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Russell Major

Russell Major

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Published by: Englewood Public Library on Sep 12, 2012
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Fnrpxos
RSvTEMBEREI)
RUSSELL
C.
MAIOR:
EDUCATORANI)
CIVIL
RTGHTS
LEADER
My
interest
in
civil
rightsand
racial
bias
really
began
in
i3
at
age
twenty-one
when
I
observed
a
black
servant
trail-
heremployerand behaving rnore
like
a
dog than
a
person.
ihorttime
later,
aIewishfamily
tried
tojoin
the
Eastern
nt
Yacht
Club
in
Gloucester,Massachusetts.
I
was
a
mern-
of
the
board
of
governors,
most
of
whorn
were
anti-
nitic,
and
although
I
was
young
and inexperienced
in
mat-
i
of
debate
,
I
said
that
I
saw
no
reason
not
to
accept
as
mem-
sa
thoroughly
respectable
]ewish
family.
Another
member
he
yacht
club
and board
of
governors)slighdyolder
than
I,
re
or
less
agreed
with
my position
andmade
a
strong
case
admitting
the family.
In
the
endwe
prevaitred
over
our
prej-
cedfellows.
After living
in
Babylon,NewYork
from
L957
to196I-
a
.white
comrnunityon the
south
shore
ofLong
Island
-
thech
family
decided
it
was
time
to
rnove,
although
it
was
not
r
to
leave
the good friends
wehadmade.
When
Frances
and
:ad
in
the
ldew
Torh
Tirnes
of
a civil
rights
struggle in;lewood,
New
]ersey,
we both
exclaimed
at
once)
"Let's
[<
at
thepossibility
ofmoving
to
Englewood
and
joinirg
the
'."
We
found
a
house
in
Englewoodand
lived
there
until
'2,
for
a
totalof
eleven years.
Among
the
first
persons
I
met
inglewood
was
Russell
Major,
an
African-American,
who
at
time
was
leading
the
fight
to
integrate
the
Cleveland
ele-
rtary
school"
Thestory
of
Russell
Mnjor
is
really
thestory
of
racial
inte-rion
in
Englewood,New
]ersey.Russellu'as a
complex
and
itive figure)
one
who
made
a
largedifference
in
the
city
of
lsnRc
Pn'r'crr
351
linglewood,
in
spite
of
failing
to
achieve
all
of
his
goals.
For
ycars
hewas
a
leadirg
force
in
the
long
battle
to
integrate
the
sc-hools
and
provide
affordable
housing
for
thepoor
African-
American
population,
which
represented
nearly
twenty-fivepcrcent
of
the
city.
Russell
wasa
man
I
admired,
aman
who
rlcepened
my
interest
in
civilrights
and
taught
meabout
the
ycarnirgof
theAfrican-American
for
equaliry.
Russell
Mujor's
life
goal
was
civil
rights.
Shirl.y
Lacy,
a
lrlack activist
and
a
former
member
of
the
Englewood
City
(louncil,
said
in
the
Bngen
Record
on
tr)ecember
9,
L997
,
"Russellwas
a
gem.
F{e was
unique.
What
MartinLuther
King
was
doing
nationally
Russell
Mojor
was
doinglocally."
In
our
conversations
about
the
problems
of
the
African-American
community
in
Englewood,
Russell
was
an
optimist
and
believed
that
African-Americansand
white
Americans
would
cventually
understand
one
another
andlearn
to
get along
with-
intheir
different
cultures.
But
we
bothfeltthat
theroad
tointegration
of
the
public
schoolsand
the
eventual
integration
of
society
would
take
some
time
to
achieve.
In
the
realm
of
sports,
thoush,
there
was
much
for
Russell
to
be
hopeful
about.
I'11
tell
you
about
Little
League
baseball,
which
is
oneactiv-
iry
that
is
entirely
integrated,
where
blacks
and
whitesall
play
together.
Even
the
whole
conservativeJewish
community,
includirg
the
Orthodox,
comes
out
to
play
Little
League
base-
ball.
