The whole gang was present and accounted for: Poopie and Tadpole, the Perry sisters, the Little family. Sonny is now a police captain and Deanie works at The Washington Post. No one had seen Dopey Nose yet, but Jackie Simmons was running around looking just like her mama.
More than 200 people came from as far away as California to laugh, whoop, holler and cry at a reunion of a most exclusive club: the 300 families who lived in Northeast's Langston Terrace housing project between 1938 and 1948.
Dwight (Poopie) Cropp, 42, executive secretary to Mayor Marion Barry, escorted and introduced his boss to his extended family gathering at the Fort Lincoln Elementary School gymnasium. Barry reaffirmed his promise to improve public housing, specifically their beloved Langston Terrace.
But catching up on the gang was the theme: Gerald (Tadpole) Little, works for the Government Printing Office, William (Sonny) Waters was recently promoted in the Capitol Police force, and Mac Ross (Dopey Nose) Boyd, is a retired pressman.
"I just had to be here," said former tenant Jerry Ford Prater, now a Los Angeles hairdresser. "I had to see all these people, all this love.
"Just moving into a project was a chance to advance," she said. "When you moved in you were one of the chosen people, you were on your way."
Langston Terrace was named in memory of John Mercer Langston, a black congressman during Reconstruction, dean of Howard University Law School and a member of the District's first board of health.
Designed by District-born architect Hilyard R. Robinson, Langston Terrace was one of the first public housing projects in the nation. When it opened March 16, 1938, the structure, located north of Benning Road between 21st and 24th streets NE, made Robinson the most successful black architect in the District. A model of the terrace was displayed in New York's Museum of Modern Art, and the complex was heralded as superior to the best European efforts of the day. A picture of a black Madonna and a frieze of Langston leading farmworkers to industry greeted visitors in the entrance arcade.
But the architecture was not the only avant-garde element of the Terrace. The tenant-screening process and management were considered unique at the time--enough so that original Langston tenants rank them as key factors as to why Langston did not deteriorate as public housing does today, why the majority of Langston dwellers are no longer in public housing, and why a familial love endured among the former residents for almost 50 years.
"The people who lived in Langston Terrace were not too much better than the people who live in public housing today," said Dolores Powell Thomas, 54. "It was the management.
"I remember the Sunday forums; the manager would call us all to the courtyard and say, 'I don't want no card playing, no fighting, no open windows and no chitlin eating on the front,' " she laughed, remembering her eight years in Langston Terrace.
"If you didn't do what he said, you had to move. Some of them had to leave and the rest straightened up," Thomas recalled.
But that was 44 years ago. Although Langston Terrace is considered by many to be one of the best-looking housing projects in the city, to the original residents it has lost its special qualities.
"It's just another typical project," said Camille Tracy Trawick, 44, known as Deanie. "There's grafitti and profanity all over the reliefs in the arcade. Where we had grass, they have concrete. We took pride in keeping our lawns up; they don't seen to have any pride."
Perhaps the physical difference between today's Langston Terrace and that of the 1940s reflects the attitude of the tenants and the perceived reason for public housing.
Like most early public housing, Langston Terrace was designed as temporary dwelling for families with middle-class aspirations who found themselves without housing after the Depression. Consequently, while the rent was set on a sliding scale from $19.50 to $31.50 a month based on income, once a family exceeded a certain income level they had to move.
It was not until the early '50s, when the District replaced the original tenants with those families displaced by urban renewal, that people on public assistance, as a rule, were allowed to live in public housing.
"The whole purpose for being in the project was to get you on your feet and out," said Harold Harriston, 49, a Defense Department supervisor, who grew up at Langston Terrace.
Harriston talked of the screening process which placed school teachers, busboys, and chauffeurs in the same complex. "Our parents had the common goal of advancing themselves."
Samson Washington, 73, the first tenant, recalled when the social worker "came to look us over. She remarked about how depressed the neighborhood was, how dirty the building was, and how clean our apartment was.
"I'm sure that's one reason we got moved along so fast," he said.
One of Washington's sons, Samuel, 53, an Equal Opportunity supervisor at the Labor Department, recalled the organized athletics, the recreation rooms and special classes that opened a new world to Langston children.
"I know the reason I'm an engineer now is because I followed Mr. Gardner around at the Langston plant," he said. "And then there was Mr. Hanson, who taught aviation to people who had no hopes of ever flying."
"I don't know if it was Langston, or just serendipity," said former resident Gwendolyn Baker, 57, an administration officer at the Smithsonian Institution. "But Langston kids became doctors, lawyers, writers, musicians and entertainers. I don't know what it was, but it was something about Langston that made us better people."
Others, like Herta Perry, 76, moved to Langston Terrace from a room in her mother's house where she, her husband and two children lived. She remembers the extended family atmosphere at Langston, with most of the mothers sharing in the care of the complex's children.
She remembered the Mothers' Club selling dinners to raise money for recreation equipment for the children. "I especially remember cleaning 100 pounds of chitlins with Edna Simmons and some others."
Dr. Betty Jo Warren Street, 48, head of pediatrics at Martin Luther King Jr. Hospital in Los Angeles, said, "No one felt we were deprived or that it was condescending to live in the project.
"It was a time right after the Depression," she said. "People were coming from the South with almost no existence to a place where blacks were getting government jobs for the first time."
"We all went to the same schools--Charles Young, Brown Junior High--and from there you had a good chance of getting into Dunbar and . . . you could probably go to college if you wanted to," she said. "We just shared so many common experiences."
Experiences like World War II Victory Gardens and canning parties at Phelps Vocational center; picketing swimming pools that allowed whites only; May Day parades; the boys skinny dipping in the Anacostia River and teasing each other about being seen in the "blackberry patch," the local lovers' trysting place where Spingarn High School now stands.
"There was a sense of pride, a respectability, no one (of the children) was set aside," said Trawick, a supervisor in The Washington Post's classified section. "People cared, they didn't just live there; there were values."
"You know after 44 years, I can remember exactly where each of these people lived," she said.
"I guess we can be called the original project families," said Herta Perry's oldest daughter, Joan Bundy, 48, who works for the Defense Department. "And we have no shame. Just ask any of us where we were raised. Our parents had it hard, but they did it their way, on their own."