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The Honorable Basil Paterson

Lawyer Basil Alexander Paterson was born on April 27, 1926, in Harlem, New York. Paterson’s mother Evangeline Rondon was a secretary for Marcus Garvey. Paterson received his high school diploma in 1942 from De Witt Clinton High School in the Bronx neighborhood of New York City. After working for six months, Paterson entered St. John’s College from which he received his B.S. degree in biology in 1948, having spent two years in the Army. Paterson entered St. John’s Law School and received his J.D. degree in 1951. Paterson then began his professional career as a lawyer in Harlem where he became law partners with Ivan A. Michael and former New York City Mayor David Dinkins. Paterson and Dinkins became heavily involved in Democratic politics in Harlem, along with former Manhattan Borough President Percy Sutton, and Congressman Charles Rangel.

Paterson was elected to the New York State Senate in 1965 where he remained until he won the primary to be the Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor on a slate headed by Arthur Goldberg in 1970. The ticket lost to incumbent Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller. Paterson's son, David Paterson, was elected Lieutenant Governor in 2006; in 2008 he became Governor when Eliot Spitzer resigned. Paterson became the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Institute for Mediation and Conflict Resolution in 1972; he remained in that position until 1977. Paterson was the first elected African American Vice Chairman of the Democratic National Committee in 1972. In 1978, Mayor Ed Koch appointed Paterson to the position of Deputy Mayor of Labor Relations and Personnel. In 1979, Governor Hugh Carey appointed Paterson to the position of New York Secretary of State, making him the first African American to hold that rank. In 1989, Paterson became a commissioner of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, a position he held until 1995.

Paterson chaired the New York City Mayor’s Judiciary Committee for four years, and the New York State Governor’s Screening Panel for the Second Department for eight years. Paterson also served for ten years as a member of the Board of Editors of the New York Law Journal. In 2003, Paterson was appointed to the Commission to Promote Public Confidence in Judicial Elections. That same year, Paterson was elected Chairman of the KeySpan Foundation Board of Directors. Paterson served as Co-Chairman of the New York State Governor’s Commission on Determinate Sentencing, and the New York State Commission on Powers of Local Government. Paterson received numerous awards including the Humanitarian Award from Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, and the St. John’s University Medal of Excellence. Paterson practiced law at the law firm of Meyer, Suozzi, English and Klein where he served as co-chair of the firm’s labor practice.

Accession Number




Interview Date


Last Name


Maker Category

DeWitt Clinton High School

St. John's University

St. John's University School of Law

First Name


Birth City, State, Country

New York



Favorite Season



New York

Favorite Vacation Destination


Favorite Quote

Get Outta Here.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Interview Description
Birth Date


Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York



Favorite Food

Hot Dogs

Death Date


Short Description

Lawyer, city government appointee, state government appointee, and state senator The Honorable Basil Paterson (1926 - 2014 ) was appointed Secretary of State for New York, and was a New York State senator.


Levy and Harten

Paterson and Michael

New York State Senate

Meyer, Suozzi, English and Klein

Favorite Color


Timing Pairs

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of The Honorable Basil Paterson's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - The Honorable Basil Paterson lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - The Honorable Basil Paterson describes his mother

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - The Honorable Basil Paterson describes his father

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - The Honorable Basil Paterson explains why his parents came to New York City

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - The Honorable Basil Paterson recalls New York City's Harlem neighborhood

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - The Honorable Basil Paterson reflects upon police conduct in New York City

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - The Honorable Basil Paterson remembers African American police officers

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - The Honorable Basil Paterson describes his religious upbringing

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - The Honorable Basil Paterson recalls his decision to pursue law

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - The Honorable Basil Paterson recalls his time at DeWitt Clinton High School

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - The Honorable Basil Paterson remembers being encouraged to pursue college

Tape: 1 Story: 13 - The Honorable Basil Paterson reflects upon his primary education

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - The Honorable Basil Paterson talks about educational inequality

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - The Honorable Basil Paterson recalls experiences at St. John's College

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - The Honorable Basil Paterson reflects upon the impact of desegregation

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - The Honorable Basil Paterson talks about the gentrification of Harlem

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - The Honorable Basil Paterson remembers serving in the segregated U.S. Army

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - The Honorable Basil Paterson talks about the importance of protest

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - The Honorable Basil Paterson recalls St. John's College School of Law

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - The Honorable Basil Paterson talks about the history of black lawyers

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - The Honorable Basil Paterson remembers founding his law firm

