Getting to 5 Gaines Street, Binghamton

spray-painted

Les.Roger.backporch
Les and Roger Green, back porch of 5 Gaines St, 2nd floor, 1953

One of the facts I’d previously established is that Agatha Walker married McKinley Green in April 1931. But by 1936, they were living apart in Binghamton.

In the 1940 Census, they were still separated, with Mac at 98 Lewis and Agatha and her son Les at her parents’ house at 339 Court Street. My father’s last name had changed from Walker to Green, misspelled Greene in the Census.

By the 1941 City Directory, though, the three of them were all together at 10 Tudor. Not incidentally, that address doesn’t exist anymore, demolished to facilitate a bypass off of Riverside Drive.

The single useful thing found from a visit to the Broome County Clerk’s office was a record of the Order of Adoption of Leslie H. Walker, inf, [presumably infant, though he was 13 days shy of his 18th birthday] by Mr. McKinley Green. I knew this had happened, but seeing it in Book 22 of Civil Actions and Special Proceedings, page 572, was kind of cool.

Les was in the military in 1945 and 1946. I know from anecdotal information that he had a variety of jobs, including delivering flowers, before and after his service.

McKinley was a porter at Wehle Electric, but usually, he was a laborer. In 1947, he started at WNBF radio and Tv, as a laborer, and by 1956, as a janitor. He stayed there until he died in 1980.

No perceived miscegenation

My parents were married on March 12, 1950. They looked for a place to live in town but were thwarted. Potential landlords thought my mother, who is very fair, was white and that they were an interracial couple.

They subsequently moved to 5 Gaines Street, on the top floor of the two-family dwelling. It was owned by my maternal grandmother, Gertrude Williams, and presumably, her siblings, though she outlived them all. She and her sister Deanna (d. 1966) lived about six short blocks away.

Back in the 1890s, the resident was someone whose last name was Archie, which was a variant of the family name Archer, so it had been in the family for a long time.

Gaines Street is a single short block, notable growing up because the Canny’s trucks would go from Spring Forest Avenue, take a right down Oak Street, a left across Gaines, and another left onto Front Street and head out of town to NYC, Syracuse, Albany, Scranton, or wherever.

The directory says Les worked as a chauffeur at Niagara Motor Express, or elsewhere through 1957.

Meanwhile, by 1954, Mac and Agatha had moved upstairs at 5 Gaines, with my parents moving downstairs. This was likely predicated by the fact that my mother had her second child, Leslie that year.

New job

In the 1958 volume, Dad is an employee of the Interracial Association at 45 Carroll, not all that far from where he grew up. He’s listed as the assistant director the following year. The organization morphed into the Broome County Urban League in 1968.

I know Les was doing lots of other things in this period: arranging flowers at Costas, painting, and singing. By 1964, he was at IBM, a job he hated. So when my homeroom teacher, Mr. Joseph, told me my father was crazy for leaving IBM in 1967 for an OEO program called Opportunities for Broome, I shrugged.

When I’ve visited 5 Gaines Street in the past, I’d noticed that the hunter-green asbestos siding was now brown. What I didn’t notice is that the brown was sprayed on. And not particularly well on the side of the house, because the green is still partially showing on the side.

This was one of the first stops on the Roger Green magical history tour that I went on recently.