[New York Magazine, 20 April 2009]
As told to Richard Morgan
I was born and raised during my early years in Trenton. But when my parents separated, when I was 6, I moved to Harlem with my mother. Governor Roosevelt had just become President Roosevelt. We had the Great Depression, of course, but the Harlem Renaissance still had some life in it. Seventh Avenue was a boulevard in those days, and every Easter, everyone would march up and down it in their finery. I remember when Joe Louis was winning fights and people would open their windows and share the radios they had. I didn’t see more joy and pride until, well, until those same streets and fire escapes were filled with cheers this last Election Night.
We moved a lot. The joke was that we moved when the rent was due. My mother and grandmother both worked as domestics, each making a dollar a day. But I made some money, too. I’d go to 125th and Eighth, where all the pushcarts were selling groceries. I bought shopping bags, three for a nickel, and I sold them at two cents apiece. I would save up and buy my mother something nice from the five-and-dime store.
I wasn’t always such a good little boy. I had a skater scooter—a soapbox and a two-by-four with roller skates on the bottom. Most kids decorated their skater scooters with bottle caps from soda bottles. But if you were really cool you had reflectors. Thing was, you couldn’t just buy a reflector; you had to liberate them from cars. So I was out there liberating with my friends, and a police officer caught me because I was the littlest in the group. And he brought me home and told my mother and grandmother that their good little boy had done this. It was a total shock to them. Now, heretofore, all they had to do was give me a look of disappointment and I’d be crying in 30 seconds. But now we were living in this city and things were changing. They stripped me bare, stood me up in the bathtub, and hit me good with some leather straps. I never did anything bad again.
–David Dinkins, Former mayor, arrived 1933
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