Photo by Nancy Hartnagel

Connie Mitchell

Cornelia "Connie" Mitchell, a lifelong Washington resident, remembers seeing presidential inaugural parades as far back as Woodrow Wilson’s. 

In this 2004 interview with Nancy Hartnagel, she describes many aspects of life as an African American growing up in a segregated city. The interview also covers her work and involvement with many organizations during the civil rights movement, including the 1963 March on Washington, her experiences with several Catholic churches in Washington, and memories of entertainers who performed in local black theaters. She concludes with her own personal opinions about local politics and her life.

Read Transcript
Interview Date
November 14, 2004
Nancy Hartnagel
Cynthia Skelton

Full Directory


HARTNAGEL: My name is Nancy Hartnagel. I’m the interviewer today. I’m interviewing Cornelia Mitchell, known to her friends as ‘Connie,’ for the Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project. It’s November 14, 2004, and we’re meeting at my home, that is, Nancy Hartnagel’s home, at 213 13th Street SE. And, so, I’m just going to start this timer, Connie, with 30 minutes. There we go. Connie, where and when were you born? You could start by telling me your birth date.

MITCHELL: I was born December 19, 1914.
HARTNAGEL: So you’re coming up to your 90th birthday this year.
MITCHELL: Next month. Lord spare it, I’ll be 90.
HARTNAGEL: Okay, and where were you born, dear?
MITCHELL: I was born in Washington, DC, at Gallinger Hospital.
HARTNAGEL: Gallinger? Okay.
MITCHELL: Which is DC General now.
MITCHELL: But it was Gallinger then. And they changed it from Gallinger to DC General.HARTNAGEL: Okay. Tell me a little about your mother and father, what you know about them.

MITCHELL: Well, I didn’t know my mother or my father. I was raised by a friend, Bertha Franklin. She raised me and I had a brother that—her cousin raised him—but we always raised in one home. And I didn’t know my parents, my real parents.

HARTNAGEL: Did you know anything about them, Connie?MITCHELL: Afterwards, when I about ten years old.HARTNAGEL: What did you learn about them?

MITCHELL: I learned that my mother was named Marie and my father was named Frank. And that, at that time, the men could take the children from the women, mothers, and give them to whoever they wanted to give them to. And the lady that raised me, her cousin was a friend of my father’s. My father lived in Lynchburg, Virginia, and he worked in Washington, and he stayed at the house were I was raised at until I was 12 years old. And that was 739 Second Street, Washington DC, NW.

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Cornelia Mitchell Interview, November 14, 2004

HARTNAGEL: Northwest?
MITCHELL: And I lived there until I was 12 years old.
HARTNAGEL: Okay, and if I understand you right, your father gave you and your To two first cousins.

HARTNAGEL: To two first cousins.


HARTNAGEL: Bertha Franklin...

MITCHELL: And Mamie Johnson.

HARTNAGEL: And Mamie Johnson.

MITCHELL: They were from Wilmington, North Carolina, and they rented the house, 739 Second Street, from two sisters, the Quinn sisters. They lived on North Capitol Street, across from St. Aloysius.

HARTNAGEL: Okay, and what was it that you learned about your mother, who was named Marie?MITCHELL: I learned that she wanted to take me, take us, and my father wouldn’t let her. And she tried

from years and years to try to see us and to see how, where we lived at, and they wouldn’t let her see us.HARTNAGEL: Uhhh.

MITCHELL: And I never did see my mother or my father. My father died, oh, when I was a little girl, about three or four years old, and I don’t know when my mother died.

HARTNAGEL: And was your...were they, your parents, were they also the parents of your brother?MITCHELL: Yeah, we were brother and sister.
HARTNAGEL: What was your brother’s name?
MITCHELL: Freddie.


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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Cornelia Mitchell Interview, November 14, 2004

HARTNAGEL: And what...was your mother also from Lynchburg, Virginia?

MITCHELL: No. My mother was from Maryland...Washington. She’s a Washington person. And I met her mother, I met her two sisters, and I met her brother—she had one brother. And I met all her people later on in life when I was 10 or 12 years old.


MITCHELL: And, um, I met them because my brother and I were coming home from—he used to meet me and take me home from school, because children would fight, you know, and they didn’t want me to be a fighter. But I never did meet my mother or father. I never seen a picture of them. But, uh...

HARTNAGEL: But you said, you just said you met your mom...MITCHELL: I never met my birth mother.
HARTNAGEL: Okay. Marie, you never met her.
MITCHELL: But the mama I knew was Bertha Franklin.HARTNAGEL: Right.

MITCHELL: That was all the mother I knew. She raised me from a little infant baby, like I raised Wayne.

HARTNAGEL: Yes. And tell me about your brother Freddie. What became of him? Was he younger than you?

MITCHELL: He was older...HARTNAGEL: He was older.

MITCHELL: ...I was the youngest. We were about a year, year and a half old...between us, and he was light-skinned, and I was dark-skinned, and I didn’t like him because he was light-skinned and I wasn’t.


MITCHELL: So, uh, we were raised in the same house, home, but we was raised by two first cousins. And we didn’t know we were brothers and sisters until later in life, and uh, because I didn’t like him cause he was light-skinned. Then, his mother, Cousin Mamie, told me that that was my brother. We were brothers and sisters. We had the same mother and the same father. My mother was light-skinned and my father was dark-skinned.

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Cornelia Mitchell Interview, November 14, 2004

HARTNAGEL: And, you said your father worked in Washington?MITCHELL: Yeah...
HARTNAGEL: ...coming up from Lynchburg...
MITCHELL: I don’t know what he did or what kind of work.HARTNAGEL: You don’t know what he did?


MITCHELL: Well, he...he lived in...he lived in Lynchburg, Virginia. They had a home there, his mother and sisters. He had sisters and had brothers, too, and they lived in Lynchburg, Virginia, and he would...he had some kind of work he done in Washington, and that’s how he know...that’s how he got us placed here at 739 Second Street, because he used to stay there sometimes when he come to Washington.

HARTNAGEL: I see, okay. And, what became of your brother Freddie?

MITCHELL: My brother Freddie, oh, he got sick...and he had muscular dystrophy. He was in the hospital a couple of times, and so day I went over—I used to go see him all the time—and the doctor take me out into the hall. He was an army doctor, and he said, ‘you know what’s wrong with your brother?’ And I said, ‘no, I don’t.’ He said he got the same sickness that Lou Gehrig had, muscular dystrophy, because his hands would curl up and he’d...

HARTNAGEL: And how old was he at this time, Connie? If it was an army doctor was your brother in the army?

MITCHELL: No. He was at DC General. No, he wasn’t in the army. And uh...cause he died in ‘46.HARTNAGEL: Freddie did.

MITCHELL: He died here at his home, in his house...HARTNAGEL: Okay.

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Cornelia Mitchell Interview, November 14, 2004

HARTNAGEL: Okay, and did he ever marry or have a family?
MITCHELL: No, no. He lived with his mother, Cousin Mamie, the one that raised him. Betty had a

house, 443 M Street, that’s where he passed at.HARTNAGEL: M Street SE?
MITCHELL: Mm hmm...Northwest.HARTNAGEL: Northwest.



MITCHELL: And I was living... I was living over here in Southeast at the time. I was living at 523 Fifth Street, and I was going to church, getting ready to go to church, on Sunday. And I was getting ready to go to church, and Ms. Margaret that lived in the house, she was calling me, and she tell me, ‘could I sit down,’ and I told her, no, I was getting ready to go to church. And she said, ‘well, sit down, cause I got something to tell you.’ She said, your brother was in the kitchen eating breakfast and he stopped eating and went to the living room and laid on the sofa and died. Passed away. And so she said, ‘well, no don’t have to come today, would you come tonight or tomorrow because the date was Sunday, and I was getting ready to go to church.

HARTNAGEL: And, Connie, if he died in ’46 he would have been, like, 33, 34 years old, 35 years old maybe?

MITCHELL: I don’t know how old...
HARTNAGEL: ’46...if he was a said he was a year or two older than you...MITCHELL: Older than I was, yeah...
HARTNAGEL: Yeah, so, okay. So he would have been born maybe in 1912 or 13, do you think?MITCHELL: I imagine.
HARTNAGEL: Yeah, yeah.
MITCHELL: Must been ’12.
HARTNAGEL: And what did he do? Did he work, Connie? Was he able to work, with his illness?

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Cornelia Mitchell Interview, November 14, 2004

MITCHELL: I don’t know what kind of work he done, but he used to do some kind of work cause he stayed dressed up all the time. He never....never had work clothes on but he worked somewhere.

HARTNAGEL: And what was his last name? Was his last name Johnson, the same as Mamie’s?MITCHELL: Yeah, Freddie Johnson, after Miss...after Cousin Mamie. Her name was Mamie Johnson,

and she named him Freddie Johnson.

