiting for justice and blah blah blah, and then it's okay to revenge. One situation happened, and then another situation. It's like, unjust cause and all these different things take into play, I think people start talking. And I think the media hyped things up so much. I think sometimes if they'd just leave things alone, people in the community could just settle it. But when you're hearing things and it's not true, and it's not true, then people 45:00get upset, and of course, peoples' blood begins to boil, because then it becomes a racial thing and from that, it's like telling someone, you have a group of friends in a circle and telling that person one thing, and when it comes back to you it's not the same? It's like the same thing happened here in the community. Because you know we have little problems once in a while with attitudes, but we never had anything that was so big and just out of control, you know. And then people came from all over and of course, it triggers problems.
JILL VEXLER: What was it like as you looked out your window that August?
DELLON WILSON: Well, being as I'm right here by the museum, there wasn't a lotof things happening here. It was like further down by Utica Avenue into that 46:00area. But of course, there's a lot of people upset. I heard talks. If you go to the grocery store, there was a lot of talk. If I got and get my hair done, my hair stylist is from Haiti, so there was a lot of problems. Talk was out. And everybody, all the groups were upset because they were saying that it's their child, an innocent person, a kid playing, and somebody drunk driving and hit the kid and nothing was happening and da-da-da. Things boil up and the media did most of the injustice here. And the more people hear, the more people get upset. And then there was one thing to another. So I'm driving by and I'm seeing 47:00everybody, there's like a whole group of folks coming down and they're upset. And traffic is stopping, you know, anger, rage, people talking things they don't know.
JILL VEXLER: What are some examples of sentences or statements you heard thatwere out of proportion or incorrect, or distortions of what you knew was more accurate? Either that you heard on the street or read in the paper or heard on the news.
DELLON WILSON: That was inaccurate? Well, the fact that they blame a lot ofthings on the mayor, Mayor Koch.
JILL VEXLER: Dinkins. They're both history.
DELLON WILSON: Dinkins. You know, it was like -- what did they want this man todo? I feel really bad about how they disgraced this man for this, like it's his fault and he should have done something for this. I think a lot of times the 48:00media was just putting on a show, and okay, Mr. Dinkins, Mayor Dinkins had things to do, and he didn't know what was really happening here, because see, it's like the people were planning and doing their own stuff. Everybody was planning and doing whatever it is that they wanted to do. A lot of negative things were said about the mayor. That he didn't move on time. He didn't care.--[tape ends]
DELLON WILSON: So a lot of negative things about the mayor and the reason why49:00he didn't come and all of that from the community, both Black and White, so, you know.
JILL VEXLER: When you said people were planning things, what were you referring to?
DELLON WILSON: Well, I mean, there were different groups forming, and I'mtalking about the Hasidics also and the Blacks, you know. It was a little rival. When I say rival, I know as far as I can speak for the Blacks, they were sick of, in '93, here it is, we still have prejudice at the highest points, you know. And there thing was they're tired of getting beat on or hurt and different incidents that happen in the U.S. of groups and what have you. Their thing was, specifically -- 50:00
JILL VEXLER: But specific to the neighborhood, were there things that wereunder the surface that --
DELLON WILSON: No, no, no, no, no. There wasn't anything under the surface. I'mtelling you for all these years, we all lived together and nobody bothered anyone. And if there's a shouting incident or something, it's you know --
JILL VEXLER: That happens in New York.
DELLON WILSON: Yeah. You know. People talk, they talk negative and that's it.And it's people, and different ethnic backgrounds, but we basically got along. I felt I was caught up into something, and of course I'm a Black woman and I felt like there was some unjustness, some unjust things that occurred; that I thought should be looked into. And one group should not really be praised or treated 51:00differently than another group. There was a situation that occurred and we should have taken care of it prior to it getting to a very bad point, as far as rioting and all of that, you know? And I don't think it's the mayor's fault that he got here two or three days later. He was up on it. Not only that, the mayor has people who work for him on these specific things, you know, or situations, so and the police were there. The police again is another situation. It's like; everybody's going to feel a certain way. They're human and they act up too. I mean, they're here for us in the community. They're supposed to be here for the people. It shouldn't matter whether you're Black or White, but hey the situation 52:00occurs and some things are happening; people choose sides. I'm not saying that what took place is all correct. I don't want to call names and try to create something worse than it is.
