I IDENTIFIED MY NEIGHBORHOOD AS THE ONE I READ about in my schoolbook, an ideal neighborhood where everybody knew everybody and looked out for you. The ladies looked at you and screamed at you if you were across the street doing something, "Hey, boy, I going to come around there and tell Miss Mayes." We didn't have any rolling, green grass lawns, but otherwise I didn't see any difference between what was in my Dick and Jane schoolbook and what I experienced growing up on U Street.

Crime was not a factor. Our parents maintained curfews. They had small youth gangs around here in 1959 or 1960. They had names like "The LeDroit Park," and "The Peaches and Honey," made up of teen-agers between 14 and 19. Police imposed a curfew, and then they disappeared.

There were drugs, but it was a situation like where Ray Charles, Al Hibler or Charlie Mingus, many of the jazz performers and intellectuals who came to the neighborhood, people would say, "You know, they have a drug problem." But there was nobody standing around hawking drugs on the sidewalk. The primary street hustlers were people writing numbers and the pool sharks.

When I was a kid we made money by carrying groceries at the Safeway. We took our wagons to the Safeway -- 14th Street between Wallach and U. Everything that went on at 14th and U streets was just a part of where I spent all my Friday evenings and Saturday mornings. That corner was the center of so much activity. It was the crossroads for all the city's buses. There was a People's drugstore there and the office of SNCC {Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee} was in the 1200 block of U Street and the office of CORE {Congress of Racial Equality} and the SCLC {Southern Christian Leadership Conference} was at 14th and U, above the People's drugstore. In 1964, I was 14, and Rev. Channing Phillips organized a march for home rule in the District and got Martin Luther King Jr. to lead it. It started out on U Street, and I was just standing around and somebody pushed me. I grabbed someone's hand and realized the march had started and I was in the front. One person away was Martin Luther King Jr.

Fourteenth and U was a great place to be a kid. The arcades with the pinball machines were located right there. After we carried our orders from the supermarkets, we would go in there and split up the money we made and spend it on the pinball machine. We'd get 25 cents for carrying groceries. We might make $4 in a day, and if we made $4 we would consider ourselves as having done very well. Pinball machines were a nickel, and if you perfected your skills, you could run up 10 or 15 games and not have to feed the machine.

Jewish merchants ran all the corner stores and the 5- and 10-cent stores. And they would all extend us credit. If we needed one thing or another, we could always ask Mr. Hill -- he ran the combination liquor store-grocery -- for credit. We had a relationship with local merchants where we didn't even have to go in the front door. We'd go in the alley, through the back door and come up from behind the counter and go around and get whatever we needed. And if mother didn't have the money right then, it was like: "My mother wants me to get the bottle." "All right." I'd write it in the book, and my mother would send me back later when we had the money.

On Sundays whites would invade the neighborhood. We would stand across the street and look in awe at all the whites coming to the neighborhood to go to church. We had a good relationship with the whites who lived around there. That played a role in the riots. There was a great deal of disappointment on the faces of white merchants because they felt a little betrayed, based on the relations they had maintained. It was like, "Why are you doing this to me?" If the white merchants were present, the local black residents did not allow people to vandalize their stores.

The white merchants had maintained good relations. They felt they were a part of the neighborhood. The Jewish merchants for the most part lived above their stores. Their kids played with us. When they went to school, they went to the yeshiva, but when they came home, they played outside with us. It is hard for people to believe it today, but this was a great neighborhood. My family was poor, but the neighborhood had so much life that I never knew we were poor.