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Oral history interview conducted by Amaka Okechukwu
July 27, 2017
Call number: 2016.027.1.22
OKECHUKWU: Okay, so it is July 27th, 2017. This is Amaka Okechukwuinterviewing Mrs. Florence Miller, and her daughter, LoLisa Miller is also here for the interview. This interview is for the Voices of Crown Heights Project at Brooklyn Historical Society. And this is a -- interview being conducted over the phone. Okay, so to begin, Mrs. Florence Miller, if you could state your name, your birth date, and where you were born.
MILLER: Florence Miller. I was born in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on [dateredacted for privacy], 1944.
OKECHUKWU: Okay, great. So, to begin, can you describe a little bit aboutgrowing up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida?
MILLER: Okay, I was born in Fort Lauderdale, but I grew up in a smaller areacalled Hollywood. It was great.
MILLER: Everyone knew everyone. It had its good points and its bad points, Iput it that way. The good points -- was you were never alone. Everyone knew you, you felt safe. We never locked our doors. I mean, we would go shopping, go to the store, be outside, go to the school; windows open, doors open. The bad part [laughter] about is that I didn't like everybody telling my business to my mother. [laughter] If they, if they see you doing something, before you get home your mother knew you did it. I -- I wasn't too cool with that. [laughter] But it w-- it was a good childhood. I mean, we never -- I never wanted for anything. I never -- today, you have Nikes and all these name brands. We didn't have that. That wasn't part of our curriculum. But you were clean, you were fed, you had a place to stay. I had an uncle that lived across the street. I had an aunt that lived four, five blocks away. If my mother's cooking, I didn't want that, you know; you have to eat it or you don't get anything, which 2:00is fine. I would go to my aunt, see what she had cooking. She might have had something that I liked. So, I would eat there . So, it was -- it was a good childhood.
OKECHUKWU: So, your people were from the Bahamas, correct?
OKECHUKWU: Did you grow --
MILLER: On both sides.
OKECHUKWU: I'm sorry?
MILLER: On both sides.
OKECHUKWU: On both sides?
MILLER: My husband, my mother, my father, yes.
OKECHUKWU: Did you grow up visiting there often, or --
MILLER: No, I didn't visit the Bahamas until I was an adult.
OKECHUKWU: But did you still have family there when you were growing up?
MILLER: Oh, yes. They visited us. They came to the States. They loved comingto the States.
OKECHUKWU: So, tell me about your family growing up. I mean, who was in yourhousehold? You mentioned that family was all around. Even if they weren't in your house, they were across the street. But who did you grow up being surrounded by?
MILLER: Okay, family -- now, my mom and father, they weren't -- they didn't3:00live together. My mom was with someone else and my father was, also. But I saw my father every day. It was weird, because my best friend, who lived right next door, Veronica Johnson, she would say, "You see your father all the time. You know, my dad go to work on Monday, I may not see him until Wednesday. And your daddy don't even live there and he's always there," because that's the way it is. Now, I had that kind of power over men. [laughter] So, I had my father-- who didn't live there, but he was there-- my mom, of course. I had my brother Bobby, sister Linda, sister Joanne, sister Dianne, brother Reginald, brother Anthony, and the baby was Sheila, okay? Then, I had my uncle across the street. He had four kids. And my aunt who lived the several blocks away, she had five children. But there was tons of relatives -- you know, and when you come from the Bahamas, everybody from the Bahamas is your cousin. You're related in some 4:00small way. So, there were tons of relatives that -- whether they were blood relatives, they were still -- we called them aunt, we called them uncle, and they would tan your behind if they see you doing something and take you home and you got another one. So, there was tons of family around.
OKECHUKWU: How would you describe yourself as a child growing up? Like, whatkind of child were you?
MILLER: Fresh. [laughter] Sassy. Very obedient. Now, when I said fresh; I'mgoing to do what I'm going to do. Even if I have to suffer the consequences, I'm going to do it. If I feel you accused me of something and it's not warranted, I'm going to let you know. But in a respectful w-- I'm not going to yell. I never cursed. Even to this day, I really don't curse. I don't like profanity. But I'm going to let you know how I feel about the situation. But I was a good student. But I was kind of, like, headstrong. I knew what I wanted. 5:00Whether -- I don't know -- the best for me or not. It was what I wanted and I wanted to try it, so that's me.
OKECHUKWU: So, how did you meet your husband? I know you were young. So, how-- and when did you meet and how did you meet him?
MILLER: I was 15 years old. I had turned 15, [date redacted for privacy]. Andhis parents moved across the street from where I was living. And I didn't see him, but I saw his sisters. So, he had a sister named Florence, who was, I think, a year, maybe two older than I am, and a sister, Muriel, who was a year younger than myself. And, you know, new girl in town, we started talking, and all of a sudden, this young man drove up in this [laughter] '56 Ford with these loud pipes. This is new to the area. [laughter] Oh, my Lord. And I saw him. He got out of the car and he saw me, and whoa. I think it was -- was like a 6:00mutual attraction, but no one said anything. I didn't even know if he could speak or not. But he jump-- came out of the car and he had dripping muscles all over the place. [laughter] And he had a great smile. So, of course, I didn't say anything to him, because I'm looking around, I see my father was watching, you know? See somebody's watching, and so I couldn't do too much. But later on, his sister, [laughter] Florence told me -- he didn't know me -- "My brother likes you." I was, like, "Whoa!" [laughter] That was our first encounter. A glance over the fence.
OKECHUKWU: So --
MILLER: About two weeks later, I had to go to the supermarket, and he was inthe yard, in his mother's yard. And I don't know, I didn't see him come behind me, but he followed me to the store. And when I came out of the supermarket, he was standing out there, and I got -- really got a good look. [laughter] I liked the dripping muscles. He wasn't bad to look at. [laughter] And he actually -- 7:00well, he had a slight Bahamian accent, but he was kind of sexy, I guess. I didn't know anything about sexy. But it was a nice accent. And when he held my hand, I think I melted a little bit. But that, that was it. I was hooked.
OKECHUKWU: So, did he -- he asked you out, then? Or did it -- did -- you know,did he wait a little bit longer before you guys started dating?
MILLER: Oh, he couldn't ask me out. My father would have killed him.[laughter] No, he couldn't ask me out. He would come up to the school, behind my father's back, and see me at the school. [laughter] That's how our little dates were; at the school, at the store, things like that. Nothing, I guess, really romantic.
OKECHUKWU: Yeah. So, what -- what did -- you know, I mean, can you tell me alittle bit about, you know, his upbringing and his family? I mean, you told me 8:00a little bit about, you know, them moving across the street and his siblings. But, yeah, can you give me a little bit of background on his upbringing?
MILLER: Well, Arthur was born in Nassau. He was the oldest -- his mother hadapproximately -- I think, like, 15 or 16 children, but a lot of them died shortly after birth. He ended up being the eldest of nine living siblings. He worked very hard. Even as a -- a -- a child, he worked very hard. His father was in the United States, working -- doing construction work. And the mother and the kids remained in the Bahamas. So, Arthur, being the eldest and a boy, he had to help, you know, take care of his siblings and his mom. So, he and his mom would punch holes in shells. The shell beads that they make out of -- jewelry? And the beads that they put on the straw pocketbooks? Well, they used to punch holes in those beads, and he would tell me stories about -- sometimes, he'd be so sleepy, he would miss the shell -- and just how raw his fingertips would be from punching them. But it didn't stop him. He also would work at the 9:00hotels, on the golf course, with the -- when the guys would hit the balls, he would collect the golf balls and bring them back. He also dove off the pier -- you know how the young kids -- I think they still do it now. They would dive -- and you'd throw quarters and they would catch the quarter before it hits the bottom. He did anything to make an honest living -- he would do it, so -- to help his mom and sisters and brothers out. He was about 13, I think, when his aunt brought him to the United States. The first place they lived when they got here was in Palm Beach, because there father was working on a high-rise construction job there. And they moved quite a bit, because they lived in West Hollywood, they lived in Dania, they lived some other places, and then they moved to Hollywood, where I was living. And then, they moved -- couple other places. But he always was a very, I don't know, strong figure in his family. Everyone looked up to him. Not only his sisters and brothers, but his cousins, his uncles, his aunts. Anything that could be done that -- they used to call 10:00him "Boy" not Arthur. "Ask Boy what he think about it. Tell Boy what we should do. Tell Boy this" or "ask Boy this" or "tell Boy this" or "ask" -- I mean, they were always involving him in whatever they had -- any project that they had, Boy had to give his -- I guess his okay or say yea or nay. He was a strong presence in his family.
OKECHUKWU: So, tell me about getting married. When -- when did that happen,and -- yeah, tell me about that.
MILLER: Well, like I said, I was headstrong. If I said something, it was so.We talked one day. He came up to the school and he talked, you know, "I know I can't be with you, you know, but your father's not going to do this." "No, so," he'd say, "You know what? I always wanted to go to New York. So, I have a brother in New York." I didn't really take him serious. He says, "We can go to New York." I said, "Okay." He said, "Are you" -- I say, "Sure! I'll go!" I 11:00mean, it sounded okay at the time. All of a sudden, about three months later, I was at school. He had quit his job, taken his money out of the bank, packed his clothes and put it in the trunk of his car in a suitcase, and he says to me, "Ah, when you get home," he said, "pack." He said, "We're ready to go." I'm, like, "Ready to go where?" He said, "To New York." I say, "New York?" He said, "Well, you said" -- he said, "What, you were kidding me?" I said, "Oh, not me. I don't kid." So, I had to run home after school -- pack a -- pack a few things, and we eloped. I wrote my mom a note. "I'm not pregnant, I'm very happy, and whenever I get to where I'm going, I will call you."