HARTNAGEL: Yeah. Freddie. Okay. Was he Alfred or Frederick...?

MITCHELL: Frederick.

HARTNAGEL: Frederick, okay.

MITCHELL: And we called him Freddie.

HARTNAGEL: Everybody called him Freddie.


HARTNAGEL: And what was your last name? Was it Franklin?

MITCHELL: No, no. It was McNeil.

HARTNAGEL: McNeil. And was that because that was Bertha’s last name?


HARTNAGEL: McNeil, okay.

MITCHELL: She was...she was a McNeil before she married, and when she married, she married a Franklin.

HARTNAGEL: I see, okay.
MITCHELL: Um hmm. Morris Franklin.
HARTNAGEL: So when you started to live with her was before she was married.MITCHELL: Yeah.
HARTNAGEL: Yeah. Okay.
HARTNAGEL: And Connie, tell me about your schooling.

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Cornelia Mitchell Interview, November 14, 2004

MITCHELL: My schooling. I went to school in Washington. Where I lived at, well, it was segregation, and the school in the back of me was Yale but it was for white children.


MITCHELL: Yale School. Ga...Gale.


MITCHELL: It’s still down there. It’s a home for old people, street people. It’s on Massachusetts Avenue.

HARTNAGEL: in Northwest?

MITCHELL: Northwest. And I lived on Massachusetts Avenue, between H and Massachusetts Avenue, on Second Street. And the school in back of me was where I couldn’t go, and then it was another school, Seaton, on Second Street, or I Street, and I couldn’t go there, but I could go to school in Purdy Street, and I could go to school First and L Street. [Ed: William Seaton school was on I Street, between Second and Third, 1925. There was a Purdy Court NW, near First Street.]

HARTNAGEL: You could go because...
MITCHELL: There were...
HARTNAGEL: ...there were schools...for black children...

MITCHELL: ...for black children. And I went to all...I went to Seaton, and I went to Abersails [?], I went to Jones, I went to Banneker, and I went to...the last...when I went to Martha Washington, that’s still there, I think. That’s where you learn a trade. [Ed: Benjamin Banneker elementary school was on Third Street NW, between K and L.]

HARTNAGEL: Okay. So, many years did you finish in school? Did you go through eighth grade?

MITCHELL: I went to the eighth grade, I think.HARTNAGEL: You didn’t go into high school?MITCHELL: No.
HARTNAGEL: That was when you went to the trade school?MITCHELL: Yeah.

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Cornelia Mitchell Interview, November 14, 2004

HARTNAGEL: And what did you study there? What trade did you study?MITCHELL: I think I was taking up hair.
HARTNAGEL: Hairdressing?

HARTNAGEL: Yeah? Did you ever work at that?
MITCHELL: Because my friends and neighbors used to say that it wasn’t healthy for you to do hair.HARTNAGEL: Okay.

MITCHELL: Because you probably catch sick doing it, and that’s I guess what got me ready to stop. Then I tried to go to night school, and night schools was only in...all the night schools in Northwest were full up, and only night school I could go to was Southwest. And my mother said she didn’t want me to go down Southwest to night school, so I didn’t go....didn’t go no more to school.

HARTNAGEL: Okay. But you finished eighth grade.
HARTNAGEL: Yeah, and then did you go to work after that?
MITCHELL: Oh, well, I worked several jobs, uh huh.
HARTNAGEL: Can you tell what you did? Did...for instance, did Bertha run a rooming house?MITCHELL: No.

HARTNAGEL: She didn’t anymore?
MITCHELL: No, uh uh. She was...we never had a rooming house. We was a family home, just two first

MITCHELL: ...and she shared the third floor and Cousin Mamie had the first and second.HARTNAGEL: Oh, okay.

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Cornelia Mitchell Interview, November 14, 2004

MITCHELL: Yeah. Cause Cousin Mamie had a daughter, Gracie, and she was grown, and she left and went to...moved to New York.

HARTNAGEL: And, did they earn their living, or did they not have to work?

MITCHELL: Yeah. She worked at a...she worked for...Cousin Mamie worked for Shaw and Brown. She worked out on Woodley Road...I think it was 2619 Woodley Road...or Woodley Place...where they had the Duke Ellington Bridge. She worked out there for...she was everything...they had a cook, and dishwasher, and a washer, and Miss Shaw had...

HARTNAGEL: This was...she worked for a private family?MITCHELL: Private family.

MITCHELL: And she did everything for them. She cooked, and she did the washing, and she did the taking care of the chores. Miss Shaw had four children, two girls and two boys. Miss Catherine, and uh, Billy, and Jack, and I forgot the other girl’s name. But...I remember them...and then I used to go out there and work after school.

HARTNAGEL: Okay. And did you get paid for that?

MITCHELL: Well, they was...she was paying me. My cousin was paying me. So...

HARTNAGEL: Yeah, yeah.

MITCHELL: Well I learned how to work, how to make up beds and how to to serve food, how to wash dishes, that kind of thing.

HARTNAGEL: Alright, and so then how long did you live with your foster mother? From the time you were...

MITCHELL: Oh...I lived with her, oh, oh, for years...up until...up until she got sick and got—her eyesight was failing and pain. And...

HARTNAGEL: And how old would you have been?

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Cornelia Mitchell Interview, November 14, 2004

MITCHELL: Oh...I had to be...what? Mmm. I don’t remember how old I was now. But I had to be, oh, that was...I had to be about 15 or 14. 15, 14, 15, 16.

HARTNAGEL: But you didn’t didn’t have your first child yet?MITCHELL: Nuh...
HARTNAGEL: You were still living there and you were still...MITCHELL: Uh huh.


MITCHELL: Yeah. Well, when I had my first child...when I had my first child I...I was taking care of two little children, and that was around H Street...220 H Street, over top of the barber shop. And there were...I met her through a girl that I go to school with, Jaylin, and she had two little boys, Darmon and Joe, and I used to go around and take care of them, but my mother didn’t know I was going around there.


MITCHELL: And I had to...I used to go around there, pitch in...cause she was having problems with her eyes, and other problems. But she was 21 or 20 years old, Mira...Gray. And I used to go around there cause I had...I fell in love with the two little boys. And I’d go around there and fix them a bowl of cereal, or cook them something to eat, or something. And that’s where I got raped at, around there. And I got pregnant.

HARTNAGEL: Mm hmm. And so, then, do you want to talk about what happened after that, were pregnant, and were you still living at home with Bertha?

MITCHELL: Yeah. Uh huh.
HARTNAGEL: And how did they react to all of that?

MITCHELL: Well, they didn’t...they didn’t like it at all. They wanted me to continue school, and get an education.

HARTNAGEL: And would that have been possible, Connie, in those days? Or would...
MITCHELL: Yeah, it was possible because it was help then for children in our schools, but uh...I never

did go back. I just...I had the baby, and I got married, too, and the guy had it annulled, the marriage.HARTNAGEL: You got it annulled? Or...

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Cornelia Mitchell Interview, November 14, 2004

MITCHELL: No. My mother and her husband got it annulled, cause see I was too young.HARTNAGEL: And who did you marry? Was it the father of the baby?

MITCHELL: Yeah. Richard. Richard’s father. I had Richard...
HARTNAGEL: Yeah, and then what became of Richard? Did you care for him?MITCHELL: Richard is here...Richard lives out on...Richard lives in, uh, Fort Lincoln now.HARTNAGEL: Right. But at the time that you had him...

MITCHELL: I didn’t...I couldn’t care for him. I cared for him for a while, and then his father’s aunt raised him. And she raised him...between her and I, because he would come back to me, and I’d take care of him, and I kept him three years or two years, and then she kept him, I think. So he knew me as well as he knows Mama Ann—we called her Mama Ann. That was his daddy’s aunt. And he’s still living, Richard is.

HARTNAGEL: And what has he...did he go through school, and...

MITCHELL: No. He never liked school. He used to go to school, and he’d leave school, and...then the teachers would...his aunt would take him back and then they would tell him, ‘no, his mother got to bring him.’ Then I’d have to take him. Then when I’d take him to school, by the time I’d get home, he’d be home. At his house. So he never liked school, but he...I think he went to eighth grade. Cause he didn’t like school. But uh...

HARTNAGEL: Okay, and then, so your first marriage was annulled because your mother thought it were too young.

MITCHELL: I was too young.

HARTNAGEL: And then...when did you actually get married to your husband? Wilbur?

MITCHELL: To Wilbur? I...we married in...I think it was in ’50.

HARTNAGEL: 1950? Yeah? And so there was a long stretch in there when you were a single gal in Washington.

MITCHELL: Mmm hmmm.

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Cornelia Mitchell Interview, November 14, 2004

HARTNAGEL: Yeah. Were those good years, Connie? I mean, some of those years were the Depression, and...

