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The original item was published from 1/23/2022 10:04:16 AM to 3/6/2022 12:00:00 AM.

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News & Town Board Reports (gblist)

Posted on: January 23, 2022

[ARCHIVED] African American stories: Bishop Dr. Wilbert G. Preston

Overcoming challenges and struggles, bigotry and racism The marks of slavery in his family history still burns bright

Last week we announced a new Greenburgh  town initiative: highlighting the struggles and challenges the African community has had during the last two centuries.  Councilman Ken Jones kicked off the series with a story about his aunt, Anna Bernard, a Parkway Gardens resident who was the first African American to be admitted to the NY Bar.  Today, we continue with a fascinating report by Bishop Dr. Wilbert G Preston.  "The marks of slavery still burns bright."    Bishop Dr. Wilbert G. Preston has been the Pastor of Christ Temple and has chaired the Greenburgh Housing Authority. 


We will continue to share stories of Greenburgh residents. How did  families overcome the challenges of racism and bigotry?   This initiative is being coordinated by Town Clerk Judith Beville and myself. E mail jbeville@greenburghny.com or pfeiner@greenburghny.com with your stories.

PAUL FEINER

 THE STORY OF BISHOP DR. WILBERT PRESTON

I was born in a southern town named Bassett in the state of Virginia. Bassett was the world’s largest wood furniture manufacturing site. This company started from a logging company that first employed black and other people of color. My grandfather, who was a Cherokee Indian was one of the first employees to start working for the Bassetts at the logging company. The Preston family is well known in Virginia –see two links below. https://civilwar.vt.edu/the-preston-family-civil-war-experiences/ https://ead.lib.virginia.edu/vivaxtf/view?docId=wcc/viwyc00004.xml  The reason I speak of this is because after graduating in 1968, that was where I was first employed, but I will get back to that. Looking back at my childhood, I can recall the first time I noticed a difference in how blacks and whites were treated, when I was about ten (10) years old. I was raised in a community of farmers, with 14 brothers and sisters. There were black farms next to white farms. But at the age of ten (10) years old, we would work and play together as good neighbors. It was there when I saw the difference in the textbooks that we had as blacks and the textbooks that were given to the whites. We were learning from math books that showed us how to count fruit, and their math books showed them how to count money. I guess we didn’t need to know how to count money because we didn’t have any. At that time blacks and whites did not attend the same schools. In 1965, the public schools were integrated. For the first time, blacks and whites could attend the same schools. I was an athlete holding records in track and field. I was offered a scholarship to college and was told by my school counselor that I would not get the scholarship if I went to the white school. So, I did not attend the white school that was about three (3) miles from where I lived. I was bussed to the black high school about fifteen (15) miles away. After graduating, I was given a job at Bassett Furniture Co. and my first job was to tear down the bathrooms that were separated by color, and build one bathroom for all. The signs on the bathroom read, “blacks only” and “whites only”. Now they would read “Men and Women”. The water fountains were the same. But we were all working together. Across the street from Bassett Furniture was a restaurant named “Red Poles”. The building is still standing there. On the front of the restaurant was a sign that read “Blacks Served in Back”. My father told me not to go in the restaurant at the front door, but being who I was, I did not want to pay my money and be served through a square hole in the back of the restaurant. So one day I went in the front, walked up to the counter and the first thing I saw was a sign that read “The Only Reason You Are White Today is Because Your Ancestors Practiced and Believed in Segregation”. A great fear came over me because as I looked around, I was the only black person in the restaurant. So, I took the sign down, turned it around and told the gentleman behind the counter, “That’s the Only Reason I am Black, can I get Three (3) Hot Dogs to Go Please”? I guess the word “please” worked because he made the hot dogs for me. I paid my $1.50 and walked very slowly out of the front door. Not withstanding my father was not amused. There are many more experiences that I could speak about, but this is just a short reflection of how I grew up. The unfortunate thing that I notice as I reflect on all of this is, although a lot has changed but, the overwhelming fact is that too much is still the same. With the re-uprising of white supremacists, skin heads, and other discriminating factors that we face across our nation today constantly reminds us that although we say we have made some progress. But given the facts of today, we have to say “Not That Much”.
For a history of the Preston family click onto the following links.     What's missing is when they came to Henry County Va. and there is a small town named Preston Virginia that is still a big part of the Henry County Va. Also a road that was used the move slaves to trading and sale them is still there. This is where my father's family came from. The marks of slavery still burns bright.
https://civilwar.vt.edu/the-preston-family-civil-war-experiences/
 

                                                               Bishop Dr. Wilbert G. Preston

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