Photo by Nancy Deck

Clifford Hackett

Our latest transcript is from an interview with Cliff Hackett, who came with his wife to Washington in 1964 looking for housing for their family of six children.

Despite recommendations to look at Springfield, VA, the Hacketts chose two adjacent houses on Constitution Avenue NE, one for their home and the other as rental property. Over 50 years later, Cliff still lives there. His interview provides details of the life lived by his family, which eventually included eight children, during a period of great political and social activism in DC.

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Interview Date
July 19, 2019
Interviewer
Nancy Deck
Transcriber
Nancy Lazear and David MacKinnon
Editor

Full Directory

Interview with Clifford Hackett
Interview Date: July 19, 2019
Interviewer: Nancy Deck
Transcribers: Nancy Lazear and David MacKinnon
photo by Nancy Deck


START OF INTERVIEW
DECK: Ok, I’m going to start if you’re ready.
HACKETT: Okay.
DECK: This is Nancy Deck and I’m interviewing Cliff Hackett on July 19th [2019] at his home at 505 Constitution Avenue NE. Let’s start our interview today at the beginning. Please tell me a little bit about your roots. Where did you grow up? Where did you to school? Your early career?
HACKETT: I was born and raised in New Haven, Connecticut. Actually in a suburb, West Haven. I went to public schools there. I have one brother. My father was a wholesale plumbing and heating salesman, and my mother was a stay-at-home mother. I was born in 1930, at the beginning of what later became the Depression. My father fortunately never lost his job so we had a stable family, I would say all through my childhood.
DECK: And what did you do in your career? How did you get started?
HACKETT: I was in the Army after college in St. Louis. I spent a year at Yale in graduate school and after that went in the Army for three years in 1953. I married in 1954 and we spent two years then from ’54 to ’56 in Germany in the Army where among other things I learned German. After that we came back to New Haven for one year for another year in graduate school and during that year I was recruited by the Foreign Service which I joined 1957.
[phone rings]
DECK: Ok.
HACKETT: I was in the Foreign Service in Europe, first in Bern, Switzerland and then two assignments in Germany, one in Hamburg and one in Bonn, at that time the capital of Germany.
DECK: That was the height of the Cold War; what was it like?
HACKETT: Well I guess when you’re in the middle of something like that you don’t have a name for it, it was just a normal life, and it was from my point of view a good assignment. I had some knowledge of German and so that’s why I was sent to, first to Bern, Switzerland, the Germans speaking part of that country and then two assignments in Germany itself where I think I further improved my German and also had interesting jobs in the Foreign Service. I directed an information and cultural center and library in Hamburg which was a big operation. I was a very junior officer, but they were short of personnel so I was put in charge of this institution which was right across from the university in Hamburg. It was a very desirable Foreign Service position. I spent two years there and then two years in Bonn as assistant press attaché and after that we went to the Congo for two years from ’62 to ’64 …
DECK: And you had children with you ….
HACKETT: Yes, in every place, every city we were in we had another child. Had one born in the Army in Germany and then one born in New Haven when I was in graduate school, one born in Switzerland, one in Hamburg, one in Bonn, and one in the Congo, and one back here in Washington. Seven children altogether.
DECK: Were you doing something similar in the Congo with information centers?
HACKETT: The Congo was kind of hard to compare to anything else before or after. The Congo had become independent in 1960, two years before we arrived. So we were sort of the second generation of Foreign Service there in an independent Congo. The country was in a lot of turmoil. The main southern province, a relatively wealthy province, Katanga, had broken away or attempted to break away from the rest of the Congo and a U.N. peacekeeping mission was established in order to try to preserve the unity of the country.
So when we arrived in 1962 the so-called Katanga Rebellion was just ending. There was still a strong U.N. presence in the country. I was called the field information officer. My job was to set up branch information centers in the provincial capitals of the Congo. It involved a lot of travel, almost all of it by a chartered airplane. I spent a lot of time away from home and a lot of time in very strange circumstances traveling and setting up these small information centers and libraries. And by the end of our second year there, our final year, a so-called nativist rebellion started and it succeeded before we left in closing several of the centers that I had spent two years setting up. So in many ways it was a frustrating experience. As I said it was not typical of anything else in the Foreign Service probably before or after that time and the sad fact is that the Congo in the remaining 50 years has really not improved much at all.
So from the point of view of Foreign Service and foreign aid and development, it’s not a success story but it was just part of our family experience and the children all seemed to thrive there. They learned some French in the formerly Belgian kindergarten, the two boys learned their prayers in French. Nancy, our oldest child, and our middle child, Carole, went to an English kindergarten and they learned pence and pounds there and other things which were irrelevant except that that was part of their childhood education. It was a strange time but the children found stability in their home and so my wife was a very competent and active person in the Foreign Service community and we thrived there even though when we look back, there are a lot of privations. For example, we had a big house but there was no running water most of the day.
