By George Capsis
I was reminded of an unpleasant incident when I read Barry Benepe’s pleasure at the removal of the black asphalt mounds in Washington Square Park. (See his article on this page.) Barry evidently does not know what they were or how they got there—I do.
The mounds were demanded by the ‘Crazies’—a radicalized group of P.S. 41 parents that broke into and operated P.S. 41 in the final hard, cold days of the month-long school strike in 1968. They melded with the Gorilla glue of collective hatred into a single, hard civil action fist just in time to say something about Washington Square Park, which was being renovated.
“We want skateboard mounds for the kids,” they demanded, still smoking hot from the school break-in. (They came with their sleeping bags and just stayed. What fun for forty-ish moms and dads—their last radical hurrah).
The strike began when a newly-created local African-American school board in Brooklyn voted to replace the white principal. The strident United Federation of Teachers (UFT) President, Albert Shanker, called a strike on the first day of school and then called strike after strike. He tried to break the back of the opposition and make it clear that he was the President of the all-powerful UFT. He called the shots.
Gradually, the strike split the community from those who supported an emergency school that taught in churches and meeting rooms using the very same P.S. 41 teachers. Those participants did not have to cross the picket line nor interact with those who broke into the school and took it over—the ‘Crazies.’
The break-in radicals exalted in their action since these were the why-are-we-in-Vietnam-anyway days; they had two kids in P.S. 41 and couldn’t take the train to Washington, D.C. to join a White House protest. So, instead, protest against the establishment took the form of breaking into and running P.S. 41 (I mean that’s pretty cool—breaking into a public school—wow)!
Bang. At last the strike was over but the break-in parents were reluctant to give the school back to the Principal, Mr. Kreitzberg. So, they decided to run for President of the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and make his life a living hell. It was the biggest political race ever in the Village, with sound trucks and placards. I mean, they were not going to lose this race. No, never—they wanted their school back.
Now a confession. I was campaigning against the Crazies because I had run the emergency school and they hated me because I represented the establishment.
Dr. Matt Fergerson, a General Practitioner whose office was across the street from P.S. 41 on 11th Street, threw a party for the teachers to keep them around until the 7:00 p.m. PTA meeting and vote. A gaggle of giggling teachers helped vote me President. But it was not over.
The Crazies came en mass to the first PTA meeting and sat as a hard-shelled articulated snake across the auditorium with a single voice. Every time I spoke, they shouted me down—it was hopeless. I turned to Principal Kreitzberg and handed him the mic with, “Here, this is your problem.” He stopped my exit and chastised the parents as if they were in a kindergarten class.
It was then that I went before the Chancellor of the Board of Education to get the empty P.S. 3 building to absorb the P.S. 41 overcrowding. When the imperious Chancellor sneered at my demand, we sued and won. The day we got P.S. 3, the Crazies took over and have had it ever since. ad it ever since.
The Black Mounds in Washington Square Park
By George Capsis