Almore Dale winces when he is asked if he is a native Washingtonian.
"A native Anacostian, if you please," says the man born in Southeast, in a house across from what is now Federick Douglas Junior High School.
The 70-year-old Dale is eager to point out that he is not only a native American, but a third-generation Anacostian at that.
The scion of a beleagured Mississippi family, he says his grandfather fled that state "under cover of darkness," searching for a place to continue the tradition of the strong black family.
Anacostia was the logical choice, Dale says, because the land was cheap, opportunities for blacks were broader, and "Fred Douglass lived out here then, and many people were inspired to come over, just to be near him."
While Dale was growing up, his father, a college educated man who worked first as a messenger for the National Bank of Washington, then as a postal clerk, stressed the importance of civic pride and service to others. In the home, his mother, also a college graduate, reinforced the same traditions. The children were, as Dale recalls, encouraged to achieve.
Almore Dale is credited with forming or helping to form, the Anacostia Economic Development Corportion, the Southeast Neighborhood Advisory Board and the Anacostia Southeast Federal Credit Union.
According to John Kinard, director of the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum, Dale also was largely responsible for persuading the Smithsonian Institution to locate the museum in Anacostia.
"Almore's just one of those people," Kinard says fondly, calling him an unsung hero. "He gets no praise, but he knows the people here, and he cares. Anything good that goes on out here, Almore's in on it, knows about it, or did it himself."
Such praise only heightens the jovial Dale's modesty. He chuckles softly when it is repeated to him in the living room of his comfortable home on Morris Road SE.
"I haven't done anything that's any different from what the Dales and the Pattersons (his mother's family) have always tried to do," he says matter-of-factly. Dale's family stressed the importance of education, of being able to go beyond where they had gone, and with that in mind he went off in 1935 to Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama, when his mother's brother, Frederick Patterson, was president of the independent college. He was graduated with a degree in business administration in 1939.
He then worked as business manager of Bennett College in Greensboro, N.C., for two years until a phone call from his father, John Henry Dale, put his life on another course.
"He just casually called to mention that some neighbors wanted to sell a small carry-out store on Sumner Road SE that they had owned for years.
"He hinted that since these people, like other businessmen in the community, were Jewish, it would be an excellent opportunity for a young black person to get into the Anacostia business world. There were so few opportunities then," Dale recalls, "and besides, I think that he missed me."
Dale realized how much his father wanted him to have the store when he offered to remortgage the family home to help him buy it.
"I was overcome," he says with a distant look of fond recollection.
He opened the store in 1944.
"It was a full-fledged store," he says proudly, "not like the little things you see springing up on every street corner today. We sold meats, vegetables, fresh fruits -- the work. I wanted the blacks in that area to have an opportunity to buy good stuff, just like the white folks were getting."
His neighbors say Dale was ready to extend credit to them at a time when few other merchants would, and, recalled one women, "I think he kept a lot of black children out here from going hungry."
At that time Dale's family -- his wife Marie and their four children, Adrian, Diane, John and Mark -- lived on Sumner Road, not far from the store. It was one of only three single-family houses left after the construction of the Barry Farms project, but Dale says living in what today would be euphemistically called a transitional area never once bothered him.
"I felt that these were my people, too, and they were being turned into refugees. Dumped aimlessly on the other side of the river." They wouldn't run. Why would I?"
Dale added that he felt, and still does, that it is important for blacks to remain in Anacostia because he sees the area as Washington's last frontier.
He points out that real estate speculation is at an all-time high and says, "If we (the black middle class) all left, this place would turn into another Beverly Hills. So I just dug in a long time ago and said, 'I ain't going nowhere.'"
Instead, his moves have been of a different sort. In 1950 he sold the store and took a job as supervisor of student accounts at Howard University. Dale says he was "restless" and wanted to use his business acumen in a new way. And he felt that by working in a university, he could get more in tune with young people.
Dale was at Howard 19 years before retiring in 1975. During that time, he helped many an insolvent student stay in school through astute tips on how to obtain financial aid, and through small acts of kindness, such as balancing a checkbook.
"It did a lot for me to see all those fine young black minds coming along," he says.
Now he has turned nearly all of his attention to keeping the community vital. His face, highlighted by soft brown eyes and smooth ageless skin, becomes a study in contentment as he surveys the street from his spacious, sun-filled living room.
"You talk about up-and-coming neighborhoods -- this is it! This is IT!"
He walks over to the window for a closer look.
"I look out this window, and I have everything. Trees. Fresh air. Everything. And my friends and associates are here, too . . .
"Living here fits in with some strong ideas about certain things that have been handed down to me over the years. About roots. About the meaning of where you choose to live. About holding onto the grandeur of family traditions."