Susie Scandrett returned home from her job at the Labor Department just in time to catch them wading into the water.
“I almost lost my babies that day,” she recalled. So she quit her job to stay home with them. “Milton said to me, ‘We’ll just make it on what I make.’ ”
In addition to his job with the railroad, Scandrett leased a convenience store at Sixth and E streets NE. He had an old B&O caboose hauled to Seat Pleasant and turned it into a barbecue restaurant. Using his knowledge as a sanitation inspector, he started a pest-control business.
“I mean, he got out there and hustled,” Susie Scandrett said.
Her husband added, “I was fortunate to get good jobs.”
At the birthday party, the Scandretts’ pastor congratulated him for making the most of his opportunities. But he also urged the gathering not to forget how such opportunities came about.
“You can’t think of Scandrett without thinking about that statue in Union Station,” said the Rev. Vernon Shannon, pastor of John Wesley African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in Northwest. “Because, you see, Brother Scandrett was a railroad man, and you know who fought that fight to make it possible?”
The statue he was referring to honors A. Philip Randolph, an African American civil rights legend who, in 1925, organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters — the largest black labor union in the country at the time, which resulted in men like Scandrett being able to earn a living wage.
“You ought to know that history,” Shannon said.
Scandrett gave his pastor a nod and mused, “That’s how it was.”
To read previous columns by Courtland Milloy, go to washingtonpost.com/milloy.