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Stanley Brown

Stanley Brown

Harlem Boys Choir Member & School Teacher

Born: Harlem, NY, United States
Heritage: African American

Keep your dignity. Keep who you are. Know who you are as an individual person. If you know who you are, no one can rob you of that. Once you have a sight of who you are and your dignity, nobody can rob you of that. You want to keep that dignity.

Stanley Brown

Harlem Boys Choir Member & School Teacher

My name is Stanley Brown. I was born in Harlem, New York in 1956. I lived in an apartment with no heat and no hot water, called a railroad flat. We used our stove for heat. There were no elevators. We had to walk up five flights of stairs and drag our grocery cart up the stairs behind us. Everyone lived in apartments there.

I was raised by my mom, grandmother, great grandmother and great aunt. My father left when I was four-months old. My mother was very ill when I was a kid. I grew up fast because I had to do the food shopping and go to the laundromat. My grandmother will be 90 years old in July. She lives with my mom.

I spent summers with my aunt on her farm in South Carolina. I rode the bus from New York to South Carolina. Life was very different there than in New York City. I worked on tobacco and cotton farms. It was hard work. Blacks were treated differently in the south. My cousin and I went to a store to buy meat. We had to wait about two hours, because they wouldn’t serve us until all the white people were served. We politely waited. When we went to the white folks’ church we had to sit in the last pew.

While on the way to South Carolina, I had to move to the back of the bus in Washington. My mom told me not to go into a bathroom until I saw a colored person go in first. She told me to wait and watch what drinking fountain black people drank from. Life wasn’t like that in Harlem. In the south I wasn’t treated good.

I went to an all black school. My teachers knew that as black people we have to get an education to combat the discrimination that was forced on us. Our teachers gave us backbone. They gave us a sense of pride. They always told us we were smart and that we were good people. They were very strict about us getting that education. They wanted us to break out of the bad things happening in Harlem like gangs and drugs. I went to an all white high school in Harlem. It helped me to foster relationships with all people.

Dr. King came to our church in Harlem when I was a boy. There was such a big crowd when he spoke. He was our first spokesperson. He said “No, we are not standing for this anymore!” We knew he was trying to awaken the nation to what was going on. We were willing to listen to him and to what he had to say. Until Dr. King said that black people should have the same rights as white people, we thought that was how it was supposed to be.

When I was young, I played violin and piano. I was a ballet dancer. I enjoyed acting and singing. Those of us who danced and played violin were teased because we were doing things boys don’t normally do. Two of the boys became very well known dancers. People were trying to put us in a box about what they thought we should do.

People still try to do that to others. They put them in a box that fits what they think others should be. Black people were put in a box by white people. We were diminished to what white people thought we should be.

I knew I wanted to be a teacher in fourth grade. I went to college. My first job was on the Lakota reservation in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. That was a big change from living in the city. We were 100 miles from a Target store and 65 miles from a theater.

It was hard to leave my family. I came to Minnesota in 1983 to teach sixth grade in Coon Rapids. I later became a principal in Columbia Heights. I came to IDDS to teach when it opened. I think the kids here are wonderful.

Racism hasn’t ended for me. If black people go in a department store with a shopping bag today, they still get followed like they might steal something. When I buy something, I take it to my car and go back in so I don’t get followed. I also saw blatant racism against Native Americans when I taught at Red Cloud School in South Dakota.

Notation: Download PDF

Break Out of That Box

Honoring Stanley Brown

Break Out Of That Box
Honoring Stanley Brown

Whatever we think a boy should do
We put him inside a box
Whatever we think a girl should do,
We put her inside of a box
Break out of the box

My name is Mister Stanley Brown
I was born October fourth in fifty-six
In a hot water railroad flat
In Harlem, New York
I was raised by a single mother
Grandmother and great grandmother, too
At a time when we were fighting

To South Carolina I would ride
When I got to Washington
Someone screamed,
“All you ‘______’ get on back.”
To the back of the bus we had to go
If I did not, I might land in jail
If I did, I might die of thirst
‘Cause mother said,
“Don’t go to the bathroom
till you see someone colored go in first.”

In Harlem mother sent me
To the market to buy six slabs
Of pork chops before credit cards
The shop owner would put it on the tab
I recall hearing Mr. King
Speak at church when I was ten
On the night Brother King was shot
There were riots all around my block

I went to college for four years
After I received my degree
I taught school out west in Pine Ridge,
South Dakota far from New York
I had never seen in modern times
Blatant racism like I saw
Indian schools losing ball games
To white schools for referee’s bad calls

What helps us in the human race
Is to celebrate who we are
The mosaic of the human race
Each of you are shining stars
Remain true to the gifts you have
No one can do just what you do
Don’t ever let anyone
Take your dignity away from you

Music by LARRY LONG. Words by LARRY LONG with Sherry Hebert’s 5th Grade Class of FAIR Downtown School (Minneapolis, Minnesota)

© Larry Long 2005 / BMI