That
should
be somelcind
of
a basic
beginning,
a
founda-
tion,
of
theintegration
process.
Butthat
is
about
as
far
as
we
have
been able
to
get.Russell believed
stronglythat
Afro-American
students
rnust
work
harder
thanwhites
in
order
to
compete
with
other
seg-
ments
of soci.ty."They've
got
to
give
their
all
and
it's
a
tough
road
because
they
start
with
so
many
strikes against
them.
It's
not
going
to
come
easy
to
them."
I
wonder
if
Russell
got
his
inspiration
from
a statement
by
Thurgood
Marshall,
a
promi-
nent
advocate
of civilrights
in
theforties
and
fifties.
Following
the
L954 unanimous
decision
of
the
Supreme
Court,
calling
fbr
the
integration
of
thepublic
schools
in
"Brown
vs.
the
 
.l52
l;tril
Nlr,,,
l(l
rUt,/\ilt!,1{ttr
Board
of
H,ducati()Il)"
'l'ltttl"tloorl
M.u'slrilll,
rl
llrirrcillirl
lrtlv()c:rte
for
integration,
said,
"Now
thisdccision
will
forcc
thc
Afi'icrln
Americanpeople
to
compete
with
whites
anci
wfiitc
sc[s6ls,
Blacks
will
have
to
measure
up."
Trueintegration
still
has
pst
come
to
the
Englewood
public
schools,
but
until
his
dcirtlrRussell
workedtoward
that
goal,
even
though
some
timc
ag()
in
a
low
moment
he
said,
"Oh,
let
thewhites
go,
if
they
really
want
to
desert
theship."Throughall
the
information
I
havc
beenable
to
gather
on
the
life
of
Russell
Mujor,
there
isllo
doubtin
my
mind
he
feltthat
the
bringirg
togetherofAfrican-Americans)
whites,
Hispanics,
and
all
other
peopleswoul,C
be
beneficial
to
all.
Russell
was
a
cheerfulman
who
laughed
easily.
He
was
intelligent
andhonestand
spoke
his
mind
freely.
Althougl:
easygoing
in
hismanner)
Russellwas
not
one
to
compromise;
he
believed
whathe
believedand
went
for
it.
He
wasagood
looker,
heavyset
but
muscular
and
tall,
with
a
medium-darkcomplexion,
a
full,kindly
face,
and
alwaysa
twinkle
in
his
eye.
Russell's
basic
life-long
interest
was
that
allchildren
might
geta
fair
shake
in
education,
in
sports,
and
in
other
areas
includitg
the
arts.
f
couldn't
agree
more
withWalter
Ganz,
a
former
president
of
the
EnglewoodCityCouncil,
when
he
said
that
Russellwasa
man
ofintegrity
and
a
positive
force
in
the
community.
In
addition
to
these
qualities
I
tikedRussell's
zeal,
and
I
looked
to
himfor
leadership
in
thoseearlyEnglewoodstruggles.
As
a
friend,
Russell
would
wander
up
to
WardTwoto
play
touchfootball
with
us
in
the
Patch
baclcyard.
He
was
as
quick
and
agile
onthefootball
field
especialty
in
hisyounger
years
as
he
was
light
as
a
feather
on
the
dance
floor.During
one
suchgame
in
our
yard,when
Russellwas
theonlyAfrican-
American
present,
a
policecar
drove
up.
A
neighbor
had
reported
a rumpus
of
some
kind
going
onat
the
Patches.
I
looked
at
the
policeman
in
disbelief.
The
policeman
looked
at
Russell,
smiled
andsaid,
"F{ow'slife,Russelll"The
game
went
on.
Russell
had
numerousfriends
and
was
well
respected
around
town.
.H
,1
.l5.1
My
tllttrg,lrlct'.,
Itt'nn\'
lt,ll.lt,
slrr'nl
s('\'('t'.llyc.tl's
irr
tlrc
Stltrtlt
on
tltc
votcl'l'cg,islt',tliulr
tlr=rvc.