MILLER: "I love you!" And that was it. I said, "Don't tell my -- don't tellDaddy nothing." And that was it. We got on the train and he had got -- a lady on his job told him about Elkton, Maryland. At that time, if you were a 12:00resident in Elkton's -- I think for two days, you are legally considered a resident and you can get married. And that's what we did. We stayed in Elkton, Maryland, for, I think, two days. Got married, went to New York. And [laughter] -- history. [laughter]
OKECHUKWU: Wow. How old were you?
MILLER: [laughter] Fifteen. I turned sixteen that same year.
OKECHUKWU: Wow, okay.
OKECHUKWU: So, what -- what was the -- when you finally got to New York andyou, you know, talked to your -- I'm sure a phone -- you know, called your -- your mom or your dad, what were they saying? What was their reaction?
MILLER: Oh, no, I didn't -- I didn't call. I wrote. [laughter] I wrote my moma letter, and the -- you know, I say, "And don't worry about me," you know, "I'm safe." Because my brother was here. I said, "Look, if Arthur acts up, I will go to Alfred." Alfred was my brother. "If Arthur acts up, I will go to Alfred and I will come back home." I wasn't going back home, because my pride would 13:00not have allowed me to go back home. But I told them that to make them feel okay. And I will -- I say, "I promise I'm going to get my diploma," because I was a good student. I said, "I will get my diploma. I'm going to finish school." Because that was -- I had to finish school. That was extremely important, not only to my parents. That was important to me. I say, "And don't worry about it. Everything's going to be okay. I'm fine." And then, I wrote my girlfriend and I told her to go around and tell my mom everything's okay, tell my dad I'm fine, everything is good. And that's how that happened.
OKECHUKWU: So, when you got to New York, what were your first impressions ofNew York?
MILLER: Well, I had visited New York when I was about eight years old. Afriend of my mom lived in Queens, and the impression was the same; big, dirty, loud. [laughter] It was the same. It was still big, it was still dirty-- paper everywhere-- what noise, so much noise! [laughter] But Art loved it. He was so 14:00excited by it. So, then, I was excited for him.
OKECHUKWU: So, did you immediately settle in Crown Heights when you moved toNew York?
MILLER: We lived in Manhattan with my brother for two weeks.
MILLER: His significant other had a brother in Brooklyn who said, "You know,there are a lot of apartment buildings in Brooklyn that are looking for handymen." I said, "He's extremely handy. There isn't anything that he can't repair." And we went to Brooklyn after we had lived with my brother for, like, two weeks. And he got the job at 925 Prospect Place, as a handyman.
OKECHUKWU: So, is that the first -- so, you -- the whole time that you were inBrooklyn, you lived at that address?
MILLER: Correct, until he died and I moved out. But, yeah, I was --
OKECHUKWU: Wow. So, what was your impressions of that neighborhood, of CrownHeights at the time?
MILLER: Different. We had a lot of Hasidic Jews; ones with the black coats and15:00the curls and the black hats. The building that we ended up living in was 99% Hasidic Jews.
OKECHUKWU: Oh, okay.
MILLER: And the neighborhood was basically Jewish; Jewish and Caucasian. Therewere a few Blacks. But there was a lot of Jews in the area, before they started running to Eastern Parkway and Long Island. And it was different. It was nice. I learned a lot. I got to taste a lot of different food. Some of that, I didn't like. The smells of some of them was disgusting. But it was a good experience, and they loved Art. Oh my gosh, Arthur, I mean, they were like his sisters and brothers. They would call him for everything. He had to build these little things that they have for the holidays on the patio, where they go out and eat. He --
MILLER: Yeah, he used to do that for them and, I mean, they thought it was --it was -- oh my God. He couldn't do no wrong in their eyes. So, it was -- it was nice. 16:00
OKECHUKWU: So, as a young woman coming to New York -- like you were saying, youwanted to finish school. But did you have -- like, what were you thinking at the time? Like, what were you -- did you have any goals or aspirations that you wanted to accomplish at that age?
MILLER: The only -- the main thing I wanted to do was get that diploma so thatI could send that back to my parents to show them that I was a person of my word. What I say I'm going to do, I'm going to do. So, that was extremely important. There was a high school. We lived near P.S. 289, but there was a high school further in Brooklyn. We went to -- and really, I didn't like the atmosphere and neither did Art. So, we went -- we didn't go online. There was a magazine and there was an article in the magazine about home study for diplomas and GEDs. But I didn't want a GED. I wanted a diploma. And we paid for this school. I got my books through the mail and I sent my tests in and all 17:00that good stuff, and I got my diploma.
OKECHUKWU: So, after that period, did you work or did you -- I mean, did youstart having babies pretty soon, or were you working outside of the house? I mean, tell me about your first -- maybe your first year in New York.
MILLER: He looked at me and I woke up pregnant. [laughter] So, I told him toput on shades. Yes, I started having kids right away. [laughter] He was extremely -- [inaudible], I think -- I used to tease him -- I think I was sitting down and his sperm just attacked me. [laughter] I never worked. I was at home. And even as a kid, when my girlfriends were doing babysitting jobs, my father said, "No." I said, "Well, I want to work. I want money like they have." "And what do they get?" Said, "Well, every time they get -- I think $20 18:00or $25." So, he says, "Okay." So, I was getting, I think, like $15 allowance, then I started getting $25 allowance so that I would get the same that the girls who was working -- which was great, you know? And I never worked. I had our children. I took care of the house. And Arthur wanted to get involved in everything. You know, he was excited about the city and the -- excited about doing things. And he kept saying something that he remembered one of the men said at the golf course, when he was a little boy in Nassau. The man said -- was talking about leaving a legacy. Not wanting his footsteps to be washed away. He wanted -- when he left this Earth, he wanted something left behind to say, "I was here." So, Art used to say that a lot. So, I think he was trying to find his way. Feel his way through leaving his footprints in New York, in the world, so that the snow won't wash it away. And he got a little bit of that 19:00when our superintendent, which was two elderly people -- one, the woman, developed cancer and they wanted to move with their daughter. So, really, he really didn't have no experience. But what we did, we got magazines and we got books in the library about boilers, because the building had a boiler; for heat and hot water. And we got all the books that we could -- could find, and we would read the books, and I would quiz him and we would do all this stuff so that, when time comes for the Stewarts to retire, he would say, "Okay, I could do this and I could do that. And, you know, you could cut out the -- having the repairman to come, because I could -- I could do the repairs." And when the guys would come to deliver the oil for the boilers and -- he would go and find out, "Well, what's the purpose of this? You know, you got all these hundreds of tools. Do they work together?" "No." "Well, how do they work?" You know, the 20:00man would say, "Okay, well, this does this. Well, if the problem -- if the building have a problem like this, that -- it would have to be these two tubes." And I would write that down, and "If that happened, it would be the tubes in the back. And if this happened, would be these tubes to the right." So, I write all of this stuff down. Of course, when we'd get back to our books, he would look that up. And, I mean, within six months, he could take that boiler apart and put it back together, a boy born in Nas-- who never saw snow.
OKECHUKWU: Wow. So, you mentioned him wanting to leave a mark and wanting toleave a legacy. How do you feel -- how did he begin to do that? Can you tell me a little bit about the types of activities and things that he was involved in?
MILLER: Well, he started out with a little band. He had a little combo. Andthere were times when -- like, some of the nursing homes, he and the guys would 21:00go and do little concerts for them, free of charge. He would do --
OKECHUKWU: What instrument did he -- did he play instrument -- what instrumentdid he play?
MILLER: The drums, the conga -- he loved the conga drums. Bongo drums, congadrums. He loved that. That's the island in him. The snare drums, and of course, he loved the bass guitar. He tried the trumpet, but the drums and the guitar -- was his main instrument. After he became, you know, the superintendent of the building, you know, he said, "You know, this -- got all these little kids in the area." You know, we would take our kids places. We would take our kids, you know, out of the city. They would come to Florida. They would go to the Bahamas, and a lot of kids never got to leave the area. Well, we need to do things in the area that the kids could be a part of. So, then he started, you know -- he went to the police department to find out what can he do to block off the streets and, you know, just have a good time with the kids, and the band would play -- "Let's have a block party." In the beginning, 22:00was just for, you know, the kids on our block, so they could just come out and play and be safe. And then, there are kids that they went to school with, so then they started, you know, be getting larger and larger and larger. And we went out to Long Island to do some work for one of the ladies that had moved out of the building. And on the corner of her block, they were doing some work on the park. And he just happened to say something to the effect of, you know, "Wow," he said, "you know, they should do something like this," he said, "to the park" -- not far from where we lived. And her husband said, "You know, there are CETA [Comprehensive Employment and Training Act] funds that come out every year for parks." He said, "You don't ever get CETA funds?" He said, "Well, what is CETA funds?" Well, then the man started telling him about CETA funds and gave him a book to look in, and he started looking into that. And he talked to -- what's his name? What is his name? Andrew Gill?
