James Dowtin lives in the Maryland suburbs but when he and his family want to worship they put on their Sunday best and head for a church in Washington. When they want to relax they go to clubs like Blues Alley and Foxtrappe in the District. And when they work, they commute to federal jobs -- again in Washington.
"I'd have to say I still keep the focus on D.C.," says Dowtin, who left Washington last winter for a quiet residential street in Hillcrest Heights in Prince George's County.
"Our affiliations are in D.C. We just live in Maryland," he said.
All along Carozza Court, the L-shaped cul-de-sac where the Dowtins live, the sentiment is the same. For the 20 middle-class black families who have moved there in the last two years, the suburbs have been a place to live and pay taxes but not really a place to call home.
As part of a massive migration of the black middle class from the District in the past decade, they have willingly traded smaller homes, deteriorating neighborhoods and crowded schools in the city for the amenities and placid atmosphere of the suburbs. But for the most part they have stayed aloof from their new surroundings, the neighbors and community, preferring to keep the social, economic and political focus on the city.
In part this is simply because many of the families have moved so recently. And in part it's because job opportunities for blacks are still better in town. But underlying the sense of not belonging is the perception that the suburbs are still geared toward whites. Only in Washington, where blacks comprise 71 percent of the population and there is a highly developed cultural, social and political life, can they be completely comfortable.
On Carozza Court, a quiet suburban street a few miles across the District border, most people work in town -- for the federal or district government or Metro. Many of them belong to black social groups or churches in Washington. And if they follow politics it is more likely to be the actions of D.C. Mayor Marion Barry and City Council President Arrington Dixon than Prince George's County Executive Lawrence Hogan and County Council Chairman Parris Glendening.
"As far as I'm concerned," one Carozza Court resident says of his neighborhood, "this is just an extension of the District."
At no time is this sense more apparent than on Sundays, when the morning traffic on Carozza Court, a block of new, two-story homes on nearly treeless lots, follows a distinctly westward path.
At the top of the street, where Carozza Court dead ends into a small cul-de-sac, Bessie and Clarence Pringle are the first to leave, driving past several nearby Baptist, Methodist and Catholic churches to attend Carolina Missionary Baptist Church in Northwest Washington. A few doors away, Georgia Shanks follows much the same route to Capitol Hill, while down the block June Allen heads for Southeast Washington and St. Teresa's Catholic Church, where she and her family have always gone.
All the families who go to church in the District, more than two-thirds of the 12 families interviewed over a month-long period, say they do so because the churches feel "comfortable"; they already know them and like them and don't want to find one closer to home. Two Catholic families, who send their children to private school at nearby Holy Family Church, said they occasionally attend services there.
"Black folks in general who grew up in black churches want to stay in black churches and there just aren't a lot in this area," says Deborah Marshall, a Prince George's County Council member who moved to the county from Washington in 1974. "So you go into the District where you have a big choice."
The orientation toward Washington has apparently had an effect on the size of several suburban congregations. At Holy Family, for years the religious mainstay of Hillcrest Heights, the Rev. Desmond Murphy says he has noticed that many of the new black suburbanites are not interested in coming to his church.
"I find it very prevalent that many will go downtown to the parish where they've grown up," says Murphy. "Many people want to make a social thing of going to church on Sunday. They don't want to go to church where they know nobody when they come in and go out. So they get in their cars and just leave."
The same could be said about almost any other activity on Carozza Court, where mowing lawns, chopping wood and washing cars are the primary weekend occupations.
Most socializing is done with relatives or at city clubs. Some of the women belong to social groups that they set up with friends when they were all still living in the District.
Bessie Pringle, a Hecht's supervisor, organized a group called "Twelve Bhutones" years ago. Today it is still a focus for her, and her husband's, social life. "We are registered downtown," Pringle says, and most of the other women still live in Washington. Another woman on Carozza set up a group called "Alpha Quintz."
Others on the street belong to or participate in more established black groups, such as the sorority Delta Sigma Theta. But, because most of the large black organizations are just starting to establish branches in Prince George's County, participating means going downtown.
