TAPE 1/SIDE 1
BARNES: May 16, 2005, Ev Barnes conducting an interview for the Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Madonna, would you like to give your full name and address?
MCCULLERS: Yes, I would like to, my name is Madonna W. McCullers I live at 717 Massachusetts Avenue NE, Washington DC 20002.
BARNES: Okay, Madonna, when did you move to the Hill?
MCCULLERS: I moved--I would say--we moved to the Hill in 1950, October, 1950.
BARNES: So is that when you bought this house?
MCCULLERS: That is --the settlement was already made and that day we moved our things from Anacostia where we had a home to 717 Massachusetts Avenue NE, Washington DC.
BARNES: Was it you and your husband and . . .
MCCULLERS: And my child, and he was seven years old at the time.
BARNES: Oh, so where did he go to school?
MCCULLERS: He went to school at Birney School, which at that time was on Nichols Avenue in Southeast Washington.
BARNES: So when you moved to the Hill he still went to school there?
MCCULLERS: No, when we went to the Hil--we made arrangements for him to go to school here. So he went to, um--first I think he went down to, um [Ludlow] Taylor School, I think and then--I can't remember all of the school's names that he went to in the very beginning, but, um, I think the first school, it seemed to have been Lovejoy, the school was named Lovejoy, and his being in a new area I walked him to school for two weeks. I held his hand and walked him to school for two weeks. And then for two weeks I let him take me to his school. And then I put him in the name of the Lord and asked the Lord to take care of him and so he walked to school by himself after the four weeks of practice.
BARNES: So he went to elementary school and high school on the Hill?
MCCULLERS: He went to elementary, that's right, and he went to Stuart Junior High School when they--at that time they would call it--junior high school. I think now they must call it middle school, but I think then it was junior high school. But the schools you know--they had said--they just wouldn't mix at that time. So anyway, they didn't know what to do, so I took him down to Stuart Junior High School this was in his area. I can't remember the name of the principals there, but one of the principals told my son, they hated to see them come, you know to the school, but. . .
BARNES: Is that when they integrated the schools?
MCCULLERS: And integrated the schools. He went to Stuart Junior High School and the principal told him, 'We hate to see you coming'. This is exactly what they told him.
BARNES: What year was that, do you recall?
MCCULLERS: I can't remember, but it was the same year Hecht's downtown said that they would not integrate their stores or their counters in the stores until the schools integrated. So it would be very easy for them to track the year that this happened.
BARNES: Okay, okay.
MCCULLERS: He went to Stuart and this is what they told him and the principal told the boys, 'if you just cut your eyes toward the girls, um, toward the girl's bathrooms, we'll put you out of the school.’
BARNES: Oh my goodness. Then where did he go to high school?
MCCULLERS: He went to Dunbar High School.
MCCULLERS: He finished Stuart Junior High School. They got along very well for awhile. He was in the band under Captain Rumsey, so they played a band just like the Navy band. It was so beautiful. So then he left as he graduated and went to Dunbar High School, where he finished and from there to Howard University.
BARNES: Did he finish at Howard?
BARNES: Well, I know you're proud of him.
MCCULLERS: Yes. Very much so.
BARNES: Why did you move to Capitol Hill?
MCCULLERS: We moved to Capitol Hill because I had wanted to--I wanted a beauty shop. I was traveling back and forth to a shop at 11th and U and I just wanted a house where I could have a shop, so my son would come home from school, being seven years old at the time we moved, it would be very convenient for him to come to me. My husband at that time was working at the Naval Powder factory, which was down in--I can't think of the name of the place--but they will know where the Naval Powder factory was, it was down in [Indian Head] Maryland. So he was a plumber in the government at that time. I was at home. So I stayed at home in the beauty shop to be with my son when he come home from school.
BARNES: When you bought this house, you bought it so you could have a beauty shop? You put in a beauty shop, which you couldn't do in Anacostia?
MCCULLERS: No, the street there was 2332 14th Place and it was a circle there and it was not a through street, so they would not let us have the shop there because the fire department could not go in and come out, they would have to go around a circle and come out. We decided that we would move after five years in Anacostia, we moved to 717 Massachusetts Avenue. I went to cosmetology to see if the ceilings were high enough and all the ramifications of, would be necessary in having a shop here. So, when they approved it, the ceilings were high enough and everything, they told us what to do. So we had to just dig up and it took quite a while to get the shop ready to pass the health department and to pass cosmetology before…so it took quite a while. So the shop was ready, approved by the District, by cosmetology in January of 1951, when I left 11th and U and came into my shop.
BARNES: So you, but you bought this house 717 Massachusetts, you bought in October of 1950?
MCCULLERS: We bought this house in October of 1950. The realtor was Mr. L. A. Jett and he lived down on Eighth Street going toward Eighth and H. Not across H, he lived this side of H Street. A realtor, he sold us this house, but we had another realtor to deal with our house in Anacostia. So, when we came here we paid $5,000 down on this house at the time.
BARNES: In 1950, you were able to get a loan for the house?
MCCULLERS: Then we got a loan for the rest of the house, held by Metropolis Building and Loan Association.
BARNES: And so you've lived here since 1950?
MCCULLERS: I've lived in this house since October, 1950.
BARNES: And you raised your son here?
MCCULLERS: I raised my son here. Um, I also raised an adopted son whose name is Carl.
BARNES: Oh, my goodness.
BARNES: But you now live here by yourself, your husband died. .
MCCULLERS: My husband passed in 1982 after a long illness. George Washington University Hospital.
BARNES: I see, so you have continued to operate your shop since 1950?
MCCULLERS: Yes, I continued to run the shop with five other young ladies to work with me over the years. And they retired one by one to go to their respective places. I am very happy to have had a place to work myself, and a place to hire five other young people, who retired one by one. Now it's only one still in my shop and myself. I only work three days a week and I don't work all day, but I stay there to do the people that have been so gracious to me over the years. Because when I left 11th and U, I brought all of my customers with me and the people poured in from this area because there where no other black shops in the area. There were white shops, but there were no other black shops in the area. One by one the white shops left and the black shops came in, but they did not buy their homes. So the people who owned the homes in the very beginning came back to retrieve their homes, so all the shops left at about that time.
BARNES: The people that you had working for you were they the same people that stayed with you until they retired?