JILL VEXLER: As a Black woman, with the confrontation and anger here or withoutit, what have you felt is unjust that should be addressed?
DELLON WILSON: There's a situation I don't believe -- see, a lot of people aresaying, an eye for an eye, you know? Or -- I wasn't raised that way. If something goes wrong in a situation, take care of it to the best of your ability. You know what I'm saying? There was an accident that occurred and it was a bad accident, and the person was on an alcohol influence. Take care of that. 53:00
JILL VEXLER: The driver of the car?
DELLON WILSON: Yeah. Take care of the driver of, take care of the situationwith the family, and take care of the situation as far as the driver, you know, instead of letting things go and then things decaying so chaotically, because that's what it was. Everything boiled down to an eye for an eye. And when you start taking out, when each individual person starts plucking each other's eye because of something that went wrong, then there needs some kind of restraint on what it is that's going wrong in the community, and that's where the media came in tried to blow things out of proportion, you know? The group didn't think of an eye for an eye; they wanted the situation to be taken care of properly and promptly. Because there's a lot of accidents happen all over the world, but the 54:00thing is, if an accident happens, you know what you've got to do. If the person who was driving, who was drinking and driving, and hit someone and obviously the kid died unfortunately, take care of that situation. Don't let it lead -- because when people don't see things happen quickly, then of course there's going to be animosity. And I'm repeating myself again, but that's where the media comes in and starts stuff and then people get angry. And that's when the, especially the West Indian community get really upset because it was someone from the West Indian community and they're boiling. And the Black merchants are boiling because it's a Black person no matter what, even though we try to distinguish or try to separate ourselves, we're still all one. That's what it boils down to. So it's like everybody got together and say an eye for an eye. The police don't want to take care of this; we'll take care of this ourselves. 55:00And the situation almost occurred Labor Day again at the West Indian parade.
JILL VEXLER: What happened? I forget. I was out of town, but someone told mesomething happened.
DELLON WILSON: There was another accident, similar to -- a couple, but theywere not drinking.
JILL VEXLER: And she broke her leg.
DELLON WILSON: Yeah, and the car got out of control. I don't know if the couplewere nervous because of the crowd or the situation, you know? Paranoia hits sometimes and things happen, you know. But the fact that it almost occurred again on a second occasion and the person was let off and blah blah blah, that could start another riot. You know what I'm saying?
JILL VEXLER: Yeah, but you don't put someone in jail for hitting a person accidentally.
DELLON WILSON: Exactly, exactly, exactly.
JILL VEXLER: In the best of circumstances, people don't go to jail for that.
DELLON WILSON: But see, the people understood that, and it was really quiet.56:00They didn't try to bring -- They knew they were at fault too, but the media didn't try to boost it up. They just said what happened, it was an accident. It was an accident, exactly, you know.
JILL VEXLER: How did it get out, Dellon, that the driver of the car that hitGavin Cato was drunk?
DELLON WILSON: Because when they -- to be honest with you, I shouldn't evenspeak on that, because I'm only going from what the media said, and from what people say. I can't really take that to court. But I'm just saying that well, if the media says this and people in the community who saw, who were at the scene of the accident, are saying that he was drunk, you know, because they helped him out of the car, also. The police came later. But it was like both parties was 57:00taken care of by people in the community and they said he was drunk or he was drinking. And then the media said it. So everything was justifying itself. You know? Whether or not that man was drinking and it was just an accident, I don't know.
