When Edgar Jackson and Mabel Hunter were married on June 28, l923, at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Georgetown, they exchanged their vows in the church rectory, as a handful of friends and relatives watched.
After the brief ceremony, the newlyweds and their handful of guests walked the six blocks to her family's house at 32nd and O streets, where they ate cake, ice cream and punch with their relatives.
Sixty years later, the Jacksons, who still live in Georgetown, renewed their vows in the main nave of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception with about 250 other couples who also renewed their vows. Twenty-five friends and relatives of the Jacksons attended the ceremony.
Two weeks later, the Jackson's daughters, Cynthia and Martha, threw an anniversary party for them at the Howard Inn. The party, attended by about 200, not only celebrated a marriage that had endured for more than half a century but also was an informal reunion for at least two dozen of the guests, who, like the Jacksons, were octogenarians and had lived most of their lives in "old Georgetown."
They were the ones who stayed behind as many black friends who were homeowners moved to "better neighborhoods" in the 1920s and 1930s. They also watched as others who were renters were forced to leave when the neighborhood became a sought-after address for whites.
Edgar Jackson is the fifth generation in his family to live in Georgetown while Mabel Hunter is a fourth generation Georgetowner. They met in 1918 when they were introduced by her friend Esther Patton Butler, who is now in her eighties and was unable to attend the anniversary party because of ill health.
He lived on Herring Hill, the area of Georgetown east of Wisconsin Avenue. "They used to call it that because there were lots of herring in the creek. And the other side of Wisconsin Avenue was called 'Holy Hill' because everybody up that way was Catholic," said Jackson during a recent interview in the living room of their home in the 2700 block of P Street NW. Mabel Jackson, a Catholic, lived there.
"On Saturday nights, Wisconsin Avenue was the main thoroughfare," Jackson recalled. "We boys would walk and the girls would walk and stand on the corner" meeting and greeting each other. But Mabel Hunter's mother put an end to that.
"Her mother told me she didn't like her daughter standing on the corner, and if I wanted to see her daughter, I could come to the house. But I never got farther than the front gate," said Jackson, laughing. "I was a little timid. . . . I would make pretend I was just walking by and would stand there and talk."
Mabel Hunter was 15 when she and Edgar Jackson, then 19, began "keeping company." They passed many evenings sitting on the steps of her grandmother's house in the 1600 block of 32nd Street, where five other houses on the block were homes for her relatives.
Mabel Jackson fondly recalled her grandparents' house as a neighborhood center. "We played the piano, played horseshoes and sang and the boys in the neighborhood roundabout would come," she said.
In their courting days, the two also went to dances, many of which were sponsored by Jackson at the Odd Fellows Hall at 28th and O streets. Duke Ellington, who was a year behind Jackson at Armstrong High, sometimes would play at these affairs, which were a centerpiece of social life among Georgetown's young blacks after World War I.
"There was an old man who lived in the neighborhood and when he would see us walking down the street he'd say, 'That match was made in heaven,' " Jackson chuckled.
When the two married, Mabel Jackson kept on working as a clerk at the Government Accounting Office until their first child Cynthia was born in l924. Cynthia attended Phillips and Wormley, the two black elementary schools in Georgetown, where their parents had studied years earlier.
Mabel Jackson and her family were among the black families that helped found the Epiphany Catholic Church in l925 to give black Catholics a church of their own so they could escape the segregation they encountered in predominantly white congregations. In those days in Catholic churches, and other denominations, blacks and whites were seated in separate sections of the nave.
Edgar Jackson, like many black men of his generation, worked two jobs. During the day he was a messenger and clerk at the Navy Department and at night he became a tuxedoed waiter at private parties of wealthy whites. The income from both jobs was to ensure they could give Cynthia a college education.
Their second daughter Martha was born two weeks after Cynthia graduated from Dunbar High School in June l941. That same year, they moved to their present home on P Street NW, a block away from Jerusalem Baptist Church, one of three black churches that remain there today.
By 1958, when Jackson retired from the Navy Department as a mailroom supervisor after 42 years, Georgetown had become an predominantly white, exclusive enclave. Blacks had dwindled from 22 percent of the total Georgetown population in 1920 to 3 percent by 1960, according to Census data.
The Jacksons have watched the fancy shops and expensive restaurants replace some black-owned businesses along M Street. Instead of the stable black community where they grew up and reared their children, their neighbors now "are transient folks," Mabel Jackson said.
Asked their recipe for staying together despite the changes that they have witnessed during the last 60 years, Edgar Jackson answered without hesitation "understanding." His wife added, "It's a give and take."