DECK: With six or seven children by this …
HACKETT: The water would go on at two or three o’clock in the morning for a couple of hours. My wife would wake up, hear the water running, go around and flush all the toilets, fill the bathtub, run the washing machine and go back to bed. As I said I spent a lot of time away from home so she was on her own a lot. And it was a tribute to her strength and resilience and intelligence that she thrived in that environment and the children seemed to thrive. And if you ask them today what they recall in the Congo it’s very silly little things like learning prayers in a foreign language or shopping at the neighborhood store but, you know, if you tell a story accurately people will think it was a period of suffering and privation but it wasn’t that from our point of view. It was just part of the Foreign Service and you accept life in different cities, different countries. This was a challenge in many ways, it was called a hardship post in the Foreign Service which meant that we got a little extra money and of course we were able to save money because there was no place to spend it.
So when we got back to the U.S. for our Washington tour in 1964, Claire, our youngest daughter, was just 8 weeks old and we had to find a place to live. We didn’t know anything about Washington real estate.
DECK: Cliff, before you go on, I’m going to pause it.
[Recording clears up at this point.]
DECK: So your next assignment you were saying was Washington DC.
HACKETT: Yes.
DECK: Before you talk about Washington DC, just tell me what was the view of Foreign Service officers of being sent to Washington DC for a tour.
HACKETT: It was in some ways another hardship post, because when we were overseas the government provided housing for us and with a large family like ours, that would have been a challenge in the cities we lived. In Hamburg for example, we were given a double apartment; it had six bedrooms which we probably never would have able to find on our own or been able to afford back here in Washington. But that was part of the life in the Foreign Service. In the Congo we had a big house, actually a Swiss chalet built by a Swiss family and abandoned by them on leaving the Congo, but it had plenty of room for us.
So when we came to Washington the hardship was we had to find our own housing and pay for it. We had saved some money in the Congo, and so we started looking within a three mile radius of the White House because my office was located next door to the White House. And I had decided and my family agreed that we were going to live in the city and not commute. One of the few other accomplishments in my life is that I never owned a lawn mower and never had to commute. [laughter]
I bought a drug store map, left the children at home with my mother and father in Connecticut and I started looking at houses, eventually 20 or 30 different houses in the Washington, the central Washington DC area, including Capitol Hill, Foggy Bottom, Dupont Circle area and even Georgetown. But we never found what we wanted which was a small apartment building. Not knowing the architectural situation in Washington but we thought if we could find a small apartment building where we could live and also have one or maybe two rental units we could survive financially on our three, four years before we were sent overseas again. We had a local real estate agent, actually here on Pennsylvania Avenue who helped us in all areas of the city. [Subsequent to the interview, Cliff said the realtor was Virginia Creiger, who was part of a brokerage in the 200 block of Pennsylvania Avenue SE; the brokerage was most likely that of Millicent Chatel, listed in the city directory as Chattel, Wise and Gilliat Real Estate at 225 Pennsylvania Avenue SE.]
She was especially conversant with the real estate situation on Capitol Hill but she told me once, “Mr. Hackett, I know you’ve saved some money and you want to buy a small apartment building but you know with the money you have you could have a really nice house in Springfield, Virginia.” And I said, “[Virginia], that’s interesting and I’m sure for other people it might be attractive. We don’t want to live in the suburbs, we want to live in the city and I want to walk to work near the White House. So, those are the limits.”
And so after searching various areas and finding things that looked first suitable and then because of neighborhood or because of the buildings themselves they didn’t seem suitable, she called one day and said, “Mr. Hackett, I found two adjacent townhouses on Constitution Avenue on Capitol Hill and they have a total of eight units and you could live in one and maybe rent the other.” And I said, “OK, well I’ll go and look,” and she gave me the address. So I went down near the National Gallery on Constitution Avenue [NW] looking around, and I could not find 503 and 505 Constitution. I asked someone and they said, you are in the wrong part of the city, you want to be in Northeast and not Northwest where you are. I didn’t really know the difference at that point.
So I came and we looked at the buildings. It turned out that they were the last two buildings on this block that had not been recently renovated. They were a challenge to us, both because of their condition, also because they were occupied by eight black families. We were extremely reluctant about dispossessing people. They were the last black families on the block also. But as far as our present home, 505, the house had been on sale long enough that the tenants knew that their time was limited so they moved out without any problem. So we occupied it in November ’64, and converted it into essentially a one family house. We had to do some renovations. A lot of the work we did ourselves but we had some local contractors. [Number] 503 next door we kept as a rental unit and over the years, the coming ten years, we renovated those apartments one by one as people moved out and it became a successful investment.
