But even this would be a temporary move. Blockbuster real estate agents in Brightwood had begun moving colored families into white streets with the intention of scaring residents into selling their houses on the cheap. The next stop for upper-Northwest, east-of-the-park whites would be the suburbs of Maryland. No one knew that the events of the next nine years would hasten that final move, though there was a feeling that some sort of change was coming and that it would have to come, an unspoken sense of the inevitable. Still, some denied it as strongly as they denied death.
Derek lived in Park View, south of Petworth, now mostly colored and some working-class whites. He attended Backus Junior High and would go on to Roosevelt High School. Billy went to Paul Junior High and was destined for Coolidge High, which had some coloreds, most of whom were athletes. Many Coolidge kids would go on to college; far fewer from Roosevelt would. Roosevelt had gangs; Coolidge had fraternities. Derek and Billy lived a few short miles apart, but the differences in their lives and prospects were striking.
They walked the east side of Georgia's 6200 block, passing the open door of the Arrow cleaners, a business that had been in place since 1929, owned and operated by Bill Caludis. They stopped in to say hey to Caludis's son, Billy, whom Billy Georgelakos knew from church. On the corner sat Clark's Men's Shop, near Marinoff-Pritt and Katz, the Jewish market, where several of the butchers had camp numbers tattooed on their forearms. Nearby was the Sheridan Theater, which was running Decision at Sundown, another Randolph Scott. Derek had seen it with his dad.
They crossed to the other side of Georgia. They walked by Vince's Agnes Flower Shop, where Billy paused to say a few words with a cute young clerk named Margie, and the Sheridan Waffle Shop, also known as John's Lunch, a diner owned by John Deoudes. Then it was a watering hole called Sue's 6210, a Chinese laundry, a barbershop, and on the corner another beer garden, the 6200. "Stagger Lee" was playing on the house juke, its rhythms coming through the 6200's open door.
On the sidewalk outside the bar, three young white teenagers were alternately talking, smoking cigarettes, and running combs through their hair. One of them was ribbing another, asking if his girlfriend had given him his shiner and swollen face. "Nah," said the kid with the black eye, "I got jumped by a buncha niggers down at Griffith Stadium," adding that he was going to be looking for them and "some get-back." The group quieted as Derek and Billy passed. There were no words spoken, no hard stares, and no trouble. Derek looking at the weak, all-mouth boy and thinking, Prob'ly wasn't no "buncha niggers" about it, only had to be one.
At the corner of Georgia and Rittenhouse, Billy pointed excitedly at a man wearing a brimmed hat, crossing the street and heading east. With him was a young woman whose face they couldn't see but whose backside moved in a pleasing way.
"That's Bo Diddley," said Billy.
"Thought he lived over on Rhode Island Avenue."
"That's what everyone says. But we all been seein' him around here lately. They say he's got a spot down there on Rittenhouse."
"Bo Diddley's a gunslinger," said Derek, a warmth rising in his thighs as he checked out the fill of the woman's skirt.
They walked south to Quackenbos and cut across the lot of the Nativity School, a Catholic convent that housed a nice gymnasium. The nuns there were forever chasing Billy and his friends from the gym. Beyond the lot was Fort Stevens, where Confederate forces had been repelled by the guns and musketry of Union soldiers in July of 1864. The fort had been re-created and preserved, but few tourists now visited the site. The grounds mainly served as a playing field for the neighborhood boys.
Copyright © 2004 by George Pelecanos
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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