The Black Syracuse Project

Kyle Bass

In Oral History Interviews on March 2, 2011 at 7:05 pm

Kyle Bass is a dramaturg at Syracuse Stage in Syracuse, New York.   He grew up in Frankfort, a small town near Utica, New York.  Here he is being interviewed by Tasneem Grace Tewogbola about his life and family in Central New York.

My parents bought a house in Frankfort, New York, in 1963.  This black couple with six children bought this house in rural upstate New York.  And the house was right across the street from a migrant camp.

Full of Central Americans?

No, these are black folks brought up from the south to pick beans on the farm.  So every summer, this community of black folk would arrive across the street, living in barracks.  And I was, you know, I’m young, this is a vague memory, this is early, this is ’64, ’65, ’66.  I’m three and four and five years old.

And I remember there was like a common hall, like a place where they would, the folks, the workers would congregate at night after they come out from under the sun.  And I would hear the jukebox.  And I remember sometimes being allowed to go with my mother or one of my older sisters to cross this rural country road to go over because there was a soda machine over there and get an Orange Crush (which I was in love with) and walking in and it was this cinderblock cell but big, functioning as a night club, and feeling the day’s heat still coming off the people.  Like that.  It was like that.

Do you remember your mother interacting with them?

There was a woman, there was an overseer named Mama Louise.  And she had a shack separate from-

The rest.

And a great big cast, like wrought-iron bed in there.  I remember I could see it through the light curtains in her window.  And she and my mother apparently were actually pretty good friends.  And my mother looked forward to her coming.  Every summer brought Mama Louise.

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