Friday, July 13, 2018

Tribute to a Great Bronx Teacher on His 80'th Birthday

Tribute to a Great Bronx Teacher on His 80th Birthday:
Hi, this is Dr Mark Naison of Fordham University, When I look back on a career that has spanned nearly 50 years of University teaching, I view Jim Pruitt as one of the ten most impressive educators I have encountered at any level of our educational system. He had a tremendous influence on me when I arrived to teach at Fordham in 1970, and played a central role in providing intellectual guidance to the research project I direct, the Bronx African American History Project, which began in 2003 and has become one of the most respected community based oral history projects in the nation
Shortly after I arrived at Fordham in the fall of 1970 to teach in the Institute of Afro American Studies, Jim was appointed the director of Fordham Upward Bound Program, which had offices across the hall. I quickly saw that he was a force in our Department as well as his own. A tall imposing person, dignified in carriage, precise in speech, knowledgeable about history, passionate about justice, Jim had a profound influence on the Black and Latino young men in his care. Here was someone from the same communities they lived in, who shared their feelings and understood their world, who commanded the respect of powerful white people, from college administrators to faculty to security officials through depth of intellect and force of character. His Upward Bound Students not only listened to him, they watched him carefully, and over time, began to model themselves on him. Thus began the shaping of a new generation of Black and Latino leaders, people who would make an impact on many walks of life from education, to business and the arts. Jim was at Fordham for less than ten years, but he is still in touch with many of the now not-so young people in his charge. I have rarely seen a teacher/mentor command such reverence, and have such influence, on a groups of men from inner city neighborhoods
Now segue to the year 2003 when community leaders asked me to start an oral history project documenting the experience and achievements of African Americans in the Bronx. The Bronx African American History Project, as the initiative was called, began with oral histories of Black women and men who had lived in the Patterson Houses near Lincoln Hospital, but soon began to focus on the largest Black community in the Bronx in the 1940's 1950's and 1960's, Morrisania. I had know that Jim had grown up in that neighborhood and that members of his family still lived there so I called him for advice. It was the best decision I had ever made. Jim not only introduced me to his brilliant sister, Harriet McFeeters, who still lived with her sister Bessie in a row house on East 168th Street, he provided the crucial intellectual framework for understanding the middle class Black community that emerged in Morrisania
Jim explained the path that took Black postal workers and Pullman porters from churches in Harlem like Grace Congregational to an exciting new community in the Bronx. But he also identified key institutions which became the basis of that community as it emerged- St Augustine Presbyterian Church, Forest House, Camp Minisink and Morris High School. Armed with this knowledge, we started recording what ultimately became more than 100 interviews with Black residents of Morrisania, all of which have been transcribed, archived and digitized. People from all over the world consult these interviews, many of which were recommended by Jim and Harriet
So happy 80th Birthday Jim Pruiit. You have truly been an educator who changed the course of history