"Most of the things we do we go into town for, except movies," said June Allen, who lived in the suburbs for three years before moving to Carozza Court last year. "All of our entertainment, our shopping. I mean if we're going to do some serious shopping, we go into town to go out to dinner."
In fact, most residents of Carozza Court confess they know little about Prince George's clubs, restaurants or social life, and a few get lost without a good road map or careful directions. When Georgia Shanks talks about going out to a restaurant near home the only ones she mentions are two seafood chains. Others simply mention Roy Rogers. Like June Allen, most of the Carozza families can easily tick off a list of five District restaurants, bars or clubs they like and go to.
"Where is there to go in Prince George's if you're black?" asks Marshall. "I can go to any bar in Prince George's and put a dollar in the jukebox and I can't find four songs I want to hear. If I go to a D.C. bar I can at least hear the music I want to hear."
What's true for suburban social life is also true for suburban politics. While most families said they were registered to vote -- Democratic -- most of them are unable to name any state or county politicians. Many more could quickly name the mayor of Washington.
Shanks says she dealt once with County Council member Sue V. Mills, who Shanks said was "a doll, very receptive." But she knew nothing of Mills' past history as the county's leading antibusing crusader. June Allen knew of Prince George's County Executive Lawrence Hogan because she has seen him in the daily newspapers a lot, but she admits that, frankly, she's not that interested in him. "I follow politics in D.C. I don't really follow politics in Maryland."
Or, as Francis B. Francois, a longtime political figure in Prince George's, put it: "These families are facing west toward the District not east. They haven't even found where Upper Marlboro is, much less what it does."
The cause of this aloofness is much debated. Politicians say it is due to lack of in-depth coverage of the suburbs by the major news organizations; black community activists cite the lack of black elected officials compared to the District; social scientists talk of the time it takes to establish new institutions.
In any case, the lack of interest is a factor even at the lowest level of community politics, the civic association. A few of the families of Carozza Court were aware that a Hillcrest Heights civic association existed -- some even knew where it met. But none of those interviewed had ever attended, not even Bessie Pringle, who for four years was president of her block association on Galveston Street in the District.
The result of this has been a somewhat insular community on Carozza Court, where families have carefully saved to buy spacious homes, a big car, Top-siders and braces for their children. As Georgia Shanks put it, as she watched her son Marcus, 5, flip channels on their living-room color television set, "a lot of people are aware that they're middle class and making it."
Most of the adults on Carozza Court know each other only by sight or by the car each drives to work. The one attempt anyone can remember to hold a street-wide get together was not a success.
"No one showed up. Maybe one or two," June Allen, who made the effort, recalled as she unloaded groceries from her car the other day. As she climbed the steps into her brick rambler, arms loaded, a neighbor drove by and waved. Allen responded with a hesitant nod and kept climbing.
"The only way you meet people here is when they come out to do their lawns," says Lulu Hester, who lives across the street from Allen. "No borrowing of sugar or anything. You don't bake brownies for new people."
While Hester, one of the first residents of Carozza Court, pokes fun at this, it is also what drew her and her fiance Tim Alexander to Carozza in the first place. "I wanted a quiet neighborhood, not too many busybodies. I don't like everybody knowing your business."
Hester and Alexander are in some ways the clearest examples of how disconnected many of the new, black, middle-class suburbanites are from the suburbs.
They know few of their neighbors and have made little effort to meet them. When they go out, it is with members of the Alexander family who live nearby in Southeast Washington. On the 4th of July, when other suburbanites headed to their local park and parade, Tim, Lulu and their three kids went downtown, to his father's boat on the Potomac. Lulu belongs to Delta Sigma Theta, which she participates in through its Federal City chapter downtown instead of the Prince George's branch in New Carrollton.
They were one of the first to surround their yard with a fence, six-foot high strips of redwood. They recently put in a pool and built a huge, wooden jungle gym inside the fenced-in area, so that Lulu's children by a previous marriage would have a private place to play. "I'd rather have my kids go play in a backyard than in a playground," explains Alexander.