JILL VEXLER: Since two summers ago, what's your gut feeling about the mediaportrayal of the name Crown Heights, when you see it in the papers or on TV? You've lived here so long, and you've said you've lived in Crown Heights and people respond to it--
DELLON WILSON: They've made Crown Heights become this like, war zone, thisnegative, ghetto type of place, this bad place that we live in, which is wrong. 58:00I mean, Crown Heights has some of the most beautiful homes, and a lot of good people, more so than bad. You know, I mean? The people in the community, they have several churches, they go to church. It's a community of love, really. I mean, there's crime everywhere. It's not just Crown Heights. But everything now is being "looked at." Anything that happens in Crown Heights is a hype. It's really uncomfortable. When I speak to people and they mention the fact, it's like "Oh, you live in Crown Heights. Tell us about this or tell us about that." [unintelligible] It's just a regular community like any other community, but 59:00it's just filled with a diverse set of people. All these people are from different ethnic backgrounds and stuff. To me it's like really a warm place, until this incident occurred. I know like Franklin Avenue side streets blah blah blah. There's problems. There's a lot of drug problems. There's hostilities and problems. But everywhere you go there's a good street and a bad street. I feel it's very difficult to live in this community these past two years, because it's like people don't really want to move in, because it's on a negative, 60:00everything's on a negative connotation about it. It's like nothing positive. Just me trying to find a roommate was really difficult, you know? So instead of me mentioning Crown Heights when I'm placing the ad, I have to mention close to Brooklyn Museum and you know?
JILL VEXLER: Absolutely. Grand Army Plaza or something.
DELLON WILSON: Or close to Brooklyn Museum, because I'm like a block away, sothat's how I had to list it, because if I had listed Crown Heights, forget it. And when people come here and they see how beautiful and quiet the place is, it's like a totally different concept. But when you tell people stories about a situation or about a community, people just use the negative. Somehow, it just seems like the negative overrides the positive. Which is really bad. It's really 61:00bad, because there's much more good in the community than there is bad. So that's one of the reasons why I'm still here. Because I'm comfortable.
JILL VEXLER: Yeah, I think it's really one of the most destructive echoes fromtwo years ago is that examination. Everybody's watching.
DELLON WILSON: Right. Waiting for something that I don't know is ever going tohappen again.
JILL VEXLER: But there are accidents with cars -- when twelve million peoplelive in one city, there are accidents in cars.
DELLON WILSON: I'm quite sure this was not the first White and Black situation,you know. It's like people are people; things happen. But if the media could just stay out of it sometimes instead of hyping it up -- you know? It's like Los Angeles and the riots. It's like all these different riots happening just hype 62:00things up. You create madness, you know.
JILL VEXLER: If you were in our museum meeting this afternoon and talking aboutCrown Heights, saying, "Listen, I really live here; this is what I want people to know about Crown Heights," what would you tell us? You're welcome to come if you'd like to come. It's a hard question to phrase, but I guess one of the things that Craig and I…
[Tape becomes garbled at this point then ends.]
Oral History Interview with Dellon A. Wilson
Dellon Wilson was born in Saint Anne, Jamaica and raised in Kingston. In her pre-teens, Wilson moved to Westchester County, New York. After graduating from White Plains High School, she enlisted in the United States Army. This paid for her college tuition to several schools, ending with New York University and Hunter College. She completed an undergraduate degree in theatre and film production and a master's degree in biology. Coming to the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, Wilson moved into an Eastern Parkway apartment in 1980 and worked as a forensic medicine microbiologist in a Medical Examiner's office for eight years. After taking leave from full-time employment due to a job-related illness, she volunteered her time to women's rights and AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome)-related causes. She died in September, 1995.
Dellon Wilson, a Jamaican American, discusses her upbringing, training in the Army, schooling in the United States, and an illness that forced her to stop working. She shares her perspectives on racial tolerance and intolerance; relating personal experiences of feeling unfairly judged in her teens, her contemporary viewpoint on the racial and ethnic makeup of the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights community, and the media's portrayal of the charged atmosphere resulting from the auto accident that killed Gavin Cato in Crown Heights. Interview conducted by Jill Vexler.
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.
CitationWilson, Dellon A., Oral history interview conducted by Jill Vexler, November 10, 1993, Crown Heights History Project collection, 1994.006.32; Brooklyn Historical Society.
- Cato, Gavin
- Dinkins, David N
- Wilson, Dellon A.
- African American neighborhoods
- AIDS (Disease)
- Caribbean Americans
- Ethnic neighborhoods
- Jamaican Americans
- Jewish neighborhoods
- Race identity
- Racism in mass media
- Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
- Crown Heights (New York, N.Y.)
- Westchester County (N.Y.)
Finding AidCrown Heights History Project collection