MITCHELL: Well, I worked...I worked for...taking care of children, white children, all along Connecticut Avenue, and in Chillum, and I worked in a restaurant.

HARTNAGEL: And what did you do at the restaurant?

MITCHELL: I worked at...with the chef, in the kitchen, and did work...any kind of work they want me to do. Get food, and get...go down to the freezer, bring up filet mignon and stuff like that. And I worked at the school.

HARTNAGEL: And, well, tell me, before we go to the school, what was the name of the restaurant? Do you remember?

MITCHELL: Rush...Resters...Rukers...It was...I don’t remember the name but it was 1345 Connecticut Avenue.

MITCHELL: Yeah. It was Italian.
HARTNAGEL: It was an Italian restaurant?
MITCHELL: Uh huh. It was white. Black people didn’t eat there.HARTNAGEL: Black people couldn’t eat there?
HARTNAGEL: Were there other black people working in the kitchen?

MITCHELL: Yeah. They had a short order cook, they had a chef, they had three cooks, chef, and had a whole bunch of white waitresses. And they had the downstairs and the upstairs. I worked there three years, or four years.

HARTNAGEL: Okay. And would that have been the 1920s, do you think? Or the ’30s?MITCHELL: I believe it was in the ’30s.
HARTNAGEL: Probably the ’30s, because the ’20s you would still have been a girl.MITCHELL: Yeah, and then the ’30s, ’31, ’32.

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Cornelia Mitchell Interview, November 14, 2004

HARTNAGEL: And then you said you worked in a school?MITCHELL: Yeah. Alice Deal.
HARTNAGEL: Alice Deal? Was that an elementary school?MITCHELL: A white school, yeah.
HARTNAGEL: Yeah. For just white kids?
HARTNAGEL: And where was that, Connie?

MITCHELL: That was at, uh, 20...what was it...29...I forgot where it was at...Right across from...right across the street from the high school...uh...the white high school was across the street and Alice Deal was right across the street from it.

HARTNAGEL: But it wasn’t the high school, it was a grade school?

MITCHELL: It was an was...Alice Deal wasn’t a high school. It was a junior high. Bertie Backus was principal.[ed: Bertie Backus was principal of the brand new Alice Deal Junior High School from 1931-1934.]

HARTNAGEL: Okay. And you know what period of time you worked there? Was it many years?

MITCHELL: Yeah, I worked there quite a while. I worked there three or four years.HARTNAGEL: Three or four years?
HARTNAGEL: And what was your job there?

MITCHELL: Well, I helped...I cooked, and I helped with the cooking, and I helped with the salads, and I helped in the cafeteria. We set up the cafeteria, and...I did practically everything in there. Did some hard work in there, because all the ovens was down on the floor, and had.... We cooked seven turkeys for Christmas...things like that...and I had to do all that lifting. And then we cooked 100 pounds of potatoes

a day, and they had a potato peeler, electric potato peeler. We put the potatoes in the potato peeler and it page 14

Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Cornelia Mitchell Interview, November 14, 2004

would pop them out, and we had to take the cores out of the thing. And then the French fries, we would cut them up and make the French fries right out from real...from fresh potatoes. We never used...

HARTNAGEL: Wow. That seems like it’s very labor intensive.

MITCHELL: It was a hard job, and labor—because it had all that modern stuff then.

HARTNAGEL: And how many kids do you recall would...

MITCHELL: It was seven...It was 55 teachers and 700 or about 700 children...

HARTNAGEL: 700 children...

MITCHELL: And 55 teachers.

HARTNAGEL: Wow. And how many in the kitchen? How many on the kitchen staff?

MITCHELL: It was two white ladies, and myself, two black men...oh, about five or six...about six.

HARTNAGEL: Wow. That’s a lot of people to feed with just six people.

MITCHELL: It was three whites; it was about three blacks. They had seven custodians...


MITCHELL: ...out there. And they had a lady there that taking care of the ladies bathrooms.



HARTNAGEL: Okay, and, Connie, to go back to what it was like in the neighborhood you grew up in as a girl, I seem to recall that you once told me that you saw Woodrow Wilson...?

MITCHELL: He’s the first president I remember seeing, because...HARTNAGEL: And...

MITCHELL: Because we used to go down to the Avenue and stand, you know, because they used to march from the White House to the Capitol.

HARTNAGEL: This would have been for his inauguration?
MITCHELL: Yeah. And we would go see all the presidents that would come, and Woodrow and

Roosevelt, we used to go see him because he used to come down the avenue with a big car with open top page 15

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on it, with Fala, the little dog and a long cigarette in his mouth. We used to go see him, too. I remember Woodrow Wilson, I remember Harding and Coolidge. I remember Hoover...all of them.

HARTNAGEL: Yeah. And you would walk down to...

MITCHELL: We’d walk down. My mother would take us to all that.

HARTNAGEL: Yeah. To the parade...


HARTNAGEL: And even though Washington was a segregated city you could go to anything open like that?

MITCHELL: Yeah. We went to all of that. Uh huh.
HARTNAGEL: Do you remember anything about those historical figures that especially, you know, sort

of jumped out at you as a little kid?

MITCHELL: I remember when Lindbergh...I remember when he would have that long story about this guy had kidnapped his little baby, and then they built an apartment house, Lindbergh Apartment House, over on from where I was raised at.

MITCHELL: It’s Second and Massachusetts Avenue. Was a big old lot and they build a big apartment

house over there. Second and Massachusetts? Yeah. And they named it Lindbergh Apartment House.HARTNAGEL: Yeah.
MITCHELL: Yeah, I remember that. I remember...
HARTNAGEL: Did...did you ever see Charles Lindbergh?

MITCHELL: Not that I know of, no. I don’t remember seeing him. But I remember seeing uh, McCarthy, the senator. The senator that...

HARTNAGEL: Oh, Senator McCarthy?MITCHELL: I remember that...I seen him.HARTNAGEL: Joe McCarthy?

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Cornelia Mitchell Interview, November 14, 2004

MITCHELL: I seen Joe McCarthy, yeah. He had a big mess going on. Had people losing their jobs and their...

HARTNAGEL: Oh, yeah.

MITCHELL: I remember him, yeah.

HARTNAGEL: And remembered seeing Franklin Roosevelt driving around in an open car.

MITCHELL: Open car. Big old limousine. Open car and a little dog Fala be there with him. And he had a long cigarette holder with a cigarette.

MITCHELL: Yeah, he used to go down to Navy Yard often.

HARTNAGEL: Yeah, and this...would you have seen him once you began to live on Capitol Hill? Or did you see him in the period when you were still living up in Northwest?

MITCHELL: Well, no, I was living over there in Southeast, yeah.HARTNAGEL: Yeah.

MITCHELL: And we used go down and see and watch him.HARTNAGEL: Yeah.

MITCHELL: And, uh, I remember Harding and Coolidge, and I remember, oh, I remember Coolidge say he didn’t want to run no more. (laughs)

HARTNAGEL: (laughs)
MITCHELL: And I remember...I remember...Hoover said it was ‘chicken in every pot’. Hoover made

hard times for you.
HARTNAGEL: Hoover made hard times?
MITCHELL: For us, yeah.
HARTNAGEL: Yeah. And was the Depression a particularly hard time?

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Cornelia Mitchell Interview, November 14, 2004

MITCHELL: I don’t remember it! I don’t remember. They had a Depression here and they had lines, but we didn’t get in them. We had no soup lines, and no lines. We didn’t do nothing.

HARTNAGEL: You didn’t...your...there were...Bertha and Mamie were able to...MITCHELL: Keep food...
HARTNAGEL: Keep food and everything?

MITCHELL: Uh huh. And then we had...well, then I lived... I moved over here on Fifth Street SE, in an apartment where I live now, and there was a mixed neighborhood, and I remember the Burtons had the house...we lived at 523 and the Burtons had the house 525...Mrs. Burton, she was white, and she had three children, and I remember she used to give us sugar and bacon, and call us over to the fence that divided her house and our house...

HARTNAGEL: Would this have been during the Depression, Connie?

MITCHELL: Yeah, during the Depression.

HARTNAGEL: Yeah. And who did you move over the Fifth Street with? With Bertha?

MITCHELL: Well, she lived there for a while but she didn’t like over there and so she moved back to a friend’s.

HARTNAGEL: Oh alright.
MITCHELL: Yeah, we all lived over there for a while.
HARTNAGEL: Oh okay. Freddie, too?
MITCHELL: No, Freddie was dead.
HARTNAGEL: Oh, Freddie was dead.
MITCHELL: That was...Freddie died in the ’40s.
HARTNAGEL: Okay, and so, when did you move from Northwest into the Capitol Hill area?