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - The Honorable Basil Paterson describes what he learned by practicing law

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - The Honorable Basil Paterson remembers how he became a labor rights advocate

Tape: 2 Story: 12 - The Honorable Basil Paterson recalls the New York City transit strike of 2005

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - The Honorable Basil Paterson talks about the Transport Workers Union

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - The Honorable Basil Paterson recalls moving his law firm to his Harlem neighborhood

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - The Honorable Basil Paterson remembers other lawyers in the community

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - The Honorable Basil Paterson recalls becoming involved in politics

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - The Honorable Basil Paterson describes the Harlem Clubhouse

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - The Honorable Basil Paterson remembers Robert Wagner and Robert Moses

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - The Honorable Basil Paterson recalls his early interactions with David N. Dinkins

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - The Honorable Basil Paterson remembers Adam Clayton Powell Jr.'s support

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - The Honorable Basil Paterson reflects upon the progress of the African American community

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - The Honorable Basil Paterson recalls his first political campaigns

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - The Honorable Basil Paterson describes fraternity life in New York City

Tape: 3 Story: 12 - The Honorable Basil Paterson describes his siblings







The Honorable Basil Paterson reflects upon police conduct in New York City
The Honorable Basil Paterson remembers Adam Clayton Powell Jr.'s support
At that time do you remember--I mean, just thinking on the street, were, were there the same kind of tensions between the police and the black community in Harlem [New York, New York] that exists or has existed in the past?$$I've tried to think about that at different times, because growing up I had trouble with the cops. I always had trouble with the cops, and one once told my mother [Evangeline Rondon Paterson] I had a bad attitude. Well, you know, when you're eleven, twelve years old, how can you have a bad attitude? I mean, there was a tension, but there was no confrontation with the cops. Nobody would dare do that, but I can remember being chased by cops. For what? For putting a--building a fire in the street, you know. Three of us would--I always remember this, we were chased around a corner. It was dark--it didn't have to be that late, it was winter--and the cop threw his nightstick at us. I always remember that, the nightstick clanging along as we're running on, and I said--you know, I thought about it years later, the eldest person with us couldn't have been more than thirteen years old, twelve maybe, and a cop throws a nightstick at us. As I got older, it got more difficult. There's been tension with people in Harlem with the police since I can remember. It's always been there. The strangest thing is we used to say that the very cops who--by the way, corruption was rife, you saw it, you saw the numbers men, who were the only ones who knew the cops, knew their first names. Numbers, if anybody doesn't understand that, it was a policy racket, you bet three numbers, if you came out, you got 550 to one, what happened to the other 450? You figure it out. Some people got rich, and some cops got rich. All this came out with the Knapp Commission [Commission to Investigate Alleged Police Corruption] investigation many years ago, it all got--it was laid right out. But everybody that lived in Harlem knew about it long before that. You knew that when you saw a police car stop in front of the local deli on a Sunday morning, they're stopping to get their pay-off because the deli was probably selling beer before two o'clock or whatever time it was, we had blue laws in New York and churches required that they not sell beer before a certain time. You saw it. It was--obviously, and the cops break up crap games and somebody says, "Stop and give them the money," and the crap game resumed, yeah, you saw this. It's not like that anymore. I mean, there may be graft, there may be corruption, but it's not systemic. I mean, even when Judge Mollen, Milton Mollen Commission [Commission To Investigate Allegations of Police Corruption and the Anti-Corruption Procedures of the Police Department] investigated the Dirty Thirty precinct, his report was you had certain precincts where you might have a gang of four or five cops who in many ways intimidated the other members and did things that were bad, but it's not like it once was. I mean, it's systematized, but the precinct got a certain amount of money every month from the numbers men, the cop on the beat got, the traffic cop got, you name them, they all got paid a certain amount, it was known. What was funny, I look back now, I remember all these big scandals and they're shaking up the police department [New York City Police Department], they're transferring people from one borough to the other, but when I got to law school [St. John's College School of Law; St. John's University School of Law, New York, New York], I found out what that was about. The black book stayed in the precinct, so whoever came to the precinct knew who it was who paid X number of dollars into the precinct each week or each month. That began--it was an