Russert and Malloy: Two Guys from South Buffalo

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TV journalist Tim Russert made a name for himself with interviews of politicians and heads of state. But Russert, of Buffalo, N.Y., also embraced the stories of everyday Americans.

In 2005, Russert interviewed James T. Malloy, a fellow Buffalo native living in Washington, as the StoryCorps oral history project launched its mobile booths. Malloy was a second-generation firefighter before becoming the doorkeeper of the House of Representatives.

As part of his job, Malloy introduced presidents visiting Congress to make their State of the Union speeches. As a television audience watched, Malloy would announce, “Mr. Speaker, the president of the United States.”

“The first one was President Jerry Ford,” Malloy tells Russert. “I was perspiring and everything. I was only in the job a short period of time about three or four weeks.”

In 1994, the doorkeeper role was abolished. “My last official act was to introduce Newt Gingrich as the speaker, then I raced down [and] filed my papers,” Malloy says. “I retired.”

Russert, who hosted Meet The Press until his death on Friday, is being remembered Wednesday by family and friends at a memorial service in Washington.

Living on ‘One Tough Block’

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Celedonia “Cal” Jones grew up in Harlem during the 1930s. When he was 9 years old, his family moved to a new block. And, as Celedonia recently told his friend Robert Harris, being the new kid wasn’t easy.

“I remember moving to 143rd Street between Lennox and Seventh; that was probably one of the toughest blocks in the city at the time. The first day that I moved into the block and came out to play, this fellow comes up and he said, ‘Hey, my name is Dickey, what’s yours?’ So I said, ‘Well, I’m Cal,’ and I put my hand out to shake and … bang, he hits me in the eye.

“All I wanted to do was be friends,” Jones told him.

“That’s how we start friends in this block,” Dickey responded.

Jones and Harris laugh at the memory.

“That was the kind of reception that I got moving into this block,” Jones says.

On one “really hot” day, Jones, his brother and some neighbors in their building were looking for something to do. They decided it was too hot for box ball, a street game played with a rubber ball on a court drawn on the street.

“My brother said, ‘I guess it would really be something if someone tried to run around this court in this weather.’

“And so this fellow, Gordon, said, ‘Ah, it wouldn’t bother me.’ My brother Joe said, ‘I’ll bet you can’t run around the court 52 times.’ So Gordon said, ‘Yes, I could. I bet a dime.’ ”

For kids at the time, that was “big money,” Jones says.

“So Gordon starts running around the court, and people are beginning to come out, and they see Gordon running around. It must have been almost 100 degrees by that time. People said, ‘What is that fool running around the court for? You better stop him. He’s going to fall out.'” The crowd got bigger.

“Meanwhile, he’s running around the court 28, 29 times, and as he’d pass, he’d say to Joe: ‘You better have my dime.’

“And I said to Joe, ‘Where are you going to get a dime to pay him?’

“Joe said, ‘I don’t know.’ ”

“He’s going 49, and he’s barely making it around, so when he hit the 50th time, my brother Joe says, ‘I don’t have a dime. I’m not going to pay you, and we can fight right now.’

“And he’s standing up to tell Joe, ‘I’m going to hurt you, Joseph. Come on.’

“Joe was dancing around like Joe Louis,” Jones says.

“That’s the kind of block it was; that was a tough block.”

Jones is Manhattan Borough historian emeritus. He recorded his interview as part of StoryCorps Griot, an initiative that collects the recollections of black Americans. This segment was produced for Morning Edition by Michael Garofalo with Selly Thiam.

Remembering a Tricky Name Change

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Ramon Sanchez remembers that something significant happened to him in the second grade. His name changed.

Sanchez, a Mexican-American student who attended Margaret White Elementary School in Blythe, Calif., a small farming town on the Arizona border, in the 1950s,

Since kindergarten he’d been known as Ramon. “Rrrrrramon,” he says with a thick roll of the R.

But when he got to the second grade, his name was Americanized. “Everyone was calling me Raymond.”

“On the playground, in the classroom. Raymond! Hey, Raymond! Hey, Raymond!” he says.

And it wasn’t just his name that got changed.

“If there was a girl named Maria, her name became Mary. Juanita became Jane,” he says.

Then one day a new student enrolled: Facundo.

“When he came to school, we noticed they called an emergency administrative meeting. You could kind of hear them talking through the door: What are we going to do with this guy? How are we going to change his name?” Sanchez says.