MITCHELL: Oh, I moved over there...early, early part...I lived over there in the ’30s or the ’40s...’30s or ’40s....I don’t remember which one....(chuckles)

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HARTNAGEL: (laughs)
MITCHELL: But I lived at 523; I lived at 519...HARTNAGEL: All of this is Fifth Street SE?

MITCHELL: Uh huh. And then I lived at Second Street, right on the corner of Second and Heckman. It’s Duddington now, but it was Heckman Street when I lived over there. Elgin Baylor lived down there, played in the ball—

HARTNAGEL: Oh, Elgin Baylor lived down there?

MITCHELL: He used to live right around the corner from me.

HARTNAGEL: Oh, no kidding!

MITCHELL: Yeah, we lived right on the corner.

HARTNAGEL: And it was Heckman?

MITCHELL: It was Heckman Street...


MITCHELL: Heckman Street, I think.


MITCHELL: Uh huh. It was—they changed the name of it, recently.

HARTNAGEL: To Duddington ...

MITCHELL: To Duddington. But it wasn’t...

HARTNAGEL: Yeah, I’ve never known it as anything else...

MITCHELL: It was all black people living there. Very few—I don’t think too many white people lived there back then, but now it’s all white.

MITCHELL: I think it’s got one black, Mrs. Young.HARTNAGEL: Mrs. Young.

Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Cornelia Mitchell Interview, November 14, 2004

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Cornelia Mitchell Interview, November 14, 2004

MITCHELL: And I lived right on the corner. And then in back of me was a drugstore... a store. Grocery store. And up on the corner of Second and E was a grocery store.

HARTNAGEL: There were a lot more, I think, in those days than there are now.MITCHELL: Yeah.

HARTNAGEL: Alright, now I’m just going to say maybe we’ll... Well, I guess we can keep going because the tape will just stop when it runs out on this side, but we’ve talked for about 30 minutes, and I think we’ll do five more and then the tape will run out and we’ll have to turn it over. Connie, do you remember, for instance, where you shopped in your childhood? Like where did Cousins Bertha and Mamie go for food shopping and where would they buy clothes...

MITCHELL: Yeah, I remember where we shopped.HARTNAGEL: Tell us about that.

MITCHELL: Where we shopped at. Oh, it was a—the Safeway was a Sanitary, they called in Sanitary, not Safeway. They used to have the Piggly Wiggly and that was down on North Capitol Street, right, North Capitol and H, and we lived on Second and H—it was a Piggly Wiggly. That was a store just like the Giant and the Safeway. It was a store where they had a grocery store. Piggly Wiggly. And then it was a—then it was a store where we buy shoes and things, at Fourth and K. It was a store there where they sold clothes and shoes and things. Because we didn’t buy, pick no clothes. Our mothers picked out everything for us. You know, they didn’t ask us if we want nothing, we want to see nothing—they asked your mother, and the mama would pick your clothes, your dress, your shoes and everything. And whatever she say, that’s what you brought home. And we only had clothes like on Christmas and holidays, cause we only had... we had special foods on Christmas... on Sundays and holidays and things.

HARTNAGEL: And what would you have that would be special?

MITCHELL: We’d have a roast, and potatoes and onions and mama, she’d make a cake, a plain cake, you know. They baked the cakes and baked the food, and we’d bake apples. Bake it. Quarter apples and put them in the pan and put sugar and that stuff on and bake them. We’d have baked apples and we’d have cake and canned peaches, and we put coffee cream over the peaches, have a slice of cake. And then they used to make wine out of apples. And then Christmas and Thanksgiving we could get a little glass of wine. And then—oh, what did we—we had home remedies for sickness, but we’d never hardly was ever sick because we played in the rain and laid out, played in the snow. And we would lay down in the snow and cover each other or cover up in the snow, and everything. So we hardly ever was sick but with cold and things. But we’d have home remedies for all that. Cold and sickness. But yeah, we shopped—it was a

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Cornelia Mitchell Interview, November 14, 2004

store we’d shop at—and then on Seventh Street NW they had a lot of stores, a lot of shopping. You know, you’d shop up and down there. But we didn’t buy nothing. My mother would do the shopping. The grown people did all the shopping. Children didn’t shop, didn’t buy nothing.

HARTNAGEL: And you don’t remember ever not enough food, or anything like that, during your childhood, so that...

MITCHELL: Oh, when we was a child...oh the Seventh Day Adventists and uh, Catholic churches places, like over at Fourth and H, was a Little Sisters of the Poor. That’s where they used to be at when I was coming up. And if you were Catholic you could go there, knock on the door, and you recite a prayer, a Catholic prayer, and they’d hand you a bag of groceries. We didn’t have—I didn’t... ever do...but people... I know a lot of people that do it. Because my mother wasn’t Catholic, but she had a dear friend that had money and had a little car and lived in Deanwood where the rich black people lived at, and she’d taken a liking to me as a little girl, and she says to my mother could she—could I go—could she take me to her church? Her church was the Catholic church, St. Aloysius...


HARTNAGEL: We’ we go. Now you were talking about, as a little girl, being taken to St. Aloysius church?

MITCHELL: Right. And we had...we used to go and have Mass in the basement of the church, and we would just hear the speakers, the Mass speakers; we didn’t see the priest. The priest would be upstairs in the church, and we...I went there...

HARTNAGEL: Was...and was it because you were black...


HARTNAGEL: ...that you were not allowed upstairs?

MITCHELL: Well, it was segregation. Well, Washington was just as segregated as the south was then, when I was coming up.

MITCHELL: The stores, the grocery stores...the grocery stores wasn’t because it wasn’t no Giant stores

nowhere around where we lived. Just Sanitary, they turned to be Safeway, and the Piggly Wiggly went page 21

Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Cornelia Mitchell Interview, November 14, 2004

out of business...A&P went out of business... Used to be A&Ps, like grocery stores. Yeah, but it was little mama and papa stores, little grocery stores, a lot of them.

HARTNAGEL: Yeah, and were they segregated, too, Connie?MITCHELL: No.
HARTNAGEL: They were not. So anyone...
MITCHELL: Yeah, they welcome you.

HARTNAGEL: Yeah. Yeah.
MITCHELL: Because most of them was Jews...
MITCHELL: ...and they lived in back of the store, up over the store.
HARTNAGEL: Yeah, okay. So, would you say that you had kind of a normal, happy childhood?

MITCHELL: Well, it was just the way I thought everything was supposed to be. I didn’t—my mother didn’t tell us, you know, this was wrong, or that’s right, or this... she didn’t tell us nothing like that. And I just felt like it was a normal childhood, that that’s the way life was. That’s the way everybody lived. That’s the way I felt.


MITCHELL: Uh huh. And on the corner we had Boyd’s drugstore, Dr. Charles Boyd, and they had a fountain but we couldn’t sit at the fountain. We could pass the fountain and go to the counter where all the penny candy was, and buy all the penny candy we want.

HARTNAGEL: But you could not sit at the luncheon counter in Dr. Boyd’s.
MITCHELL: No. We couldn’t go in none of the grocery stores. When I moved to the Southeast there

was no place on the Avenue where you could eat either, black people.HARTNAGEL: Really?
MITCHELL: Even all up on...

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Cornelia Mitchell Interview, November 14, 2004

HARTNAGEL: Even the Woolworth’s, Connie?
HARTNAGEL: Wasn’t there a Woolworth’s there on the corner of Seventh and Pennsylvania?MITCHELL: No. That was a Kresge’s.
HARTNAGEL: Oh, Kresge’s. I’m sorry. Even at the Kresge’s you could not eat?MITCHELL: Yeah, you could eat at Kresge’s.
HARTNAGEL: Okay. But no restaurants.
MITCHELL: And right where CVS is now, that was People’s Drug Store.
MITCHELL: You could eat in there.
HARTNAGEL: You could eat in there.
MITCHELL: Hard-boiled eggs or a little whatever they sold...
MITCHELL: They didn’t sell no food, like...
HARTNAGEL: But that was not a segregated place.
MITCHELL: It was not seg...It was People’s Drug Store.
HARTNAGEL: Right, right.
MITCHELL: And when it changed from People’s it changed to CVS.
HARTNAGEL: Right, okay. What made you move to Capitol Hill, Connie?
HARTNAGEL: What made you move to Capitol Hill from Northwest?

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Cornelia Mitchell Interview, November 14, 2004

MITCHELL: Well, I met some people from Rocky Mountain, North Carolina, and I moved. And they was telling me about living over there with them, and I used to go around with them, and then I liked it over there better than I liked where I was living at. Because I had more friends over here than I had up there...didn’t have no friends. I always liked friends, people.

Connie Mitchell, probably about 1950
And when did you meet your husband...the man who became your husband, Wilbur?

MITCHELL: Well his...his sister and I were friends. Mamie. I met him through his sister.HARTNAGEL: Okay. And was he from the Washington area originally?
MITCHELL: Yeah. He was from...he was born right at Fifth and E.
HARTNAGEL: Oh, okay, Southeast?