MCCULLERS: I think in my tenure of years there were several different people, girls who came and went, you know they did not stay, but I had one lady who stayed with me from the beginning. Most girls who came in had other jobs and they would come in and work more or less part time but they did not work for me. I only rented them spaces so that they would have their own business. I think when you do beauty culture, you work to go on and work, to own your own business. But in my shop, on their own, they only paid for their spaces.
BARNES: They had their own businesses. So you helped a lot of women become independent and able to run their own business that probably would not have been able to if it had not been for your renting the space to them. I wanted to ask you, as I look around your house, structurally it’s so beautiful. Have you changed it over the years? Other than wall paper and things like that, have you made any major changes?
MCCULLERS: Yes, we made major changes, because when we came structurally the house wasn't in good shape. The paper was hanging from the walls for lack of maintenance. When we came in the minute the contract was signed, we pulled the paper from the walls and everything. My son, having left such a beautiful home that we had in Anacostia, was afraid, because all of the rooms were so much larger and it wasn't very beautiful, because the doors were all painted very dark. So we came in and scraped the doors down and scraped the walls. My husband's friends came in to help him and we painted the house antique white, the ceilings white, and the walls antique white and the doors, white. And it made it so much more homely and made it so much more beautiful. And being a person who loved beautiful furniture, my mother loved beautiful furniture and she had beautiful furniture in her house, so it rubbed off on her children. So I went to get piece by piece from Mayers downtown and to the antique houses, Old Antique House on Pennsylvania Avenue and I was able to buy chairs and have them reupholstered in antique velvet. And I furnished my house and most people come in and think it’s beautiful, but by myself, I'm here all the time, I don't see the beauty, just something that I love. I love furniture and I love all kinds of artifacts, so I just kept bringing in...
BARNES: And you have a piano and you play the piano?
MCCULLERS: Well, my mother gave everyone, there were nine of us who lived in my family, and my mother gave at least five of her children music, but she didn't ever give music to me and I was the one who really loved music. So, since I've been in Washington, I studied music under Miss Lucille Banks Robinson just to play enough for myself. So sometimes I just sit down at my piano and play and sing to myself.
BARNES: You were not raised in Washington?
MCCULLERS: No, I was reared; I was born and reared in a place called, Wynnsboro, South Carolina. It was a beautiful town. My father being a brick mason and my mother a teacher, she kept us from being hired out. The boys could go out to work, but the girls had to stay and work at home. So this is the way we came along. In a small town my father had a garden, and he planted peach trees. Early in my life, I won an oratorical contest and won first prize at my home before I left.
BARNES: When did you leave?
MCCULLERS: I left home right after I finished part of high school. There was not a high school to be had in Wynnsboro, you could only through, possibly, the ninth grade, so we had, my mother had to send us all away to school. Being an educator herself, she sent each one of us. Being so segregated, she never wanted us to go further south. So she sent us to Charlotte, North Carolina and from there some of my sisters came to finish at Spellman. And then I came to Washington and continued my education here.
BARNES: Was that high school?
BARNES: Oh, you finished college here?
BARNES: Where did you go?
MCCULLERS: I went, well, I went part of the time to junior college, but most of the time I spent going to beauty school. Most of my sisters and brothers, my mother wanted all of us to teach school, but I wanted to be, somewhat like, an entrepreneur. So I took up beauty work along with studying all the machines. I took short hand and typing and I think there were other machines that we had at that time in school. We could go to night school in anything you wanted to, so I stayed in school.
BARNES: Was that here in Washington?
MCCULLERS: Right here in Washington DC.
BARNES: So you actually moved to Washington in what year?
MCCULLERS: I can't remember the year that I moved, but it was right after I finished high school, not high school, but ninth grade, which was as far as we could go. So we came to Charlotte to Second Ward High School, finished there…
BARNES: And then you moved…
MCCULLERS: …took up some courses…
BARNES: …and then you met your husband?
MCCULLERS: My husband is from Apex, North Carolina, where they had their own farm. His father and mother had their own tobacco farm there. I met him after he came here. He came here also because after you finished school it was awful hard to find jobs in the South, so you would have to leave to go other places, so he came here. And I met my husband at Elks Home 85, which was on Third and Rhode Island Avenue. My mother had always told us to go to church and meet our husbands in church, but I met my husband on the dance floor. And he was a super person, very, very nice. And we took several trips and carried our son to all of the islands of the Caribbean, we went to the Panama Canal to see the ships go, and to Hawaii, we went all of these places.
BARNES: You had a very good life together.
MCCULLERS: We had a very, very, very happy life together and took our vacations every summer.
BARNES: What was the neighborhood like when you moved here?
MCCULLERS: Oh well, the neighborhood was becoming black. The neighbor to my right was 721, Mrs. Green, she was an elderly white lady. She was very, very cordial and very nice and when we would travel she would keep our bird when we go on vacation. She said that my husband and I worked like her brother worked and was glad to have us as neighbors. She was very sweet. She finally died and the next door neighbor came, they wanted us to buy her house, her niece wanted us to buy her house for $20,000. My husband thought that the taxes would be so tremendous that he didn't want to buy any other property on the Hill. So we bought property elsewhere, but not on the Hill. And the house coming in to my right, they were neighbors there, but they weren’t quite so cordial. They finally moved also. They were white. That house, Mr. Jett had also. Mr. L.A. Jett had that house and he asked us to buy that house for $9,500 but again my husband thought the taxes would go up so high on the Hill that he didn't want that house. I'm sorry today that I didn't buy that house because there's a great big tree in the yard that really should go. It's leaning and all of the roots are in my yard leaning and I have to do all of the sweeping. And when the storm Hazel came through, it took every tree on the other side of the street here, but it didn't touch any on this side and this tree still stands and it sheds from the early spring straight through.
BARNES: Was that Hurricane Hazel that came through?
MCCULLERS: It was Hurricane Hazel that came through and it was a terrible storm and it took every tree from Lincoln Park to Stanton Park up the hill on the other side of the street, but it didn't touch the trees on my side of the street.
BARNES: I think that was 1953 or '54? Somewhere in there, but we can check on that. [October, 1954] The neighborhood you would say was becoming integrated when you moved in, right? There were whites and there were blacks
MCCULLERS: Well, blacks were moving in very, very slowly. There were blacks that lived in the second house on this block on Eighth Street coming in, but they lost their house. There were blacks that live here on the other side of Mr. McGregor's house, they owned that house. But somehow, I don't know if they lost the house or sold the house, but white people came back into those houses. They were retrieved by whites after the black people must have lost them.