(
)lr
()tlc
()ecltsitllt
whcn
she
was
Ironrcli)l'r.l
visit.,
we
lrclpctl
lrer'()l'grtttizc
a
party
towhich
guests
we
rc
askccl
to
bring
crlns
of'fixrd
andcltheritems
for
thepoor
l)coplc
of
Mississippi.
About
two
hundred
blacks
showed
up
for
r
hc
party,
and
Russellwas
there
to
greet
thekids
and
join
in
the(.vcning'sfestivities.
Around
nineo'clock,three
orfour
police
('rrrs
showed
up;
onceagain)one
ofour
neighbors
hadcalled
in
ro
say
there
was
an
invasionhappening
in
the
Second
Ward.
In
.rctuality
it
was
a
veryorderly
gathering,
andthe
police
had
nclthing
to
door
say
butlook
aroundand
accept
our
offers
of
refreshmenr.
Although
the
house
was
packed
wall-to-wall
with
youngpeople
-
theonly
white
faces
thatof
my children
and
a
fbw
friends-
it
wasclear
to
thepolicethere
would
be
no trou-
ble
at
f
B
5
Maple
Street
thatnight.
BEGII\TNINGS
Ethel
and
Wilford
Major
were
Russell's
parents,
bothCaribbean-born,
Ethel
in
a
Spanish
province
of
]amaica
and
Wilfordin
the
Bahamas,
in
a
placecalled
Aleuffa
at
Toplin
Bay.
Ethelimmigrated
to
Canada
and
stayed
awhile,
then
went
on
ro
NewYork
City
where
she
met
Wilford.
Wilford
had
immi-
grated
rothe
lJnited
States
sometimeearlier
and
had
made
his
way
to
the
great
city,
where
the
patterns
of
ethnicity
crossed
and
crisscrossed.
Ethel
and
Wilford
moved
to
Englewood
in
1915,
where
theyproducedthree
sons:
F{oward,
who
lives
in
Englewood,Reggie,
who
is
somewhere
in
California,and
Russell.
Russell
said
his
motherworked
in
factories,
also
as
a
maid
or
at
what-
ever
jobs
came
along
thatbrought
in
money
for
the
family.
Of
his
father,
Russell
said:
My
father
worked
for
a
coppercompany
as
a
smelter
oper-
ator;
he was
a
hardworker.
A
smelter's
a
big
furnace
for
melt-
irg
down
allkinds
of
junk
to
get
at
the
copper
old
cufflinks,tie
clips,all
kindsof
second-hand
materialthat
would
have
cop-
 
.i
jr
.l
Fnrsxos
RTuSMBERED
l)o'irlit.
LJsurally
they
used
rawmarerial
but
fell
back
on
sec-
oncl-hand
stuffwhen
it
was
slow.
I{e
worked
for
the
Force
Dodger
Company,
a
notorious
name
in
thecopper
field,
where
they
used
mobsters
to
break
up
strikes
when
i6.
workers
took
over.
He
retired
with
that
company.Pamela,Russell's
daughter,
told
meabouttheinfluenceonRussell
of
hismotherEthel,
a
resourceful
as
well
as
forcefulwoman:
My
grandmotherEthel
was
very
interested
in
culture
and
history.
She
took
Russell
to
speech
competitions,
to
libraries
and
museums
and
other
culturalinstitutions.
And
that
reallyhelped
to
shape
myfather
in
terms
of
his
tremendous
respecr
for
women.
I
have
met
few
men
who
believed
that
women
could,
in
fact,
do,think,write,
create)
run-
do
whatever
as
myfather
did.
F{e
taught
me
how
to
play
football.
F{e
encour-
aged
me
to
do
and
bewhatever
it
was
that
r
wanted
andnever
set
limitations
on
me;hehad
the
same
effect
on
my
friends.
Most
of
my
female
friendslooked
upon
him
as
afather
andcalled
him
Dad.
r
cannot
thinkof
any
major
evenr
that
I
par-
ticipated
in
that
Russell
didn't
artend,wherher
r
was
perform-
ing
in
a
play'singing
in
a
choir
or
cheerleading;he
was
always
there.
