Wednesday, October 13th, 2010
“I have lived in the same house, on the same street, since 1925. See, I may not look it, but I am 85 years old. When my parents came to Washington from Virginia, they settled in LeDroit Park. My Daddy was from the prominent Maggie Walker family in Richmond. Many people know her as the first African-American woman bank president. My Daddy stayed true to his successful family roots and took a job delivering mail, which was very prestigious in those days. He was a proud man and delivered the mail all over this neighborhood and into Shaw, too.
“On his mail route, he found our house at 2nd and Thomas St. NW, The land used to belong to a white church. They kept a small church and a graveyard in the back. When the neighborhood became colored, the church moved out and took the bodies, too. I guess they didn’t want to leave all of those dead white people around us colored people. Isn’t that just crazy! Anyway, I get distracted, a new church moved in, the St. George’s Episcopal Church, and they converted the cemetery into houses in the 20′s. We moved into one of those houses.
“When I was a kid, I just thought we lived in a regular old house. I remember when someone first told me that our house was built over a cemetery, I started crying. I was just a kid and thought that the bodies were still there. When you are a youngster, you don’t know any better. My parents explained to me that everything was okay and the spirits had moved on from our house.
“Looking back, the house and its history have been good to me because I have had a blessed life. I got married and raised a son in that house. I used to sing in that house and eventually became a torch singer. Torch singers sing love songs, you may have heard of people like Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. I sang in clubs all over this town, places like the Republic Gardens and Howard Theater. I even traveled to play in Atlantic City.
“During the Second World War, everyone was called to come and work and help out with the war effort. I put aside the singing, and took a job with the U.S. Patent Office. I spent over thirty years there and worked my way up the ladder from a little old GS-1 to being the supervisor in charge of my division. I retired about 15 years ago.
“While these are all positive memories, the memories that are strongest and will always stay with me are the ones of growing up in this house and in this city during segregation. While you can’t tell now, Le Droit Park was a colored neighborhood. As a kid, my parents didn’t talk much about race and segregation. But as kids do, I would ask a lot of questions about how and why things were different for us. I would ask, Mommy, why do we have to stand at a counter to eat our hot dog when there are free seats in the white section. I would ask, Mommy, why can’t we sit where we want on the streetcar. My Mom would look at me and say, ‘Baby, just be quiet. We don’t talk about those things.’
“Things did get better, but those memories still make me mad. Some of the memories, I try not to talk about because I get too emotional. I will never understand why in this city, the federal city and the greatest and most powerful city in the world, I spent most of my life in the colored section standing and watching as white’s were free to sit and go where and do what they pleased. I am 85 years old and I still don’t understand, but I hope that someone can explain it to me before I close my eyes for the last time.”