It was a privileged sled ride because it was a special hill. Cedar Hill.
Special and less dangerous for its being both enclosed and more expansive. Unlike the sidewalks of Chicago Street, down which we usually
swooped early in the morning, before the neighbors cleared the ice and
snow and shooed us away, belly-flopping on our sleds one after another
from the corner of Shannon Place all the way down the block and off the
sidewalk into the snow-covered dirt and grass at the end of the dead-end street, where each of us had to roll off his sled, one after the other,
to keep from being cut by the metal runners of the sled swooshing right
behind. “Roll off, roll off, roll off,” we’d cry. Hearts pounding and laughing and out of breath yet eagerly pulling our sleds up the middle of the
street to head back down, again and again.
No, Chicago Street was by no means Cedar Hill, which was a several-block trek away. It was, instead, a street right in the middle of our black
community in the Anacostia section of Southeast Washington, DC,
across the Anacostia River from DC proper—a section that seemed at
times to be an appendage, or even appendix, of the nation’s capital. A
street that ran two short blocks from Nichols Avenue down across Shannon Place, which ran several blocks parallel to Nichols Avenue from
Howard to Good Hope Roads. A community of row and detached houses
for working- and middle-class black people, many of whom owned their
own homes, many of which they’d either built themselves or had built,
like my paternal grandfather, who’d had two homes built over the years,
in fact, both on Shannon Place and a block away from each other, the
newer of which he lived in with his wife, the older of which he rented to
my parents. A thriving, striving black community in an Anacostia that
was still, in the early 1950s, 80 percent white and essentially segregated,
as was most of DC.
The white population generally stretched beyond Nichols Avenue
up Good Hope Road to Alabama Avenue and up beyond Saint Elizabeths Hospital into Congress Heights, down into Oxon Run and into the
Maryland suburbs. We lived closer to the Anacostia River, wedged between the hills to the south and the railroad tracks of the old Alexandria
branch of the B & O line, across which lay Bolling Field at the river’s edge
to the north. Other tentacles of the black community lay across Howard
Road in an area initially called Barry’s Farm and across Nichols Avenue
up the hill in an area that at one time was known as Stantontown.
Barry’s Farm was first developed right after the Civil War with the
help of the Freedmen’s Bureau, which had bought up $25,000 worth of