MILLER: He spoke to him, and there was another man he spoke to. Next thing I23:00knew, we were talking about a -- petitions and this and that and the other and getting CETA funds. Well, when it comes to traveling and going to make speeches, that was not me. I will back you up. I will push you. I will help you get to where you want to go. But I am a background person. So, he and Andrew Gill went different places. He went different places with some other men that Andrew Gill and -- introduced him to. Before I knew it, there were CETA funds coming to our area again. We had -- the garbage guys would come and pick up the cans, and -- I mean, they would just leave everything a mess. People say, "Well, that's the way they always do." He said, "Well, they're not supposed to always do it, you know? What do y'all do?" "Well, we just pick them up. That's the -- that's just the way they are." Said, "No, no, no, no, that's not the way they're supposed to be." Next thing I know, they were putting them cans back in line, back on the sidewalk like they were supposed to. 24:00He went to the sanitation department. I mean he didn't, he didn't fear anything. He felt that he an address and he would talk to anyone he had to talk to, to get his point across. And he didn't care who you were, where you were, or how you were, you know? "You're a man like me. We put on our pants the same way. So then, let's talk." And we started seeing little changes in the area, you know? We would -- he was -- in the beginning, he would take money out of his pocket and get a bus, and we would take a busload of kids to Bear Mountain. We would go to Palisades Amusement Park. I mean, [inaudible] getting kids out. He said, "Well, my kids are going to do it, so we'll -- we'll take a few other kids with us." Then, Four Star Block Association was formed. Then he would take two, sometimes three buses, and we'll go to Hershey, Pennsylvania. This is like a -- every year trip, you know? People did their Christmas shopping, big 25:00turkeys for Thanksgiving, Burlington's Coat Factory, you know? It was just a wonderful thing to do. And we got young men and women from our area -- through the CETA funds -- a salary to patrol the block. People felt safe. You saw more and more of the older people outside. They would walk them to the supermarket, which was on Nostrand Avenue. And they would walk them back home, you know? They weren't so afraid anymore. It was a -- it was a good time. It was a pleasant time. Lot of smiles, lot of fun.
OKECHUKWU: Can you tell me a little bit about your children and theirexperiences in Brooklyn? Like, you know, where did they go to school and what were they into? What were the activities they were into?
MILLER: Anything that they wanted to do that was positive, there were -- theycan become a part of it. We did fashion shows, talent shows at the P.S. 289. 26:00On the corner of -- what's that -- Brooklyn and Prospect Place, a school was built called the Bilingual Center. And in the beginning, they didn't open it up to the community. And we couldn't understand why. You know, the kids right here -- they're bringing in -- busing in all these kids, and the school is right here. I mean, you can crawl there and not even hurt your knees. It was that close. And he says, "No, no, no, no." I said, "Well, you know something? Lisa" -- that's the baby, was, was time for her to start school. I said, "Well, you know what? We can start her at the Bilingual Center." She was very smart. Spoiled, but very smart. And he went over there, and the first time they said, well, someone who he had to speak to wasn't there. So, it didn't matter. We lived right across the street, so he would go back again and again. And then, one day, he just went there, he just sat there. He said, "Okay, I'll wait until they come, because evidently -- missing each other." Next thing I knew, Lisa was in the school. But after she got in the school, she wouldn't stay. After 27:00all that we went through! I would take her to school in the morning, had to sit there with her for about an hour. I would leave, walk across the street, and go home. By the time I made coffee for myself, there's a knock on the door. She left school and she's gotten home. [laughter] So, I had to go back to the school and sit there for another two hours. [laughter] And this went on for about six months before she would stay. [laughter] The other kids went to 289. Then they went -- they were bused out. Lincoln -- let's see, Lincoln High School was where Val and Jackie went.
L. MILLER: [inaudible] John Dewey.
MILLER: Oh, John Dewey [High School]. You there? Jackie went to John Dewey,which was bused out -- or, on the train. And Val went to Lincoln. That was out by Coney Island. And Artie was in 2-- P.S. 289. 28:00
L. MILLER: [inaudible]
OKECHUKWU: And then, of course, they were involved in all of the activities onthe block and the trips and all of that, as well, right?
MILLER: Oh, yes. The fashion shows, the talent shows, oh yes. They sang, theydanced, they modeled. We made clothes and -- I tell you, we had a good time.
OKECHUKWU: So, what -- I mean, you mentioned already the -- you know, this --him starting the Four Star Block Association and all the activities. What -- was there a particular, like, mission of that block association? Or was he planning on, you know, expanding the work or getting into more activities with that block association?
MILLER: Expanding. One of the things I think that really got him gung-ho onexpanding -- he met Shirley Chisholm, that didn't live too far from us. Shirley Chisholm introduced -- took him to Harlem to meet Adam Clayton Powell. And between the two of them, he really got gung-ho about community and changes. And 29:00that was one of the reasons why the -- how the block association got started, because I don't know what all the meetings -- like I said, I did not attend the meetings. I stayed home with the children. And they -- he was -- I guess the information that they presented to him just made him feel that there was nothing that he couldn't do. And he need to -- as a Black man, he need to step up and do something positive, you know? He said Adam Clayton Powell always said, "It takes one step to start a journey." So, he -- one man, one step, and they will have -- you know, people will follow. And that happened. Once we got the block association started, I was surprised at the number of men that -- was there to support. But the strangest thing is that, even though they were men and I saw them as strong role models, they folded in the end. And I was very surprised by that. 30:00
OKECHUKWU: Tell me more about that. Why were you surprised?
MILLER: Because when I say they folded, they appeared to be very strong. Aslong as, you know, Art was there with them. They were strong, they were vocal. They were positive. They wanted to change and they didn't mind, you know, making noise for the change. But the moment he was moved out of the picture, you couldn't find them. He-- We went to the left and they all just -- they just folded. I was, like, well, where are these people? You know? Where are the men? Because if they had remained strong, the block association could have continued.
OKECHUKWU: Why do you think they, kind of, fell out of the fold?31:00
MILLER: Fear. One of the police officers, who wasn't -- he -- he wasn'tinvolved in this particular incident, because he was dating one of the girls -- ladies in our building. And the two of them had been out of the city. But anyway, it was later, after the incident happened, he said to me -- he said, "You know, when you have a Black man in an area, that's making noise," he said, "like Arthur was making noise," he said, "in the meetings that he attended," he says, "they tried to tell him, you know, certain things. They call it Mr. Charlie. Mr. Charlie don't want to hear, okay?" There's certain things -- you know, even -- they were afraid of saying what they felt or how they felt for -- repercussions. But like I said, Arthur had no fear. If he saw something and he thought you were wrong, he's going to stand up and say, "Look, you're wrong. And I -- you know, I'm not going to be a part of this because of this" or "I will support this because of this." He was not one to compromise, if he didn't 32:00feel compromise was necessary. The police officer, he said to me, he said, "You know, if the men on your block -- if we had four or five of Arthur Millers on this block," he say, "the outcome would have been completely different." Now, what he meant, I don't know. He say, "But you cannot have just one person leading and get everybody following and -- and not wanting to -- to -- to step up to the plate," you know? It's like a game of baseball. If you don't have a batter, who's going to run the bases? You know, everybody can't be a pitcher. Who you going to pitch to if there's no batter? There was -- there wasn't one man from the area, from the Four Block Association or anywhere else that wanted to take up the fight or the cross or the stick or whatever and continue the 33:00race. They didn't want to. So, the baton was dropped, and the block association folded. And within six months after the incident, you could see the difference. You could see the difference in the area. You know, that day, June 14th, 1978, was the day that really changed all of our lives. But it also changed the lives of the people that live in the Four Star Block Association. My life -- June 14th is the day before [date redacted for privacy]. So, this was like a [date redacted for privacy] for me, okay? The day before -- the day before the incident, June 13th, we had been talking about this bedroom suit that I saw on Flatbush Avenue. It was gorgeous. I mean, had big posters and 34:00headboard, a big queen-size bed with this -- like, a Henry the VIIIth type of a headboard. I don't know why I wanted that, but I wanted that -- that bedroom -- [laughter] and he said, "You know, I saw it." He's saying, "If that's what you want for your birthday," he said, "we'll go and we'll get it." I said okay. So, we were supposed to go on June the 15th to get this -- this bedroom set. Now, on June the 14th, Lisa wanted these sneakers. I don't remember the name. But she wanted these special sneakers that was coming out, and they were coming out on the 14th. And, of course, they had to be the first one to get the sneakers. So, he was going to take her on the -- on Nostrand Avenue, there was a -- a store called Syl's. I think that was the man's name.
MILLER: It was a sporting goods-type store. He had sneakers and balls andtrophies. Okay. Well, he was going to take Lisa to Syl's to get these special 35:00sneakers. So, we were sitting down, having dinner-- the 14th-- and we're talking about the bedroom set and the sneakers and all this stuff. He says, "Okay, well, before I do this," he said, "I have to go up to the store." He had a store on Nostrand Avenue, a little grocery store, and then he also had a building that he was renovating. Now, this building that he was renovating was part of a payment that was given to him by the owners of Key Food stores. Key Food was a supermarket. And during the blackout, it was just ravaged. So, he had to sort of rebuild Key Food store, and they gave him this building as part of his -- his payment. Now, he wanted to take this building. He wanted to do a skating rink in the bottom for the local kids and a nightclub for the adults. And, of course, he had his offices on top. And we had a picture of LoLisa -- think she's about three. And he put this small picture -- took it to this 36:00gentleman who lived in the village, and he painted this big picture. And this picture was supposed to be in the lobby of this club. And the name of the club was supposed to be LoLisa's. You know, we had -- all this stuff was planned out to the T. So, this is what he was involved in: Renovating the building, the small grocery store, all this is on Nostrand Avenue. And, he said he had to go out to the avenues to get some stuff done. And when he come back, he was going to take LoLisa to Syl's. When you leave our apartment, the way the building was, and you go towards the outside, you have to pass the kitchen window. So, I was still sitting to the table when he passed the window. He said, "See you later!" And I said, "Okay." I heard the gate open and then the gate closed and the gate opened again. So, I think, well, he must have forgotten something. So, he came back to the window and he had said, "Flo!" And I said, "Yes?" He said, "Did I tell you?" I said, "Tell me what?" He said, "I love you!" "Ah, 37:00get out of here." So, he went. And that was the last time I saw him.