BARNES: The neighborhood has changed from when you moved in and the neighborhood was becoming integrated and then later the whites came back.
MCCULLERS: Not yet, there was a church around the corner here at Seventh and A Street [NE] and that church was the First Church of Nazarene, that church the Nazarene people left because their members, the people were moving out and their members were getting smaller and smaller and their members was getting smaller and I think they went to Virginia, I think. The church coming from Southwest, someone told me there was a church coming from Southwest, they came to the Nazarene Church, it was John Stewart Methodist Church that came at Seventh and A Street. That church came in 1951, my husband and I were so glad. I was Methodist and he was Baptist, but we both joined this church because all we had to do was go around the corner to Seventh and A Street. That church stayed there until 1973. Well in '72 the white people began to move back in--the neighborhood was making another change--see and very few people we were getting. So the bishop thought they should merge two churches, so they merged East Calvary, which was on 14th Street in Southeast Washington, on the Hill, and John Stewart Methodist Church and made those churches be combined and they named it Lincoln Park United Methodist, which is there today, but where Lincoln Park is now was Epworth Methodist Church owned by white people. It was owned by the conference, but it was white people, so the pastor was losing his membership also at that time, because the people were moving out. So the Bishop saw fit to take the church, merged these two churches and that's Lincoln Park. When these two churches, Methodist churches met there the Epworth church left. There were members who tried to go and integrate the church, since the pastor was losing members, but he didn't accept them. So they called me one weekend, wanting me to go with them to church, so the pastor would probably accept them, since their members were moving out, they probably would accept them and integrate, but the pastor never did. But I told them I didn't want to go, because I wasn't taught to go and make somebody shake my hand if they didn't want to. So when the pastor would go to the back of the church they would try to make him. Whether they went, I don't know, but I didn't want to because I could not make him, because I wasn't taught to push my way in anywhere.
BARNES: So do you still belong to the Lincoln Park United Methodist?
MCCULLERS: So the Lincoln Park United Methodist still stands, but I was membership secretary when the church was here at Seventh and A. When the churches merged, I kept my office. I was membership secretary for the two churches for several pastors for must have been about 30 years, I gave up my office so that I could visit. As long as I had the job of membership secretary, it was necessary for me always to be at church, so I never got a chance to visit in the mornings. So I gave my membership secretary job and then I started visiting. Visiting, I was walking home from this church and I ran into a fellow who was cleaning the yards at the Seventh Day Adventist Church, so he invited me to come sometime. So I went to visit them and I liked it. So, I joined.
BARNES: When was that?
MCCULLERS: This church is here between Ninth and Tenth [Streets] on Massachusetts Avenue. It's between Lincoln Park United Methodist Church and my house. So I joined Seventh Day Adventist in 1996, I believe. I joined and was baptized there and it is a church that has many, many different races of people. It is just beautiful and I really enjoy myself there. The people are so cordial and I enjoy going.
BARNES: Yes, they have their services on Saturday, is that correct?
MCCULLERS: Services are held on Saturday because sometime back, I understand, Saturday was worship day, but they changed it to Sundays. I think the Catholics or somebody changed the day to Sunday. But in reading my Bible, the Lord, well, we believe that Saturday is the day of worship. So I won't go into the religious part of it at all because I don't think that that would be fair.
BARNES: That was really helpful, though, because that church is closer to where you live.
MCCULLERS: Yes, yes I stay in churches that's close because when I was a kid my mother took us to churches that were so far away and I always stay in a church because this is what she taught us. But I would find that I think that a church is supposed to serve its area and this is why I am a member of churches in the area and this is why I'm still in area.
BARNES: Now when you moved in here in 1950, where did you shop, like for groceries? What stores were here?
MCCULLERS: Oh, when I first came to this area there was a High's store here at Seventh and Constitution Avenue. Now it is a laundry—the High's ice cream store. In this same block at Massachusetts Avenue and Constitution there was in the basement a variety store. There was a fellow that had a variety store in the basement. He would sell bread and whatever a person wanted in the basement. Across the street over there at Constitution Avenue, Seventh and A Street there was a telephone place, which is still there. But there were girls that worked out of there just as they do in the other big buildings. They came into the shop. There were many girls who worked in that telephone company who worked [abrupt end of tape]
MCCULLERS: Yes, there were several girls who worked around there just as in the other buildings around. They came, a lot of them, here into my shop to get their beauty services taken care of. They have left there now, but the telephone company is still around the corner, but what they do, I don't know. And there was a Safeway, too on Seventh Street in the back. It was on A Street and East Capitol Street. It was a Safeway. It seemed to me at that time that the Safeway was having a rivalry with the Giants and they bought up everything because there also was a Safeway on Eighth Street at C. But now, they tell me, that the building is used as a dialysis place. There also was a Safeway at D Street and 13th Streets NE, but that Safeway is not there any more. There were Safeways in several places.
BARNES: Did you shop at Eastern Market at all?
MCCULLERS: Eastern Market was really nice. The people would come in from the country and bring their vegetables, so fresh. It was just beautiful at that time. But it seemed like somebody wanted to just get rid of Eastern Market at that time. It's such a beautiful place and its got a lot of artifacts. I sill love going there, but they've made a lot of the vendors come inside now. But we just really enjoyed the people coming in from the country. And there was a Safeway across from the Eastern Market also. But it was small, so it left and it went other places.
BARNES: Now, where did you shop for clothes and things like that, was it downtown?
MCCULLERS: There were many stores that we could go to. We could go to Hecht's and to Lansburgh's downtown. I didn't, you couldn't get a credit card at either one of those stores. They would not let you have them at that time. And you couldn't eat at the stores. And today, even today, you will never find me eating at Hecht's. I know they don't know that, but I will not eat in Hecht's because they fought like mad to keep the people from eating at their counters earlier. Now Hecht's is not anymore there. They have moved over on 13th Street. They're not on Seventh Street [NW] anymore.
BARNES: Did you shop on H Street at all? There were shops on H Street NE, right?
