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African American stories: A fascinating interview with Greenburgh resident Dr. Charlotte Phoenix who discusses the incredible story of her family
Dr. Charlotte Phoenix, author, mathematician and Greenburgh resident, recently shared the incredible story of her family with Tina Harper, Recreation Leader, Department of Community Resources, in a recording for the African Diaspora Experience: Living Narratives of Greenburgh Residents project.
Charlotte’s story focused on her grandfather, who was given the slave name Thomas in Mississippi. With his unique access to education and later paid work as a freed man, “Thomas” was ultimately able to buy the very 400-acre plantation he was once enslaved on, give himself his own chosen name – “Mister Man” since he was “tired of being called ‘boy’,” said Charlotte – and serve as principal of a boys' school. But it was the 19-teens in the Deep South so his position, education, and the progressive way he conducted himself as head of a school, was very threatening to the local KKK, who unfortunately succeeded at scaring Mister and his pregnant wife out of town.
The couple were part of the Great Northern Migration that eventually brought them to follow the promise of Henry Ford who paid any man the same daily rate in his car assembly plant in Detroit, Michigan. That is not to say that there was no racism in the North, Charlotte explained. The racism her grandfather experienced in the North, and while serving overseas in WWI, was often just more covert. After serving as principal of a school with multiple degrees in Mississippi, he retired in Michigan as a head custodian in an elementary school.
The message threading the stories Charlotte heard growing up – often from her blind great grandmother – was how the doors of opportunity would be opening someday for her generation, so she better get as much education as possible to be ready for it. Charlotte Phoenix, with her PhD, certainly embraced this in her own life; and she’s an expert storyteller on her family history. Please listen to her vivid narration here: http://greenburghpublicaccess.com/local-programming/02102022-901 and explore other stories we’re collecting from Greenburgh residents on a new website here: https://sites.google.com/view/greenburgharchives.
If you would like to participate in our AFrican American stories initiative please e mail Paul Feiner at firstname.lastname@example.org or Judith Beville at email@example.com. We will continue to share stories with residents and conduct interviews on you tube, public access TV.
Greenburgh Town Supervisor