But it was successful partly because our life in the Foreign Service changed, and that was really because of the Vietnam War. I was working in Washington on what was supposed to be a two or three year assignment as the African personnel officer for U.S. Information Agency which was my employer in the Foreign Service. It was a difficult time because the agency was sending all of its best people to Vietnam and Southeast Asia and I was in the unfortunate position of being in charge of the African area. If we had anyone of talent in our area they were taken by the Far East division. It was a frustrating time. I also grew gradually disaffected with the war and my very minor supporting role in it in supplying people to the Foreign Service in that area. In my third year in this assignment I was named the Congressional Fellow by USIA, by my employer. I was the first Congressional Fellow from the agency and that fellowship consisted of working on both House and Senate side for roughly six months of a year with some orientation period. At the end of that time I was approached by a Member of Congress whom I had met, who was a friend of the Congressman I was working for under the fellowship. He offered a job and it was a difficult assignment, a choice I should say. I wanted to stay in the Foreign Service and go onto Warsaw as Cultural Officer, I also, however, could not easily imagine working in Warsaw near the university trying to persuade university people of the merits of our policy in Vietnam. So it was a difficult time. The decision to leave ultimately went to the Vietnam War.
DECK: What year would this have been?
HACKETT: I’m sorry?
DECK: What year would this have been?
HACKETT: It was 1966. ’66-’67 was the fellowship and at the end of that year in the summer of ’67 I was offered a job by this New York congressman, and I decided to leave the Foreign Service. It obviously had to be a family decision. I talked with my wife about it. She was not at all happy about it. She was looking forward to the continuation of the Foreign Service life which she liked very much. We were both looking forward to Warsaw. She happened to be partly of Polish heritage and so it was an even more attractive assignment from the family point of view. So she was disappointed when I said I thought I had to leave the Foreign Service. She said once, among other things, she looked upon it as indefinite sentence to the PTA and it turned out to be so but I had sort of made a promise to her. She liked foreign travel very much and I said that if I changed jobs like this I promise you we will get to Europe at least once a year.
DECK: Did you keep your promise?
HACKETT: Yes and so that was part of the compromise. Anyhow I worked in House and Senate jobs for thirteen years. About ten years in the House, and three in the Senate where I worked for Paul Sarbanes of Maryland.
DECK: Did you work mostly on foreign affairs issues?
HACKETT: Yes in all cases I was working on foreign affairs. I worked in Congressman Benjamin Rosenthal’s office first on the House side. I was a Legislative Assistant but he obviously knew and valued my Foreign Service experience and he was on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He became Chairman of the Subcommittee on Europe and asked me to join that Subcommittee staff which I did. So I worked on foreign affairs for the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and then when I was asked by Paul Sarbanes, who would have been elected in ’76 to the Senate, he asked me if I would come and join him because I had had some experience in Greece and Cyprus areas he was interested in. So I spent then three years in the Senate, and since leaving the Senate in 1981, I’ve been on my own as a writer and independent historian. We stayed in the same house; we’ve been here now 55 years this October. And what turned out to be a three or four year assignment has turned out to be somewhat longer. [laughter]
DECK: So let’s go back to when you moved into this neighborhood, 55 years ago. What was the neighborhood like? Did the neighbors come by and introduce themselves? Was it friendly?
HACKETT: It’s interesting that obviously Capitol Hill has changed a lot, principally in real estate prices, but this block, this particular block, 500 block of Constitution Avenue actually has not changed that much. As I mentioned our two buildings were the last two to be renovated on the block. If you walked down Constitution Avenue in 1964 when we first arrived, the block looked very much like it does now. There are more painted buildings now and there’s been a lot of renovation inside. A lot of people have come and gone but essentially this area of Capitol Hill, close to the Capitol and Library of Congress, remains a very desirable neighborhood for people here on short-term assignments, either in the Congress or in the Library of Congress. It’s in walking distance, which again is rare in a city the size of Washington, to be able to walk to work. Its desirability has enhanced the real estate values. We end up with the situation which I often compare to Upstairs, Downstairs where a certain number of families here have been here for a long time, and they either own or are adjacent to rental property which is populated by another demographic. People who are here on short-term assignments or shorter term work and jobs.
And so you have a mixture of people who are here, the Kellys, I mentioned who have been part of this interview program, the Driscolls and the Proskys. They have been here as long as we have, longer in some cases. Amongst us are people who have come and gone in rental units, ones that we own and ones that others own. So demographically it is an interesting area. Some permanence, some people who have been here a long time. Tom Kelly, who was interviewed in this program, was born on the next block and his wife still lives there. It’s an interesting area, marked, as I say, unfortunately by such a steep rise in property values that it’s now, often unapproachable by people of the same economic status we were when we came, that is, by young people with children. All buildings here in this block cost a million dollars each or more which puts them out of the reach of many younger people. That’s a sad story. It’s a function of our capitalist society where property values rise as they are sought. This is and remains one of the most attractive areas of the city.
DECK: When you moved your family from the Congo, you moved your children into this house. What was their reaction going from the Congo to Capitol Hill?
