Drag Races, Street Gangs, and Paddle Wielding Teachers

Edward H. Long recalls growing up in Camden during the 1950’s

Edward H. Long looking through old photos at his current home in South Jersey, taken on September 18, 2016- Photo by Phil Long

By Phil Long 9/20/16

Well, we didn’t have sell phones I can tell you that. We walked to school, we listened to a lot of music, and we went to the drive- in movies a lot. Just about every weekend. I used to drag race a lot, they would have different meets that you would go to and you would race. I had a car, “The Grey Ghost” I called it, and you know… I won some and I lost some.

Sometimes we would race in the streets too. I would hang out at different hamburger shops, the kind with the girls on the roller skates, and you would go to those shops to look for races all the time. You could look for a race every night. Guys would look you up, or you would look them up, and you would see if they kind of had the same category car as you had. You would just find them.

Everyone hung on corners back then in the city. Everybody had a hoagie shop, or a burger shop, a soda shop, different places like that that they would hang at. We used to call them corner gangs and each corner would be like territories. And if somebody messed with your territory, or you messed with theirs, you would fight. We didn’t call it a gang war but we would just fight. Not with guns or anything, we would just fight. They could start a lot of different ways. Maybe somebody got beat up, that happened a lot. They got beat up by going by one of these areas or maybe because they were just stopped at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Growing up in the city was tough, and I was in a lot of fights when I was younger. But I wasn’t a monster. That kind of stuff just happened. Somebody messed with your girlfriend, you fought. There were times if somebody had hit my brother or something, I would go over there and beat up on them if I could. There was a lot of fights in the school yard and I guess I would get into a lot of them.

The principal got really fed up with my fighting and asked me “so you like being a tough guy huh?” And he took me down to a storage room, put on a pair of boxing gloves and tossed me a pair. Now he didn’t necessarily knock me out, but he slapped the shit out of me. This wasn’t uncommon though, you would get in fights with teachers and they had paddles.

I’ll never forget, I had a crazy gym teacher who had this big moose head that he hung up in the gym that he named Mecca, and he would constantly tell us that we had to bow to Mecca. I remember one time when me and my friends were playing basketball and we started to goof around, he would yell out “machine gun.” And we would all bend down and bow to Mecca. he would then just go down the row of us and whack us with the paddle.

That’s what it was like back then in the city. But you know I’m not really proud of a lot of that stuff. I was like that because of the environment I was in but I didn’t choose to raise my son that way, and I didn’t want him to raise his son that way either. And he didn’t go that way and I’m glad. I wasn’t always proud of what I did but when you’re a kid you do what you gotta do.

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