Editor’s Note: As part of a regular West Side Rag series, artist Michelle Hill interviews and draws Upper West Siders. This is the eleventh installment in our Portrait of a Neighbor series.
By Michelle Hill
He is 88 years old.
Where were you born?
I was born at New York Hospital, on the East Side. My mother was a Cherokee Indian and my father was African-American.
When did you move to the Upper West Side?
I previously lived on 57th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues. Then an apartment opened up at the Hamilton House on 71st. I have been living there since 2004.
What have you been doing here?
I am here to elevate the community. I want to talk to people, not on a computer but in person. I watch everyone going to work and school.
This is my spot on this bench (in front of the Muffin Shop on Columbus and 70th). I wish everyone a good day, and make people smile. All of these children, they are my children. They are our future. I am part of the 71st Block Association. You know… I stay politically active too, I am the unofficial major of the block. I was New Yorker of the Week in August on NY1.
What did you do for a living?
I couldn’t be what I wanted to be because there weren’t the opportunities for black folks then. I was in the Army, a World War II soldier. I wanted to train to be a pilot, but I was told in a letter that they didn’t have training for us. We couldn’t march with the white folks in the Army, it was traumatic. I was honorably discharged in 1945 after the War ended. Then I went to City College, I wanted to be a lawyer, but it just didn’t happen. I ended up selling commodities. I never got married, but I have a son in San Jose, CA.
What do you miss about the Old Upper West Side?
You don’t smell food cooking anymore. You know the nice smells of home cooking coming out of the windows. Everyone orders, wants their food being brought to them, People used to sit outside and talk more too.
What would you like the new mayor to do?
Keep the neighborhood safe for the future generations.
Mark your calendar: Michelle is having a show of these and other works on Dec. 21 from 6-8 at China Brilliance Gallery, 155 West 72nd St. Ste 703.