Oral History Interview with Radical Priest Frank Morales

Today’s post is by oral historian Amy Starecheski.  Amy was Lead Interviewer for the 550-hour Atlantic Philanthropies Oral History Project at the Columbia University Oral History Research Office from 2005-2008.   She was a lead interviewer on the September 11, 2001 Narrative and Memory Project, for which she interviewed Afghans, Muslims, Sikhs, activists, low-income people, and the unemployed.  Amy is co-author of the Telling Lives Oral History Curriculum Guide and she is currently pursuing a doctorate in anthropology at the City University of New York.

Oral History Interview with Squatter and Radical Priest Frank Morales

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This two-hour oral history interview with Frank Morales was conducted on July 17, 2009.  Frank Morales, a radical Episcopalian priest who has been squatting in the South Bronx and on the Lower East Side since 1978, discusses his childhood on the Lower East Side, his squatting experiences, and their relevance to the current housing crisis, in Brooklyn and beyond.

University of Trash; Image courtesy of Sculture Center

This interview was conducted live over the radio (low-power FM and streaming online) at the University of Trash.  The University of Trash was an art installation at the Sculpture Center in Queens which functioned as a collaborative, “temporary, makeshift university,” offering classes and discussions on topics from concrete boat construction to building a radio station to situationism.

Frank Morales, a radical Episcopalian priest who has been squatting in the South Bronx and on the Lower East Side since 1978, has recently been hired as the housing organizer for Picture the Homeless, a homeless-led grassroots group which has been developing a multi-pronged program of direct action to secure housing for homeless people, alongside groups like Miami’s Take Back the Land.  Through this connection and others, the knowledge of long-term squatters is being passed on to the people who need it in multiple ways.  Oral history can be one small part of that, and this interview was done with the intent to contribute to that process, while reflecting on what the past means in the rapidly changing present.

In it, Frank talks about growing up on the Lower East Side in the 1950s and 60s; his decision to become a priest, and liberation theology; opening his first abandoned building in the South Bronx; the politics and logistics of squat defense; the internal dynamics of squatted buildings; squatting and art; squatting as a long-term strategy to create “zones of resistance” in the city; and his ideas for the many newly abandoned condos in Brooklyn today.  Frank is a gifted storyteller with insightful political analyses.

The interview will be archived at the Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives at New York University, as part of the Squatters Rights Collection of artifacts and oral histories.

Sady Sullivan

About Sady Sullivan

Sady Sullivan is Director of Oral History at the Brooklyn Historical Society.
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