When Frank P. Bolden moved his family into their two-story, brick home in the Woodridge section of Northeast Washington, he did so cautiously. The year was 1952, and the Boldens were only the second black family in the neighborhood, which is bounded by 18th Street NE and Michigan, New York and Eastern avenues.
"First I moved my wife and the baby's crib, then the children, and then a World War II weapon," Bolden recalled, chuckling. "I was making $3,600 a year as a public school teacher and I couldn't afford any broken windows."
Bolden, now 64, said his concerns about his property grew to include the entire community. Last month he was elected president of the D.C. Federation of Civic Associations, after nearly three decades of demonstrating that commitment through civic and community work.
"The average black man, after working all his life, all he has to show is probably a home . . . . But the more you maintain your civic area, the more your property is worth," he said in explanation of his devotion to the community. "That can have a financial effect on your pocketbook. Also, I feel people should be able to reside in their homes or walk the streets in safety."
Bolden, who retired two years ago as athletic director of the D.C. public school system, has spent nearly three decades working his way up through the ranks of the federation. He has served as a delegate from the Woodridge Civic Association, chairman of the federation's health committee and first vice president of the group during the past year.
"He is a very dynamic and forthright person," said William Hammond Thomas, an attorney and former federation president, who called Bolden "somewhat of a liberal thinker" who "has a feel for the people."
Last year, Bolden ran for an at-large seat on the school board, promising to work toward drastically cutting the salaries of school board members. He believes their duties are part-time responsibilities. He came in fifth out of 18 contenders in that race.
The Federation of Civic Associations was formed more than 60 years ago because black District residents were denied membership in the Federation of Citizens Associations, then an all-white organization.
The Federation of Civic Associations fought segregation, demanding better housing, schools and jobs for blacks. During his presidency, Bolden wants the group to support the reduction of most school board salaries and work with others in finding ways to curtail crime. He said he will also encourage the organization to monitor the city's future development plans and to watch the suburbs that "might want to do something to enhance their area, that might adversely affect the District.
"You have to stay constantly alert. If you relax one day, something can happen to your city," Bolden warns fellow citizens. Taking his own advice, he packs his day with community service activities.
"I hardly have one free moment I can call my own," he said, waving his hands at a table piled with notes and papers on his sun porch-turned-office.
Bolden is also chairman of volunteers for the D.C. Cancer Society, serves on the board of trustees of the American Red Cross and works with the Pigskin Club, a group formed nearly 50 years ago to honor all outstanding football players at a time when the "white" Touchdown Club ignored black sportsmen.
He is also active in his fraternity, Omega Psi Phi, and still helps with track meets and some city-wide football and basketball championship games held by the D.C. public schools athletic department.
A tall, lanky man, he is affectionately called "Gray Fox," a name tagged on when his head was covered with the silver-gray hair that has receded to a fringe.
"He is one of the finest and ablest human beings I know," outgoing federation president Arthur Meigs, a District lawyer and investor, said of Bolden. He praised Bolden's efforts to forge alliances between Catholic and public schools through sports events and his work to combat crime and drug problems in the city.
Bolden said his dedication to community has always rivaled his love of sports, which was instilled in him as a youth. Raised in Takoma Park, he attended school in the District because there were no schools in his area for blacks. He played varsity basketball at Dunbar in the mid-1930s and later coached there for two years.
From 1953 to 1965, he coached an all-star basketball team at Cardozo High, leading the team to five Interhigh titles and two city crowns.
In all, he spent 29 years working in the D.C. public schools and three years in the Montgomery County school system.
Bolden is a lifelong member of Plymouth Congregational Church, 5313 North Capitol St. NE. He and his wife, Frances, a pupil personnel worker in the D.C. school system, raised their three children in the Woodridge house.
To keep in shape, the "old jock," as he calls himself, nearly always starts his day with a two-mile walk through his quiet, middle-class neighborhood near Rhode Island Avenue NE. He has watched his neighborhood change just as the federation has.
Today, Woodridge is predominantly black. The land covenants that said "no blacks, no Chinese and no Jews" have become archaic reminders of the changes during his lifetime, Bolden commented. In 1972, the Federation of Citizens Associations removed its "white only" clause from its consititution.
And as the city's population became predominantly black, the balance of power has shifted from the citizens associations to Bolden's civic associations. Bolden's group now has about 15,000 members, while the Federation of Citizens Associations has only 5,000.