Q: You're a native Washingtonian, aren't you?
A: I was born and raised in D.C., on the 700 block of Girard Street. My mother still lives there. I guess you'd call it Columbia Heights. It's right around the corner from Howard University . . . In 1960 I only had about three years in the police department. I was assigned to the old Southwest station -- we still had the 14 precincts in those days.
Any thoughts or aspirations of being chief of police were next to nil for a black man back then. At that time, blacks did not even ride in the scout cars. We walked the foot beats and the white officers could ride in the cars. There was one black detective, and off the top of my head I think there were less than 400 or 500 blacks in the whole department. I know that when you ran into a black police officer, you already knew him personally.
Q: What made you want to become a police offer?
A: Economics, I guess. My ambitions were always to become a dentist. But at that time, the police department was an exceptional-paying job for a black man. The salary for an officer was $4,190 a year. I had just gotten back from the Marine Corps and at that time I had a job as a clerk at the Civil Service Commission, as a GS1. I was making $2,600 a year.
Q: What do you remember about the neighborhood when you were growing up?
A: I remember the neighborhood we lived in being predominately black. I used to have a paper route west of 13th Street -- over on Euclid Street, Fairmont Street, Girard Street. Most of the people I served were white. Eventually I started delivering the Times-Herald around the same area, and all the people I served were black. So there were these little pockets of whites and little pockets of blacks . . .
There was a corner store owned by a Jewish man, and he had a son and a daughter my age. Those were the only whites I interacted with when I was growing up. It was the same way through Dunbar [high school]. The schools were segregated. My first real shock in the area of race relations was when I joined the Marine Corps and was transported to Parris Island, S.C., and a rude awakening.
My mother would send me downtown to pay certain bills -- at Hecht's, Lansburgh's, places like that. I would stop to get something to eat, and I couldn't be seated. Blacks couldn't sit down, but they could order food if they stood up.
Q: Do you remember what the larger black community was like? Was there a real heart of the community?
A: When I was a kid I can recall the U Street corridor -- the Lincoln Theater, the Booker T., all the clubs along U Street. Then there was Seventh Street -- the Howard Theatre, where all the big-name black entertainers would play. And there were the after-hours clubs where people would sell half-pints. I'm talking about a range of places, from fancy to not-so-nice.
When blacks had to patronize black establishments, they were able to sustain themselves -- to employ people, to be pillars of the community. With desegregation, a lot of these places just went by the wayside. A lot of them have deteriorated.
Blacks just couldn't go to Connecticut Avenue, they couldn't go to Georgetown, and so we all went to U Street. You had to go where you were welcome.
Q: How do you compare then and now?
A: There's so much improvement. When I made sergeant, there were only six black sergeants on the department. To give you an idea, today there are over 170 black sergeants. There is a black chief of police and two black assistant chiefs. The reason is that now we can be measured on our capabilities and not on color.
When I was a kid I knew people who had graduated Howard University with law degrees and could not get jobs in their field. They had to work in the post office or somewhere, because of all the restrictions. To me, all of that is beginning to open up now . . .
When I was a kid there were black high schools and white high schools. When I was at Dunbar, in football we used to play Parker-Gray in Alexandria, Dunbar in Baltimore -- we had to go out of the area to find enough black schools to fill our schedule. Now, I see blacks going to a school like Gonzaga. When I grew up, Central High School, which is now Cardozo, was a white school. That was just around the corner from where I lived . . .
I don't know how much longer poor people can continue to live in this city, because of the price of housing. I don't know what the solution is to problems like unemployment and crime. I can only cite some example I know of. We';ve had people from public housing in our summer youth program, and because of the interaction with police officers, an awful lot of those people are now police officers or civilians working for the police department. You've got to just take people and teach them a skill . . . .
It seems to me that people are on a treadmill -- babies have babies, their babies have babies . . . .You've got to give people a skill and some exposure. When you see people working, making a good salary, that rubs off, whether people want to believe it or not.
Q: Are you nostalgic at all for the past?
A: I think we all live in a dream world as far as the past is concerned. We're not aware how cruel the real world can be.
I reminisce, but then I remember a song I used to listen to, and I'll never forget the words. It says that a fool will lose tomorrow reaching back for yesterday. I don't reach back for yesterday, because I'm not going to lose tomorrow.