MCCULLERS: H Street NE up Eighth and H, there were many shops there. We used to shop up and down on Eighth and H Street, which I really enjoyed. It was very nice. Which I was very sorry, for in 1968, I believe it was, I had a group of fellows to come in, Mr. Barenta, to come in my house to do the top floor and to take out some of the skylights that were over the doors in my house. And he came in with a lot of men to work in my house. I was in my shop working and they were upstairs working in my house and all of the sudden and we looked to H Street and it was on fire. It was in 1968, everything started burning and we didn't know what happened. But down on H Street was a really a nice place to shop, I thought. You know, everything was nice there.
BARNES: There were shops and in fact there was a theater? Is that where you all would go to films, movies, on H Street?
MCCULLERS: No, many times we would go downtown, and when my son was young he wanted to go to the movies downtown and I would never tell him that he could not go. I would just say that we did not have the time. But at that time the movies were not integrated, so when we wanted to go to the movies we went up on U Street to the Lincoln. There were several movies on U Street where we would go and shop. There were also many beautiful places where we would go for night life. There was the Crystal Caverns and lots of places for people to go to up there to enjoy ourselves. My mother taught us, we would only go if something was formal. And if it was formal, you wore long dresses and the men wore after five clothes. It was very, very nice and orderly. We had some beautiful clothes. I still own my long velvet evening coat and some dresses that I just have not given up. It’s just nice to see what lovely times we had going places that we could go ourselves. We enjoyed it very much. I loved to get dressed at night and go. It’s wonderful. But I want to tell you this, you know the hospital across the street, it was Casualty Hospital. I remember the name it was Casualty Hospital. And after Casualty, it was Rogers Memorial the Rogers they owned the hospital. I hate to backtrack...
BARNES: No that's fine.
MCCULLERS: You know when we go into the hospital the ambulances would come and it was one of the things I thought I never would get used to, but hearing the noise, you just become immune to it. But the ambulances would come here on Massachusetts Avenue and Constitution and make that circle right here into the hospital in front of my door and let the people out and circle right around and come out in front of the hospital. At that time the hospital was not as large as it is now. There were houses from Constitution Avenue and Eighth Street all the way back to C Street in that block. And then there was a drug store on Eighth Street in the hospital on the first floor. On Seventh Street side, Seventh and Constitution Avenue there were houses from Constitution Avenue clear back to C Street NE on both sides of the street. And those people came into my shop, but when the hospital wanted to expand, all of those people had to go. They took all of those houses on both sides on Seventh Street and on Eighth Street and all of those people had to replace themselves. They were being displaced by the hospital. So they left, and the hospital expanded.
BARNES: Was it still Casualty when it expanded?
MCCULLERS: It was Roger's Memorial at that time and they hung . . . yeah, that's right it was Roger's Memorial. . .because when it was Casualty, my brother, who had a place at Tip Top Inn, he was an entrepreneur also, he had a tavern and the people did not want him to come out to put this establishment and they would have gangs and a lady. . .
BARNES: [interrupts] and where was this?
MCCULLERS: This was near Peace Cross.
BARNES: Oh, out in Maryland.
MCCULLERS: That's right, so my brother, somebody got in a fight and broke his nose. And they brought him, because he lived down here D Street and 17th in a house. Now they call that Capitol Hill, but at that time, that was not Capitol Hill. So they brought him to Casualty Hospital. At that time Casualty Hospital was not integrated.
MCCULLERS: And they put him in this place, but the doctors told him, that, we, we are so sorry that the place is not integrated. But we, the doctors, will do a great job with you. And they really did and I went over to see him and sit with him until they got him well again, my brother. We went to Casualty Hospital and it became Roger's Memorial and they made all these big changes.
BARNES: And then after Roger's it became . . .?
MCCULLERS: After Roger's it became Capitol Hill Hospital, you see
BARNES: And then it closed and then . . .
MCCULLERS: It closed, now it’s a nursing home and they want to make more changes to put apartments in there. That building is an historical building and they should not use it for what they are planning to use it for. I have no jurisdiction and I know that they would not listen to me, but they really should not change that hospital into apartment houses. I think we have enough houses on the Hill and people hardly have enough places to park. That is why I'm so glad that I have a garage. I park my car in the garage. Many times I would like to be on the street but I leave the place for other people because it is awfully hard for them to come into the area and find a place to park. And when my shop first came, people could drive in and park. But now I have people that are crippled and they are walking with canes and there are so many people in the area now that they can hardly find a place to park. You see, this is why I keep my car in the garage in the back so that they can have a place to park on the street.
MCCULLERS: I just hope that they will never be able to do what they plan to do with this hospital. We need the hospital now. I was just over to see a lady who is in the hospital and who was burned on the Hill up here, her house was burned near the Barracks. She had a tracheotomy and she is one of the people here in the nursing home. So they're going to move the people in the nursing home to other places which I think is terrible. Lots of times we go over to have our blood pressure taken over there or go there if things should happen and I just wish that they would keep the hospital there.
BARNES: So physicians are still there?
MCCULLERS: Oh, they still have doctors there. I go over to visit the sick there and other places. But I go there and they have quite a few people there, still.
BARNES: So is this part of volunteer work, or you just go visit people that you know?
MCCULLERS: Well, it's part of work that I like to do from my church. We have to visit the sick and look after the people. We have to visit the jails and everything to comfort the people. This is . . . you know we can't leave all the work to the ministers; it's for everybody to have to go and do, so the members do too. So the members go to visit the sick and on the Sabbath we don't do anything but that--we read our Bibles and we visit the sick.
BARNES: I was just wondering, all the years that you've lived on the Hill, what you recall being perhaps the most difficult time with disasters or, like for instance, when H Street was burned. Are there disasters or hard times that you recall living on the Hill?
MCCULLERS: Well, I'm a person who always tries to think positively. If you think positively you get much further in your life. You can live longer, you look better and everything if you think positively. But when I first came to this area it was very difficult for me because my sister lived four blocks from me and I walked to her house. I encountered men, I don't like to tell this because it doesn't sound too good, but there were white men in cars and they were well dressed and they would try to get you in their cars to take you places. I could not understand this and I would cross the street and they would go around the block and come back and the car would be on the side where you were again.
BARNES: Was this in the '50s?
MCCULLERS: That was in the '50s, yes, trying to get you in the car. And I thought it was kind of funny, because, see, we were so segregated and I didn't think that this would ever happen. And I would look and they would be exposing themselves, you see, so I just stopped once and I just told him, "What in the world do you want?" And they wanted to put you in the car and take you someplace. And I said, "I would never do that." I said, "I'm a decent respectable woman. If you really want me to go with you, come to my house and pick me up and take me to the Mayflower Hotel, or something, to have dinner in the middle of the day. And I promise you I'll meet you then because I'll be out there with you in the middle of the day and everybody knows that I know you.” That's not one of the things that would really happen.