One teacher suggested shortening his name.

“Fac?” one of the teachers suggested.

The other teachers shot the idea down. “It sounds too much like a dirty word,” Sanchez remembers them saying. “You can’t be saying ‘Fac, where’s your homework? Where’s Fac at?’

“We always remembered that Facundo was the only guy here who never got his name changed,” Sanchez says.

Produced for Morning Edition by Nadia Reiman. The senior producer for StoryCorps is Michael Garofalo.

An Interview Reveals Hard Family Truths

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When Rahsheed McKenstry, 10, and his mother Rhonetta McKenstry entered the StoryCorps booth in Memphis, Tenn., he quickly found his own interview style … a style that uncovered hard truths.

“OK, Ms. Rhonetta McKenstry,” he asked, “what are some of the biggest lessons that you learned during your childhood?”

“I feel like I’m at a job interview,” she replied.

“I had a very good mother, which is why I think I’m a very good mother,” she said. “She used to fix me breakfast in the morning whenever she could. She gave me kisses like I do you and your brother. And she yelled at me.”

“It means she cares,” he said. “OK, so why are you not still married?”

“Because my ex-husband was horrible,” she said.

“Was he violent toward you?”


“Was he violent toward anybody else?”

“You and your brother, which is why I won’t let him see you.”

“How does that affect you?” she asked.

“It affects me because I’m inquisitive. I want to know everything and he’s my father and I should know more. It kind of makes me feel depressed and mad. Not depressed, but kind of mad that those things happened to my mother,” he said.

“What kind of man do you think you’re going to be?” she asked.

“A very great man — better than my father, for sure.”

He asked, “How do you feel about [my brother] Chris and I?”

“See, now you’re trying to make me cry,” she said. “You have to understand I’m proud of the two of you. Y’all have different personalities. Chris is happy-go-lucky, but you … I’m just in awe of you sometimes. Y’all keep me going. Everything I do is really for the two of you.”

He asks his mother, “Why is your nose turning red?”

“[Because] I’m about to cry,” she said. “How many times have you ever seen me cry?”

“Three times. This is my third,” he answered.

“I love you, Rahsheed.”

“I love you, too, Ma. Thank you for answering all my questions.”

Rhonetta McKenstry will be entering law school this fall. She plans to specialize in family law to help women who have suffered from domestic violence.

Produced for Morning Edition by Katie Simon. The senior producer for StoryCorps is Michael Garofalo.

Sanitation Workers Remember King’s Last Stand

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Forty years ago Friday, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed in Memphis, Tenn. He was there to lend his support to sanitation workers — most of them African American — who were on strike, protesting terrible working conditions and low wages.

Taylor Rogers and Elmore Nickelberry were among the 1,300 who walked off the job in 1968. Rogers remembers picking up tubs of garbage that were full of holes.

“That garbage would leak all over you,” he says. By the time he got home, his clothes were dirty and full of maggots that had fallen on him.

“I had maggots run down in my shirts, and then maggots would go down in my shoes,” Nickelberry says. “And we worked in the rain — snow, ice and rain. We had to. If we didn’t, we’d lose our job. They said, ‘A garbage man wasn’t nothing.'”

Rogers says, “It was awful.” One day, two workers, who had gone into a trash compactor to escape the rain, were crushed to death.

“Sometimes you cry,” Nickelberry says. “Sometimes you get mad and get up in the morning and … say, ‘I ain’t going to work.’ … I had to work because that’s the only way I could feed my family.”

‘All We Wanted Was Some Dignity’

“All we wanted was some decency, some dignity,” Rogers says. “We wanted to be treated as men. So we said that this is it. Thirteen hundred sanitation workers, we all decided that we wasn’t going to take no more.

“You know, if you bend your back, people will ride your back. But if you stand up straight, people can’t ride your back. So that’s what we did. We stood up straight and said, ‘I am a man.'”

‘I’ve Been to the Mountaintop’

Rogers and his wife, Bessie, were both at Mason Temple on April 3, 1968, when King delivered what would prove to be his final speech.

“It was wall to wall with people,” Taylor Rogers says.

Taylor and Bessie Rogers remember King’s memorable passage:

“Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. … And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.”

“He was crying,” Bessie Rogers says. “Tears were rolling down his cheek.”

Taylor Rogers adds, “Preachers were crying, people were crying, and everybody was crying.”

“He really talked that night,” Bessie Rogers says. “He really, really talked.”