HACKETT: Well the children—I think the oldest child—Nancy our oldest child was nine when we got here. She was born in ’55. She’s the only one, really, who had any good recollection of life in the Foreign Service. She remembered the Congo and she remembered going to first grade in Bonn, Germany, where she learned German fluently in her first year, and our only year there. She forgot it all immediately or almost all of it. If you ask today at her age if knows any German. She says, “Oh yes. Mein name ist Nancy.” My name is Nancy. “Ich bin München geboren,” I was born in Munich. “Ich habe kein Geld,” I have no money. That’s all she remembers from her German experience. But the other children were either too young and the experiences in the Congo and in Germany were too remote for them as very small children. They really don’t have any recollection of life in the Foreign Service.
Home was where mother and father were. Finding a home on Capitol Hill was to them just another move in the family’s life. Were they happy here? I think so. They all seemed to be happy. They all went to the local schools. Peabody School and then St. Peter’s Catholic School. Various other public schools. They went to local high schools and also to the Catholic high schools in the area, DeMatha, Gonzaga, not far away and other schools that don’t exist anymore.. But they grew up on the streets of Capitol Hill. At some point crime was more of a problem than it is now. They installed what we call high security lights—high crime lights—so they lit up the streets at night and the kids loved that because they could play baseball out in the street until 9 or 10 o’clock.
DECK: Right here on Constitution Avenue where they played baseball?
HACKETT: No on Fifth Street. Fifth Street is wider than Constitution Avenue. So they grew up there. They also played basketball at the Baptist Church on the corner or elsewhere on Peabody playground. It was their home. Today they all seven still live in the Washington area. And we eventually adopted an eighth child. This was our home and they all grew up working, living, going to school and eventually working in this area although they have dispersed somewhat in the metropolitan area. Still, four of them live in DC. Claire here with me. Peter on Ninth Street and Christopher on Seventh Street, and Andrew in the Shaw area. The others live in nearby Virginia or Maryland. We get together very often still. I talk to at least one of the kids every day, and usually two or three of them. So, I guess our is a close-knit family held together by Capitol Hill.
DECK: The memories of growing up on the …
HACKETT: I think I have good memories. I spent a lot of time in the office to the regret of my children probably, and my wife. That was the job I had. When summer came they did whatever kids do in the summer. They found summer jobs.
DECK: Where did they work? Do you remember any of their jobs, their summer jobs?
HACKETT: They never had an allowance. That was a matter of minor principle with me. I never had an allowance when I was growing up. I just learned when I was eight or nine to—I sold newspapers or greeting cards and then magazines. I was a newspaper delivery boy. It was part of growing up for me that when you got to be 11 or 12, you learned how to earn pocket money. Our children learned the same way. They did a lot of babysitting in the neighborhood. They worked in local restaurants. They worked at Grubbs Pharmacy.
DECK: Do you know which restaurants they worked at?
HACKETT: At the Hawk and Dove, Whitby’s and Jenkins Hill. I don’t remember the names of all of them because a lot of them have changed since then. Roger, our adopted child, worked at a restaurant, a well-known Washington restaurant, Paramount Steak House, owned my by son-in-law—Carole our middle child’s husband. The family grew up not only living on Capitol Hill but in many cases, working here. Peter, number five, is probably the best cabinetmaker in Washington, an English major from the University of Texas. He shows that with a liberal education, one can still find a way to earn a living.
DECK: Where’s his studio? Does he have a workshop on the Hill?
HACKETT: Yes, on Ninth Street. Our family history is on Capitol Hill. Living, working and thriving, and in the case of my wife, dying, and Roger also, our adopted child, dying on Capitol Hill. It’s a family story.
DECK: Back when you were raising your family, what did you do for fun as a family?
HACKETT: Every summer we went camping when the Congress went into recess. We always had a Volkswagen bus. We had a series of four or five of them starting in the Foreign Service and continuing in Washington. So we piled everyone in the VW van including always a dog and we went camping two or three or sometimes four weeks out, usually in the Midwest. But twice we went across the country. If you ask me as the father of the family how we spent our time together, that’s what I remember mostly. The kids have different recollections. I think when they got to be 15 or 16, they didn’t want to camp anymore and they had jobs by that point, and so they checked out of the family camping arrangement. It was left for the younger kids. We went out to dinner occasionally.
DECK: Do you remember the restaurants you used to go to?
HACKETT: We went to Luigi’s on 19th Street [NW] for pizza occasionally. My wife was a very good cook and in that sense spoiled us all because we were so well fed at home. With Bea’s cooking we really were not attracted to restaurants. Once in a while we went to Machiavelli’s for pizza on Capitol Hill. Sometimes in the summer we went over to Alexandria in our VW bus to Peterson’s for ice cream. That was a treat the kids still remember. I think if you ask them about eating the first thing they’ll talk about is their mother and the good cook. When we went camping, for example, she baked every morning in a Dutch oven on a little gas stove. She amazed her neighbors and even her children and her family with her dedication to good cooking and to good meals. In that sense, we were all spoiled.