MCCULLERS: People, just you know, general people they ask me again to go out and collect monies for the heart fund. So I came home and at that time I went to church on Sunday and I came home dressed and I said I'll pick up my things and go to the neighbors. At that time you were supposed to go only to your block to pick up monies for the heart fund. So I would go into the yard at 715 Massachusetts, I can remember so distinctly, he met me at the gate. He saw me coming and he wouldn't let me come in--he said, "I pass"--which meant he wasn't going to give anything. And I went into another person's house, and I rang the bell and they would peep out and they were white people and they would never open their doors. So after I went to about three or four houses, I didn't go any further, I came back home. So the next year, they asked me if I would go again, so what I did, I put my money in an envelope and I sent it to them, but I didn't tell them why I wasn't going back. So they asked me to do it again another year, so I told them, "I'm not going to do it because the people will not open their doors because it is so segregated, people will not give me money. I guess maybe they think I'm taking the money up for myself but I do not need the money. My mother told me not to take anything from anybody. But I didn't have time to explain it to them because they would not open their doors.
BARNES: So this was in the '50s?
MCCULLERS: Yes, in the '50s.
BARNES: But it did get better, when do you think it was a much more integrated and comfortable neighborhood for you?
MCCULLERS: After 1973 when we moved down to Lincoln Park, the pastor was begging the people, the black people not to move, but he didn't know that quite a few of them did not own their homes, they were only renting. The people that left in the exodus did not sell their homes; they were just renting their homes. So it wasn't, so when they came back it wasn't the older people it was their daughters and their sons that came back into the city and I think that they must have been much more flexible. Because the older people thought that one black person was a carbon copy for all of them. They just thought that everyone acted the same, thought that. . . [to interviewer] it's differences in people, you know. So they thought that everybody was made by a carbon copy. They just didn't, wouldn't think any further. But they, um, the children coming back must have been more educated or they must have met in college with more of the black people and had a chance to talk to them and see that they were not the people who they had put them up to be. That they were very nice people. It's somebody. But my mother told us that everybody's somebody. I left home believing that everybody is somebody so I didn't take it to heart. I just went on, you know. So when the people decided that they were going to speak, I spoke, and sometimes I would speak and I didn't even look for an answer because that's what my mother taught me. As segregated as home is, every person in that town speaks to you. You pass by, every white person speaks, every black person speaks. If you pass by five or six times they speak and this is what I was taught. So I just didn't take it to heart because I kept an open mind.
BARNES: In the '70s when the young people moved in who had been integrated in the schools and their colleges and their communities, did you find life on the Hill a lot more open and easy and people spoke to each other and looked after each other and were more neighborly?
MCCULLERS: I find them much more neighborly, you know what I mean? Many people took it to heart, but I knew because I was brought up in a place where it was just segregation. But one thing about it, the people that lived around you, 'cause it was mixed where I lived in the South and the people spoke all the time, we just didn't go to church together and we didn't have to worry about transportation, because there was no transportation you walked everywhere okay. But here you had to come in contact with the people on the buses and things and so they had to sit back and this is the thing that would infuriate me. I'd rather not get on the bus than sit in the back, especially if I was paying. But here, now, it is much nicer. I had a lady, the same lady that fell off her bike in the 1950s, she came a little later, and I ran to her, 'cause her lunch fell, and I ran to her, and I asked her if I could help her, and she said, ‘no, don't help me.’ That same lady, today, comes to find out what do I need. You see, it’s a difference. You see she must of learned, I knew all the time, but she must of learned that there are some good people. Because she sent her daughters to my house to sell cookies for the Scouts. I bought those cookies from that girl. Maybe that rubbed off on her--I don't know what did, but she is a special, a very nice person today. So when I go out to take my manual hedge cutters to cut my hedges, there's always somebody that comes by, they could be white or what not, and say, "Do you want to use my electric cutters?" They are so cordial. It’s really nice that people have learned. I never could understand why they would make two restrooms, when they could have one. [laughter] That costs money.
BARNES: Of course it did. When you look back, a lot of that was foolish.
MCCULLERS: When I look back, I just really . . . sometimes I talk to my customers and one of them told me, "Madonna, you going to have to get up off of that," and I say I am up off it, but when I discuss it, I just can't understand why people were so . . . and don't let me say terrorists, but they seemed like they were terrorists.
BARNES: All the years, from '50s and '60s and '70s and what were the gathering places when you were segregated and how did that change when everything was integrated? Where did you gather with friends and neighbors?
MCCULLERS: How did this change when it was integrated? Well, you know, I was just out to dinner here and you didn't have to worry about where you were going. You didn't have to worry about someone telling you that you couldn't come. One of the things that bothered me so much was when we went to a place and we sat down and we were told that we couldn't sit that we had to get up. But see now, when you go places you know that you can sit there because people now have learned a lesson. You can feel more comfortable going to a place. Not that I want to mix with somebody, but I can feel free to go to a store to know that they are going to wait on me because this is my turn to be waited on not to have to stand so they can wait on somebody else. Because that just made me so mad. And sometimes I wonder and I ask my customers, psychologically, I wonder how those people feel, felt, that we, the black race, should be crazy. Because we should be psychologically crazy, because look at what they did at Columbine. First they sent people to take care of those kids to make sure that this would not rub up on them, the shooting would not rub up on them psychologically. But they shot, they killed . . . how do they think we feel psychologically? Crazy. We should be, all of us, just crazy. Psychologically, think about it.
BARNES: But you are very strong people and it was what you were taught in your homes . . .