MITCHELL: Right by where number five was at. Yeah, he was born in Southeast.HARTNAGEL: Okay.

HARTNAGEL: And you were friends with his sister, and you already said you got married in 19...MITCHELL: And they lived around the corner from me. They lived on G street, and I lived on Fifth

street, between G and H—E.

HARTNAGEL: Okay. And did you work after you got married? And tell me a little bit about what he did for a job.

MITCHELL: Well, he was in the Army, in World War II. And he come out; he hated that service. He didn’t want to go. He was drafted. And he had a disliking for it. So he come out and he a job in the Navy Yard. Then he left the Navy Yard and went to the Post Office. And he stayed at the Post Office for a long, long time. But when he taken sick, in ’64, and...he discovered he had cancer. So he died in ’76.

HARTNAGEL: Okay, so he had cancer for a long time.

MITCHELL: He was home 11 years.


MITCHELL: Yeah. And he had cancer. He was operated on up on Wisconsin Avenue with the hospital up there where the Russian Embassy’s at. It used to be a hospital.

HARTNAGEL: And what was the name of that hospital?
MITCHELL: I don’t remember the name of it. It was a government hospital...that’s where he was

operated on.HARTNAGEL: Okay.

MITCHELL: They hadn’t built a...the hospital...they was building...they was going to build it, I guess. They built it afterwards, because he went to the new one afterwards when he was recuperating. He was sick for 11 years.

HARTNAGEL: Yeah. And so, when, by the time he died, Connie, had you been married, like, for 25 years or a little bit more?

MITCHELL: Well now, let me see now...I married...We got married in...I think we got married in March of ’50, and he died ’76.

HARTNAGEL: So, 26 years?

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Cornelia Mitchell Interview, November 14, 2004

MITCHELL: 26 years, uh huh.
HARTNAGEL: 26 years you were married.
MITCHELL: Uh huh, yeah, 26. And now...HARTNAGEL: And did you work after you were married?

MITCHELL: Oh, well, yeah. I worked at different organizations. I worked at the welfare rights. I was secretary...treasurer of the welfare rights. Then I worked with the District Building. I worked with John Wilson, I worked with Marion Barry, I worked with Walter Washington.

HARTNAGEL: And were these paying jobs or where these all volunteer jobs?
MITCHELL: Well, most of them was volunteer. And then the VISTA was a stipend. I got a stipend. Got

a little money, enough for board, and room.

HARTNAGEL: And what period...VISTA came in the ’60s, as I recall, when—after John Kennedy became president...

MITCHELL: I was...yeah...yeah.
HARTNAGEL: Is that when you worked there?
MITCHELL: Yeah. I worked four years in the VISTA.HARTNAGEL: As a VISTA volunteer? And what was your job?MITCHELL: Working in housing.
MITCHELL: Housing.
HARTNAGEL: And can you describe a little bit what it was you did?

MITCHELL: Well, yeah, we would go to different, like the president...the chairman...the people that run the housing in Washington. And we’d go down to...We’d hold meetings with different officials. We would find out the complaints and about the different things that people was complaining about. And we would go and try to make it better and make it good. And I was a...then I was in...I was a volunteer for Ward Two, and I was sworn in by Judge Alexander, over at the...across from the District Building.

HARTNAGEL: And when were you at...when you had this job in Ward Two...what part of the city is Ward Two, Connie?

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Cornelia Mitchell Interview, November 14, 2004

MITCHELL: Ward Two is uh, Southwest and Southeast. Part of Southeast and part of Southwest.HARTNAGEL: Okay. And what would you do there, in that job?

MITCHELL: I got to go to different meetings at the District Building and the Capitol and different big places where they hold meetings. And go and find out complaints and find out people who was having problems. And then I’d take their problems to the people, you know, in charge of it.

HARTNAGEL: To, like, the council member?MITCHELL: Yeah. Yeah.

HARTNAGEL: And were you focusing on a particular type of problem when you were doing this work? Would it have been housing again?

MITCHELL: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It was before they had Ward Eight—Section 8. After there was so many problems, so much money problems and things, and people didn’t have money, so then they come up with Section 8...

HARTNAGEL: Vouchers.
MITCHELL: The government would give them so much money. Help them so much. Course they got it

now big.

HARTNAGEL: But you were...when you the period when you were doing this work in VISTA and in—for Ward Two, it was before Section 8?

MITCHELL: Yeah. Before Section 8. Yeah, right.HARTNAGEL: And you did not get paid for this job?MITCHELL: I got a stipend.
HARTNAGEL: Yeah. Through VISTA.MITCHELL: But it wasn’t pay...

HARTNAGEL: Yeah. How much of a stipend was it?MITCHELL: I don’t even remember!HARTNAGEL: (laughs)
MITCHELL: Couldn’t of been much.

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HARTNAGEL: (laughs)

MITCHELL: Got a stipend. We give a stipend. We would...we would go to...directors, people that was over us, and we’d pick up a stipend. I don’t know if we got it every week, or every month, or what, but I forgotten now had to sign and then get your stipend and then you’d take it to the bank or if you’d want to cash it...And then, well, I had a bank account when I was a little girl. At Jones School at First and L Street, they had a stamp machine, and you’d buy stamps and then you’d...when you’d get your book full of stamps, you’d take it to the bank and open a bank account. So my first bank account was when I was about in the sixth grade—fifth or sixth grade. I opened a bank account at Industrial Bank up at 11th and U Street NW, which is reopening now. And I—I opened up a bank account up there.

HARTNAGEL: And were the banks also segregated?MITCHELL: Oh yeah. Yeah.
HARTNAGEL: So you had to go to a bank that was for blacks.

MITCHELL: No, I don’t know about that in there. But I know that I went to...for those book of stamps we had to go up to Industrial Bank to of stamps. Cause they was the one that put the stamp machine in the schools. For blacks, throughout black schools.


MITCHELL: And what I know about here now—I did now—where Starbucks is, was American Security, and it was very segregated. Wasn’t too many black people that had accounts out down there then. But I had one there years ago, after the War when they started, accepting...I had an account there.

HARTNAGEL: Yeah. Were you involved in the civil rights movement, or...

MITCHELL: Oh yeah...

HARTNAGEL: ...or marches...?

MITCHELL: I was involved in it, big. Big. Big. I was involved with Stokley Carmichael, Rap Brown, and all those people that fought....yeah. I was...

HARTNAGEL: And do you remember the March on Washington and the...MITCHELL: Yeah.
HARTNAGEL: ...Poor People’s Campaign?

Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Cornelia Mitchell Interview, November 14, 2004

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Cornelia Mitchell Interview, November 14, 2004

MITCHELL: Yeah, yeah. Ralph taken us to the Poor People’s Campaign. Ralph Dwan. Ralph used to take us...Ralph used to take us...Well, I worked for Ralph when he had Catholic Center on Eighth Street—723 Eighth Street SE. He had Catholic Center. And he used to take us to vote, and take us to march, and take us down poor people’s where it was so bad down there. Well, he used to take us, carloads of them, him and some other friends.



HARTNAGEL: And did you participate in the March on Washington...


HARTNAGEL: 19... [1963]

MITCHELL: Yeah. But down there, left...Michael got lost down there—


MITCHELL: We left Michael! Couldn’t find Michael!

HARTNAGEL: Michael would be your...son...

MITCHELL: Michael come home by hisself. We was about seven o’clock at night Michael come knocking on the door.

HARTNAGEL: (laughs)

MITCHELL: We was worried somebody’s got him...we’d never see Michael no more!

HARTNAGEL: (laughs)

MITCHELL: And uh...

HARTNAGEL: And what do you remember about that day? Do you remember the speech that Martin Luther King, Jr., gave?

MITCHELL: Oh yeah! Oh yeah. Yeah, I remember he said ‘I have a...’, he had a dream. He was up high, up high up there where they had the candles and everything, and he was up there with them. A little short man. First time I saw him...


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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Cornelia Mitchell Interview, November 14, 2004

MITCHELL: the March on Washington.
HARTNAGEL: And what did...
MITCHELL: But I wish I had known him.
HARTNAGEL: Do you remember what you felt when you heard him give that speech?

MITCHELL: Yeah, oh, I, well...I felt like it was a new day, that things was going to change. It was a change. It would be a change. And I felt that he had brought a change about, because the Catholics was in behind him a lot, you know. They was with him. You know, and then I was with an organization where we marched around the Capitol seven times to make a change. Well we couldn’t march on the side of the Capitol, we had to march on the other side of the street. It was against the law to march on the Capitol grounds. So I marched around with the Catholic sisters and the priests and the black people and the white people. We marched around the Capitol seven times.