OKECHUKWU: So, how did you -- how did you hear -- I mean, when, you know, aboutthe incident. Like, what -- what happened, I guess, next, that day, in terms of you figuring it out?
MILLER: There was a loud banging on the bedroom window. There was a gentlemanbanging on the window. And a lot -- lot of the people -- I don't know why they didn't know my name or -- they used to call me Miss Arthur. And he was banging on the window, hollering, "Miss Arthur, Miss Arthur, Miss Arthur!" I think, what is -- so, I, course, ran outside right away and he said, "Something has happened." He said, "The police have Arthur, they put him in the back of the car, and he doesn't look right." "What do you mean?" So, when the incident happened, it was maybe a block from Brooklyn Jewish Hospital. So, I took LoLisa to Arthur's sister, Florence, and Florence and I went to the Brooklyn Jewish Hospital, but they had no idea what we were talking about. I told him what had 38:00happened, what I was told, and they said, "No, no one was brought here. No one by that name is here." But the only other hospital in the area was St. Mary's, and that was several blocks away. At the time, I didn't even think about getting the keys for the car and go. We walked and ran and walked and -- we got to St. Mary's, and he was there. In the beginning, they said, "Are you sure?" They gave us the runaround -- and said, "This is the only other place he could be." And I thought, but wait a minute, St. John's is not that far. Maybe he's at St. John's. But I said, "No, no, no, no. It's here. It's here. The man said the police was from the 77th Precinct. And I couldn't understand why 77th Precinct was in our area, because they weren't the ones that always controlled our area. But nevertheless, eventually, they said yes. And that's when I saw him. And believe it or not, he looked -- and what's -- everything was going, 39:00like, in slow motion. It was real, but it wasn't real. And I could swear, at that moment, he winked and smiled. And that -- I think I was losing my mind, I don't know. But I could swear he was smiling, and -- and I saw him wink. But he was already dead. So, I couldn't have seen that. But why that presented itself to me, I don't know. I still don't know why. I don't know if he was telling me everything is going to be okay or that he's okay. I don't know. I really don't know.
OKECHUKWU: So, then, what did the -- I mean, were the police at the hospital?Were -- was it just medical staff? I mean, what did they tell you about what happened?
MILLER: There were police at the hospital, and everyone, even some that I hadseen at the block, they all said the same thing: "We don't know what happened. We weren't there. We don't know what happened. We weren't there. We don't know what happened. We weren't there." That's all I got out of them. The 40:00other police officers, I don't know them. I didn't recognize them. They said absolutely nothing. But there was quite a bit of policemen in the emergency room, but no one told me anything. And then, we couldn't find the body for about two weeks.
MILLER: We don't know what happened to -- we couldn't find him. We wanted --they said, "The medical examiner have the body." So, we went to medical examiner's office. The medical examiner say, "He's not here." Now, I don't if he was lying, they were -- they -- I don't know. Maybe he was told to say that. We didn't know where he was. And then, all of a sudden, we got the information that we can have the funeral home pick up the body. We did not know where he was at first. They didn't give me any information. And I really didn't have anyone that I could call or talk to, because no one knew anything. I spoke to Andrew Gill; not that day, I think, like, maybe -- like, a day -- two days later, and he was just as dumbfounded as everybody else. He didn't know 41:00anything. No one knew anything. And like I said, the -- the other men that's part of the block association; I didn't see them, I didn't hear from them. I didn't know what was going on.
OKECHUKWU: So, you couldn't find -- there weren't any people that, like,witnessed what happened or, like -- I mean --
MILLER: There were -- there were people that told the story. But, you know,there were so many different stories out there, you know --
OKECHUKWU: What are -- what are the stories that you remember? Like, what arethe stories that people had told you?
MILLER: Okay, the gentleman that came to the door and was calling me, "MissArthur, Miss Arthur," he told me that he was on Nostrand Avenue. Art had a blue pickup truck. His brother Joe was driving it. Joe left the building on Nostrand Avenue, and he was going towards Rogers Avenue. Where he was going, I don't know. The police stopped Joe. Now, see, this, I don't understand. The 42:00police stopped Joe w-- in the truck because he had a suspended license. How do they know his license had been suspended, you know? Okay, then they sent him back to get the owner of the truck, which was Art. Why? Why did they send him to -- to get his brother? You know, if they wanted -- why didn't they take him and the truck back to Nostrand Avenue? They had Arthur come to -- towards Rogers Avenue. Now, Art had a permit for a gun that he used to wear on his side. He got the permit through the police department. He took shooting lessons, oh, target things, through the police department. The police was always at our building, lifting weights with him, doing everything -- so, they all knew he kept the gun. All of a sudden, the guy said he held up his hand, 43:00they saw his gun, and the police panicked. Why would they panic? It was holstered. They knew he had it. And he said all hell broke loose. He said, "I don't know what was" -- he said, "They was -- they just -- there was so many of them on him, we don't know what happened, and they drug him in the car." Then I heard that Art was coming around the building. They didn't -- I didn't hear that Joe had gone. They said that Arthur was walking down -- what was that, Park Place? I think it was Park Place. He was walking down Park Place and he was jumped by the police. I don't know. I wasn't there. But then, his brother told us that he was told to go and get his brother. He don't know how the police knew his license had been suspended. But they said, "Well, it was an accident because the police panicked when they saw the gun. They had no way of knowing that it was registered. They had no way of knowing this, they had no way of knowing that." And it was pushed under the rug as usual when they kill a 44:00Black man.
OKECHUKWU: Now, do you believe -- I mean, like, they're saying the -- accident.
OKECHUKWU: Other people I've talked to believe it was intentional, that it wastargeted. I mean, what are -- what are your thoughts about that?
MILLER: I think he was targeted. I think he was moving too fast for theestablishment. He was too vocal. They -- you know, a lot of time, when you have a Black man who speaks his mind and backs it up, that makes a lot of people afraid. And I think because he was a man of color, they wanted him out of the way. And during that time, there was a senator that had raped a young Black boy if I'm not mistaken.
OKECHUKWU: Richmond. Richmond.
MILLER: And, okay. And Art went to several rallies about that. He was veryoutspoken about that. And I think it's a combination of all these things that 45:00-- they had to, to remove him.
OKECHUKWU: So, what was the response of the community after he was murdered? Imean, on one hand, you've mentioned that folks who, you know, that he worked with and that, you know, were with the Four Star Block Association kind of disappeared and weren't really following up. But then, you know, on the other hand, I've also heard, you know, different protests and, you know, different, like, public activities. So, can you tell me a little bit about, you know, the aftermath and what the response was?
MILLER: We had several rallies, several marches. Reverend Daughtry, I think,is his name, was involved in -- in quite a bit of those, forming them and getting them going. But even -- nothing became of that, because it -- it went nowhere. It petered out. You know, we, as a people, we get excited for a 46:00moment. But then our zest and our zeal is gone. We don't continue the fight. We'll -- we'll start a good fight. Now, we'll start a fight. But we back out in the end. And -- and -- and it just dies away. We had quite a bit of rallies. We had Senator Bartosiewicz, I think-- came out one time and walked the area with us. There are -- a -- there was an organization from Harlem one time. They came over and they did -- they did a lot of things. They did a lot of marching. They did a lot of speeches. And that was all. I didn't see any results. If there were positive results, I didn't see them. I didn't feel them.
OKECHUKWU: Did anyone -- I mean, who -- who was -- well, you've mentioned somefolks disappearing. Who was most supportive to you and your family in the midst of all of this? 47:00
MILLER: Anne Bolling and Shirley Toomer: There were two ladies that God placedin my life that -- was there like a rock, okay? Shirley Toomer lived in the building. Anne Bolling lived on St. Mark's, 777 St. Mark's Avenue. I didn't work, and Anne worked. But sometimes, two o'clock in the morning, she would have her sons, Clyde and Elgin walk her around. She said, "I knew you weren't asleep." I'd tell her, "You have to go to work." She said, "That's okay." She would sit up with me for hours. Sometimes we wouldn't say anything. Sometimes she would pray with me. Sometimes she would talk with me. Sometimes she would just be there. And this went on for a long time, for a very long time. Shirley would come downstairs. She would do the same thing. Sometimes, they would end up at the door at the same times. And we would just sit. Sometimes just look 48:00at each other. I felt lost. I wasn't alone, but I felt alone, because here I am, the mother of four children. Never worked a day in my life. How am I going to take care of my children? That was my main concern. Plus, Art was the superintendent of this building. The superintendent -- this apartment that I'm living in belongs to the -- whoever the superintendent is going to be. I had to find a place for myself and my kids to stay. I had to find some way that I can take care of us. What am I going to do? How am I going to do it, you know? I was lost. Anne, Shirley never gave up on me. Never gave up on me, you know? After the management company says, "Don't worry about it, you stay in the 49:00apartment as long as you want. You don't have -- even think about moving for a while." But I knew this apartment came with the job. I couldn't be the superintendent. I wouldn't -- we didn't -- granted, I assist Art in, you know, the tool-ry for the boiler and the this and the that. You know, we went through it together. I quizzed him, I read with him, I coached him. But I couldn't do that. I knew I wouldn't be able to -- to take up the responsibility, and knew I couldn't -- I mean, no matter what he said, I knew I couldn't stay there forever. But what am I going to do? And then how am I going to do it?
