Commentary: In the Coops, Every Day Was Labor Day | KERA News

Commentary: In the Coops, Every Day Was Labor Day

Dallas, TX –

During the Depression Lenny and Harold Stan's immigrant parents survived in New York by taking the boys and moving into the United Workers Cooperative Colony, or the "Coops." In the 1950s Lenny came to Texas, taught at Garland High School and in Patton Springs in West Texas until he retired.

The Coops, across from Bronx Park East, comprised six buildings covering two city blocks, five stories high with 750 apartments and 2,000 rooms. Each apartment, by design, had at least one window overlooking gardens of flowers, trees, and hedge. Each apartment also had one window facing the sun. Residents likely worked in windowless buildings but at least they had some sunshine at home.

Workers and small business owners of all races and nationalities were welcome. Tenants unable to pay their rent, like like their father for a while, Lenny said, could borrow, interest free, from the resident-supported emergency fund. Some shared their apartments with boarders for extra money or opened them up free to homeless strikers.

Children attended nearby P.S. 96, though teachers there were politically biased against them, Lennie says. At their May Day parades, "the cops would beat the crap out of us," he said. "They would turn their horses around and stick their rear ends in our faces."

After public school Coops kids went to Schule, where Jewish (and Gentile) children learned Jewish culture, though not religion, in both Yiddish and English. Over 250 attended, ages six to twelve, and after graduation they went to Mittel Schule on Friday nights and Saturdays.

Everyone felt responsible for everyone else. For short trips to the market parents left their young children in the nursery care center or the security guard would keep an eye on them. The youth were kept in constant motion with study and organized activities and clubs of all kinds. They had their own library and book and film clubs. Banquets, bake sales, craft sales and such by the residents raised enough money to pay the nursery and school teachers. Fiction and poetry contests, dances, clubs, and sporting events all had a higher purpose. Uniforms, shirts or banners supported social causes and political prisoners. Some of the P.S. 96 kids had looked forward to a school trip to Yankee Stadium but stayed at school rather than cross a picket line during the ushers' strike.

"The FBI came around from time to time," Lennie said, "asking questions, like if we'd seen labor leaders Earl Browder and Gus Hall lately. We always told them we didn't know anybody by those names."

During World War II over three hundred Coops boys volunteered, including Lennie. Harold was too young but he enlisted after the war. Many were captured or wounded, and twelve were killed. Residents bought War Bonds and volunteered at Red Cross centers collecting blood and making bandages.

Lennie and Harold, now in their eighties, went to college and were successful within the economic system their parents worked to change. As a teacher and a therapist they made little money and live in small, unmortgaged houses, Lenny in Florida and Harold in Long Island. Their Coops upbringing taught them to pay as you go and never to get friendly with a borrowed dollar. The Coops offered an answer that satisfied a need once. Maybe it would today, too, for another generation in need.

Tom Dodge is a writer from Midlothian.

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