DECK: Did you follow any of the professional sports teams of time?
HACKETT: Not really. I think when the boys were very small, I mean five, six and seven, I took them a couple of times to the Washington Senators who were still in Washington at that time out at Griffith Stadium in [Northwest] Washington. Then the Senators left town. But they left town and there was no baseball team here until the Nationals came. The Redskins were always here. I was never a Redskins fan. I think the boys were when then got to high school particularly, and they found ways of getting tickets or earning enough money to buy them. If I can detach from my immediate surroundings, I [would] say ours was not especially a sports-related family. The kids were all active in high school. Andrew eventually in soccer, which was becoming popular at that time. He’s still a great soccer fan. But other than that, it was not really a sports-oriented family I would say.
DECK: You mentioned that some of the children went to St. Peter’s. Were you active in the St. Peter’s congregation?
HACKETT: We live just two blocks from East Capitol Street here. We live in St. Joseph’s parish. When we arrived in 1964 we started going to St. Joseph’s. My wife after a while didn’t like St. Joseph’s as much. She thought the clergy there were kind of old fashioned. So we started going occasionally to St. Peter’s which is where the school they attended was also located. We’ve sort of alternated between St. Peter’s and St. Joseph’s. I’ve been active in … [dog barks and interrupts answer]
DECK: So, we were talking about you were active. You went to St. Peter’s.
HACKETT: St. Joseph’s actually became quite active during the Poor People’s March in 1968 when a lot of the poor people in the country came to Washington. We were increasingly aware of the conflict between spending enormous amounts of money and treasure including human treasure in Vietnam and the plight of poor people here. So in the Poor People’s Campaign, which was centered in Washington in ’68, ’69, St. Joseph’s had an active role. We helped build housing down on the Mall for visiting families. We even had visiting families stay here in this very apartment we’re in right now.
DECK: What years were that then?
HACKETT: That was ’68, ’69, ’70. Years of active opposition to the war. I was working for an anti-war congressman. The children kind of grew up—I guess if you asked them today if they had any political role or recollections of, they’ll remember anti-war demonstrations. Nancy, the oldest, was arrested at age 16 for demonstrating in front of the Justice Department.
DECK: What happened? Did you have to bail her out?
HACKETT: They arrested a lot of young people. Put them in a holding area down at RFK Stadium. So I had to go down to pick her up. That was part of growing up in Washington was being sort of on the street, active in the anti-war movement even—Andrew, our youngest child, born in ’67—we have a picture of him which we pass around every once in a while—at age six on my shoulders carrying the sign, “Andy Hackett for Peace.” They grew up in a sense, aware that their mother and father—and Bea was also very active in an organization called Another Mother for Peace—that their parents were involved somehow politically in opposition to the war. So they grew themselves naturally into that role.
DECK: Now we talk about Capitol Hill being a pretty solid Blue Bubble. Back then was [did] Capitol Hill share the sentiment being suspect or against the Vietnam War? Or was there a difference of opinion amongst Capitol Hill?
HACKETT: That’s a hard question for me to answer. If I were in business or a lawyer working on elsewhere on Capitol Hill, I would have some kind of perspective on what my neighbors were doing. But I was working for an anti-war congressman, actually for a couple of them. I was actively involved in anti-war activities. So therefore it’s quite, not surprising that the people I knew and worked with, not only in the office, but on Capitol Hill, were of the same political persuasion. If your question means were there pro-war, pro Vietnam War people living around us on Capitol Hill, there may have been, but I never knew them. It doesn’t mean that our particular area, our block was politically active, although Marguerite Kelly was an active Democrat and her husband also. My political activity, and therefore I have to answer in terms of your question, was really based on the work I was doing on Capitol Hill in congressional offices. The attitudes and the political outlooks of other people, of our neighbors, I’m really not aware of. If you asked me today, aside from the Kellys whom I happened to know of their political background, if you asked me how other people felt, I’d say, “Well I suppose there were reasonable people, therefore they were against the war.” Where there reasonable people who were for the war? If there were I didn’t know them.
DECK: How about practical things, like grocery shopping. Where did you go grocery shopping?
HACKETT: There are a couple of neighborhood stores at the corner here on Fifth and East Capitol and Fourth and East Capitol. We occasionally shopped there for minor items, but they’re very expensive and they’re really set up catering to mostly single people. For family shopping which is what we had to be concerned with, with seven and then eight children, my wife went usually to a Giant off Branch Avenue in Maryland. Sometimes occasionally when it opened, Safeway on Hechinger Mall [Hechinger no longer exists but was where Bladensburg Road, Benning Road and Maryland Avenue meet], which is somewhat closer, relatively few blocks from here. But most of our shopping, Bea went shopping once a week at a Giant.