MILLER: I wallowed in self-pity for a while, for a long while. Then, all of asudden, Anne and Shirley, they ganged up on me. I was very upset with them, too. They told me, you know, "Enough is enough, you know? You've cried, you 50:00prayed, you screamed." I might have even said a few words. Said, "Now, it's time for you to get out of this 'why me?' self-pity mode and make a move." "Yeah, you know, go home where you stay and just leave me alone." "Well, if you want us out, you put us out." Well, I couldn't put them out. I didn't have the strength to put them out. And then, it's two to one, you know? So, I -- I was just a -- you know, look at them, and sometime I'll just leave them in the kitchen, I would go in my room. And I'd come out, they would still be there. They wouldn't give up. And she said, "Okay, you know what you're going to do? You're going to go to the unemployment office." "What? Where's the unemployment--?" I had never been there. "And what am I supposed to do when I get there?" "We will figure it out." You know, I -- just to get them off my back, I said, "Okay." I mean, I wanted them to leave me alone. I wanted to continue to wallow in self-pity. And we went to the unemployment office; a building that I passed every day, going to the train, and I never looked at that 51:00building. And it didn't -- didn't faze me. I didn't have a reason to even look around and see what was there. I was heading into Manhattan, okay. We went in and they gave us this paper asking about experience. Now, what experience do I have to put on this paper? So, Shirley says, "Give me the paper." She said, "Put your name and address and stuff on it." And I did, and she said, "Okay?" She says, "No, I don't think you want to do that. No, I don't think you want to do that. No, you don't want to do that. Hey! You like to bake." I used to bake rolls and stuff for the church when we had dinners at the church. She says, "Look, here's a wholesale, retail bakery in Manhattan on the Lower East Side." She says, "We're going to start there." I said, "I never worked in a bakery." "They don't have to know that. Don't you bake? It's not a lie!" "Of course I bake." "Don't you bake for the public? Aren't the people at church 52:00the public?" "Yes." "Well, it's not a lie." Okay, so we filled out this application. I am a baker; I've baked for the public. And into Manhattan we went. And believe it or not, I got the job. [laughter] The first job I had ever had in my life. I got the job: The first job, and it was great. I mean, the people there were wonderful. It was just -- I just -- I loved that job. I really loved it, and I loved the people. And for -- after three months, I moved to 110 New York Avenue. I had my own apartment for the first time in my life. I had a light bill in my name. I mean, I was -- you know, Arthur's death changed us in so many ways, but I grew up. I had to grow -- it forced me to grow up. It forced me to become an adult. Because he used to do everything. When I would get upset -- it was too cold to go to the store, so he would go to 53:00the store and bring the food back. I mean if, if I wasn't angry -- of course, he didn't care how cold it was. He was going out. But here I have all these things in my name, you know? And boy, this is different. This is very different. Okay?
OKECHUKWU: So, did you -- did you keep that baking job until you moved back to Florida?
MILLER: Yes, I did. And, in fact, I got my daughter, Valerie, a job there,because she had one more year in high school, and she didn't want to come to Florida for her senior year. Now, I said, "Okay, I'll make a deal with you. I don't like it, but we will do it. We will try it. I'm not going to force you to go back." The corner of Prospect and Brooklyn Avenue, there was a brownstone. I can't remember the -- the lady's name, but she's a very nice old lady, and I knew, if I could get Val in one of her rooms in her brownstone, she 54:00would be safe. But the lady did not play. And I tell you, God -- God was just there every step of the way. I went there with one available -- right across from where the ladies were. Right across from the apartment that she was living in. She rented upstairs, but she was on the ground floor. Val got a -- it's a little efficiency, right across from the, the owner. And she says, "Okay." She says, "Now, tell me what you want me to do." I said, "Okay, wonderful. This is my daughter Valerie. She'll be working" -- I told her, her hours for work. "She has to attend school." And she says, "Now, you know, I don't have any -- any people running in and out." I said, "Okay, I want you to meet her aunt." She had to meet Florence, that's Art's sister. "Okay, she will be coming here to check on her." She met Florence, she knew who Florence was. She says, "Okay." Was no problem. Okay, now, to the school; I told them where I was going to be living. I gave them my sister's address -- because after I was going to -- my first stop was going to be -- I was going to be with my -- 55:00sister's until I get my own place. I give them my father's address and phone number. I said, "Now, if there's any change in her attendance or her grades, you call me, I will be up here, and she will be out of school. She will -- whether she wanted to finish in Florida or not, she will have no choice." I said, "Okay." I took her to Well Bread Loaf. That was the name of the company, Well Bread Loaf. I took her there. She got a job. It was wonderful. Believe it or not, she graduated with honors. She did not miss a day. She worked. She did not miss a day. When we went up for her to move down, the lady says, "You know, I hate to see her go, because she's the best tenant I ever had; no loud noise, she don't have people -- she don't even try to sneak nobody in. She'd sit on the stoop and talk with her aunt and her cousin." She says, "And then she goes in the house and that's it." She says, "You sure you want to go? You 56:00could stay up here as long as you like." [laughter] So, I said, "No, I'm going." [laughter] So, it was -- it was good. It was always good. All turned out okay.
OKECHUKWU: For such a traumatic experience to happen, I mean, how -- what wasyour -- how did your children deal with it? I mean, had -- you know, it changed everyone's lives. But how -- how were they processing and dealing with it as it was -- you know, in the aftermath of that?
MILLER: Well, I could not grieve the way I wanted to. I could not show myemotions the way I wanted to. So, I had to be positive for my children. So, when there would be a down -- you know, they were depressed, they were angry. They wanted vengeance against the police. They had a very difficult time in the 57:00beginning. Kids would get angry with them. LoLisa, for an example, she had to go to school -- I always walked my kids to the bus stop. When they came home, I picked them up. When they got home, dinner was cooked. Whatever -- each kid had a day to give me a dessert, because -- since I didn't work out of the house, whatever the dessert was, that was made for that day. Their clothes had been washed, ironed, and put on their bed. All they had to do was put it away. But all of a sudden, LoLisa was the baby and she had to catch two trains to go to school because she was no longer in the Bilingual Center. But she had to take trains to school. None of my kids at that age had to do that. She had to come home to an empty house with the key around her neck. None of the other kids had to do that. So, it caused my kids to grow up too fast. I'm sure she felt alone 58:00a lot. I know she called me a lot. I told them, on the job, a little bit about my situation. And I didn't give them the whole scenario, but I said, you know, that my husband was dead and my baby daughter -- because she used to go to office a lot and call me. She just wanted to hear my voice; she wanted to make sure I wasn't dead. She thought that I was going to die like her father, so she would -- she would call me four, five times a -- a day, which was okay with the school and okay with my job. So, it changed her life in that way. She was more fearful. She hobbled a lot. She sulked a lot. She didn't -- she was a very vocal and outgoing child. She became a little quiet. She watches everything, especially me. She wanted to know where I'm going, why I'm going, how long I'm going to be there, who am I going to -- and she's the -- she's still like that 59:00today, believe it or not. She's more of a mother than a daughter. [laughter] And the oldest daughter and my son, they were more vocally violent. Artie was the only boy. He was 12. He wanted to kill policemen. He said, "You know, Daddy always say, you know, we were supposed to respect policemen, we were supposed to help policemen. He didn't do drugs, he didn't smoke, he didn't drink, and look what they did to him. You know, they need to die." He felt that being the man of the family, it was his responsibility to punish policemen. And, you know, I was so afraid that he would do something and they would kill my son. So, I tried to -- to tell him how important it was that, being the man of the family, he had to be there for his mother and his sisters. This hatred 60:00for the police is not going to get us anywhere. It's not going to bring daddy back. But with an education, you know, we can try to make some changes. You know, I -- I tried all kind of scenarios. He listened, but I don't think anything really was absorbed. If anyone was doing anything negative, that was where he sort of gravitated towards. He lost a lot of interest in things. He wanted to play basketball. He was good at it, but he didn't seem to want it anymore. That wasn't important to him anymore. Well, it changed their lives in a negative way. It took -- it took away their childhood. It left an empty void. 61:00
OKECHUKWU: Yeah, yeah. I mean, did you all still feel safe in theneighborhood? I mean, it seemed like the community was pretty close-knit in terms of you guys knowing most of the folks. But, I mean, I can imagine after something like that happened, being in fear. I could -- I could see you being in fear, also. I mean, how -- did you still feel safe in the neighborhood?