HARTNAGEL: And when was this? Was this around that same time? 1968?MITCHELL: Yeah, that was in the ’60s or ’70s.
HARTNAGEL: Or ’63, I think.
MITCHELL: yeah, and then...

HARTNAGEL: And did it turn out it your mind? Did it turn out to be a new day?
MITCHELL: Well, a change came about. A different change. It was different. But (long pause) I don’t

HARTNAGEL: Was it...

MITCHELL: I felt like I protested about a lot of things. I marched, and I picketed, and I carried signs, but then I felt like it was useless. It was just wasted time because the very thing that we would picket about and carry signs would happen. Like we....we picketed down here at Seventh and I [Streets] when the Marines were going to take all those houses and take that block, put a Marine barracks for the Marines. We had Senators, had everybody come down there. We went down there—groups, organizations—and they taking the little people’s houses and built this thing anyway....(laughs)

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Cornelia Mitchell Interview, November 14, 2004

HARTNAGEL: (laughs)
MITCHELL: So I kind of felt in my heart that all that was useless. Because I felt, you know,

the things—like the bridge. They said that was on the books 30 years ago, and it come to pass.HARTNAGEL: Which bridge is this, Connie?
MITCHELL: That bridge down there—it’s I street. The bridge that goes across.HARTNAGEL: The freeway?

MITCHELL: The 11th Street.

HARTNAGEL: Oh, the 11th Street Bridge? Yeah.

MITCHELL: Yeah. I lived over there before they built that. But then...

HARTNAGEL: Because—and you would have been involved in that because in order to build that bridge they had to take a lot of people’s homes?


MITCHELL: To build that Marine Barracks, that Marine thing for the Marines, they taken some beautiful houses. People had two apartment houses and oh, they take all those houses down.

HARTNAGEL: And I guess probably you’ve seen a lot of that over your years on Capitol Hill.MITCHELL: Yeah. Right. I saw a lot of it.
HARTNAGEL: Because I know...
MITCHELL: And I participated in it like crazy.

HARTNAGEL: Because the Madison Library, of the Library of Congress, that was all homes and businesses, I think. That whole block...

MITCHELL: Yeah. It was...No, it was stores.
HARTNAGEL: It was stores?
MITCHELL: It was a George’s, and the drugstore, and all. Because I been in those stores.HARTNAGEL: What was the George’s? What kind of store was that?

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MITCHELL: It was a furniture store.


MITCHELL: Where you sold furniture and televisions and things like that.

HARTNAGEL: And I know Mike Palm’s restaurant, the first one...


HARTNAGEL: Mike Palm’s restaurant was among those commercial businesses in the...

MITCHELL: We used to eat there.


MITCHELL: St. Peter’s.

HARTNAGEL: Yeah. Okay.


HARTNAGEL: Connie, you mentioned St. Aloysius and now you have mentioned St. Peter’s. Are those the two Catholic churches that you mostly have gone to over time?

MITCHELL: No, no. I went to St. Aloysius. Before I went to St. Peter’s I went to Holy Redeemer when they built it in 1922. We built it from St. Aloysius.

HARTNAGEL: And where is Holy Redeemer?

MITCHELL: It’s up on New York and New Jersey Avenue NW.


MITCHELL: Mm hmm. We built it in 1922.

HARTNAGEL: Wow. And do you remember it going up?

MITCHELL: Well, I remember...I remember the priest...the priest lived around the corner in the rectory. His rectory was 1159...39...New Jersey Avenue. I remember the priest well. I remember all...

[Phone rings during next several statements.]HARTNAGEL: Oops. I’m just going to let this ring, Connie.

Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Cornelia Mitchell Interview, November 14, 2004

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Cornelia Mitchell Interview, November 14, 2004

MITCHELL: I remember the priest up there at Holy Redeemer. I don’t remember the priest at St. Aloysius cause I never saw him.


MITCHELL: I never saw him. But when I first come to St. Peter’s it was when the streetcars was running up and down Eighth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue and going up Northwest, and by me being so friendly and I was talking to the lady and said, ‘Where do you be going out every Sunday?’ I say I’d been going to Catholic church up on New York Avenue, New Jersey Avenue. She say, ‘well you don’t have to go way up there. There’s a Catholic church right there Second and C Street [SE].’ I didn’t even know that was a Catholic church there!

HARTNAGEL: Oh, where St. Peter’s is?



MITCHELL: And so...

HARTNAGEL: When did you start going there, Connie?

MITCHELL: I started going to St. Peter’s in ’40, what was it? ’40-something, in the ’42s, ’43s, something like...

HARTNAGEL: So during the war years.
MITCHELL: It was...Well, they had all Catholic sisters at the school, there, you know. And then it used

to be a white school, too, you know. St. Peter’s used to be.
HARTNAGEL: And when you started going to the church was the church segregated?
MITCHELL: Oh yeah. Very much.
HARTNAGEL: And where did you have to sit?
MITCHELL: When I first started going to St. Peter’s, we could only sit three rows inside this front door.HARTNAGEL: Oh.
MITCHELL: All the way across, that was for the blacks. Three rows, right across.

HARTNAGEL: And did you just...How did you know that? Was there a sign? Or did you just know it from people telling you?

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MITCHELL: No, the ushers would tell you.HARTNAGEL: The ushers would tell you.

MITCHELL: They had one little black guy—nice looking little guy—that taking the offerings and taking the money and he would go across the altar. He was a black man, and other than that there was no blacks doing nothing at St. Peter’s. And uh...

HARTNAGEL: And about when did that change?

MITCHELL: In the ’70s. Cause we had an altar. We used to take Communion at the altar and it had a gold railing up there. And you’d have to go kneel down, and as fast as they got up you’d kneel down, and then the altar boy would go with the priest and give you the Communion.

HARTNAGEL: Yes, yes.

MITCHELL: But then when we got up there there was nobody but us. There were 10 of us or five— course there weren’t, there’s never been too many blacks at St. Peter’s since I’ve been going there. And most of them would go to nine—cause I used to go to nine o’clock Mass when I first started going there. All the time. And then we would...cause St. Peter’s didn’t have nothing until O’Sullivan [Father Michael O’Sullivan] come there. Cause we didn’t have no prayers, Paschal suppers, or nothing at St. Peter’s. I used to go to Sister Malathon’s house, me and Wayne, for our Paschal supper. But St. Peter’s didn’t have it, and Father O’Sullivan and Father [Robert] Duggan started programming it in the service. Different programs in St. Peter’s. Father Duggan and Father O’Sullivan. Father O’Sullivan, he just come there in ’70, I think ’71, I think.

HARTNAGEL: Now, as a person growing up in Washington and then as an adult living in Washington, what kinds of things did you and your friends do for entertainment?

MITCHELL: Live in the theaters—in the black theaters. Used to go to the Howard Theater, the Lincoln Theater, Republican Theater, and the Mid City...then the...different theaters on Seventh Street. We had...

HARTNAGEL: And this was in...these were...known as ‘black theaters?’MITCHELL: Black theaters, yeah.
MITCHELL: Because we had our own theaters.

Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Cornelia Mitchell Interview, November 14, 2004

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Cornelia Mitchell Interview, November 14, 2004

MITCHELL: And it had the Howard, we’s have...everybody went to the Howard Theater—I mean all

the show people—the big, big entertainers would go to Howard.HARTNAGEL: And perform there?

HARTNAGEL: Like who would it be? Duke Ellington, or...?

MITCHELL: Oh yeah, all of them. Duke Ellington born in Washington. He born on S Street. Duke Ellington Washingtoni..., was a Washingtonian. And B.B. King was a little old skinny black man, looked like he weighed about...looked like he weighed about 110 pounds (laughing) wet. (laughing)

HARTNAGEL: (laughs)

MITCHELL: B.B. King—we used to boo him! ‘Boo’. Cause we didn’t want no blues. And he was a blues...singing the blues. A little, black, tall, skinny black man, and there were oh...I remember...every orchestra leader, all of them. I see them at the Howard Theater and oh, all of them.

HARTNAGEL: Fats Waller? Would he come there?

MITCHELL: Oh yeah. Fats Waller used to sing and wrap up in the curtain and shimmy himself.

HARTNAGEL: (laughs)

MITCHELL: Fats Waller, Billie Holiday, Sarah...

HARTNAGEL: And Connie, would that be expensive to do that?

MITCHELL: No, it wasn’t expensive then. Cause I...but I forgot how much you had to pay to go in there.

MITCHELL: Cause I used to take Richard all the time. Richard remember the shows by me taking him.HARTNAGEL: Does he?

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Cornelia Mitchell Interview, November 14, 2004

MITCHELL: And then after Wayne was born....Wayne was born in 1960...and I used take Wayne, a baby, not walking, and laid him on my lap, and I used to buy hot dogs, a slice of pie, a soda, and I’d go in there with the bag, and I’d spend the time cause it’d be a long time before the a long time. And we sit through the shows, and I used to take Wayne, Michael...Wayne, Richard. I didn’t take Michael. Cause Michael was so, kind of, unruly.

