suburbs, especially Maryland’s Prince George’s County, where the restrictive covenants fell more quickly and the housing was more affordable than in other counties surrounding the nation’s capital. Relatives
and friends on my father’s side of the family began buying lots and having new homes built in Prince George’s County as early as the mid-50s.
And that American-dream drive to move up and out began to break up
the old neighborhood and a certain sense of family, almost literally for
me, because for quite some time during segregation, at least half a dozen
of my relatives lived in homes up and down Shannon Place.
Finally, in 1962, my own family moved as well, from my dad’s parents’ old house to one we bought in Northeast DC, right on the border between the city and Prince George’s County. We were moving to a
community whose closest drive-in theater was, unwittingly, the one that
had finally welcomed us that night in the 1950s.
Thus was Anacostia “stripped” of much of its black middle-class
base just as more and more low-income black families were moving
into housing projects there. What quickly followed were overcrowded
schools, loss of amenities and services, and an increase in run-down
housing stock and other kinds of neglect. And neglect can lead to frustration and despair, which can sometimes pave the way for drugs and
crime. At a time when DC residents were finally getting the heretofore
unconstitutional right to self-government, Anacostia was morphing into
Ward Eight—the economically depressed voting district that the late,
embattled yet savvy and tenacious Marion Barry (no kin, I’m quite sure,
to the original owners of that vast farmland) consistently championed.
Why, even the Metro subway system built in the 1980s threatened
to bypass the area, to go straight from the federal city to the Maryland
suburbs, until finally, under increased political pressure, “low-priority”
stations were opened in Anacostia, one of them on Howard Road at
Shannon Place, just two blocks from our old house.
In effect, a part of DC that in the first half of the twentieth century
had been benignly neglected, left to its own middle-class, segregated
devices, became in the second half of the twentieth century an area to
which too much of the wrong kind of attention was paid at first, and
then not nearly enough of the right kind.
Hence, in the 1950s, we Negro kids were riding the cusp of an era,
blithely unaware of the changes that were in store, our world to a large
extent proscribed and circumscribed. And that’s one reason we took our
special privileges where we could, namely, up on Cedar Hill. For that