Won’t you be my neighbor?
Posted at 17:07 Monday, March 6, 2023
I am very grateful for the opportunity to write this column. I met so many wonderful people who told me they loved reading it and how much they learned about Washington and the many communities that make up our city.
I enjoy sharing information about the communities I grew up in, and although so much has changed over the decades, the fond memories are still fresh in my mind. I am especially excited about the redevelopment projects in Washington, D.C., in many of the neighborhoods where I used to play, visit friends, and go to school, church, and grocery stores. There are great stories behind many of the neighborhoods that my African American History Tours take. And many Washingtonians who have always lived here will learn about parts of the city they’ve heard about but never seen or visited.
When the weather warms up, I can’t wait to show off the neighborhoods I love so much on my walking tours and tell you about the wonderful people who have contributed so much to these neighborhoods and to Washington. Although many of the houses and structures are gone, my memories and biographies of those who lived there will tell you about the legends I grew up with.
I will share one of the “Legends of Little Harlem” that was part of Gladen Street from Second to Seventh Street. It was a shopping center like no other. Locally known as “Little Harlem”, it was so prominent that two locations on Gladen Street were listed in the Green Book. Everything you need, from groceries to gas, from medical care to hairdos, you can find it in Little Harlem. It was called Little Harlem because many artists and other artists who performed at the Cotton Club, Small’s Paradise Lounge, and The Savoy Ballroom in Harlem, New York, came to Washington to perform at this time.
But it was amazing that even if there were no entries in the Green Book, all a visitor had to do was find his way to “The Hollywood Inn,” a restaurant and store on the corner of Fifth and Gladden Streets, owned and operated by a gentleman of photo, Mr Pomp Cradle (1904-1979). He was so famous that people still talk about him in Washington, North Carolina, New York, Chicago, Boston, Washington, D.C., and everywhere else where someone has eaten the food he served or eaten one of the two-headed the ice cream cones he made for us kids. People came from near and far to get a bowl of his famous and delicious beans. His kindness was his calling card and reminded me of a quote from Mr. Fred Rogers who said that “in every neighborhood, across the country, there are good people who insist on a good start for young people and do something about it.”
As a kid, when you went to Mr. Pomp’s for ice cream or a hot dog, he would give you a lecture about staying in school and staying out of trouble. His advice became even more valuable as we grew up and left home. We all knew the value of a good neighbor because he was one.
As I write this column, I want to invite you into my neighborhoods and ask, like Mister Roger in his song, “Won’t you be my neighbor?”
So let’s make the most of this beautiful day,
Since we are together, we might as well say.
would you be mine can you be mine
Won’t you be my neighbor?
Would you please?
Won’t you be my neighbor please?
Neighbors are people close to us
And friends are people who are close to our heart.
I like to think of you as my neighbor and friend.
This picture of him and his sister Margaret was taken around the early 1950s. It was shared by his niece Kai Charlton Gibbs. Painted by Lawrence Dow.
Lisa Jones is a native Washingtonian, co-founder and co-executive director of the Underground Railroad Museum on the Washington Waterfront.