Bronx Senior Storytellers - D Lee Ezell - part 1 of 4
Sarah: Do you wanna give some context?
Edryan: Oh uh, like explain to her what we’re doing? So basically we’re students from BASE. We are entering our sophomore year now so we're basically conducting an interview on people’s past, you know deriving from the national agenda of history, so we wanted to know about people’s personal perspective on what’s happened to themselves and to The Bronx and how The Bronx has changed over time. Basically.
Edryan: So um you mentioned your name earlier but I’m sorry for not remembering so you mind saying it again?
D Lee Ezell: My name is D Lee Ezell.
Edryan: I’m just going to call you Ezell.
D Lee Ezell: Thank you, thank you.
Edryan: So what year were you born?
D Lee Ezell: 1944 February 24th, I’m 74 years old.
Edryan: Oh wow, nice.
Edryan: I just wanna know-
D Lee Ezell: Yes!!
Edryan: I just wanna know anything personal like what was your childhood like? You know from whatever age you wanna talk about, whatever age.
D Lee Ezell: Well, I grew up in Georgia.
Edryan: So you wasn’t from here?
D Lee Ezell: No I’m not from New York, I adopted The Bronx after leaving the army.
Edryan: Oh the army, wow.
D Lee Ezell: Yes, yes, but I had a terrific childhood. I had several sisters and brothers, I’m the oldest of the siblings and I finished high school there, I went to college for one year, my mother and I had disagreed on the college that I would attend. So I decided I’m not gonna go here. I’m joining the army. So I became the first negro, negro! female to enlist in the army from my hometown.
Edryan: Wow, that’s impressive, congratulations.
D Lee Ezell: Yes yes, thank you, thank you.
D Lee Ezell: And um.. I enjoyed it, I came to New York from France after living there for 2 years and serving in the military. I was discharged at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn and the second day I was in the city I visited The Bronx and I fell in love with it and I’ve been here ever since. That was 54 years ago.
Edryan: Oh wow.
D Lee Ezell: *laughs* 54 years ago.
Edryan: So you mentioned your school, you know, how your mom disagreed about college, but how was you know, how was middle school, elementary, things like that, how was that time in your life?
D Lee Ezell: Well it was a very special time in my life that’s where I believe I developed into the person I am. My values, my morals, all of that came from my schools, my teachers, and I remember every single one of them. That’s how impactful they were on my life but also my church and my family, and again I had a very large family, uncles, aunts, both sets of grandparents, I knew one of my great grandparents who died at 106.
Edryan: Oh wow!
D Lee Ezell: Wow, right, yes yes yes, so um it was a good time for me. I was an active student, I was a very engaged student, I got good grades, I graduated with honors, I was most proud of a language award that I received when I graduated high school as a matter of fact, and it had, it had to do, it’s ironic because it had to do with my study of French.
Edryan: Mmm ohhh, and you went to France.
D Lee Ezell: I fell in love with the language although I never became proficient, and I think it had to do with that Southern drawl, you know I couldn’t roll the Rs and all that.
Edryan: So, you were in the military right?
D Lee Ezell: Yes.
Edryan: So how was that like? You know from what age range was that? How did that impact your life and turn you and mold you into the woman that you are today?
D Lee Ezell: Okay well um I don’t know where you are I - I don’t remember where you are in history but, have you heard of the Cuban Missile Crisis?
Edryan: Oh the Cuban Missile Crisis.
D Lee Ezell: Ok and I know you know about Vietnam.
Edryan: Oh yeah the Vietnam War.
D Lee Ezell: Well when I entered the army at 18, at 18, it was during the Cuban Missile Crisis, it was during the very first rumblings, the very first days of the Vietnam conflict as they want to call it, so these were very difficult times and I'm still asking myself the question, although I wanted to serve, I’m still not sure why I, you know, wanted to enlist at that time when everybody was afraid, everyone was afraid.
Edryan: Yeah you were a brave-
D Lee Ezell: I'm sorry.
Edryan: You were very brave during that time, you know everybody else, and you just contradicted everybody else I guess you can say.
D Lee Ezell: I guess *laughs* I guess.
Edryan: So um you were in the military? What did you do during the military? Like you know you said you were listed as the first negro black woman you know, of your state, I guess you can say, so you know what do you do in the military? You know, training etc...
D Lee Ezell: Well I was in what they called the signal corps. I was a communications center specialist. I worked in teletype and cryptography, coding and decoding messages.
Edryan: Yea yea I’ve heard about it.
D Lee Ezell: Communications and of course you would be interested to hear this was pre-computer days *laughs* pre-computer, and I recently, and I’m sorry for diverting, but I recently met some young women who are in the army and they’re also in the signal corps. They are also communications specialists but they were telling me about you know, the cyber age that they’re in so I found that very interesting and wished that we had had those kind of resources.
Edryan. Would’ve been a lot easier probably.
D Lee Ezell: Yes indeed it would have.
Edryan: So you grew up in Georgia and moved here, well I wouldn’t say you moved here, more like you was discharged around here in Brooklyn right?
D Lee Ezell: Yes and in between I served other places, here, I was in California at one point, I was in Oklahoma.
Edryan: Oklahoma, ok.
D Lee Ezell: Uh huh that's the artillery and missile training center. I also served in Georgia.
Edryan: Yea in your home space.
D Lee Ezell: In my home, in my home state. My mother liked that, but it was for a short period of time, it was temporary duty, it was only 3 months, so...
D Lee Ezell: Yea yea.
Edryan: But how was your first time coming here in the Bronx? You said you fell in love with it. What did you fall in love with it about?
D Lee Ezell: Well *stutters* of course I liked the people that I met, I liked the diversity of the borough. Now keep in mind coming from a small town in Georgia, there was not that much diversity.
Edryan: Yea everybody was probably like one religion, one color etc.
D Lee Ezell: Well two colors *laughs* two colors. And it was just so exciting for me because it was so new it was a part of that adventure spirit I guess I had and still do, I just can’t travel much anymore. But, yeah so when I came to The Bronx, I immediately became aware of some of the political problems, some of the social problems.
Edryan: What do you mean by social problems? Such as... can you give any examples?
D Lee Ezell: The poverty, the housing issues... in other words there was work to be done. And I was excited about the prospects of how I can get involved. I saw so many opportunities to do things that you know I thought would bring me joy and that’s exactly what I did until the doctor stopped me from them.
D Lee Ezell: And I still do it anyway, *laughs*
Mid-Bronx Senior Citizens Council, Grand Concourse