Friday, January 21st, 2011
“You want history? How much time you got? I have family who worked in every government building in this city from the White House to the Social Security Administration. I have cousins who are teachers, ministers of all faiths, entertainers, including Flip Wilson, and architects. In fact, it might be easier to talk about who I am not related to!
“The history that I am particularly fond of is that of my grandfather, Levi Wright. He didn’t talk about his people much, but he was a son of one of the Wright brothers. Back then, these things were kept under cover, so it had to be a secret and he didn’t like to talk about it. When he came up to D.C., he became the second black police officer in this city and was based in Southwest. He married my grandmother who was from Kilmarnock, Virginia and carried the surname name of George Washington’s mother, Mary Ball. So, we think that my grandmother was related to George Washington.
“While he was on the police force, grandpa also opened a little restaurant in Southwest that my grandmother worked in from time-to-time. She may have only had a fourth grade education, but she was sharp as a tack. They eventually left Southwest and moved to Anacostia so my grandfather could get more involved in real estate. At the time it was hard for a colored man to own property, but he worked with some Jews and they bought land together.
“The area where the Anacostia Metro is now, used to belong to my family. We sold it to the city. My grandfather went on to buy more property around the District and then moved to Ivy City in NE. There, he was head of the civic association and worked to bring public transportation to the neighborhood. At the time, people had to walk all the way over to H St. to catch the street cars. He changed that.
“After he passed, his relationships helped me during segregation. My grandmother needed to renovate her house, but no one would lend us money. My grandmother said, ‘That’s okay, we will go downtown.’ We went down to Garfinckel’s, the Jewish department store on 14th and F St., which isn’t there any more, and went to see one of the managers, Mr. Craft. He said, ‘Are you Levi Wright’s grandson? What do you need?’ I told him I wanted to help my grandmother. He gave me a loan with no problem.
“This city is filled with so many wonderful stories like that. I am just blessed that my family has been so fortunate here. I am 75 now and feel like the time has just gone by so quickly. But, I have had a wonderful life and career, working as a boiler plate operator for the D.C. Public Schools, and raising my son here with my wife who has now passed.”