MILLER: I felt pretty safe. I didn't fear the police. I didn't trust them. Ididn't like them. I hated them, and that's a very strong word that I try not to use. If I hear of any policeman being injured, I was very, very, very joyful. I wouldn't say to my children -- I would say to Anne or Shirley, you know, I say, "You know something? That's great. Now, their wife know how I feel. Now, their children know how my children feel. Now, they are suffering like we are suffering." So, it was a pleasure when there was a -- a -- any type of, I don't know, accident. Anything that was negative where policemen were involved, it 62:00was like a breath of fresh air. But I couldn't express this to my children. I'm telling them, you know, "We can't hate them. We mustn't hate them. You know, they all aren't bad. This happened to Daddy," I say, "Now, we don't know why. But, you know, when -- when God closes a window, he opens another. You know, it's going to be okay." I tried to be -- remain positive. I tried, and I -- I can't tell you -- I never asked them if they believed the things I was telling them. I never asked. I never wanted to know their answers, because they might be honest enough to tell me. But the -- the elderly ladies in the building and in the area were also very kind, you know? They would say, you know, "I -- I -- I was watching the kids and I was -- when the kids were getting off the bus, Miss Miller, and I was watching to make sure they crossed the street okay. And -- and I saw them when they went into the building." I said, "Okay, thank you very much." So, they -- there were still some people in the 63:00building that were watchful. So, it -- it all wasn't negative after the event.
OKECHUKWU: So, I mean, you mentioned before the marches and the rallies andthings that were happening. So, Daughtry and any of the folks that were either community leaders or involved in any of those things, did n-- did none of them reach out to you in any way afterwards?
OKECHUKWU: How about, like --
MILLER: When the marches [inaudible]
OKECHUKWU: I'm sorry, go ahead.
MILLER: During the time when there was marches, "Yes, we're going to have amarch here and we want you to be on the platform and we're going to do this." But like I said, once the -- the hype was over, it was over. It was over.
OKECHUKWU: Did -- how 'bout Andy Gill? I know he was a friend of your husband,64:00and he was, I guess, at the time the director of the New Muse?
MILLER: Yes. He disappeared, too.
MILLER: Yep. I couldn't depend on anyone. I had no one -- like I told you, Ihad Anne and Shirley. That was it. You know, the -- that was close. The other people, you know, I saw them in the neighborhood, but there was no one that I could call, talk to, or depend on. Gil Noble was on, I think, Channel 7 News or something. He did a story once, but-- It was just, "It happened, now let's get over it," that type of an attitude.
OKECHUKWU: Okay. I'm going to back up a little bit before we talk about youmoving back to Florida. Can you tell me--? Because you mentioned his construction business, can you tell me a little bit more about that? Like when he, when he started that business, and was the -- his office on Nostrand, also, 65:00for that?
MILLER: Yes, he worked out of his construction business, out of the buildingthat he was renovating. He had just started that. He had two dump trucks, and he was moving sand and rocks for a -- a company. He hadn't started, really, building it up yet, because he had one other guy that he -- could drive one of the trucks for him. But basically, far as doing a big job with the construction, no. He basically was delivering sand and rocks for jobs that were being done.
OKECHUKWU: And then you mentioned a grocery that he had on Nostrand. That wasdifferent from the Key Food, correct?
MILLER: Right. That was a small supermarket that he had. That was open until,like, one o'clock in the morning. And we worked in that. I used to work in that sometime in the evenings. And there was, like, a little living place 66:00upstairs where the kids would be watching TV, and they would, you know, fall asleep up there. He'd be up there until, like, one, two o'clock in the morning, until the store closed, and then we'd go home.
OKECHUKWU: Where -- where on Nostrand was that?
MILLER: Between Brooklyn -- I mean, between Prospect Place and Park Place. Itwas about maybe three stores before you get to Syl's.
OKECHUKWU: Oh, okay. Did it have a name?
MILLER: Bright Night Supermarket.
OKECHUKWU: Bright Night Supermarket. And then, you mention church. Were you amember of a church in the area?
MILLER: Oh, it's called -- it's right across from P.S. 289; Greater Mount Pleasant.
MILLER: It was a Baptist church.67:00
OKECHUKWU: Okay. And, let's see, all right. So, when -- why did you decide tomove back to Florida when you did?
MILLER: My father: My father had had an accident about two years before. Hewas a gardener by profession. And after one of the hurricanes, one of the branches from the coconut tree -- the vibrations from the lawnmower triggered it. I guess it's -- probably loose. And it hit him in the head. It damaged the optic nerve and he started going blind. Well, by the time he was seeing only shadows, when I spoke to him, he said to me -- my father was the type of man that never asked me for anything. He always gave. When he asked me to think about moving back home to Florida, where he can get to really know his grandkids -- we used to go down in the summers only -- but he can get to see and 68:00get to really know his grandkids and spend some time with me before he goes completely blind, I couldn't say anything but yes. That was right after Easter, and I told him that I would be there that summer. And I moved that summer so that I could be close to my dad.
OKECHUKWU: So, what -- how was that, adjusting to life back in Florida?
MILLER: How was it? It was -- it was okay. Lisa didn't like it. It was -- itwas fine for me. You know, I'm like a chameleon. I can adapt to anything. And like I say, I moved in with my sister. I told her that I was coming. She said, "Okay, you move in with me, with the kids, and we'll find -- you'll look for an apartment." I had -- had to get a job. Now, do I want a job in a bakery in Florida? I don't know. I don't think so. But we'll see, we -- I -- we'll play it by ear.
MILLER: I moved. I had a friend that worked for Delta Airlines. Thank God, hewas a lifesaver, because Lisa cried -- she cried. She cried. She cried every bloody day. And the only way to stop her from crying and to make her feel special and make her feel that she's not alone and I just didn't drag her away from everything that she knew -- he says, "Look," he says, "I could get her on a plane, he said, on a Friday night, standby, and have her come back on a Sunday." I said, "Are you serious?" He said, "Yes." And that's what he did. Every Friday, she went to Brooklyn, New York.
MILLER: Every Friday. Then Christmas came and she's crying again because it'snot snowing. She wants snow for Christmas or cold weather. But I can't make it get cold, you know? But she wants to -- she could -- "It's not really Christmas, this isn't the real Christmas. Why isn't it the real Christmas? It's not cold, it's not snow." I told her, I said, "Lisa, don't bring those 70:00snow suits to Florida, because you won't need them." But she had a couple that she really liked, and she brought them anyway. But she wants to put on her snowsuit, because that's what she would have done if she was home. And, of course, she couldn't put it on. And she looked outside. Of course, it wasn't snowing, it wasn't cold, and there are people with shorts. She saw people putting things in the back of their car to go to the beach, and she's crying because she wants to go to New York where the real Christmas is. So, that was -- that was -- that was hard on her. That was very hard on her. But eventually, it was okay. She complains about it a little bit now, but she likes it here. [laughter]
OKECHUKWU: When you came back, I know you -- your -- you know, it's -- yourchildren came back. But did you -- I mean, I know you had -- I know Arthur had siblings that were in the New York area and you did, as well. Did they stay there? Or did they come back at any time to Florida? 71:00
MILLER: They stayed. Joe moved back, Sammy moved back. Florence stayed in NewYork. Muriel, who we call "Poof," moved to Connecticut. But Florence is still in Brooklyn with her children.
OKECHUKWU: I know that after the incident happened, it seemed -- I don't knowif this is true, but just from what I've been reading is that it seemed like Joe was being kind of harassed by the police a little bit. Was that happening after that incident? Or you -- are you aware of, like, what his experience was with the police after that?
MILLER: Well, he said they -- they stopped him anytime they saw him. They evensearched him a couple of times. I don't know if they thought he was going to say something because of what he had witnessed. I don't know why they did what they did, but they did -- they harassed him a great deal. You know, so much so, so -- I don't remember Joe drinking as much before Art's death as he started drinking afterwards. So, I don't know, the whole incident just turned him 72:00inside out. He became an alcoholic. He -- he was -- I don't think I saw him a day when he didn't have a beer or two. So, his life was changed drastically.
OKECHUKWU: What -- how 'bout his other -- his -- particularly the siblings thatwere in New York, but I guess his -- I'll guess all of his siblings. I mean, how -- you know, how -- how did this event, you know, impact their lives?
MILLER: It was all negative.
MILLER: It was -- some of them are more vocal about their hatreds of the policethan others. His sister tried to keep hers down, because she had young children, also. But there was no love for the policemen. There was no pleasure in seeing them or -- you know, some of them, I'm told, tried to talk to her, you know, to tell her that, you know, they don't -- they weren't involved and they wish they had been on duty, because things might have been different. But 73:00whether this was just a bunch of bull -- but she always brushed them off. She really didn't want to talk to them.
OKECHUKWU: Okay. So, when you returned back to Florida, what kind of work did-- did you end up baking down there, as well? What kind of work did you do?