DECK: Where you and your wife, in terms of your own entertainment, did you take advantage of the Kennedy Center, the culture of DC?
HACKETT: Yes. We were here before the Kennedy Center, that’s how old we are. We met some friends in the Washington theater area. Brian and Jo Clark were actors in what was at that time called the Washington Theater Club located near Dupont Circle. We got to know the Clarks quite well. They had six kids and they lived in Arlington and we spent some time together as families. Brian and his wife Jo were very interested in the Kennedy Center when it was being built. I remember Brian and I and our wives walking through the Eisenhower Theater and the concert hall, probably illegally because it was still under construction. But Brian was very interested in the sight lines and how the seating would be arranged and the stages and everything. So I have fairly vivid memories of the Kennedy Center before it opened, but while it was being built.
Since then I’ve become a regular member of the symphony society and the opera. We’ve been active, my wife especially as long as she was around, in local theater. Folger particularly and the Ford Theater. We had what you would call an active cultural life. Did our children partake of that? Not especially. One year I gave them as a present at Christmas I think or some kind of present, memberships in the Washington Symphony Orchestra and the Washington Opera. It didn’t have a great deal affect on them. [laughter] They were like most kids of their age into popular music. They largely survived that interest and grown to be stable and mature people on their own.
DECK: You mentioned that you had an adopted son. Was he from the neighborhood?
HACKETT: It’s a long story. We felt that we were a fairly strong family. One of the important characteristics of Washington then as now, is that of a majority black city, it had a lot of social problems, one of which was a lot of children without proper families. Children in foster homes. Children up for adoption. There was terrible place run by the District of Columbia called Junior Village which housed hundreds of foster children because their families abandoned them or, for whatever reason, couldn’t take care of them. There arose an organized effort by a group called For Love of Children, FLOC, to close Junior Village which was a disgrace they thought should exist here.
FLOC took upon itself to find homes for children who were otherwise destined for Junior Village or who were living there. We got interested in this problem because we had a big and I think successful, family of our own. We often had what the kids still call ‘Family Council’ after dinner, or at dinner to discuss some topic like where to go camping. In this case if we should take in a foster child. We told them it meant a child living with us as eighth child. They wanted to know, “Well, who will it be?” I said,” We don’t have any choice. There will be someone selected by an organization that hopefully has everyone’s best interests in mind.” And they said, “Yes, it sounds like a good idea.” They were all in favor of it. Obviously they were not going to be burdened as my wife was with a principal responsibility of raising the eighth child.
We agreed and we first got in touch with the city, which did not want us as a white family to be adopting or fostering a black child. They just said that was against their policy. When we told FLOC about this, we were told “Don’t worry. We’ll take care of that.” So FLOC interviewed us, checked the house, talked to the children and everything. FLOC decided this is a good family for a foster child, even though it’s a large family, with room for another child. A family capable of handling another child. Because we said we could take a special needs child which means a child with challenges beyond normal childhood. I remember the interviews were very painful because they said that, “Could you take a child who was blind?” My wife and I both said, “no problem. They could learn the house feeling their way up and down the stairs. A crippled child would be harder. A wheelchair really couldn’t manage in a three-story house like this.”
They said, “How about a child that has been burned?” My wife said, “No.” I looked at her. I couldn’t understand why. We’d never had a discussion like this before. You learn something about your spouse by things like that. She couldn’t explain why, but she couldn’t take a child who had been burned. Then they said, “How about a child that was going to die?” I said, “No, I couldn’t do that.” My wife looked at me as if to say “what’s wrong with you?”
Anyhow, they finally sorted things out and they found a child, suitable, they thought, for us and we went to meet him once at St. Ann’s Infants Home [St. Ann’s Infant and Maternity Home] in Hyattsville on Eastern Avenue. It’s a terrible emotional experience because you walk in this room, there are 20 kids there. All close to five because five was the upper age limit at this home. They’re all hoping desperately that someone’s going to take them home. So when a couple comes in, in this case a white couple, my wife and me, they all want to be adopted. They want to go to your home and live with you. Even though they were taken care of by wonderful women there at St. Ann’s, they wanted to come home. Roger was one of these 20. They called him by name.
A little girl pushed Roger aside and jumped in my wife’s lap. She wanted so badly to be taken. It was really painful. Painful for us. Roger was four and a half. He had been in two foster homes before. He had been mistreated. He had his arm broken and it was still twisted and had to be reset. He needed surgery. He also had limited cognitive abilities. He was a very ingratiating child. We took him out to McDonald’s I think for a hamburger once and then a second time took him here, home, to show him where the house might be if it worked out. I’m sure for Roger it was overwhelming, coming into a house with seven kids, white kids, all different shapes and sizes and a German shepherd. He walked in the kitchen. Some of the kids were there, and he saw Peter. Peter was the number five, about 14 at the time. And he saw Peter and he ran and jumped into his arms. He sensed somehow “Peter is my friend”. It turned out he was his friend. He eventually worked for Peter in his cabinetry shop.