“You could really tell by the expression on his face, the feeling and the sound of his voice that he knew something was going to happen,” Taylor Rogers says.

“I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord,” King said.

The civil rights leader was assassinated the following day.

“You know, it’s kind of like you lost a part of your family,” Taylor Rogers says. “You just really can’t describe it.

“He put everything aside to come to Memphis to see about the people on the bottom of the ladder — the sanitation workers,” Taylor Rogers says. “After his death, we marched. You couldn’t hear a sound … you couldn’t hear nothing but leather against pavement.

“It was just some terrible days back then, but with God’s help we came through and it means something to know that you were a part of this.”

Produced for Morning Edition by Michael Garofalo and Selly Thiam, with help from Steven Thrasher.

A Victim Treats His Mugger Right

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Julio Diaz has a daily routine. Every night, the 31-year-old social worker ends his hour-long subway commute to the Bronx one stop early, just so he can eat at his favorite diner.

But one night last month, as Diaz stepped off the No. 6 train and onto a nearly empty platform, his evening took an unexpected turn.

He was walking toward the stairs when a teenage boy approached and pulled out a knife.

“He wants my money, so I just gave him my wallet and told him, ‘Here you go,'” Diaz says.

As the teen began to walk away, Diaz told him, “Hey, wait a minute. You forgot something. If you’re going to be robbing people for the rest of the night, you might as well take my coat to keep you warm.”

The would-be robber looked at his would-be victim, “like what’s going on here?” Diaz says. “He asked me, ‘Why are you doing this?'”

Diaz replied: “If you’re willing to risk your freedom for a few dollars, then I guess you must really need the money. I mean, all I wanted to do was get dinner and if you really want to join me … hey, you’re more than welcome.

“You know, I just felt maybe he really needs help,” Diaz says.

Diaz says he and the teen went into the diner and sat in a booth.

“The manager comes by, the dishwashers come by, the waiters come by to say hi,” Diaz says. “The kid was like, ‘You know everybody here. Do you own this place?'”

“No, I just eat here a lot,” Diaz says he told the teen. “He says, ‘But you’re even nice to the dishwasher.'”

Diaz replied, “Well, haven’t you been taught you should be nice to everybody?”

“Yea, but I didn’t think people actually behaved that way,” the teen said.

Diaz asked him what he wanted out of life. “He just had almost a sad face,” Diaz says.

The teen couldn’t answer Diaz — or he didn’t want to.

When the bill arrived, Diaz told the teen, “Look, I guess you’re going to have to pay for this bill ’cause you have my money and I can’t pay for this. So if you give me my wallet back, I’ll gladly treat you.”

The teen “didn’t even think about it” and returned the wallet, Diaz says. “I gave him $20 … I figure maybe it’ll help him. I don’t know.”

Diaz says he asked for something in return — the teen’s knife — “and he gave it to me.”

Afterward, when Diaz told his mother what happened, she said, “You’re the type of kid that if someone asked you for the time, you gave them your watch.”

“I figure, you know, if you treat people right, you can only hope that they treat you right. It’s as simple as it gets in this complicated world.”

Produced for Morning Edition by Michael Garofalo.

Seeing Red over Injustice

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Mary Ellen Noone’s great-grandmother was a petite woman — probably 95 pounds wet — but she was very strong, Noone says.

Pinky Powell, who was born before the turn of the last century, used to say that she could pick 100 pounds of cotton by lunchtime, Noone adds.

“She never smiled, but I could tell when I looked in her eyes that she really loved me,” she says.

One night, Noone was painting her fingernails when her great-grandmother said, “You know, there was a time we couldn’t wear no fingernail polish.”

To explain, Powell told a story from when she was a girl. Around 1910, Powell lived on a plantation in Lowndes County, Ala., where “she would wash and iron for this white woman.”

“One day the lady had thrown away some of her old perfume and nail polish that had dried up. So [Powell] took it home and added some ingredients to the nail polish that made it pliable,” Noone says. “Well, when Sunday came, she got all dressed up and painted her nails and put on that perfume and went to church.

“On Monday, she went to the general store, and when she was ready to check out, the white owner asked her, ‘What are you doing with your nails painted up like a white woman?’ He proceeded to pick up a pair of pliers and he pulled out my grandmama’s nails out of its bed one by one.”

Noone, 65, says she often wondered as a child why her great-grandmother’s nails were so deformed.

