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Neighborhood Memories - Shaw U
Marion Jackson Pryde was born in 1911 and grew up in Shaw on the 1500 block of T Street, NW with her five brothers and sisters. Her father Samuel was a butler at the White House from the Taft to the Truman administration and her mother Eliza raised their six children. Attending Sumner Elementary, Bell, and Dunbar High Schools, Marion participated in theater, music, and debating, and while a student at Miner Normal School won second prize in a predominantly white national oratorical contest. She remembers childhood's simple pleasures-skipping rope, winding the May pole, learning, and a loving family.
"The educational facilities were segregated and we walked from 15th and T streets to 17th and M streets, NW to attend Sumner School. Most of us had to walk distances in order to get to the colored schools, as they called them then. Sumner, of course, is still in existence but not as a school, as a museum. First of all they had a front door, but you didn't use that entrance, that was reserved for dignitaries. There were side entrances and you went in the side entrances. I remember very distinctly the first day that I was enrolled there, my mother took me and of course we went through the front door. When I went by myself when the school actually opened, I didn't know any better. Those sacred steps were reserved for the dignitaries. I was met at the door by one of the teachers and she had to send me back out to the playground to get in line with the other children to come in that side door. I enjoyed myself at Sumner. They had very good teachers. At Sumner the grades would range from Kindergarten to eighth grade. We used to go across the street to take sewing classes. When you left the eighth grade, you always wore a midi blouse and skirt for graduation--and we had to make our midi blouse and skirt for graduation.
"May Day was a big event in the Washington school system. They ask all the little girls to wear white and I remember one year the stores ran out of white dresses, because all the little girls bought white dresses. We had the physical education teacher teach us games and dances. The street was blocked off and we had the program right on 2nd street when I was in Bell. There was a government building right across the street and I know the workers were standing at the window and not doing their work. They'd watch our rehearsal and want to know what day the actual performance took place and [their boss] would excuse them to watch our program. We'd wind the maypole. They tried to make it into a physical education program. They stressed good health. Child Health Day is what I think they called it rather than May Day — that was the emphasis. We had contests and the different schools had different things to celebrate. It was always the first of May and all the schools were doing their thing for that day. That day was special because each class had a program to perform, so it was a busy day.
"There were no restaurants you could attend unless they were black owned. My mother was careful to protect us and to keep us from being embarrassed. I wanted to go to this restaurant because I saw this salad advertised and she said 'oh that is a fine salad, but let's wait until we get home because it will cost us twice as much [to buy].' She went home and bought everything that was in that salad: the tomatoes, the lettuce, the pickle, the hard boiled eggs, and everything that was on that plate in the window and she fixed up a grand salad so that I didn't feel denied.
"The playgrounds were too far away to play and my mother wanted us to be under her watchful eye. Now there were a lot of vacant lots. For example we lived between 15th and 16th on T and between 14th and 15th on T, there were no apartments built at that time, so that was a vacant lot Between 15th and 16th on U there were no buildings so that was another vacant lot. We would go particularly to the one on 16th Street and pick the clovers and tie them together to make garlands, necklaces, and so forth. The boys of course took advantage of those vacant lots to play ball.
"This was a very segregated town and a Southern town. There were so many things they wouldn't let the minorities participate in. We couldn't go to any of the big concerts downtown. The churches provided most of the cultural activities for us. I remember Marian Anderson sang at our church before she became famous and then, of course, there was the incident at the Lincoln Memorial. I remember my older sister taking me there to hear it and that was great. She was on her way to greatness when she sang at our church, but she hadn't achieved status yet.
"We had three theaters on U Street The Booker T., The Republic, and the Lincoln. The Lincoln, of course, is still standing. We enjoyed first class films in those three theaters. The Howard Theater had big acts. Of course I didn't get to go to the Howard very often because it was very expensive and younger children didn't go.
"When I was younger there was a small church on 13th Street called Trinity Baptist and I played for one of the afternoon services there. They paid me about fifty cents a Sunday or something like that. You had a lot of things to do when you were part of a family--you had the washing and the ironing and cleaning up the house, and the boys in addition to going to school had odd jobs. My brother sold newspapers and he would take my younger sister Ursula and put her on the wagon with the papers. He loved to take her, because he said people seeing her there would buy more papers from him. Everybody contributed what they could to the family budget. The girls contributed in the house, but not really working outside like the boys.
"I attended Shiloh Church on L Street, NW between 16th and 17th Street. We enjoyed it because they always had a Christmas celebration and Easter exercises and they had a bazaar there in the early years and we had Thanksgiving. The church provided most of the entertainment for us. Easter time we'd go to the zoo rather than going to the White House. The zoo was a favorite place. When the church wanted to have a picnic, they would reserve a section of the zoo and that was always a treat. We brought a picnic and had the best of foods.
"My mother was cousin to Carter G. Woodson, the historian, and he always came to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner with us. One of my first memories is of his being at the door. I opened the door for him at Christmastime and he had an arm full of gifts all wrapped in white paper and tied in red ribbon. It was a book for each of the children, for the most part they were books that he had written or were published by his company, Associated Publishers. Of course we still have those and I treasure them a great deal. That was a big enough celebration with six children, my mother and father, and Dr. Woodson. Of course we always had a Christmas tree and exchanged gifts with the family. Oranges were not plentiful, but we always had an orange in my stocking which was quite a treat and other little things like candies and nuts. Clothes were always a favorite and we got toys. I remember when the colored dolls first were made, but they were so expensive so my parents stuck with the regular dolls. Then there were games and I liked games better than dolls.
"I went to Dunbar High School and then Miners College. I got a position in public schools when I was nineteen after finishing Miner [Teacher's College]. We were at an advantage because we had excellent teachers who were trained at Smith and other great colleges like Howard and Radcliffe. Dr. Simpson studied at the Sorbonne and couldn't get positions in white places. We had first class teachers. We loved the Dramatic Club because Miss Burrill was in charge. We'd either participate in the play or backstage. We put on 'Bluebird' over at Armstrong and it was quite a production. In one scene the bluebirds flashed across the screen and she wanted some noise like the bluebirds were singing. There was a little whistle you could buy and dip into water to make a little birdlike sound. I remember going down to the ten cent store with another little girl to get these whistles. We were dipping whistles into buckets of water behind the screens, blowing whistles, and spilling water.
"We were a close family: We didn't have many places to go so we made our own fun. We played jacks and the boys played marbles. We had marble steps on our front stairs very much like they do in Baltimore today. Skipping rope was a favorite past time and ring games. My mother was very kind and very innovative. I remember on the Fourth of July she couldn't take us to any special place, but she made ice cream and she bought ice cream cones from the store on the corner. She would have the children from the block, who very much like the rest of us couldn't go anywhere special, and we would race. Whoever won the race would get an ice cream cone as a prize."
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