Roger had, I think, a good life. He worked in a couple local restaurants including one my son-in-law owns and one on Pennsylvania Avenue, on the Hill. He had a good life. He came to us in 1975 when he was five—he was 30 years old in 2000 when he had a heart attack. I was at our house in West Virginia that night. Roger called me and said he wasn’t feeling well. I asked him what was wrong. He said “oh he had some pain in his chest.” I said, “OK, I’ll come home.”
I drove home and took him to the GW emergency room. After four or five hours of examination the doctor came and said, “Roger’s been having a heart attack since yesterday.” He said they wanted to put a stent in his heart. Which they did to open up one of his heart valves. The doctor wanted to know some background about Roger. He said, “You don’t have heart attack at age 30 from lifestyle, from eating hamburgers and such.” I said, “We don’t know a lot about Roger’s background. He was born of a 16 year old mother and abandoned in the hospital.” He said, “Well, his heart problems are almost certainly genetic.” Two years later he had another heart attack and died at age 32. We still miss Roger very much. He’s still honored in our family. We have a lot of great memories of life with Roger. We still honor his birthday every year.
Was it a good life for Roger? It was certainly better than what he faced in St. Ann’s, which was to be put in something like Junior Village. Was it the best thing for Roger? No, the best thing probably would have been for him to go to a black family. But there were no black families available for him. A good system was set up and with the help of an organization like FLOC, places for kids like Roger could be found. He had, if not a normal life, a decent life in his 27 years with us. We were very happy with him and I think he was happy with us. He should have been in another situation, but he had no control over that. Everyone agreed, it was not ideal but was a good life for all concerned.
DECK: Did FLOC stay involved with the family at all once you adopted him?
HACKETT: He came as a foster child because that was the arrangement that FLOC made. That is, they were desperate to find homes for these kids either from Junior Village or in places like St. Ann’s. They just had to find a place because they wanted to close up Junior Village. They gave the foster family a couple hundred dollars a month to take care of them. The money was not important for us and Roger became a member of the family. So we told FLOC this and they said, “Well, they’ll help us to arrange to adopt him.” So they did and we went through with the adoption. They had to clear it with his mother who was to some extent in touch with and out of touch with his situation. She finally agreed and allowed for his adoption. He was a challenge to the family. He was a challenge mostly to my wife. We had never had a child with temper tantrums. We never had a black child before, obviously. He had to learn his place in the family. And his place was number eight which meant seven older brothers and sisters telling him what to do, what not to do and how to do it. [laughter] Roger survived and prospered in that situation. He cried like the other children did when my wife died as if it was his mother because she had become his mother. So, it was a bittersweet story, but I would say a happy story from Roger’s point of view and certainly from our family point of view, a happy story.
DECK: You’ve mentioned your wife. She sounds like a wonderful woman. Very accomplished. So what were some of the activities she was involved in?
HACKETT: She took very seriously, obviously, being a mother. She was home with the kids until they were well along in their education. She had married, maybe one of the few mistakes in her life, she had married me in her senior year of college. So she never graduated from college until ten years later when we were back in Washington. The children at that point were at an age when she said, “I think I want to go back to school.” So she went back to school. She went to GW, got her bachelor’s degree and the next year enrolled in a graduate program at American University in anthropology and got her master’s. Then she took a job here on Capitol Hill with a political research firm. Then she was hired to run the District of Columbia’s humanities program.
DECK: For the schools?
HACKETT: The DC Humanities Council. She was executive director. While she was doing that she got her PhD in anthropology. She was an amazing person. Even today, 20 years after she died, we are still amazed at her accomplishments. Not only professionally and educationally, but with us, raising us and her husband too.
She was involved in local activities, Another Mother for Peace. She worked for a political consulting firm. Then she taught at American University both as a graduate student and then as a PhD student. Then after her doctorate she was an adjunct professor at AU. She was active, but all the same time she was active in other things in both parishes. She was a hard-working, intelligent woman who obviously had talents beyond those readily usable as a mother and as a wife. She had skills and abilities beyond us.
Fortunately she found an outlet in education as an anthropologist and did her PhD on ethnic Chinese from Southeast Asia in the Washington area and how they adapted themselves and their family structures here. We traveled once not long before she died to Southeast Asia. It was something she wanted to do very badly. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in the same year that I had cancer. We were in chemotherapy together, which she said once is carrying togetherness too far she thought. When she was in her last years of radiation and chemotherapy, her oncologist asked her, he said, “Mrs. Hackett, there’s really not an awful lot more we can do. Do you have anything you really wanted to get done?” She said, “Yes. There are two things.” She already had thought this out. She said, “I want to go to Southeast Asia with my husband and to sort of see the area which I had studied.” He asked, “When is that.” She said, “Well the trip is supposed to be next month.” He said, “You take a vacation from your chemotherapy and go on that trip.
