The Corner Forum
Saturday, Oct. 12, 2002
Issue #1

They Stay in the House

By Catherine Boddie Bego, 1308 Emerald St., from an interview Oct. 7

My name is Catherine Boddie Bego. Boddie is my maiden name, and Bego is my marriage name. I moved here in 1945, at the age of 3. When I say I moved, that was the Boddie family moved here. My mother. My father. And six siblings. There were seven of us altogether. I had three brothers and three other sisters. And we all lived here — we all went to school in this neighborhood. I went to what was Pierce Elementary School, down on 14th and G. I went to Lovejoy Elementary School, which is at 12th and D, and I went to Eliot Junior High, and I went to Eastern High School, and from there, I graduated from Howard University, and from there I graduated from the University of the District of Columbia, with a master's degree in administration and supervision.

Back in 1945, when my family moved to this neighborhood, there were approximately I'd say seven black families on this street. It was predominantly a white neighborhood. And we all bonded very close together. Whites lived at 1306. I live at 1308, whites live at 1310. There was a black family at 1312, but primarily, it was basically a white neighborhood.

And after the infusion of blacks comin' into the neighborhood, the whites began to move out.

When was that?

They started movin' I guess around 1960, somethin' of that nature. Some whites stayed — for instance, the store on the corner, 13th and E, was owned by a Jewish family, which was the Simon family. And the corner on 13th and E, where they're now putting the new homes, was owned by a Jewish family. It was a grocery store — those were grocery stores. It was owned by the Bindes family. And the Simon family was at 13th and Emerald Street. And then there was a Jewish family up at 13th and E, across the street from where the garden — and that was the Millicent family. So you had three Jewish families occupyin' stores. And then you had a Jewish family down at 13th and F Street, which was the Mudrick family — so they had grocery stores on all of that.

And after Dr. King was assassinated, in 1968, severe damage was done to those buildings — to those stores. And so they decided not to reopen. And as a mattter of fact, they stayed closed for many, many years — until such time that urban renewal came through. Now urban renewal came through I believe it was in the late 70s. And what we discovered was that even with a lot of black folks that had begun to live on the street, these properties were owned by absentee landlords. And so urban renewal came through and bought up most of the property, and for the absentee landlords, they told them that they would have to fix their houses up and bring `em up to code, and if they did not do it, then they were goin' to be fined. So what they did — they sold the property to the government, and the families basically moved out, with the option that they could relocate and come back once they had renovated the homes and things of that nature. But most of `em did not come back. The homes were sold at a very minimal price. I think it was something like — anywhere between 25 and 32 thousand dollars, these homes were sellin' for. With the stipulation that you could not flip it — you could not resell it — for two years.

So we saw, then, whites comin' back in the neighborhood and professional blacks now comin' — like school teachers, social workers, persons without children then began to come back into the neighborhood. And they stayed for a while, and now some of `em have rented their homes out, and they have gone and relocated elsewhere. So this neighborhood has actually gone through various changes in terms of demographics, as it relates to age, as it relates to single families, as it relates to income brackets and things of that nature. I think now we're seein' whites beginnin' to come back. The house, for instance, at 1300 — black folks had lived there for about 15 years, they had, `cause the lady told me. They were rentin' all those years though. And the homeowner would not fix the house up. He wanted to sell it, he wouldn't fix it up, so they moved out. Then they went in and did a massive reconstruction of the house — right here on the corner of 1300, and now white neighbors have moved back in.

And I can say that there does not seem to be any friction between the neighbors, even though I've seen white men that live together, I see white couples that live together, I see single whites that live together. And I see the same — I guess the same makeup for blacks too. Two black guys just moved across the street. And while there doesn't seem to be any friction, I don't see the level of harmony. When the white folks come in, they try to get to know one family or two families. It's not the old neighborhood concept where you were in and out of each other's homes — at Christmas time, you'd get to visit — you may had a cup of tea, or a piece of cake or — you know, somethin' of that nature.

In other words, even the kids, they not growin' up together. I don't know of any white people that live in this neighborhood that have children. There are no whites with children. So that's somethin' interestin' — that while whites move in, it seems that they don't move in with children. Whereas black folks will move in with children. And some of their children, while they're not as strange from each other, they not as close as they was when I was comin' up. I mean, if you moved in with a child or somethin', then that child — you bonded with that child.

But now, if a black family comes in, and a black family have children, you may get to know the other children on the block, but that does not — you don't bond with them, you're not in and out of each other's houses or, you know, occasionally you may play together, but seemly your friends are, you know, someplace else. But that's kind of the configuration of the neighborhood now, and as I indicated, we still feel that we were mistreated because of what happened at 13th and E, and we're still thinkin' that we're pursuin' it. The neighbors did come together — we didn't find the white people came together, to be as supportive of us. They did not buy into it, because they weren't here when we went through the urban renewal. And so they came to listen, to hear what was happenin', but that was it. And the — what's the name of that other paper?