The couple is equally protective when it comes to their children's education, preferring private Catholic schools to public schools, the traditional link between suburbanites and their community. Hester's 5-year-old daughter, Angel, was sent to Holy Family's private elementary school to make sure she was in a controlled and disciplined environment.
Education is in fact the reason many of the families, like the white families who came to the suburbs before them, are here. They were concerned that the District's public schools were no good and hoped that the Prince George's system would be better. Yet now that they are in the suburbs, a substantial minority of families with school-age children feel as Lulu Hester and Tim Alexander do, and have sent their offspring to private schools -- not St. Albans or Georgetown Prep but less expensive religious schools.
Sidney and Clara Harris' youngest daughter, Geneva, 12, still goes to the same Seventh Day Adventist school near Washington's Fort Dupont Park that she and her two sis-ters attended when the family lived in Southeast. The Williams' two daughters were sent to Catholic schools, Holy Family and La Reine High School, after Sharlene Williams decided the Prince George's schools were not good enough.
Georgia Shanks, a Carozza Court resident who teaches 8th grade in the Prince George's system, says she is continually asked by her neighbors about the public schools. "One thing everyone in this area realizes the value of is education because education got them here," says Shanks.
Besides, she adds, "These people are very, very protective about their children . Those kids don't even walk out the door without their parents knowing where they're going, when they're getting there and when they'll leave there."
Unlike some city neighborhoods, there are few places for a child to go wrong in the Carozza Court neighborhood. There is no traffic to dodge when riding the 10-speed bicycles that many of them own. There are no street-corner drug pushers and no liquor stores or other commercial establishments to draw unwanted outsiders.
For a teen-ager without a car on Carozza Court, a good time is playing front yard Wiffle ball, roller skating in Forestville, watching a Betamax movie at a friend's house. Sometimes there is a school team's afternoon practice. On other days, a few of them climb the hill behind the Harris' house and play basketball, listen to radios, flirt and smoke at the public school on the other side.
"It stinks. There's no company," is 16-year-old Quinne Harris' not-entirely-serious evaluation of Carozza Court.
Her feelings are shared by several other teen-agers on Carozza Court, particularly the ones who have grown up in the District. They complain that it's too difficult to get around, there aren't enough buses, the blocks are too long. They also say that, frankly, there isn't much to do. Like Ronald Dowtin, a high school junior, the teen-agers on Carozza Court frequently evaluate suburban life as either "bor-ing" or at best simply "all right."
Renee Harris, 18, Quinne's older sister who is now attending the University of Virginia, expanded on the general theme not long after her family moved from the District. "In my old neighborhood," she said, "there were people around. Here it's just people watering their lawns."
Pointing to a street empty save for a single parked car and a few green trash containers carefully placed at the curb, she added: "This is how it is here at 8 a.m., at 2 p.m. and at 12 midnight. I miss the city."
Like their parents, many of the older teen-agers who live on Carozza Court spend a lot of social time in town. When Karen Williams returns from college for weekends or vacations, she spends many of her days with friends in town and evenings at the Black Crystal. Quinne Harris goes into Washington to attend a Seventh Day Adventist Church and see friends near their old Southeast house.
And June Allen's son and daughter, who came with her to the suburbs four years ago, move in with relatives in Washington every weekend. "They don't have any friends in the neighborhood, other than school friends who they see at school," said Allen. "They don't play around in the neighborhood."
This lack of involvement is not limited to the families of Carozza Court. It is common to most of the new black suburbanites, according to community activists and political leaders, who speculate how long it will continue.
Demographers say that change will come only when the institutions and attractions that connect these families to the District disappear or are reconstituted in the suburbs. Others say the change will come when these new families are confronted with something in their area they don't like, or want to change.
"When they bump into things -- a new road, a new jail, a Metro route -- they will go to a civic association meeting to find out what is happening and start facing east away from the District ," says Francois, the Prince George's political figure.
But there are others, Georgia Shanks of Carozza Court, for one, who say it's just a question of a little time.
"I think right now everybody's a little bit hesitant," she says. "Everybody wants to be integrated into this community but they don't know how. They've never been in this place before and it all feels new."