HARTNAGEL: Well, you’ve mentioned that Richard was your oldest child and Wayne your youngest, and then Michael was the middle child. When was Michael born? [Ed: Connie’s sons are Richard Taylor, Michael Taylor, and Wayne Murphy.]


HARTNAGEL: 1950. Okay. And was he...was...and you’re his natural mother?


HARTNAGEL: Okay. And then, I think, Michael had an accident as a child that kind of affected all of his life?

MITCHELL: Uh huh. Lead poisoning

HARTNAGEL: Yeah, he had lead poisoning. And then Michael died in, I think, in 1992.


HARTNAGEL: Yeah. Okay. And then Wayne was not your natural child but you became his foster mother?

HARTNAGEL: How did that come about?

MITCHELL: Well, he...a friend that I was looking after had some children. Her husband had left her...he got locked up, and she was taking Wayne cause Wayne didn’t have nowhere to...his mother was outdoors [?], and she had Wayne and I says, ‘Sylvia, how you going to take care of a child? You can’t take care of the ones you got. I’m helping you with them.’ So she said, ‘Well, the child got to have somewhere to stay’. So I said, ‘oh, well’, I said, ‘let me see the baby.’ And I went there to see the baby— it was Wayne—and he was just soaking wet and his shirt and diaper was almost yellow, where he hadn’t been changed. And I sat up and just cried and cried, and I said, ‘oh I want that baby.’ And so she said, ‘well, why don’t you talk to his mama? She’ll let you have him.’ And so she got the mama to call me, and she called me just like she knew me all her life, or had seen me or met me or something, and the same day

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Cornelia Mitchell Interview, November 14, 2004

that she called me....that same evening...she called me back again and asked me, ‘Mrs. Mitchell, if I get a cab and come up there where you....can I bring the baby?’ I said yeah. And she got a cab and she brought him and she bring her bag of dirty clothes. And I had him ever since.

MITCHELL: And I had him ever since. He was a month and two weeks old.HARTNAGEL: Okay. And...

MITCHELL: All of them worked at St. Peter’s. Michael worked at St. Peter’s, and Wayne worked at St....Wayne was on the...Wayne was an altar boy at St. Peter’s. Yeah, well Richard wasn’t...Richard didn’t like Catholic Church.

HARTNAGEL: Okay. And, Connie, you’ve been at St. Peter’s for a long time now, and I think you’ve served on the Parish Council?

MITCHELL: Oh Lord, yeah, I don’t know, about 20 years.
HARTNAGEL: And you were involved in the senior citizen’s group?
MITCHELL: Yeah. I helped organize a senior citizen’s group.
HARTNAGEL: Did the church, over your lifetime, play a significant role in your life?MITCHELL: Played everything in my life. It saved me.
HARTNAGEL: It saved you?
MITCHELL: Uh huh. It saved me. It made me a good person.
HARTNAGEL: It made you a...
MITCHELL: Better person than I was. Yeah.

MITCHELL: Well, I needed...I didn’t have no lead, nobody to lead me. The lady that raised me only had a fifth grade education, and she did the very best she could. She was a beautiful person. She died in 1950, the lady that raised me, Mrs. Franklin. And, I don’t know, I couldn’t say nothing about her but something good. And so, I did for Wayne what she tried to do for me, only I educated...I got Wayne a college education. And I tried to give Richard education but he wouldn’t accept it. And Michael couldn’t

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accept it. And I tried to go back and get some myself, and she wouldn’t have me go Southwest to school. We weren’t allowed in Southwest, that’s true.

HARTNAGEL: And why was that, Connie?
MITCHELL: Southwest was a bad place.
HARTNAGEL: Oh, okay.
MITCHELL: During that time.
HARTNAGEL: Like bad in terms of gangs...or...
MITCHELL: The red, red district. They had all kinds of things down in Southwest.HARTNAGEL: Oh yeah?

MITCHELL: Bad in Southwest. My mother didn’t allow us down there for nothing.
HARTNAGEL: Okay. And Connie, here’s another question for you. Did...regarding entertainment...did

you ever go to any sporting events in the city? Like did you ever go to the old Griffith Stadium to see...

MITCHELL: Oh yeah. Yeah, I went to Griffith. I loved Griffith Stadium. They had a preacher used to be up there and he used to come on the radio...he used to come...he used to make his sign, ‘W’ something else. Oh, oh, I forgot his name now. Lightwood. I forgot his name. He was a preacher and he had a church back across the street from the stadium.

HARTNAGEL: From the stadium?
HARTNAGEL: And would he hold a revival or something in the stadium?MITCHELL: Yeah. And we used to go to it.
HARTNAGEL: Okay. Did you go to any of the baseball games that were there?MITCHELL: Oh yeah, yeah.
HARTNAGEL: The Washington Senators, or...
HARTNAGEL: ...the Homestead [Homestead Grays of Pittsburgh and Washington]?

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Cornelia Mitchell Interview, November 14, 2004

MITCHELL: Right. We used to go to all the games up at that stadium. Cause my husband and my sons, they are fiends, ball fiends. They loved games. (laughs) But I never liked them. But I wished I had liked them, because that’s all people talk about now.

HARTNAGEL: Yeah, (laughing), well, do you have an opinion about the new baseball stadium that’s being proposed for...

MITCHELL: No, I think they should keep the one...renovate the one they got over to the, what’s the one over there to the...?

MITCHELL: Because I don’t think they ever used it right, like they should have.HARTNAGEL: Yeah.

MITCHELL: It’s a lot of money wasted.HARTNAGEL: Yeah.

MITCHELL: But I can’t understand...that [Linda] Cropp wants to build a new...turn out all those people’s houses and build...I don’t understand that.

HARTNAGEL: We’re coming to the end of this part of the tape, too, Connie. We have five more minutes, I think, on the...Are you getting tired there, honey? You can have a sip of water.

HARTNAGEL: Alright. I’m going to put five minutes on this timer, just so that I’ll be aware of when

we’re coming to the end of the tape. Let’s see, we do have...

MITCHELL: I knew Stokley Carmichael. I used to walk with him, meet with him. I been to a lot of meetings with Stokley. He’s from Africa.

MITCHELL: He died...went back to Africa and died.
HARTNAGEL: Yeah, well, in what context would you be having meetings with him, Connie?

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Cornelia Mitchell Interview, November 14, 2004

MITCHELL: Well, he was kind of like Martin Luther King. He was trying to help the black people and trying to get them involved, and get them in decent, decent living. Him and Rap Brown, and...

HARTNAGEL: And he was a little bit of a radical, as I recall.
MITCHELL: Yeah, he was. He was. But he was doing it for the black people, to save them. To help

them, to bring about a change.


MITCHELL: Yeah. But I met him through somebody, I’ve forgotten who I met him through. And they invited me to the meetings, a lot of the meetings. Because I belonged to the union. I was a union person, too.

HARTNAGEL: Did you belong to the union through your work at the school?MITCHELL: Yeah. I’ve belonged to a lot of unions...a couple of unions, yeah.HARTNAGEL: A couple of unions? Yeah? Through various jobs that you had?MITCHELL: Um hmm.

HARTNAGEL: What union? Do you recall the name?MITCHELL: I got it in that bag. I don’t know the name.HARTNAGEL: (laughs)

MITCHELL: I’ve got to get the card. I forgot the names of them. And I used to travel with them. We used to eat at different hotels where they hold meetings, and where they...when they would change presidents they would hold big meetings and the union would go against this president or for this president. And I’d be along there with them. I don’t know what I’d be doing, but I’d be there with them. And I worked at Election Board, too.

HARTNAGEL: And would you work on election day? Was that...

MITCHELL: Oh yeah. Yeah. I worked election day. And I worked for...oh I worked the elections. I used to work at all the elections. Because I got paid $75 whenever they want to send me the check. And then I was on the jury six times.

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HARTNAGEL: Oh my goodness.
MITCHELL: And I made lot of money on the jury. I got $600, $300, I got all kinds of money because I

didn’t have no job, and they’d pay me. And I started off...
HARTNAGEL: Were you ever on a jury that, you know, was kind of famous or had some significance?

MITCHELL: No, no. That’s what made me mad. It was all drugs, and killing, all robbing, all of that. I didn’t like that.

HARTNAGEL: You didn’t like that.
MITCHELL: But I started...
HARTNAGEL: Did you feel...did you feel like, though, that it was important for you to do?MITCHELL: I felt it was my duty to be a juror.
MITCHELL: (laughs) We started the first...
HARTNAGEL: Well, and I wonder if you could just expound on that a little bit.MITCHELL: What?
HARTNAGEL: That it was your duty. What do you mean?