MCCULLERS: No, we were a very religious people. When you're oppressed, it makes you religiously inclined. I came up in a religious home and my parents shielded us from all of this. We didn't get a chance to know. My mother couldn't find black baby dolls. She couldn't find nothing but white baby dolls, but she got some ink and painted them because she was sure we weren't going to carry no white dolls to the street. She didn't want us rolling white children. That was the way she felt. When I see little white children, I love them, because they're children--they don't know any better. You see, I mean, I don't care how white or how black. See my mother, her picture is up on the piano there, she was very light. Some white men integrated our family there a long time ago because we should have been black. You understand what I'm saying, but somebody integrated my mother's family because they all look like white folk. I couldn't help that. But my father's people belonged to the Mohawk Indians and he told me to be nice to be kind to everybody. I am so happy. I really think that is why I'm living today. I am not a young person, but I am happy. And I walk through this house and I would invite anyone in, to have some juice or something, white, black or whoever. Because this is the way I was reared. Because you cannot enjoy your home by yourself. You have to give of yourself. You have to give of what the Lord has given you. Everything we have comes from the Lord. He has everything. That's what my race thought. My Father has houses, plenty of houses, and everything belongs to Him. And we know he will supply our needs. This is what I was taught in catechism class at home and in Sunday school and I'm so glad I did because it makes me a better person.
BARNES: What do you like best about living on Capitol Hill?
MCCULLERS: On Capitol Hill?
BARNES: What do you love about being here?
MCCULLERS: You know, I didn't think too much about it when I was moving here. I just thought I was moving to another place, another home, like that. But now people think Capitol Hill is this and Capitol Hill is that, people want to know, "how did I get here?" and I say what you mean, how did I get here? I just was looking for a house and I found it. It doesn't seem any different to me. But one of the things that I do I close my house in, I do not like my windows to be open so that people can look in, so I like to close my blinds at nighttime. I don't care what goes on. My husband put a fan in the basement. The house is three brick deep--three brick deep--I love that. And the floors were long leaf pine put down by screws, but my husband bought parquet floors when we moved here and covered all of that, but I'd just as soon have the long leaf pine because it’s so beautiful. You clean it up and it’s so beautiful. That's what I love, not the whole Hill so much. And these doors, you pull them out, great big heavy doors, I mean. And the walls are so sturdy and we cleaned and scraped them. And I had my house sandblasted because I don't like paint, you have to keep painting on the outside. But I paint the inside and I taught the children not to touch the walls. And Clinton [my son] had all his parties right here, all of his parties. And I taught him how to take care of things and my mother had silver and she taught us how to use it. So I've had it my family for years. The only thing I hate about silver is it tarnishes so much and I have to keep it all covered. I have this silver service covered up. I don't want anything hidden. I want to show what I have, put it all out. That's why I don't particularly care for silver, but you have to have it.
But that's what I like about the Hill. I love the fireplaces but I don't have no fire in them. The lady next door asked, "Don’t you want a fire?" You know when I was at home I blew up so many fires and couldn't start a fire that is why my eyes are no good today. [laughs] I don't want nothing burning like that. I am so glad for the gas and other things that make life so much more beautiful. But I love the Hill, when I go out to other people's houses way out they look like they were just threw together. The baseboards are not mitered when they were put together. I go out and I look and they make them look beautiful and they carpet them but when you take the carpet up you don't have any hardwood floors under them. In a lot of places. Unless you do like my sister and her husband who have their place in Bethesda. They had a lot of places all about the city. They had a beautiful place on Bradley Boulevard and they could put into it what they wanted to. But the houses they build for people to buy they are so shabbily put together. They are not put together like these houses, but my father was a brick mason and I know what I'm talking about.
MCCULLERS: He laid those bricks. And there's lathes behind this plaster, you know what I mean, wooden lathes. And then the finishing coats to make it pretty. But my father did that and wainscoting. They had wainscoting; he knew how to build a home. My father and my brother, we were the only people on Cemetery Street at home to have brick houses. That's built, not thrown up. I'm not talking about the houses that are built just lately; I'm talking about the houses that have been here for years. You see the medallion, you see the stuff around. Isn't that just beautiful?
BARNES: Yes, it is. So you walk a lot to go places?
MCCULLERS: Yes, I do walk a lot. I walk from Lincoln Park to Lincoln Park United Methodist Church on the other side of the Park. They ask me, "Madonna, do you want a ride?" I say “no, I can't meet anybody if I ride.” I left my car in the garage. I want to walk. Even if it’s raining, I walk. Now I walk from down here--they want to bring me there---un uh, I walk. I walk to the banks up here on the Hill. I walk up to the banks and I walk to Frager's, you know Frager's?
BARNES: Oh, Frager's Hardware store. Oh, my goodness.
MCCULLERS: I walk down to Frager's and this way you keep yourself mobile. I'm scared to have people to do things for me because they come back and try to get in to windows and such, some people are bad. I cut my own hedges.
MCCULLERS: … to fix up my back yard I think it was $6,075 to fix the yard up in the back. But I still get back there to clean and fix up. I like to be a good neighbor to my neighbors. Mr. McGregor, next door, and I don't think he would mind my calling his name, he is a very, very nice neighbor. The two of us with-- the houses near us they don't seem to do too much because I think, they are, the one on this side, rent houses. The man that owns the house came and stayed here and he and his wife have two little girls, and one was born next door. But they moved somewhere up near the zoo. I have his name, but by renting the house to different people, people don't care too much about a house when they rent. Some people. And they don't do too much to it. When I go out my front door the first thing I see is a trash can and that bothers me a lot, but I can't help it. They're neighbors; I just look at it and keep going. That's the reason I wish I had bought the house next door. [laughter]
BARNES: If you bought it you could look after it.
MCCULLERS: Well, if it had not been for my husband, I would have. He did not want it and I thought he knew best and I always let my husband be the man of the house. I mean that is very important to let them be the man of the house. Not that he wouldn't take suggestions from me. But I thought at the same time that was true, the taxes would be . . . but now I would like to pay the taxes and have that house.
BARNES: and have a nice yard.
MCCULLERS: And have the house yard because there's a tree in the back that messes up my house and my yard and I'm sweeping all the time. It’s not my tree, it's his tree. I had a tree in the back. It was a beautiful tree. It was a birch, a river birch, but grew so until it fell over into Brother Ferguson, not Ferguson, McGregor, Brother McGregor’s yard too much. And I had a man come and I paid him $300 to come take the tree down and he came and took up the roots and all. And underneath it was a little pine tree coming up by itself. That pine is still out there because it doesn't branch out, it goes straight up. And that makes me a better neighbor because I didn't want it to grow that would bother him. I told him if there's anything that grows over for him to cut it because I want to be a good neighbor. He is a nice neighbor.
BARNES: That's probably something that you enjoy about living on the Hill is having nice neighbors and having your church close by. And there are even some, still some small stores that you can go to close by, but you drive your car to do your grocery shopping?