According
to
Pamela,Russell's
father
believed
that
respon-
sibility
was
a
k.y
element
in
the
shaping
of
characrer,
which
meant
always
paylngone's
bills
and
keeping
one,s
word.
My
father
told
me
a
story
about
his
father
that
made
a
big
impression
on
him.
Wilford
and
Ethel
had
asizable
morrgage
ontheirfirst
house
in
Englewood,
which
theyhad
bought
in
the
forties.
The
person
who
heldthe
morrgage
would
stand
out
infront
and
stare
atthe
house
for
lonf
jeriods
of
rime.
After
this
hadhappened
a
few
times
(Wilfora
amays
made
his
payments
ontime),
he
asked
the
man
why
he
was
doing
rhis.
Themortgagerreplied,
"f
don't
thinkyou
are
going
to
con-
tinue
to
meet
the
monthly
payments
as
you
are
a
Negro.,,
Wilford
was
incensed
ancl
toldRussell,
a
young
boy
ar
therime,
toput
on
his
coat-
Together
they
walked
Urisruy
down
across
townto
theowner's
house.
Theypaid
off
the
.rriir.
mortg?ge
,
lsancPnrcH
355
and
that
was
the
end
of that.
I
think
this
made
him
understand,
although
my
father'sneverbeen
money-hun
gry,
the
impor-
tance
of beitg
responsible,
saving
money,
and
being
prepared
fbrwhatever
it
is
you
need
to
do
to
make
your
point
with
it.Forboth of
Russell's
parents,
the
priorities
were hard
work,
church
and
family,
and
these
were
whatdrove them
and
formed
the lives
of their
three
sons.
And
Russell
carried
thisethicfor-
ward
into
his
own
family.
In
Pamela's
words
again:
So
even
though you
would
have
to
call
him
a
force
in
the
ciry
and
thecounty,
maybe
even
the
state,
because
of
the
influ-
ence
he had
on
some
of thebills
and laws
that
were
passed, he
still
was
a
familyman. FIe
still
managed
to
do
things
that
fathersneed
to
do
with
their children.
He
helped
to
shape
theschool system,
but
he
also
taught
me
how
to
tell ifyou
are
get-
ting
the
bestbargain
on
this
size
versus
that
size
of
corn
flakes.
F{e
taught
me
how
to
make
applesauce,
and he cooked
as
well
as
he
taught.
I'vejust
said
this
to
one person
(I
didn't
always
believe
it
but
I
do
now):
his real
concern
was
for
how
my
mother
and
I
felt
about
him.
F{e
had friends
and wasdedicat-ed
to
them,
andcertainly had
a
lot
of
great
acquaintancesandassociations.
But
above
all
he
was
concerned
with
how
Janice
Major
and
Pamela
Major
felt,
and after
that
it
didn't
matter,
and
I
think
that's
what
helped
himto
be
as
effective
as
he
was.
Because
he
didn't
have
to compromise
he
didn't
have
to
live
with
anybody
else,
he lived
with
us.
Russell
Cameron
Major
was
bornduring the
l)epression,
on
August28,
L932,
in
NewYorkCity. There
he
attended
public
schools
until
his
fifteenth
year,
when
he
moved
to
Englewood
with
his
parentsand entered
DwightMorrow
High
Schoolas
a
freshman.
I{ere
he
played
football
and
was
an
expertwrestler;
he
graduated
four
years
later.
In
reminiscingabout his
early
life
with
his parents,
Russell
told
me:
We
lived
a
fairly
comfortable
life,
and
you
have
to
under-stand,
ns
we reflect
back
on
it
now, aboutthe
intense
povertyof
blacks
in
America
duringthe thirties, forties
and fifties. As
a
lower
middle-class
family
of
that
era)
we
could
not
identift with
much
of
this;
we
just
never experienced
not knowing
where
the

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