There's two. The Voice? Or the Hill Rag?

No. The one —

— the Buzz, the Buzz.

The Buzz. The Buzz never indicated what it had a goal on, in terms of how the neighborhood felt. They focus a lot on what's happenin' at Kingsman School, but they never focus on the sentiment of the neighborhood, as it relates to what was happenin' to this garden around here. So that's essentially, you know, what we see. We do see — oh, incidentally, when urban renewal came through, some of the homes were sold to the professional people. And believe it or not, some of the people that occupy these homes are persons who are on low income. These homes are still owned by the government. But it was a mixture. And for the most part you can't tell who lives in the subsidized homes from those who live in — professionals who are buying their homes.

They come home — very few people sit on their fronts — at least, whites don't. You never see white people sittin' on their front. You come home, they speak if they pass you, and then they go in. Now, there is one white lady that lives across the street who's rather friendly. She walks her dogs, she knows the neighbors, and she speaks — that type of thing. But for the most part, they walk, and they go in they house, and they lock the doors.

But black folks, some of `em still tend to hang out on the fronts or — the garden was a meetin' place. That's where they all used to go to meet to find out what was happenin' to this one, or how this one was doin' — that type of thing. And now we've lost the garden. It was kind of like a Jacob's Well to us, where everybody in the biblical time would go around Jacob's Well. But there is no more Jacob's Well now. So now they just congregate where they can. Two or three of `em may meet on somebody's front, or in somebody's back yard — you know, and that type of thing.

All of the older people that were here back in 1945 when I first moved in — except for maybe one or two — have deceased now. For whatever reasons, most of the families did not want to hold on to the property, so they either sold it, or — I don't know of any instances where they lost it due to, you know, kids gettin' on drugs and things like that.

You mentioned — back then — the two things you talked about — about Christmas, and about the children in the houses. Can you tell me a few more things — like last week you also mentioned that if someone died, people would —

Oh yeah. That was a tradition, and that's one of the other things that we have lost, and that is traditions of the street. If someone died, someone would take the leave to, number one, knock on every neighbor's door, and the neighbors would make a contribution, and we would buy flowers. Everybody showed up at the wake — everybody showed up at the funeral. I mean that was a must. And then you would have your bouquet of flowers there from the community. Also, the neighbors would take food to the house. And then they would offer assistance. Like if you had relatives comin' from out of town, to make certain that they were comfortable — you didn't have to stay in hotels — and things of that nature. You offer your home to them. And so we've lost that.

And then, back about 14 years ago, we had a series of crimes in the neighborhood. Where five young boys, all grew up or congregated in this neighborhood, got involved in drug dealin's and things, and they got — they were killed. We all would go to the funerals, and to the wakes, and offer assistance. Reverend Hayes lived at 1312 — he was a white minister. John Hayes. He was a pastor of the church at Ninth and D Street. Reverend John Hayes, myself, Reverend Cora Davis, who's the pastor at the little church down here on F Street, 13th and F Street, and Mrs. Bigelow, who lives now across the street, and her son Chester Bigelow — we all met right here in this house, and wanted to know, what could we do about the crime, and we, you know, talked about a lot of things, we talked about takin' `em on trips, takin' `em on things — but by this time, these kids weren't interested in goin' to the zoo. And that's another thing, I'll get back to my point.

When we grew up, different homes did different things for the children. Someone would open up their door for prayer service or Bible study, so you could go there. Nattylou Harrison, who lived at 1304 Emerald Street — you could always be assured that on Easter Monday, that she would get a crowd and take `em to the zoo for Easter Monday. That was her — something that we just looked forward to. And Miss Elouise Hunter — she used to get us together and take us to her church, at Saint Stephen's Church, up on Sixth Street Northwest. "It takes a whole village to raise the child" — it was a true demonstration of that, here on Emerald Street.

And as I was sayin' about the C.O.P.S. — so what we did, we came together. And we said, well, we don't want to replicate what Department of Recreation is doin', we don't want to replicate what some other communty — you know, softball teams, and all that kind of stuff. So, we decided then that we would come together in prayer. So we organized a group called C.O.P.S. — Community Organized in Prayer for Salvation.

And what we did decide to do is that on an annual basis, and we just had one this second Saturday, we come together, the Department of Recreation would give us t he permit to close the street down. The Mayor's Emergency would give us the permit, and City Council people, the mayor, all of them, they used to come through. And we would have what's called an outdoor spiritual explosion. It was a way of — we'd give out hot dogs, we'd give away hamburgers, we'd give away sodas, and we would have gospel music and preachin' of God's word — spreadin' the good news of the Gospel, which is love, all day long.

And as I said, over a period, for about the last three years, I guess, I began to see a dwindlin' away of community activity. Because many of the old neighbors did not seem to want to participate, you know, in that. And so we met — our last meeting was in September — and we're in prayer, because we don't know if we're gonna give it — after 15 years, we don't know if we're gonna give it again, this year, because we just — you know, feel there's not the type of participation. And that our season may be over for that.