MCCULLERS: I pick up all my mulch, my flowers for my yard, I go to my doctor, I go to my accountant--all of that I drive for. Because I work at home, I try to do a lot of walking to keep my body up, you see. And I keep the car up, too, but I keep myself up by walking. I think that's better for me. You see because I get out to pick leaves and sweep up my yard. People come by and want to do that for me. It's not that I don't have the money to pay them, but I need to exercise myself. And then I come in and get a shower and rest. [laughter]
BARNES: And you feel so good.
MCCULLERS: I do. And that's why they want to know, "Madonna, how old are you?" And I say, it's none of your business. I keep it to myself.
BARNES: [laughter] Although, if I was as in as good a shape as you, I'd be proud to tell how old I was.
MCCULLERS: It's not that, they say, "Madonna, you should tell your age" I ask you to tell my age, you should tell what you want to. If you want to know my age for a good purpose, I'll tell you. But all they want to do is go, "you know that lady, she's a 100 years old, look at her! Look at her! You know that lady, she's so and so and so . . .” There’s another lady that comes to my church she was so nice, she was being very cordial. We would go to prayer meeting and it’s at night and I would take my flash light and she was catching me under my arm and I say, "Leave me alone." And she says, "But I was treating you like my mother." And I say, "But I'm not your mother and I'm not decrepit." When we'd get to a light, she'd say, "wait a minute, wait a minute, don't cross" and I'd say, "How do you think I live every day?" I didn't want her babying me. When I need that, fine. I wasn't trying to be funny, but I don't need anyone lifting me up and trying to help me across the streets like that. I probably will before my time is up, okay, but don't do that now. She was a little younger than I am, she was in her sixties and I told her, "after all you're almost as old as I am."
BARNES: [laughter] I guess she wasn't happy about that
MCCULLERS: Oh, they don't take me seriously, because I'm laughing all the time. She knows that. They know me. They know I don't intend to hurt anybody's feelings. I just want them to know that I'm so thankful that the Lord has spared me. I never leave him out. That he spared me, because I ask each day for Him to direct my path, pilot my day. And He's a pilot. He will really pilot you, if you believe in Him. And this is why, when I walk about the house it’s always somebody with me. And sometimes I look around. But when the Lord left the earth to go to heaven, He said, I'm going to leave you a comforter. And I'm not alone, in this house. I feel that there's always somebody with me.
BARNES: Does your son live in Washington?
MCCULLERS: He lived here, but he moved out. He lives in Capitol Heights. He calls in and everything. “Madonna, if you get sick all you have to do…” They call a lot and come carry me out, but uh. . .
BARNES: Do you have grandchildren?
MCCULLERS: Yes, I have grandchildren, but not by him. His first, but I don't want to talk personal stuff, she wasn't so good, so he married a second wife and she was a dope addict and so the third time he married a young lady like you.
BARNES: And she had children?
MCCULLERS: She had two children and my adopted son has four children.
MCCULLERS: One of them was here not too long ago to help me with my DVD and VCR to show me how to work it. They are very great, very, very nice. They're nice children, you know. All of them are nice. I just lost my last sister, so now I am, I only have one brother. He teaches in, taught in Durham, he's retired now. Only two of us, now. So that makes me very lonely, in a sense of speaking, but the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, so I remember that. So they all call me. All my nephews and nieces, because I'm the oldest. My brother is younger than I am, not that much younger, but he's younger. I'm now the last aunt.
BARNES: You're the grand matriarch of the family.
MCCULLERS: And they just don't let me rest. They want to find out how I am and want to carry me to this place and that place. So I have had a fantastic life, if you name it that, I had a wonderful husband, did everything for me. He was really, really a true, a beautiful person. This picture here, we were on the Leonardo DaVinci, that's where we were sitting in a corner by ourselves at lunch. But my husband was really a nice person. He worked very hard. He worked on the Mall when he was here as a plumber, doing all the work for the different ladies in the kitchens, unstopping sinks and stuff like that on the Mall.
BARNES: Did he have his own business?
MCCULLERS: No he worked for the government. He worked down at Indian Head, Maryland powder factory on glass pipe down there. And then he you know, that's why we were in Anacostia because you could get a bus. We didn't have a car when we were down there until we came here. In 1950, 51, 52--that year I believe we bought a car. We believed that cars should come after your home and that's what we did.
BARNES: Well that was a good way to think.
MCCULLERS: That's what we did, we got a bigger car which I've got sitting in the garage right now, for the road because we traveled a lot so we bought a Cadillac. I heard people say that "the first thing black people do is buy a Cadillac." But that's not the first thing we did. We bought something that would take the road later. I still have it a 1978 Cadillac Coup de Ville. It’s a nice car. Because it was heavy and it took the road for us, that is why we bought the car. But we've had one ever since '63. Each year, he would change and change the car for the road. But only for the road. Where he worked, he could get there in 15 minutes. A car was actually a luxury for us; we didn't have to have it. But we saved our money and we bought other properties for speculation, my husband believed in that. So I still have the properties.
BARNES: In Washington?
MCCULLERS: Oh yes,
BARNES: They're rentals?
MCCULLERS: Rental properties. I still have the rental properties.
BARNES: Do you manage them?
MCCULLERS: No, I have a realtor, who takes care of them, collects the rent and sends the check to me. That's what I'm going to do today is take them to the bank. This is the first day that Riggs bank changes to PRC or something like that. I bank with Riggs, that's one of the banks I bank with. So I've been very fortunate. Like I say, I had a wonderful husband who believed in saving our money and stuff. We believed in first things first and we believed in helping people and tithing to the church and this is what we've done.
BARNES: Is there anything that we haven't talked about that you want to share about your life on Capitol Hill? Anything you want to say is fine.
MCCULLERS: I'm just so glad I'm here. I am just so glad, I tell people. My husband hung these chandeliers himself, hung them with double chains, I guess he thought they might fall. We bought them for our anniversary, crystal chandeliers, and he hung them. I get up and clean them.
BARNES: [Audible gasp] You clean those, my goodness!
MCCULLERS: Yes. When my son was here he did it for me. Push the table to the side, keep it covered. Get on a ladder; I get on a six foot ladder because in my kitchen I have to get on a six foot ladder to put my bulbs up. But I say a prayer and I get up on the ladder. But I get up there and clean those things one by one with a cleaning fluid that bought…
BARNES: Just for the crystal?