“Every time I look at enamel red finger polish, I have a flashback, and I see red,” Noone says. “I still have that anger inside of me that someone would have that control over one person just because they wanted to feel like a woman.”

Noone recorded her interview as part of StoryCorps Griot, an initiative that collects the recollections of black Americans. This segment was produced for Morning Edition by Michael Garofalo with help from Vanara Taing.

Living in the Backward World of the ’60s

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Tia Smallwood remembers what it was like to attend college in the late 1960s, when women were struggling to break into fields historically closed to them. She talks to her daughter about her unusual first job interview and the complicated choice she had to make between motherhood and career.

Produced for Morning Edition by Katie Simon. The senior producer for StoryCorps is Michael Garofalo.

A Transformative Moment Sparks Change of Life

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After leaving the Marines, George Hill became addicted to drugs and alcohol. He soon found himself on the streets of Los Angeles, homeless for a dozen years.

“I can’t even begin to tell you the misery of rain,” he says. “I don’t even care how slight the rainfall is, it was misery beyond belief.

“Sometimes you sleep during the day because it’s warm enough to sleep. And then at night you keep moving so you don’t freeze.”

He would watch people get on buses and think, “Those are normal people.”

“You felt anything but normal and I was just looking for a change,” Hill says.

One time, Hill was sitting on a bag (“If you didn’t carry your blankets or your jackets around in a bag, they were gone,” he says), “and here comes a homeless man, so dirty it was just awful. His hands were black, with the exception of his knuckles and joints, where the bone had kind of rubbed through the dirt. He had rags tied on his feet. And his hair was matted in two big, nasty dreads.

“Out of all the people on skid row, he looked down at me and reached in his pocket and pulled out a dollar in change. It’s all he had and he gave it to me and said, ‘Here, man. I feel sorry for you.’ And he shuffled away.”

Something about that moment changed everything for Hill, he says.

“I just said, ‘Oh, no, no. I’m going to get some help.'”

With the money the man gave him, Hill says he took a bus to a hospital psych unit.

“I still think about it sometimes,” he says. “I don’t believe in trying to make up for lost time. And I don’t have regrets for anything that happened, because going through the homelessness just made me so grateful, determined, thankful.

“Now, every time it rains and I have keys in my pocket, I have a joy of life that you cannot believe.”

Hill has now been off the streets for 10 years. He has a job with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and is pursuing a degree in computer information systems at Cal State University.

Produced for Morning Edition by Nadia Reiman. The senior producer for StoryCorps is Michael Garofalo.

Father Finds Peace in Forgiveness

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Seven years ago, Hector Black’s daughter was murdered after she surprised an intruder in her Atlanta home.

“We learned about what had happened in bits and pieces,” Black says.

Patricia Ann Nuckles had come home, where her attacker was hiding in a closet, hoping to jump out the back window and escape. But she opened the closet door and fell backwards. The man tied her hands behind her back, Black says.

Nuckles told the man that he needed to get help with his drug habit, her father says. Her captor gave her advice about how to prevent a burglary.

“He asked her for sex and she said, ‘You’ll have to kill me first.’ And so he did,” Black says.

“We were all just devastated. Nothing like this had ever happened. I mean, we’d known death, but not like this.

“I’d never been in favor of the death penalty, but I wanted that man to hurt the way he had hurt her. I wanted him to hurt the way I was hurting.”

Black says he wanted to know “what kind of a monster would do a thing like this.”

He went on to learn that the man, Ivan Simpson, was born in a mental hospital.

“When he was about 11 years old, his mother took him and his brother and sister to a swimming pool and said God was ordering her to destroy them,” Black says.

The two boys escaped, but Ivan Simpson “watched while his mother drowned his little sister.”

Black and his wife went to the district attorney’s office to ask that Simpson’s life be spared. “He was quite upset when we told him that we did not want this man killed,” Black says.

Black read a statement in court saying, “I don’t hate you, Ivan Simpson, but I hate with all my soul what you did to my daughter.”

Black looked into Simpson’s eyes. “The tears were streaming down his cheeks,” Black says. Before he was led away, Simpson apologized twice for “the pain that I’ve caused,” Black says.

Black says he couldn’t sleep that night “because I really felt as though a tremendous weight had been lifted from me … and that I had forgiven him.”

Produced for Morning Edition by Katie Simon. The senior producer for StoryCorps is Michael Garofalo.