IF YOU WERE ON U STREET, YOU DIDN'T NEED TO GO ANY where else. It was all right there for you. Blacks had a society put together on this street. You didn't realize you were in a segregated situation. We knew where to go and what to do. There were some restaurants and bars in the midst of our society that we used to call white restaurants, not really knowing what it meant. We knew only white people went in there.
One place right up here on Florida Avenue, Kitt's Drum Bar or something, it was sort of a country and western bar, all white. I don't know if you would be refused if you went in there, but there weren't many black people that went in there. There was no need to go in there, or go downtown because we had first-rate stores, clubs, funeral parlors, whatever you could think of, we had it right there around 14th and U.
I went in the service, and that's where I really found out about segregation. I had never been exposed to a second-class citizenship in my environment. Even though we had segregated schools, we had teachers who had acquired education and came back and taught us, not only our schoolwork, but how to dress, how to talk.
So when I got in the service and they said, "You can't go there," and, "You can't do that," I was shocked. I didn't know what they were talking about.
That's when I got interested in becoming a businessman. I traveled in the Far East, all over this country -- Hawaii, California, Chicago. And I found out the reason blacks were having to take second-rate or nothing was because they didn't own the factories and the stores. They didn't have any money. They didn't have any capital to build on.
I decided that instead of crying the blues, you have to become competitive. You have to find out where the money is and how to get it. So I decided to start a business when I got back to D.C. And I decided I wanted to put it right on U Street. Of course, I really didn't have any choice because of segregation.
Now, I knew blacks had always worn good clothes in Washington. They had always gone downtown to the Sidney Wests and Bruce Hunts and the Raleighs. Nice clothes were a status symbol to prove you had succeeded. So I wanted to start a clothing store. But I didn't know how much it cost to go into business. I thought a couple hundred dollars was all it took. I started to ask questions and make plans, and I realized a couple hundred dollars was not going to do it. It looked like I wasn't going to be able to start any kind of store.
One thing I had going for me was I acquired friends who had a lot of confidence in what I was trying to do. One of my friends' mothers had war bonds from World War II, and she gave me $3,400. The general contractor I got to fix up the store I rented was a friend. We made a deal. I paid for the lumber and the nails, but he said I didn't have to pay him for his work until the business was going. So with that little bit of money I was able to rent a store, renovate it and stock it with shirts. I opened a small shirt store. That's how I got started on U Street. It was 1967.
After the riots, a lot of people I intended on servicing moved away. After the riots, no one would invest in this community. It was like a sinking ship with the rats jumping off. But some people told me that blue jeans were selling, so I put all my money into buying jeans. I had the first jean shop in Washington. But then somebody broke in and stole all my stock. Killed me. Killed me. No insurance. You could hardly get insurance after the riots. Most of the stores started closing. All that was left was Ben's Chili Bowl, Duke's shoeshine, myself, Keys' Restaurant at Seventh Street and some liquor stores.
The Safeway and the Giant started to close down. So that left the burden of getting basic food supplies on the little stores. That's when I shifted to a corner store with lots of basic items. The Republic Market was the only other store. It is run by the Stanback family, good people and black people who stood right on in there. Now they are in the 1900 block of 14th Street. They worked real hard to keep a business going. They had break-ins and all the rest, but they worked hard.
That's why I think it's so funny to see the Koreans and the Vietnamese coming in here and opening stores. They are getting licenses that black people couldn't get because of segregation. You know why there were so few black-owned liquor stores? They wouldn't give us the licenses. Black folks would have to put their eyeballs on the table to get a license. They would scrutinize you till they got back to your great grandmother, and if she had stolen a grapefruit, they would deny you that license.
When the Small Business Administration and all these programs got instituted, we thought they were going to help the small businesses that had been here struggling. But our little stores got ignored. ::