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Debby Yaffe Oral History

Identifier: QMP-0042

Scope and Contents

Debby Yaffe was one of the youngest members of the Student Help Project who volunteered to go to Prince Edward County, Virginia, in the summer of 1963 to tutor local Black children who were denied a public education for four years in massive resistance to the desegregation of schools. Yaffe contributes her memories of organizing and preparing for the summer initiative. In Prince Edward County, Yaffe served as the librarian of the Queens College group, rather than as a tutor, which she had to divide donated books between the six different tutoring sites within the town that summer so that each site was adequately equipped with learning resources. She also provides further insight about racist and antagonistic incidents the group encountered in Farmville that have been mentioned in previous interviews.


  • 2021-03-26



This oral history is open for research. Media files and transcript can be viewed and/or requested through the Queens Memory Project on Aviary: For help using the site, contact

Conditions Governing Use

Interview shared under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0). Users are free to share or adapt the material for non-commercial purposes, as long as they meet the terms of the license.

See license details at https://creativecommons.or g/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/.

Biographical Note

Debby Yaffe was born in 1945 and grew up in Brooklyn, New York. She entered Queens College in the fall of 1962 at the age of sixteen and soon volunteered with the Student Help Project, tutoring children in Jamaica, Queens. At age seventeen, she was one of the youngest students to travel to Farmville, Virginia, where she served as the Project’s librarian.

Before the volunteers’ departure, publishers donated two truckloads of books, which Yaffe divided into several balanced collections in New York. Upon arrival in Farmville, however, the books were disorganized and Yaffe, functioning as a circuit librarian, again sorted them to ensure each tutoring location was adequately supplied with books on all subjects. She also helped deliver them by pickup truck.

After her experience in Farmville, Yaffe remained active in causes relating to civil rights and social justice, becoming involved with the Students for a Democratic Society; continuing to work with students in Jamaica; and attending rallies and marches. She combined her college career with her work in book publishing, graduating from Queens College in 1969 with a B.A. in English and Minor in Education. Following graduation, Yaffe worked in children’s book publishing. In 1985, she earned her Master’s in Library Science from St. John’s University and subsequently became a research librarian. After retiring, she returned to tutoring in 2010, working in an adult literacy program.


1 Digital Files ; 1:56:00

223.9 Megabytes

Language of Materials


Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated to Queens College and Queens Public Library by Deborah Yaffe and Victoria Fernandez in March, 2021.

Related Materials

The Debby Yaffe Papers also document her involvement in the Student Help Project, which includes newspaper and magazine articles; local, and national publications; a flyer for a benefit concert; the code of conduct for Project volunteers; excerpts from contemporary government reports; and a retrospective essay that details the role that then Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. played in reopening the County’s school system:

Other oral history interviews related to the Student Help Project can be found in the Oral Histories / Queens Memory Collecting Area.

Physical Description

Single MP4 file totaling 223.9 MB and 1 hour and 56 minutes in duration.

Processing Information

Oral history conducted as part of the Queens Memory Project (, a collaborative program of the Queens Public Library and Queens College to collect stories, images, and other evidence of life in the borough of Queens.

This interview was specifically collection for the Student Help: Lived Experience project.

A number of short segments have been redacted from the audio file by request of the interview subject at 8:11, 8:28, 24:20, and 1:09:25. These redactions contained personal remarks that do not pertain to the content of the interview.


Debby Yaffe Oral History
In Progress
Victoria Fernandez
April 2021
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Queens College (New York, N.Y.) Special Collections and Archives Repository

Queens College Library, CUNY
Benjamin Rosenthal Library RO317
65-30 Kissena Boulevard
Flushing 11367 USA us