interesting point in law, because that black book was entered into evidence--I think it was Tom (unclear) [ph.] and his special prosecutors way back on the grounds that these were entries made in the ordinary course of business, which is a fundamental law of evidence. Entries made into any document in the ordinary course of business are admissible into evidence, so that black book was admissible into evidence, and that's how they got a lot of people. But that black book was always there, they could shift cops around, but it didn't matter. The system remained and existed until--probably the biggest impact on it was when they legalized the lottery. When they had a legal lottery--when they legalized it (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Now, when did they legalize the lottery--$$Oh, that had to be--I was going to say I was in the State Senate [New York State Senate] when it happened, so it had to be around '68 [1968], 1968, '69 [1969], but there's still numbers men operating, the state and the government can't give credit, but private entrepreneurs can give credit. But it's not like it once was, and the graft is not there, but the tension still remained. You asked about the tension, the tension's still there, but they used to say the very same cops who were on the take would risk their lives to save you, there was a belief there, the very cops that might be abusing somebody (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Did you agree with it?$$Did I agree with it? Yeah, I think it was true. I think it was just a system that existed. They--some cops say, well, it was combat pay. Combat pay for what? For operating in a minority community, a black or Latino community? I literally have seen a cop cry, and asked--I was eating in a restaurant, what's (unclear)--I said, "What's that about," and another cop said to me, "He's being transferred." I said, "Where to?" He said, "Staten Island [New York]." I said, "Where does he live?" He said Staten Island, I said, he ought to be happy. He said, "He can't afford it." He was in a precinct where he could make money, he couldn't afford to be sent to a precinct where he couldn't make money, but that's--hopefully it's gone.$Rangel [HistoryMaker Charles B. Rangel] and Sutton [Percy Sutton], after I won, it was a one year term because they were doing reapportionment, they said, we're gonna reapportion you out, we've got, we got too--with our heavy hitters, and you're finished. Well, what happened--I was finished. I understood what they--they reapportioned me out of where I was strong, put me into mostly in Adam Powell's [Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.] district, so one of their people, unbeknownst to them, invited me to meet with Powell. He liked me, he said, "I like ya," he says, "Come meet with Powell." And Powell said to me--one day I went down to see Powell--here's a story, but it's true--went down to see Powell, took my wife [Portia Hairston Paterson] and one of my sons, my other--I have two sons, the other son--and Powell, only thing he wanted to know was, he said, "Are you Sutton's guy?" I said, "No, we used to be friends but he opposed me." He said, "Are you Sutton's guy?" And I said, "I don't think so, I think I'm my own guy." He said, "Well, okay." He said, "The four closest people to me all sing your praises." I said, "Who are they?" "Livingston Wingate [Livingston Leroy Wingate] says you're his protege." Wingate was his counsel, and I was Wingate's protege.$$What was that name again?$$Livingston Wingate.$$Livingston.$$He was his counsel, he later became a judge. Wingate had always kind of looked out for me. And then a guy named Chuck Sutton. Remember, he was the editor of a local newspaper one time, and then he was his press guy. Not Chuck Sutton--got the wrong name. Chuck Sutton's his nephew--Sutton's nephew--oh, his name'll come to me, but you know--you probably know the name, he was well-known in the black newspaper guild and all that--who I knew. And then a guy named Wellington Beal, who did a lot of economic stuff for him, and sometimes would ask me to sit down and work with him.$$Wellington--what was--$$Wellington Beal, B-E-A-L. And the last one was a fella named Lloyd Mitchell [ph.], who was his bodyguard, and Mitchell sang my praises to him, he said, he and his friends have always helped me. Well, we were street guys, so of course we were his help, he was a nice guy. So Powell said, "I'm interested, let me think about it." I was asking would he help me. He says, "Is that your wife and your son outside?" I said, "Yeah." He said, "Bring them in, I'd like to meet them," so I bring them in, introduced my wife and my son. About that time Daniel [Daniel Paterson] was--let me think. If this was '66 [1966]. He was born in '57 [1957], so he was nine years old. He hadn't yet turned nine, he was eight. So he said to him, "How old are you, Daniel?" He said, "I'm eight years old." "When's your birthday?" He said, "November 29th." And Powell stopped, he said, "Either you're the luckiest guy going or one of the slickest people I've ever met." He said, "Isn't this a school day?" He was smart. I said, "Uh-huh." "And you took your son out of school and brought him down here?" I said, "Uh-huh." It's his birthday. It's just one of those weird coincidences. Powell's birthday. So he said, I think I'm gonna support you (laughter). And you know what he did, he sent his secretary to bring all kinds of things that had his name on it, he used to send birthday cards to my--to my son, and by that night word was out I was Powell's candidate, and I was now Jones' [J. Raymond Jones] candidate. He called Jones. Powell said, "I want this guy," and Jones said, "Okay."