For a few hours yesterday, riot-scarred 14th Street NW became a small town community gathering place as hundreds of people flocked to street corners from P Street to Spring Road, watching an old-fashioned parade that featured high school bands and majorettes strutting high and fast and politicians and community leaders in sleek Cadillacs.
It was the fourth annual "City Wide Community Mardi Gras and Togetherness Day" for 14th Street. The theme reflected the slow rebuilding of properties along the street, was "Past Promises Leading to Future Hopes."
Every year I come here," said Patricia Coward, who lives at 1425 T St. NW, snapping her fingers to the music of the Cordoza High School Band. Her daughter was in the parade as part of an elementary school drill team. "This parade is just as good as the one that goes up Constitution Avenue."
And though the festival was held mainly to celebrate the beginning of the rebuilding of 14th Street 10 years after riots devastated the commercial strip, most of that rebuilding has taken place in the Columbia Road and Fairmont Street area. Where Coward was standing, at 14th and T, there wasn't much to see. "Fourteenth Street is still the same," she said. "Its always crowded with junkies and prostitutes. I usually don't come this way, unless it' necessary to catch a bus." The one change she has seen, she added, is that some white families have begun to renovate some of the homes in her neighborhood and move into them.
Nearby, at 14th and U Streets NW, was a woman who had missed her bus because the parade had caused traffic to be rerouted. "I'm on my way to the beauty shop at North Capitol and Florida," she explained to a reporter.
She has lived just off 14th Street, she said, since 1957. "When I moved here, it was so nice.But since the riots . . .shoo," she said, shaking her head, "and it's not much better now. They were going to build it up. But we don't have nothing here. We used to have shoe stores and dime stores and everything. All this stuff looks like I don't know what. They say they gonna build it up slowly and surely."
But though she missed her bus, she still was enjoying herself watching the parade, she said.
She didn't appear to be the only one. Everywhere, there were people sitting on the window sills and in folding chairs, their beer and soda bottles in brown paper bags.
They enthusiastically cheered the drum major with the long, skinny legs, and smiled at the little girls in red and white who danced up the street. They yelled at their friends in the parade, who carried banners and stepped quickly to the rythm of the drums. The younger children shrieked in excitement at the noise made by motorcycles.
Rain forced the speechmaking portion of the celebration inside. Richard Jones, chairman of the 14th Street Project Area Commitee, the government-fund community organization that monitors development in the area and which was the main sponsor of the Mardi Gras along with radio station OK-100-WOOK, told the audiences of about 200 persons in PAC office auditorium that were there to celebrate "the new look that you see on 14th Street."
Mayor Walter E. Washington was the keynote speaker. He was introduced by James Washington, vice chairman of the 14th Street PAC board of directors, who gave the mayor an introduction full of politics.
James Washington, a staunch supporter of the mayor, said that other candidates for the mayor reminded him of leopards - who are "now trying to relate to what they call little people," he said, and crabs - who he said all start crawling for the top of the basket and pull back to the bottom the one that reaches the top first.
James Washington told the audiences, to applause, "Don't let The Washington Post tell us it's time for a change," apparently in reference to a Post editorial last week that said it is time for a change in mayors. He called to the front several young girls, introduced them to the mayor, Police Chief Burtell Jefferson Lewis, telling them to note that all three were black and to try to see that 10 years from now the situation remained the same.
When the mayor came to the microphone, he again called Jefferson and Lewis to the front. "When they wrote they want a change, I know why," the mayor said. "You got it in front of you. I don't have to tell you what color they are. You can see . . . But there's no two men more qualified to do the job than these two . . ." The audience applauded enthusiastically.