In a lengthy Q&A on New York magazine’s Vulture blog, Spike Lee talks with writer Will Leitch in detail about his roots in Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill. The director was born in Atlanta, and moved to Crown Heights at an early age, followed by eight years beginning around the age of 4—from 1961 to 1969—at 186 Warren Street, between Henry and Clinton streets.
Lee’s take: Cobble Hill has gentrified to the point that it’s now… Brooklyn Heights. See the full interview here, with highlights below.
Vulture: I cannot imagine what it must be like for you to walk around Cobble Hill now and see wheat-germ places and Pilates.
Lee: That does not bother me. What bothers me is that these kids do not know the street games we grew up with. Stoop ball, stickball, cocolevio, crack the top, down the sewer, Johnny on the pony, red light green light one-two-three. These are New York City street games.
We were the first black family to move into Cobble Hill. And we got called “nigger.” At that time, Cobble Hill was strong—I mean, strong—Italian-American, because of the docks. But as soon as the neighbors understood that there weren’t any other black families, it was not like a mass of black families moving in behind me, I was just like everybody else. It was a great time to grow up in Cobble Hill.
Vulture: Do you make it back at all? It’s not so Italian anymore.
I know. It is Brooklyn Heights now. But when I was growing up, the demarcation line was Atlantic Avenue. Brooklyn Heights was rich, Jewish. Atlantic Avenue was like the train tracks, and on the other side of Atlantic Avenue was Cobble Hill. It was mobbed up. When you crossed Atlantic Avenue, that was like going to another world. They say that [Brooklyn Heights private school] Saint Ann’s was formed because parents did not want us black kids in their schools in Brooklyn Heights.
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