MILLER: No, I did not return to baking. I didn't know what I was going to door how I was going to do it, but I knew I had to find a job to support myself and my children. I had to find an apartment, because I couldn't stay with my sister forever. So, there was a hospital called Memorial Regional Hospital on Johnson Street. I decided to go there and fill out an application for something. I figure maybe I'll go into dietary, since I had a little baking experience now. I filled out for baking, I filled out for housekeeping, I filled out for lab. There was something else. There were four things I filled 74:00out. Well, anyway, I filled out for four different things. And, I mean, I went every day to Memorial Hospital to fill out applications. I think after about a month, the lady -- her name was Connie -- she said, "Don't fill out any more papers, please." She said, "We have more applications with your name on it," she say, "in one month than other people in a year." She say, "Don't, don't." She said, "Let me tell you what we have available." And at the time, they had housekeeping. I said, "I'll take it." She says, "Housekeeping?" I say, "Sure." I say, "I clean my house. I'll take it." So, I became a housekeeping -- I guess then they would call housekeeping aides, with a little yellow uniform. And I got the job, okay? While I was there, I was looking to see what they -- what else they had to offer. And I say, you know, "I would love to be a nurse but, you know, smells make me nauseous. If you vomit, I vomit." I was 75:00terr-- definitely afraid of dead people. So, I wasn't going to go in -- I wasn't going to go into nursing. But I have to find something to do. And I was in pedes [pediatrics] one day, and this little baby was in the crib, and I told her -- I said, "Baby cries all the time. The whole time I'm out there cleaning, the baby is crying." She says, "I know." She says, "But we don't have the staff to have someone sit with the baby." I said, "Where's" -- said, "We don't know. The mother brought her into the emergency room and she left it. She hasn't returned, so we don't know, no." I said, "Well, what's going to happen?" "Well, she's going to end up going into foster care." I said, "Oh my God." Said, "How do you do it?" She says, "Well, it's not easy taking care of kids." I said, "How you do it? How's the, how's the smell?" She says, "Oh." So, I'm looking at this kid, I said, "You know something? If I was a nurse, I would spend more time with this kid. I would find some way to spend time with this 76:00child." So, then, I started thinking that maybe -- maybe I could be a nurse. And I said, "Do you have nurses that don't have to deal with this and don't have to deal with that?" And she said, "No. No, if you're a nurse, you've got to deal with it all." Okay, so I said the nursing is out. I lived about maybe a half a mile from Sheridan Vocational School, where they had an LPN course and they had-- let me see-- laboratories, they had interior design, interior decorating. All kind of things that -- maybe I could become an interior decorator. So, I went in, I fill out an application; taking courses in interior decorating. And this lady, Mrs. Lightfoot, she says, "Why do you want to be an interior decorator?" I said, "Well, I have to do something." She say, "Well, you don't sound very enthused about it." I said, "Well, you know, I really would like to be a nurse, but I'm afraid of dead people and I don't like vomit, I don't like smells, and I" -- so, she says, "Oh, you're telling me that you 77:00can't do it." I said, "No, that's not what I'm telling you." She said, "Exactly. You can't do it. You're afraid to do it." I say, "I'm not afraid to do anything." She says, "Well, you can't -- well I put it this way, then you can't be a nurse because -- you know what?" She say, "You just can't do it. Let's go to interior" -- I said, "Wait a minute, what do you mean I can't do it?" I say, "You don't know me that well to say what I can and cannot do!" She says, "Well, I think you better go to interior decorating, because nursing is out, because that's not for you. You -- you're not strong, it's okay?." I said, "Wait a minute. I want to go into the nursing program." And I had to [inaudible] the paperwork for the nursing program in history. [laughter] Then I became a nurse. I went from housekeeping aide -- while I was in school for nursing, I became a supervisor in housekeeping, and then after three months in school, I became a nursing assistant. So, I was doing housekeeping during the day and then I was doing a nursing assistant -- private duty work at night. And 78:00then, when I finished school, I was working at the hospital and doing private duty. And then, I fell in love with the -- oncology, because my first patient was a -- Mary Posner, God bless her soul. First patient I ever had. And I say -- you know, I had to put in a Foley catheter. And I said -- you know, I didn't want to do it because they told us she had tumors everywhere. And she said, "Sweetheart," she says, "you know? I want you to learn." I said, "But you're going to be in pain." She say, "It's okay." She said, "Do you know every day that I have pain," she say, "you know what that tells me?" I said, "What?" She says, "I'm alive." And I fell in love with that lady and I fell in love with oncology. And she allowed me to stick her, to draw blood. I put in the Foley catheter. Whatever I had to do, she was my guinea pig. And that's my love: 79:00Cancer patients, oncology. I did oncology for 15 years at the hospital. Then I transferred to -- they revamped the oncology area, and while they were doing that, I went to Med-Surg. They divided the Med-Surg floor into Med-Surg on one side and-- what's that?-- transitional care on the other, so I was between Med-Surg and transitional care. And then, transitional care, they got rid of it. And after 28 and a half years, I retired with one, two -- two and -- almost three years of P.L. [Public Law] and disability time. So, it was like 31-plus years, I was at the hospital.
MILLER: I didn't call in, I didn't take sick time. I worked. I did what I hadto do.
OKECHUKWU: Wow. Reflecting back on your career as a nurse, I mean, what standsout the most to you about that experience? 80:00
MILLER: Strength. I matured so much during that time. It was a foundationthat I can look back on and realize how -- how I growed. "How I growed?" Oh my Lord, my English teacher would slap my face. [laughter] I would -- I can look back at it and [laughter] -- sorry about that. I matured so much. It scares me. Things that I thought I would never be able to accomplish, it -- it was so easy. My father gave me a piece of property. I saved up money from the private duty job, because I had an apartment at this time for my kids and myself. I put money aside. I got two bank accounts. One was for the apartment where we were living, for my rent and my light and water. And the other one's for this future home that I know I was going to get. I already claimed it. It was mine. I didn't have it yet, but it was mine. All of a sudden, I got a thing in the mail 81:00that said I was a property owner. 'Course I had to go down to the courthouse and say, "Yes. Willy Knowles gave you this," and that was my father. Said, "Oh, my God!" So, okay. I got a -- architect to draw me a plan. I talked to my brother Bobby, who was in construction work. All of a sudden, I had me a house that was started. It took three years to build it. I built it in stages. All of a sudden, my kids -- and we moved into our home. It was my home. I had no payments. All I had was to pay my taxes, my utilities.
MILLER: I never would have been able to do that before.
MILLER: So, I gained a lot of strength, inner strength that I never knew I had.But you know what? When I look back at it, it was always there, but I didn't have to use it because I was with strong people. My father was a strong man. Arthur was a strong man. So, my inner strength was in reserve. It was waiting for this particular time for me to blossom. 82:00
OKECHUKWU: Wow. Wow. Can you tell me about any volunteer or community work ormaybe involvement in church that you got involved with when you moved back to Florida?
MILLER: Church was always one of my first loves. I was on the usher board, Istill am, women's missionaries, Trustee Ministry. And the church that I'm in now, Greater Mount Pleasant African Methodist Episcopal Church, I founded and started the Sunshine Ministry, which is the ministry that not only our members but anyone -- seniors that's bedridden, homebound, or just in the hospital for surgery or anything, I crochet. I don't -- I can't make a whole lot of things, but I do make a few things. And what I do, if they're in the hospital, I don't 83:00want to just make a hat or little blankets for them. And they have roommates, so what I do through the missionaries and through the Sunshine Ministries trustee -- doesn't matter what label you put on it. I would make what I call these Scally hats, these warm knit hats. And we would pick a ward. Say they got 85, 90 patients on a particular ward, then I would make that number of hats, and we would present it to them as a type of love offering. Just -- the main thing is to let them know that somebody cares. They're not alone. You know, we may not be there with them all the time, but we do care about them. I send cards to the sick and shut-in or to someone -- like I said, they don't have to be a member of our church. All you have to do is give us the name. Give us the name and the address. If you don't -- give us the phone number. We can call them. You know, "Just calling to say hello. Just checking on you today, see 84:00how you're doing." Or, "Do you need anything?" Take some people to the store, as needed. I -- twice a month and sometime more-- if they call me-- I go to BJ's, which is a large chain here in Florida where you can go and buy food in bulk. Twice a month, at least, sometime more, I go with my little car and load it up with cakes and breads and cookies, and I take it to a pantry where they give it out to the community. And some of the people that cannot get to the pantry, I deliver things to them direct, take it right to their house. So, these are things that I like to do. These are things that give me pleasure. Like I say, I'm not one to stand up and -- see, Art was the rally person. He's -- no, he'll stand up. That's not me. I'm in the background. I'm doing things in the background. I'm crocheting and delivering. I'm sending cards for the sick and shut-in. I'm taking cookies, bread, and cakes. That's the kind of stuff I like to do. 85:00
OKECHUKWU: Can you tell me about the Arthur Miller, Jr. - A Daughter NeverForgets Foundation? I know that's, I guess, LoLisa's foundation, but can you tell me, like, where that came from and the purpose?
MILLER: This is a foundation that Lisa had been wanting to do for many years.She wanted to do something -- this is another way of keeping Arthur's footsteps above ground. In New York, the snow had washed him away. Florida, the sand may blow it away. But through the foundation, we can keep some alive, keep his memory alive, keep his purpose alive. And his purpose was to help people, to assist people in any way he saw possible. He wanted people to know that they have strength. They may not realize it, but you are strong. You are stronger than you think you are. And this foundation, it's to -- the goal of the foundation is to let someone know that we, the Arthur Miller, Jr. - A Daughter 86:00Never Forgets Foundation -- we want to be present through the storm of any life changing event. It doesn't -- only deals with -- if the police have destroyed your life through murder. But it could be cancer, it could be an accident, it could be a flood, you know? But it's a life-changing event. We want to be there for you, and when the whooping and the hollering and the spotlights are gone, we want to remain in the aftermath of it all. We want to be able to give assistance to an individual or families. We want to help you to access community support and resources, counseling, education, mentorship. We want to be a catalyst of encouragement, hope, and empowerment. We want you to know, yes, this has changed your life dramatically. We cannot tell you how this has changed your life. But we have been there. We have survived.
