NEW ROCHELLE, NY — “The North Avenue Irregulars – A ’60s Church Fights for Civil Rights and Civility” is the title of a
Local history presentation on an extraordinary era of one of New Rochelle’s churches, which will take place on Saturday, October 27, at 3:00 pm, in the Ossie Davis Theater of the New Rochelle Public Library.
In the 1960s the North Avenue Presbyterian Church in New Rochelle was a sanctuary for citizenship. Deacons and elders were black, Asian and white. Jackie Robinson preached about not casting the first stone. Duke Ellington performed his second sacred composition in a pink tuxedo. The Rev. Fay Hill, a decorated paratrooper in World War II, battled the Mob with the aid of U.S. Treasury agents and young congregation mothers who spied on reputed criminals with binoculars and walkie-talkies, driving all over Westchester and the Bronx, often with their youngsters in the back seat. These intrepid women starred in Hill’s 1968 book, The North Avenue Irregulars, and in a same-named 1979 Disney comedy that’s largely fictional.
A panel discussion on this remarkably progressive house of worship will be moderated by Geoff Gehman, New Rochelle native, former North Avenue Presbyterian member, journalist, book author, and son of an “Irregular.” Joined by “ex-Irregulars,” including a minister and his wife, he will trace the exciting, frightening job of tracking mobsters; the failed attempts to make an “Irregulars” movie starring James Garner or Bing Crosby as Rev. Hill, and the church’s rebirth, led by Rev. Clara Rivera, whose husband, Mariano, was the last major leaguer to wear Jackie Robinson’s retired uniform number.
The free program will be followed by a reception.