Fordham University            The Jesuit University of New York

Paul Cannon, Woody Johnson, Gerald Williams


Paul Cannon, Woody Johnson, Gerald Williams

Interviewers: Mark Naison, Brian Purnell
Interviewee: Paul Cannon, Woody Johnson, Gerald Williams
Date: 11/10/05
Summarized by Salmaan Khan
Gerald Williams was born in Newport News, Virginia. He moved to the Morrisania section of the Bronx with his mother with the intention of working and moving back. Gerald attempted to earn some money by working a job at the Hotel Diplomat on 43rd street in order to go to Canada to play in the International Table Tennis Tournament. They chose to move to the Bronx in 1958 because of friends his mother had there. Gerald speaks in depth of his nightclub experiences in the Bronx and discusses places like the Blue Morocco and the Band Box where he and his friends would go in to try and meet famous people. He describes feeling completely safe in his neighborhood growing up, and recalls his experiences fondly.
Woody Johnson was born in Manhattan. His father was a piano player who lived in the Theresa hotel. In 1951 they moved to the Hunts Point area of the Bronx into a private home on Manida Street. Manida Street was mostly Jewish at the time, and Woody’s family was the only African American family on the block. Woody became very involved with music and would watch his father play with his band at Hunts Point Palace. From a young age he would go to the Apollo as his father would play there, and Woody eventually got into the band and played with them for several years. He attended Theodore Roosevelt High School on Fordham Road, and was exposed to a variety of famous people who would go on to become professionals playing baseball.
Paul Cannon was originally from Columbia, South Carolina. When Cannon was two, his family moved to 145th Street and Lenox in Harlem. They lived there for two to three years and then moved to 1278 Union Avenue in the Bronx around 1968 or 1969. Paul recalls the Bronx very negatively, as the neighborhood was becoming progressively worse. He was aware that it was a time of drugs and gangs. Despite the negative things going on at the time, people didn’t leave because Cannon says they felt they were a part of the community. When Paul got to the area in 1968 the area was predominantly African American. Manida Street became more African American, Puerto Rican and Dominican as the Jewish population began moving out.
The three men recall the rise of crack and its adverse effect on the community. Woody remembers its effect on many ballplayers who overdosed during the time period. The drug affected entire communities as he saw more “single parenthood…children raising children.” However, Woody discusses taking a lot of the things he grew up with and trying to give them back to the kids. They have developed an array of after school programs, sports teams and Sunday schools. They now speak positively of the future. Woody explains that he feels “It’s getting better. I feel good about the Bronx.” There is a sense that things are getting better and people are going back to school and “getting their lives together.”

Keywords: Freeman Street, Harlem, Apollo Theater, Bruckner Boulevard, Manida Street, Fort Apache, Union Avenue, Morrisania, Blue Morocco, Lyman Place, St. Augustine Church, Miles Davis, City Island, Hunter College, Fordham Road


© 2009 Bronx African-American History Project at Fordham University

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