Thursday, May 6, 2010

House Tour Preview: Kenneth Clark – Neighbors and Guests


Our May 22 & 23 house tour will include the home of African-American psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark. In 1950, the Clarks moved to Hastings’ Pinecrest neighborhood, the area west of the Andrus Memorial Home. They raised their children here and remained here until their deaths, Mamie in 1983 and Kenneth in 2005. In 1990, Historical Society Trustee Coleman Barkin interviewed Clark for the Society’s oral history collection. The following is an edited version of that interview, in which Clark talks about his house, his neighbors, his friendship with the Lithuanian-born sculptor Jacques Lipchitz, and some of his more famous house guests.

(In the interview, Clark refers to “The Chances” who sold them their house. These were African-American lawyer Lucille Chance and her sister Sarah Grey. Their maiden name was Edwards, and under that name they ran a Harlem-based real estate business called Edwards Sisters Realty. Lucille was instrumental in bringing African-American families to Hastings. Her house will also be on our house tour.)

The view: the Hudson River seen from the Pinecrest neighborhood in 1929.

INT: Where did you first live?

KC: In New York City, in Washington Heights. As I said, [Mamie was] from Arkansas, and a home—she didn’t particularly like living in an apartment. So she said we ought to look to find a home, and this was the first place we looked -- Hastings. Our neighbors, the Chances, who have a home up here, were in real estate and they showed us this home. … She liked it, I liked it. I liked the view, and that oak tree in the back is really magnificent, and the fireplace. We decided to buy it. We didn’t look any further. …

INT: Was Hastings an integrated community at that time?

KC: As far as we knew. There were about three or four black families in this area. It seemed like a pretty integrated area. I had a very good friend, Robert Merton, who lived up the drive. … He’s a professor of Sociology at Columbia. … I’ll never forget the first Christmas we were here. We hadn’t yet fixed up the house. The bell rang, we went to the front door and there was Bob Merton and a group of neighbors who came to sing Christmas carols and whatnot. That was really a very impressive event for us. It told us, really, that it was a decent community … . One of the things that fascinated me was that in the Pinecrest area whites and blacks interchanged in selling. A white family would sell to a negro family, a negro family could sell to a white family. …

INT: What kind of reputation did Hastings have?

KC: A pleasant place, a pleasant suburb. … It seemed the type of place that one would like other places to be like. …

INT: Did you use the parks around here, or the aqueduct?

KC: Yes, sometimes. In fact, I used to walk down the aqueduct to [sculptor Jacques] Lipchitz’s studio on Sundays. We would sit and talk. We were quite friendly. … I walked down and I saw his studio, and, of course, I’ve always been impressed with Lipchitz. In fact, I have one of his pieces upstairs that I’ll show you. We’d sit and we’d talk. We’d talk about Picasso. He was quite a person, a very gentle man. …

INT: Was he working continuously? Was he sculpting all the time?

KC: He did quite a bit of sculpting, yeah. And he didn’t seem to mind taking time out for us to sit and talk. And I visited his home there … . He has a lot of African art.

The Old Croton Aqueduct running alongside Pinecrest Drive in 1931.

INT: What did you talk about besides Picasso?

KC: Events – what was happening in the world. We had similar ideology. …

INT: You had mentioned to me, when we last spoke, that you had different friends come up and spend some time here. [Singer] Paul Robeson, you said he’d been here, and [writer] Jim Baldwin.

KC: Paul Robeson had been up with the Chances. Martin Luther King had spent some time here with us as a guest. …

INT: Were they here just socially, or did you have meetings?

KC: Socially and meetings. Meetings with Roy Wilkins, Whitney [Young] [both prominent civil-rights activists], and others. …

INT: Why did you meet here, rather than in somebody’s office?

KC: That’s a very interesting question. It was a… I guess it was a secret. I think Martin was staying with us. As I told you it was fascinating, we had lunch upstairs and discussions down here [in the library]. …

INT: What was [Jim Baldwin] like?

KC: He was like Jim Baldwin. We had long discussions. We’d have more discussions with Jim than we would with Martin. Martin was easy going. I only saw him angry once. Jim was sort of voracious. I liked him. Mamie liked him. In fact, we would not have guests here, particularly those that were staying for a while, who we didn’t like … .

INT: You said you saw Martin Luther King angry once?

KC: Once he was angry with [civil-rights activist] Roy [Wilkins], who was opposed to his anti-Vietnam position. I must say Whitney was quite the negotiator. I admired Whitney’s ability to reconcile. … [But] I certainly was very much on [Martin’s] side in the anti-Vietnam. I guess I was a part of history – here in the Pinecrest area – although by no means publicized.

Sculptor Jacques Lipchitz at work in his studio ca. 1965.

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8 comments:

  1. Very beautiful and nice view can be seen in the pictures.I like interview questions and answers.This shows how you need to stand when you shift to a new place.You are really lucky that you got that place.Wonderful place to be at.I like black-and-white pictures a lot.

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  2. They raised their children here and remained here until their deaths, Mamie in 1983 and Kenneth in 2005. In 1990, Historical Society Trustee Coleman Barkin interviewed Clark for the Society’s oral history collection.

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  3. I only saw him angry once. Jim was sort of voracious. I liked him. Mamie liked him. In fact, we would not have guests here, particularly those that were staying for a while, who we didn’t like

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  4. particularly those that were staying for a while, who we didn’t like

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  5. Mamie liked him. In fact, we would not have guests here, particularly those that were staying for a while, who we didn’t like

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  6. If you ask me this is one of the best traveling destinations. Affordable with great views and fascinating culture. Great choice of vacation!

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