MILLER: You are a survivor. You're not alone. You're -- there are moreresources out there now that -- I hear about than -- when my kids -- you know, when Art died, there was no one to tell me, "Do you know there are resources out there?" My son could have had positive role models. No one told me that if you go to this agency, you can get this. If you go to this agency, you can get that. You know, my kids could have benefited from counseling. It could have helped them tremendously. But no one -- when I say no one, no one gave me any inkling of what was out there for my children or for me, except -- couple of people, "Girl, if I was you, I would go on welfare. They owe you that." That was not me. I was not going on welfare, okay? But I want the people to know, through the Arthur Miller, Jr. - A Daughter Never Forgets Foundation, there is help out there, and we want to assist them in getting the help that they need. We want to assist them in getting their kids and counseling early. We want them 88:00to know that education is the key. You want to make changes, you need an education. And you're not alone. Don't think -- because you do feel alone. You feel like there is no one as if you are the only one who's going through this. Well, we're here to tell you that you're not alone. You're not the only one, and you are loved. Regardless of what the media says, you are loved. Your children are loved. Your husband, your brother, they are loved. They are somebody special. And we are not telling you to forget them. You can't forget them. They're part of you. You are a part of them.
OKECHUKWU: What do you want people to know or understand about Arthur Miller?89:00
MILLER: I want them to know and understand that this is a man. He's notperfect in no way, shape, or form. He is not perfect. He is no god. He is a man who put his pants on the way we do. He'd make mistakes like anybody else. But he was a man that believed in himself. He believed that if I do for me and pull me up, I can reach down and pull somebody up. Before you know it, he wants everybody up on their feet. He don't want you on all fours or sitting. He wants you to stand tall and be proud of who you are. Don't look back. You know, what happened last year, we can't change that. But we can change the future. So, he was always thriving on and running towards becoming a better person, a better man, a better father, a better community leader. 90:00
OKECHUKWU: When you think about Crown Heights today, what comes to mind?
MILLER: I feel sorry for Crown Heights today. I went -- we were in New Yorknot too long ago, and we drove through the old area. It looked dark, it looks dim. The joy seems to be gone. The happiness seems to be gone. You don't, you don't have that -- you don't see that feeling of community. They have lost a lot and they don't even know it.
OKECHUKWU: When you think of, you know, when you lived in Crown Heights -- andyou mentioned some places like Syl's and, you know, your business, your family business that was on Nostrand Avenue. Are there any other, like, places or locations or anything that comes to mind when you think of, like, an -- 91:00important places in Crown Heights or places that you have particular memories with, in Crown Heights?
MILLER: Well, the museum, of course. The kids enjoyed that. There wasn't awhole lot in Crown Heights itself. We didn't stay right in -- you know, our life didn't just bond in Crown Heights, you know? There were the parades on Eastern Parkway, there was a theater on Eastern Parkway. There was a botanical garden. There was Julia's Restaurant, downtown Brooklyn. There was just so much in the area itself. We were centrally located. We had the 7th Avenue train line, the 8th Avenue train line, the Long Island Railroad. All this was in walking distance of where we lived. So, we didn't just stay in that four-block area. 92:00
OKECHUKWU: Is there anything else that you'd like to share? Anything that wehaven't touched on or anything that you'd like to elaborate on before we conclude the interview?
MILLER: There's nothing that comes to mind right now. I know I'm [laughter]happy that this foundation is seeing the light of day. It's about time. Glad the news has -- is really expanding itself so that people can see and know that there were Black men in our area. You know, people from Crown Heights, they -- there was somebody in our area that tried to make a difference, you know? Some young man in high school -- you know, "I could do that, you know? I could do the same thing he did, but I can go a little further." I see this as a stepping-stone to greater things. This is like the foundation. Now we-- now 93:00we're going to start building.
OKECHUKWU: What is your response or reaction to, you know, this current momentwhere there's been some increased attention to police brutality and, you know, police murdering innocent unarmed people? What is -- you know, what is your -- like, how -- is that triggering for you? I mean, what is your response to that?
MILLER: Things haven't changed. It's only becoming more to the forefront. So,that's letting us know that unless we do something now, it's going to escalate even more. Now they -- they're killing young women. Before, it was just the Black man that would seem to be a pawn in a shooting gallery. But now our young women, they're that -- pawns, also. You know, when will it stop? When are we, as a people, going to say, look, enough is enough is enough? A couple of days 94:00ago, there was this Caucasian man that was shooting out tires on the FP&L trucks, Florida Power & Light company. Yeah, shooting at the -- and the policemen got Tasers out. Now, you know and I know if he had been a Black man, they would have had about 30 bullets in him before he could even say, "Ah." They had Tasers, and they were ask-- "to put your gun down." You see? So, we have to start, as a people, reeducating our children, because our children are our future. Selling drugs, putting gold in your mouth, driving a fancy car is not going to get it. Our young people have to see other avenues for a future. And we, as adults, we have to start treating our kids -- like, my great grandson 95:00is three years old. We have to start when they're that age, letting them know look, "You are special. You are fantastic. You are worthy. You are loved. And you're going to get an education, because you know what? You're going to make a difference." Things that are happening that we don't like, we have to change it. You cannot change it by selling drugs. You cannot change it by just sitting home and not getting out there and speaking your mind. I'm not saying everybody got to get a soapbox and stand up on it and start yelling and screaming. Get out and vote. So, let these people see that there is a number of people that are thinking the same way about change, and we are not going to stop until we see it. Now, we're not going to stop all of the prejudice ever. As long as there's man, there's going to be prejudice. We're not going to stop all of the hatred. We're not going to stop all of the killings. But we will slow it down. 96:00
OKECHUKWU: Thank you so much for this interview. This has, this has been a,you know, very informative experience for me, and I just thank you for taking the time to do this. And I'm glad we were finally able to do this, so thank you so much.
MILLER: You're welcome, and thank you.
OKECHUKWU: So, as I mentioned before, you know, at this point, if there'sanything that you -- you know, if you're fine with the interview, that's great. We're going to send it off to a transcriptionist so that there'll be a written transcript as well as the audio for the interview. Once we have the written transcript, we will send you the audio for download, so you can have a copy of the interview. We will send you the written transcript. You know, you can feel free to review that when we send that to you, and let us know if you're okay with it. And then, it will be, again, archived here and available for folks to 97:00listen to it online. But we'll let you know when all of that -- you know, when those stages come. Let's see. And then, you have the release form, so if you can just sign that and scan it, you know, we can, you know, get the transcription going on our end.
MILLER: Will do.
OKECHUKWU: Okay, great. So --
Oral History Interview with Florence Miller
Seventy-three years old at the time of the interview, Florence Miller is an African American woman of Bahamian descent. She is the widow of a community leader in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. Her husband, Arthur Miller, was killed by the New York Police Department in 1978. A homemaker until that point, she had to vacate the building where her husband was superintendent, find work at a bakery on the Lower East Side, resettle the family, and be the sole parent to her children in another apartment in Crown Heights. After moving back to Florida a few years after her husband's death, she supported her ailing father, and later became a nurse with a focus in oncology at a hospital. She is a mother of four children.
In this interview, Florence Miller talks about growing up in Florida, meeting Arthur Miller, eloping, and moving to New York as a late teenager. She speaks about the activities of her husband, their time in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, and his death at the hands of New York Police Department. Miller chronicles the painful period of finding a job and working to support her family as a single mother, then moving back to Florida once her father became ill, and eventually beginning a career as a nurse. She mentions Arthur's job as superintendent of 925 Prospect Place, his emerging business in construction and building renovation, his grocery store on Nostrand Avenue (Bright Night Supermarket), the activities of the 4 Star Block Association, and more. Miller explains the need for the foundation called Arthur Miller Jr. - A Daughter Never Forgets, established by her daughter LoLisa (who is present for the interview, but heard only briefly). Arthur Miller (born November 30, 1941, in Nassau Bahamas, died June 14, 1978 in Brooklyn) is memorialized on the organization's website (www.arthurmillerjradnff.org), and Florence Miller explains the non-profit foundation's mission. Interview via telephone conducted by Amaka Okechukwu.
This collection includes oral histories conducted by Brooklyn Historical Society (BHS), Brooklyn Movement Center, and Weeksville Heritage Center beginning in 2016 and collected and arranged by BHS in 2017. Each organization's interviews form a series within the collection. This oral history is one in the BHS series. The assembled collection was part of broader programming efforts by the three organizations to commemorate and examine the transforming Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn a quarter-century after the August 1991 conflicts and unrest sometimes called "the Crown Heights riot." The oral history collection features a broad range of narrators; educators, community organizers, activists, entrepreneurs, artists, bloggers, and longtime neighborhood residents, who describe the changes they have observed in their neighborhood over decades.
CitationMiller, Florence, Oral history interview conducted by Amaka Okechukwu, July 27, 2017, Voices of Crown Heights oral histories, 2016.027.1.22; Brooklyn Historical Society.
- Bright Night Supermarket (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
- Four Star Block Association (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
- Jewish Hospital of Brooklyn
- Miller, Arthur, Jr.
- Miller, Florence
- New York (N.Y.). Police Department
- St. Mary's Hospital (Brooklyn, New
- African American neighborhoods
- African Americans
- Business enterprises
- Caribbean Americans
- Community activists
- Community identity
- Community organizing
- Family life
- Police brutality
- Police-community relations
- Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
- Crown Heights (New York, N.Y.)
Finding AidVoices of Crown Heights oral histories