MCCULLERS: Yes, and clean them. They are very pretty, both of them, that one especially. So I bought my furniture piece by piece by piece. Everything. It may be something you don't like. That’s the oldest rug; I've had it ever since I've been married. And that chair I bought at Mayer's. And that chair, that ladies chair over there, I bought that down at Antique House broken down; they fixed it up and covered it with antique velvet for me.
MCCULLERS: This is my grandmother's chair.
BARNES: That is your grandmother's rocking chair?
MCCULLERS: My grandmother's rocking chair and it's in one piece, that piece that you see that goes all the way. I just made that little antique pillow but sometimes I take it off so that people can see the beautiful wood work. I brought it from home for my mother because my mother came up and stayed with my brother because she got to the place where she couldn't stay by herself, but we took her home every summer because the house is still there in South Carolina. We have somebody in it and my brother and I take care of the house. The chair was black and I took it along with another table that I have upstairs and I broke it all the way down and cleaned it with all the stuff that you have to put on it. I read in a book what to do. And I did that piece and I carried it to my mother and after she expired, I got that and my table and took it to my house. Because we took all her furniture and took it to an apartment in my brother's house so that she we be able to feel at home. So my brother and I furnished her home with mahogany furniture also so that it would coordinate with what he had because he had really nice stuff.
BARNES: And that was here in Washington?
MCCULLERS: Right here on D Street, 1632 D Street NE where he lived. My brother never married so my mother stayed with the one who never married. So she stayed in the apartment upstairs in his house until she died. I would get her and bring her to church up here and take her downtown to Lane Bryant, when Lane Bryant was downtown because my mother was kind of heavy. And I sit her down and bring her clothes to her and she'd try them on and her shoes and everything. She really enjoyed her life. And I brought my sister here, who had a dislocated spine, but she had a home too, down on Montana Avenue and she came here after she got disabled and she stayed right here in my house until she expired. I took care of her, too. So I've just had a wonderful life. I also brought a friend here, too, named Anna straight from Walter Reed hospital. I think they're going to change that hospital, I think that's what they're going to do. She wanted me to come pick her up, but I couldn't because I couldn't drive at night. So she got a cab and came here and stayed here and nurtured herself back to health and went back to her house in Southeast, where she lived.
BARNES: So you've done a lot of good for people.
MCCULLERS: I tried to be very nice to the people and they love to come in. I say come on in and pull off your bedroom shoes, pull off your shoes make yourself at home. We got their hair done. Right now I go out to Metro Access, you know in the buses, and one lady walks with two canes and she gets back out to her car and away. They have been coming over the years when they could walk really well. So I see that they get back to their places of abode okay. And that is what I want to do. I want my life to be for others. That's what we are put here for, to help people. And that's what I want my life to be. And I'm so glad--most of my sisters and brothers taught school and my nieces too--but I am a better person by far because in the shop I met all kinds of people. Nice people, mean people, indifferent people, and I learned from them. And I'm so glad I did because it make you be able to get around, to love everybody. So I just love everybody.
BARNES: I think having your own shop, having your own business. . .
MCCULLERS: That's a help to me.
BARNES: . . .It makes such a difference because a woman who is a business woman is looked at very differently from a housewife, which you were a housewife, too and I think it’s a wonderful profession, but the world looks at a businesswoman differently.
MCCULLERS: Is that right? I wouldn't call myself a real businesswoman because my husband, although he wanted me to have the business, he still wanted me up here. And I did that and I took care of my family because I didn't want to be a business woman with a shop here and a shop there and a shop there where I would be running. I wanted to be able to do my work and I do everything by appointments, so that I would have time to come up and see that my husband and my children were fed well, washed and took care of them. I cooked with these big pans that I still have and looked after them and we came in and we spreaded the table, here and I put all my stuff out, china and stuff and we ate. But every Sunday, regardless of the weather, my husband said you're not cooking anymore, we're going out for dinner. Every Sunday, I don't care what it was, we went out.
BARNES: That was his gift to you.
MCCULLERS: If it started raining and he heard me fixing he said, "Madonna, don't you start fixing because we're going out." Even though it was raining, he'd pull the car out front and we'd go get in it and off we'd go. Early in life we went to the Hop Shoppes, do you remember? They had beautiful food, so we went there. And he would say, "You're going to come out two weeks and we're going to go on vacation." And we did just that every year we went on vacation.
BARNES: Well, that's just wonderful. If I may call you Madonna, it has been a wonderful interview. I look forward to seeing it in print and seeing it on our website and you will see it in print before we put it on the website. I can't imagine having more fun that it has been sitting here and talking with you this morning. And again, we thank you from the Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project and we hope that you will come to some of our seminars we have. So we'll try to keep in touch.
MCCULLERS: Oh, I certainly hope so because it has been a joy meeting you and it seems like I've been knowing you all my life.
BARNES: Oh, thank you.
MCCULLERS: It's just so nice, because you are so cordial. I am just so happy. Don't make this your last trip. Come whenever you want to and anytime you want to, knock on my door and come in and I will be glad if any of the members, whoever they are, I'm always glad to have company. I always tell them come on back. In my kitchen I have a dinette separated, you can look if you want to, my computer and all that's there and when I get tired of that I go to my piano. So, I have really enjoyed talking with you. I love people and I love to have people in and it’s just been wonderful. I didn't know what it was going to be like. So I have not said anything that people would be ashamed of, to listen to. . .
BARNES: Oh no. It's history. It's your oral history and we're so glad that you would participate in this project and share your life with others because this will go on and remain after both of us are gone. It will still be here and for that reason I'm just very grateful that you would allow us to come interview you.
MCCULLERS: I didn't mind doing it because one of my customers had brought a person with her to the shop and after they saw the furniture in the shop they called it antique and she takes a lot of the white folk too, and she wanted to interview me. And I said, “why would you want to interview me?” And she said, "with all this stuff and the LI outside on your sign you must have been here for a long time. We want to find the history." But I never did it and here you come along. So I say maybe. . .
BARNES: It's time. [laughter]
MCCULLERS: Yeah, right. [laughter]
BARNES: Thank you!
MCCULLERS: I am so glad.
|END OF INTERVIEW|
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This interview transcript is the property of the Ruth Ann Overbeck