What is the other thing you want to do?” She said, “My youngest child is getting married and I want to make it to that wedding.” This was in like September of ’98. He said, “When is the wedding?” She said, “June 12th next year.” The oncologist said, “Well, I think you’ll make it but can’t say what shape you’ll be in.” She died the night before the wedding which was again a bittersweet moment but we all knew it was coming, but Andrew was married at St. Peter’s church that June 12th morning. Father O’Sullivan who was also a participant in this program [Overbeck Project], Father O’Sullivan gave a little talk and he said, “I have the sad news to announce that Andrew’s mother had just died last night. Nonetheless the family would go on.” The wedding went on and life continued.
DECK: When you and your wife talked about your years on the Hill what would you say where the best parts of living on the Hill?
HACKETT: I can’t separate easily living on the Hill from working on the Hill in the congressional offices. I left what I thought a promising career in the Foreign Service in order to work for an anti-war congressman. In a way, that decision in 1967 and at the end of my congressional fellowship was a decisive turning point in my life. If had not made that decision, if we had not made that decision to leave the Foreign Service we would have left Washington the next year or the year after Polish language training and gone on to who knows where else. We chose a job on Capitol Hill, for a political job. Even though we had bought these two houses as an interim measure in a Foreign Service life, they became after 55 years a certain permanence. In answer to your question about how we feel, how I feel today about life on Capitol Hill, it’s tied up inexplicably with my work on Capitol Hill which in turn led to work as an historian and then to writing. My life changed in ’67 when we left the Foreign Service and made Capitol Hill what turned out to be our permanent home.
DECK: You’ve mentioned your writing, so what subjects have your …
HACKETT: Modern history, European history, History of the European Union. Several biographical works on Jean Monnet, one of the French founders of the European Union.
DECK: Jean Monnet?
HACKETT: [spells the whole name]
DECK: When you are out walking the dogs on Capitol Hill now, what do you find most surprising about how the Hill has changed?
HACKETT: The price. The price of housing. Scandalously expensive. From a personal point of view, I mean personal in the sense of being a father of eight children, I recognize that what we were able to do, is not possible anymore on Capitol Hill. You cannot come anymore with a bunch of small children and a normal salary and find housing on Capitol Hill. The house around the corner has just been renovated for two years and has now gone on the market for $2.7 million. All of these houses now are worth a million dollars each, which means the average price is out of reach for young people like we were in 1964. We were able at that point to afford two houses on Capitol Hill only because we had saved money in the Foreign Service. If we had not been so endowed, it would have been hard but possible for us to buy one house on Capitol Hill and renovate it. It was doable then. There were other families like us who did that. They bought houses that needed some work and raised their children and remodeled the house while they were living in it. Our architect told us not to try to do. He said, “You’ve got two good houses here. Move out, renovate them and then move back.” We said, “Sorry, can’t afford that. We have to live here while the renovation is going on.”
In answer to your question about what has changed, in some ways there’s been some improvement. The public schools are better than they were when we came. When we came, we put all our kids in Peabody school across the way including Claire, the youngest born in the Congo who in kindergarten was the object of some derision because they asked, “Where were you born?” She said, “In the Congo.” And she had blond hair and blue eyes and was the only white child in her class. The other kids and the teacher thought she was making fun of them by saying she was born in the Congo. The fact was she was born in the Congo.
The aspect of education that has changed, however, was that she was the only white child in her class. Now Peabody School is more integrated. I don’t know the numbers, but I only know from seeing kids on the street. A lot of white kids go there. So there are still neighborhood kids going to Peabody. The unfortunate thing, however, and that was true when our kids were growing up, even if you had kids and you put them in the public schools, by the time they got to fourth grade you didn’t want to leave them in public schools any longer. Or in many cases people came as young married couples. They had a child and lived here two or three years. The child got to be four. They moved away. They didn’t even want to start kindergarten. That’s changed in some ways better, but it’s still an unusual situation if you compare life on Capitol Hill with life in the suburbs. You don’t have here the same phenomena of families moving in, having kids, raised in a local school, going on the high school and then to college. It doesn’t work that way here. There’s a disruption. There’s still racism in the city. The city is better in so many ways physically and economically than it was when we arrived. It’s still got a lot of problems.
DECK: Any last thoughts, memories of your life in Washington, life on Capitol Hill we should include?
HACKETT: I’m very lucky. I’m in my 90th year. I consider myself blessed by my life and I look forward to whatever else I’m doing. I’m still doing some writing and other things and I have a great family all within the Washington area. I don’t have to get on a plane or even a train to go and visit them. I have 12 grandchildren and now two great-grandchildren. I’m in good health. What’s not to like about that?
DECK: That’s a great way to end. Thank you so much for your time.
END OF INTERVIEW