Maybe we've accomplished our mission. We had, back then, three crack houses on this street, and I mean they were active crack houses, where people were comin' and somebody say the gangs out of New York had begun to come here, so it was always somethin' goin' on. And that's at one phase. I mean you go from some phases where the street was secured, and when the influx of drugs and things started comin' in, right after the '80s, they hit this street too. Gangs started comin'. People comin' from Northwest, hangin' and this. But now it's relatively quiet, it's more stable, and most of the people now out of that era have been killed, grown up, or moved away.

Can you talk to me a little bit about the future? What is your vision, of — what would you like to see from this community. And what have you thought, about the future of this community?

Well, what I would really like to see — I'd like to see a neighborhood kind of concept come back. The spreading of love — getting to know your neighbor. That type of thing. You know when you think in terms of the sniper that's goin' around, that's killin' people and all of that — that same thing could happen right here. And yet we — I mean, we probably would react out of anxiety, or shock, or trauma. But it would not be a response out of love because we know each other, you know.

So I would kinda like to see us get to the point that maybe we could do Christmas carolling, durin' the Christmas time. That was one of the hopes that we had had for the garden up here. Where people could come together, and you know, sit and talk, and talk about what's goin' on. So I would like to see us come together for special activities, so to speak. Do Christmas carollin' up and down the street. Maybe gather the little children together and give them a Christmas, you know. Halloween is comin' — so I'm sure there's gonna be some apprehension and some fear, you know, as it relates to the sniper. It would be nice if we could organize a little somethin' for them, around the focus of love, sharin', you know, that type of thing. But I just don't see it comin' back to that. I mean, I really don't. This is what I would like to see, like I say, but I think that as whites continue to come in, as single families, they just don't.

Why? I mean, I mean what's your thinkin'? Why?

Well, I don't think that white people feel that the inner city — until such time as we get the true nomenclature of this being Capitol Hill — it's a safe place to raise children. Not on this street. Now further up towards Lincoln Park, and up that way, they probably do. They probably don't have any objections. You got the park. And to be very candid with you, if I were just goin' into homeownership, with children, this would not be the street that I would buy — I mean there's no leverage for children playing.

You can't play in the streets — it's a little too dangerous. You don't have enough yardage in the back, enough in the front. So, you know, from those perspectives, you'll find that people like to buy and invest in places where they have land, when they have children. And I think that's one reason, and then you always have the fear of somethin' happenin' to your children.

People see everything wrong happen in the inner city. But the sniper ain't hit the inner city. He ain't from the inner city. So — I mean, even if they bought in Ward 6, in this area, they would wanna go closer to the park, where you have bigger homes and more yardage, and that type of thing. But you just ain't gonna get `em to come in here with no three or four children.

I wonder — how can we get back — `cause I liked your story about how it used to be.

Well, I don't know. I think there's some things that are lost, and you can't recapture `em. And I think that that's what we're dealing with here. I think that the move, now, is in another direction. And I don't think that you're going to — even when blacks moved in, I mean, you're not gonna run in and out of their house. Because there's a different type of black. You know, back then, you had a Southern black. People were comin' in from the South. And they were used to that. I mean, the atmosphere was to — is to be more cordial and those kinds of things. If Miss Brown walked up the street and my mother was sittin' out there, she would stop. And she just wouldn't be how ya doin', and keep goin'. That was a part of their upbringing. And now, even with the blacks movin' in — as I said, your more professional blacks — they don't stop and ask how you doin', and things of that nature.

So I think that we've lost it. It has changed, and that some things, it's not gonna go back to. I don't think it's gonna go back. I really don't. All in all, I think it's a beautiful neighborhood. The proximity of it to downtown is ideal. The proximity of it to Union Station is very good. I think that there's still a lot of love, you know, in the neighborhood. But there's just an absence of interaction with people. You know, we no longer have jumpin' the ropes in the street, or playin' marbles on the sidewalk, or dodgeball — we don't have anymore. That's how the kids, you know, they all did that — I mean that's how they used to come together. And like I said, if somethin' special was on T.V., you go to this neighbor's house and you watch it. Then, next week somethin' special, that child from that house will go to that child's house. But you don't have it now. No. I forgot the term I was tryin' to use — regentrification? Is that the term?

Like when — gentrification — when wealthier people come into the neighborhood — ?

Yeah. So, and in this case, it's not necessarily wealthier people, but it's a different makeup. You know. I'll tell you what you might wanna do before you conclude your article, is just come and sit on the front at different times. And see whacha see. You know. Who's gettin' out of the car, how they get out — they don't look to the right, they don't look to the left, they move right into the house. And that's it. They only come out the next mornin' when it's time. And I know one thing — even in givin' these street things, neighbors used to give contributions. It takes me now sometimes three or four times to go back to neighbors' houses and get them to open the door, and now it's gettin' harder and harder for them to open — they don't open the doors.

They stay in the house.

They stay in the house. Yep.§