Dorothea on Memory by Danny Harris

Danny Harris is a DC-based photographer, DJ, and collector of stories. In September, he launched People’s District, a blog that tells a people’s history of DC by sharing the stories and images of its residents. Every day, People’s District presents a different Washingtonian sharing his or her insights on everything from Go Go music to homelessness to fashion to politics. You can read his previous columns here.

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“I have only lived in two places in my life: 934 Shepherd Street in Petworth and where I live today in Woodside Forest, Silver Spring. I am third generation Washingtonian and was born on Shepherd Street on August 7, 1914. My father worked for Continental Baking Company. He was a bread salesman. My mother was a dressmaker and then a homemaker after she had children.

“I graduated from high school during the Great Depression. I was admitted to a teacher’s college, but I didn’t want to have to infringe on my parents for money during that time. While my father did not have it as bad as many of the other people around, income was still cut a lot in our family. With time, my mother had to get food stamps and my father had some difficulty at work. Still, we had food to eat and a roof over our head. I also have random memories of how it was impacting the people around me. Stockings were hard to get at the time and I distinctly remember a friend who only had one pair and was always so careful because she didn’t want to get a run in them. For some reason, that is one of the memories of the Great Depression that I remember the most.

“Instead of teachers college, I went for one year to Marjorie Webster’s School for Secretaries. That was out on Georgia Avenue. After school, I started working for what was then the Farm Credit Administration under Roosevelt as a dictaphone operator. Farm Credit eventually came under Agriculture and I was promoted to a secretary. I was in the government for 25 years until my son was born. Then, I resigned.

“While I was working at Agriculture, our neighborhood in Petworth was changing. I loved the house that I was born in and had lived in my whole life, but things around it started deteriorating. My parents would go to Florida for a little vacation every year and I was afraid to stay at home by myself. Crime was coming to the neighborhood and people started fleeing out of the city. My parents and I also decided to move in 1950. We went to Silver Spring and I had no reservations about leaving. The move was pretty easy and I felt safe again.

‘Now, my son lives in Dayton, Ohio. When he comes back to visit me, he takes me to the old neighborhood. I don’t recognize it at all. Things have changed so much. For one thing, I look at my old home and can’t believe how small it is. I thought it was the biggest, nicest house on the street. I guess being away for almost 50 years has a way of changing your image of a place. That is the way our memory works, I guess.”

4 Comment

  • Ah, stories of white flight. I have lived in the Petworth for most of my life and know very few older white families that stayed in the neighborhood after the blacks started to come in. Seems like I need to head uptown to learn more about how the neighborhood used to be from the white folks.

  • Thanks for posting this. I enjoy hearing stories from people who left the neighborhood a long time ago, and how they perceived it then and now.

  • house looks pretty nice these days.

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