Danny Harris is a DC-based photographer, DJ, and collector of stories. He launched People’s District, a blog that tells a people’s history of DC by sharing the stories and images of its residents. You can follow People’s District on Twitter @PeoplesDistrict, and can read his previous columns here.
“In 1971, I done had it with the south and moved up here. What with the racism and the lack of jobs, I needed some change. Up here, people be talking about how Washington is the south. Man, please, this place ain’t the real south. May have some little southern pieces, but this ain’t no southern town. Up here, we’s in the northern world. You best trust me because I be knowing these things. I may look young and handsome, but I am older than you think.
“When I left North Carolina, I knew some people here and they helped me to find a little place and some work. My first job was washing hospital clothes at a place on New York Avenue. After that, I was a roofer. Then, about 40 years ago, a friend who was working at the fish market on Florida Avenue NE told me to come and cut fish with him. See, I didn’t know nothing about cutting no fish at the time. He told me it was easy and I could learn real quick. So, I trusted him and went to cut fish all day.
“I guess I liked it because I have been doing it for 40 years. And after 40 years, I have probably cut off more fish heads and scaled and gutted more fish than anyone you will ever meet. I have seen a lot of great people come through here and have cut fish for some of this city’s greats.
“I came over to the fish market in SW about 35 years ago. I done seen the market and fish change a lot. When I first came here, seafood was real inexpensive. People used to think it was real low class to eat fish. You would see that fish like swordfish and tuna were sold for almost nothing. There used to be a place in Alexandria where we would send the fish we couldn’t sell and they would make cat food. Ain’t it crazy how things change. Next minute, you got someone saying that them fish are all fancy and expensive and now they sell the stuff for all kinds of money. Man, we couldn’t pay people to take it back then.
“The price don’t make much matter to me though, as I just cut them fish. I make sure that my knife is always nice and sharp and I cut them fish right. When I get home, I take me a good bath with some soap and clean off all of that fish and smell. That way, people still want to talk to me after gutting fish all day.”