MY FATHER CAME HERE IN 1930. HE USED TO BE A BIG meat buyer. He knew how to buy and could sell very low. You ever heard of veal or lamb, four pounds for a quarter?
This used to be a teeming neighborhood with families and people. Across the street there was nothing but houses and families. You had Thompson's Dairy here with 200-300 employees. This was a very viable neighborhood. I remember when Joe Louis became the heavyweight champion. We lived above the store then. And when I looked out the window, U Street was wall-to-wall people.
I used to be a marble champion in D.C. Outside the store we used to have a big marble ring. Huge crowds would gather around to watch us play in the dirt out there on 12th Street. This was a real neighborhood. The real McCoy.
I don't remember any other white families. I remember businesses owned by whites. Whites came into the neighborhood for the clubs and the girls, but I really don't remember too many living here. At Thompson's Dairy, most of the employees were white. And at Children's Hospital the employees were white.
I went to Polk Elementary School on Seventh Street. The schools were segregated. As a matter of fact, I went to the movie theater at Ninth and N and they had a wall, a partition, whites on one side and blacks on the other. If you wanted to go to the movie, you had to sit there.
I went to Griffith Stadium all the time. I used to sneak in. I remember one thing -- I did have one problem in this neighborhood. A little gang. Whenever they saw me, they would chase me, and since I was Jewish, they would trap me and make me say a few words of Jewish. All those guys who were in that gang, we grew up together, and guess what? We're still friends.
A lot of your property is owned by whites. We own this whole block. When my father bought this stuff up, he bought it from a white guy. My father rented places out. He helped a lot of the black people here to go into business. His rents were very low. He was interested in having people make money so they could stay in business. We had a shoeshine parlor, a restaurant, we had a poolroom. There was a restaurant around the corner. Blacks owned most of the businesses around here. Most liquor stores were white-owned prior to the riots, and then they started changing hands.
I never felt racial tension around U Street. You get to know good people and bad people. You get to know people on a personal basis. And when you saw a doctor or a lawyer, you gave them the respect you would give the best. They were people. The color kind of faded. But before '54, make no mistake, this was a southern town.
Marion Barry used to come in our store after he came to town and wanted us to donate to various organizations he had. You know, it's strange, the militants were not neighborhood people.
I love U Street. You wait, you won't recognize this area in 10 years.