MITCHELL: But I felt, I felt like, oh, I got scared on there because I felt like that...the people might see you on there and think that you caused them going to jail, or doing time, and they might find out where you live at, and I got scared.

HARTNAGEL: (laughing) Well, did you send people away?

MITCHELL: Oh yeah, we put someone away, and we had...the judge would give us lunch in his private dining room. Oh, I went through a lot of good experiences. Then I went on the trips to all of the Embassies...I went on the trips to there...been to all the Embassies.

MITCHELL: You had to pay to go on.HARTNAGEL: Like a tour, maybe?MITCHELL: Tour, yeah.

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Cornelia Mitchell Interview, November 14, 2004

MITCHELL: And the Little Sisters of the Poor invited me up to their house, to their place, when they

had Ronald Reagan and Nancy up there. Yeah.
HARTNAGEL: And so did you get to meet the Reagans?
MITCHELL: Yeah. Yeah.
HARTNAGEL: Yeah? And did you like them?
MITCHELL: I wished I had got them to sign my menu.
HARTNAGEL: (laughs)
MITCHELL: I could have but I didn’t know, didn’t have any common sense then.HARTNAGEL: Yeah.
MITCHELL: Yeah, yeah.
HARTNAGEL: And was he...

MITCHELL: He had his own cook up there. Filipino, up at the Little Sister’s of the Poor. They didn’t cook for him, the people from the White House was up there. And...and what are those men...with three- piece suit and shotgun...they walked up and down...

HARTNAGEL: Here, take your sweater back away from the microphone. Atta girl.

MITCHELL: Oh, I forgot I had it on.

HARTNAGEL: I know. That’s okay.

MITCHELL: Yeah, oh they had the curtains drawn, they had the helicopters going around the thing. They had was like we were...


HARTNAGEL: So, you were mentioning that you were up at the Little Sisters of the Poor in Northeast when Ronald and Nancy Reagan were there.

MITCHELL: Yeah. We had a Mother’s Day dinner for them, and he said that that’s what he had, but you know, he didn’t have what we had, cause we didn’t have nothing but something to say.

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HARTNAGEL: (laughs) And how was it that you came to be there? Were you a volunteer?MITCHELL: The sisters...the sisters called...Well, I knew the sisters. I used to go around with them. I

used to go to different places. I used to go to St. George’s Island with them—they have a place out there.HARTNAGEL: Okay. With the Little Sisters of the Poor?

MITCHELL: And I used to go over there, spend the day with them. I used to go everywhere with them.HARTNAGEL: And you would volunteer, like, and help the home? Care for older people?

MITCHELL: I used to go round with them, do anything they want me to. I used to love them. Love them.

HARTNAGEL: (laughs)
MITCHELL: I used to think they was, you know, just nearer to heaven than I will ever get.HARTNAGEL: Yes. And, Connie, I remember that you mentioned being at the White House.MITCHELL: Yeah.
HARTNAGEL: Can you describe what that was like and when were you there?

MITCHELL: I was a...working with United Planning Organization, which was at 14th and L Street at the time, and we organized a senior citizen’s club and so Pat Shannon, who was the program director for the United Planning Organization, she appointed me to be one of the representatives of the seniors of Washington, which we had 164 senior representatives for all the states. And I was two of us representing Washington. And they gave me $250 for bus fare, car fare, something, to represent them. And I had to get a pass from Walter Fauntroy, who was doing...who was the representative for DC at that time. And I worked with him too, Walter Fauntroy. I been everywhere with him. And so we went to the Rayburn Building, the Dirksen Building, with meetings, and Cannon Building, and all those buildings.

HARTNAGEL: And this was all through the United Planning Organization.MITCHELL: Yeah.

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Cornelia Mitchell Interview, November 14, 2004

MITCHELL: I was a representative of Washington. And had to have a badge to sign on to go. And so we had...we went to the White House, oh, how was we invited to the White House? Oh, I don’t know. But anyhow, we was the time, the Senator who...who got to be the governor of Florida, was in charge of the representatives of Washington, and we went to...went down to the Capitol to meet him. We met out on the steps of the Capitol, we had our pictures taken out on the steps of the Capitol. And then our next tour was to go to the White House. We went to the White House and then we were going to meet President Carter. And you come out of the White House and go downstairs through the double doors and the Rose Garden is downstairs, out of the White House. We went to the Rose Garden, and then they had all these photographers and these people out there taking all the pictures. They take my picture but we never could find me. I guess I was so short and I didn’t get in front like I should of.


MITCHELL: So we went out there and we met Carter and he spoke to us. He come out of his office and he started talking to the senior representatives. I was a representative for senior citizens. And he come out and he talk to us. So, this senator, who was governor of Florida...

HARTNAGEL: Was that Lawton Childs? Was that his name?

MITCHELL: His secretary mailed me the pictures. So I got the pictures of the Rose Garden and I got the picture of the Capitol Steps. His Senator...his representative...his workers and all of...she mailed them to me, in the mail.

HARTNAGEL: Isn’t that nice?
MITCHELL: And I got them at home.
MITCHELL: Uh huh. And so that was the only time I was in the Rose Garden.HARTNAGEL: Okay. Was that the only time you were at the White House?MITCHELL: Oh no. I’ve been at the White House a number of times.HARTNAGEL: Oh! What were the other occasions?

MITCHELL: Oh, we go in groups. We’d go just to go. Just to walk around and read the posters...HARTNAGEL: Be a tourist?

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Cornelia Mitchell Interview, November 14, 2004

MITCHELL: Yeah, be a tourist, yeah. I went as a tourist a number of times.

HARTNAGEL: But officially, to be invited like that, you were. Was that the only time?

MITCHELL: Only time I was officially invited.

HARTNAGEL: I see, okay.

MITCHELL: Yeah, that’s right.


MITCHELL: And I was really proud of that.


MITCHELL: And then I used to go to the Cannon Building and hold meetings with the Tennessee congressman, whose son is a congressman now.

HARTNAGEL: Congressman Ford?

MITCHELL: Yeah. His father was a...had a senior citizen’s organization, until the people wanted to say, well, he’s too young to know about it. I said, well, he can read. He reads books and those things, got a mother and grandmother.

HARTNAGEL: (laughs)

MITCHELL: And we used to go there and meet with him at the Cannon Building.

HARTNAGEL: And he were...

MITCHELL: The father, not the son.

HARTNAGEL: Right, I understand.

MITCHELL: But I been with the son. I been in the son’s office, too.

HARTNAGEL: And this was were advocating for the bene...rights and benefits of seniors, Connie?

MITCHELL: Uh huh, yeah.HARTNAGEL: Yeah. Okay.

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Cornelia Mitchell Interview, November 14, 2004

MITCHELL: So I been in a lot of organizations...a lot of programs, we’ll put it, representing seniors. Lot of programs.

HARTNAGEL: Yeah. And did you see any good changes come about...?MITCHELL: Oh yeah.
HARTNAGEL: a result of that?

MITCHELL: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. A lot of change come about. Because a lot of them that couldn’t afford medicine, and couldn’t afford hospital, and all that stuff, well, it helped them to get them in, and get them involved, and get programs that would accept them. Just like me, I never had no...big insurance. I had two insurances. Because I had that Blue Shield...Red...Blue Shield, Blue Cross...Red Cross, whatever you call it. The government insurance. But I lost it after my husband was so sick...taken sick for so long. But I had it. He had government insurance on me and him, and then I had private insurance. I had Metropolitan. Family insurance. But I lost it over the years. I couldn’t keep it up, and I didn’t have no job. I couldn’t work because I had bab...I had Wayne...Michael all messed up. Then Wayne was a baby; Wayne was born in 1960, and at the time, if it had been so I could have had somebody to take care of Wayne, or a home, or a place where...they like to do it now, feeding them and educating them and things. But they didn’t have that back then. So I had to stay with him and educate him myself. I taught him his ABCs and colors and how to print and all that. I did that myself. But now they do that, now they got places for it now. But I wish they had had it then.

HARTNAGEL: And, Connie, do you recall, like, you know, sometimes there are key events in people’s lives. Do you remember where you were when you heard, for instance, that World War II had started? Was that a key historical event in your life, when the war began?

MITCHELL: Yeah. All wars was bad. I didn’t like no wars.HARTNAGEL: Yeah.

MITCHELL: Yeah. Because with World War I, I was a little girl, because I remember WWI and they had the round hats with the steeple and had the leggings, and I remember my cousin’s husband come home from WWI and I run right through his legs...(laughing)...and he...

HARTNAGEL: He picked you up?
HARTNAGEL: Do you remember any celebrations like parades or anything like that?

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Cornelia Mitchell Interview, November 14, 2004

MITCHELL: Oh yeah, we used to be in all parades and stuff. Everything they had down in town we would go to it.

HARTNAGEL: You would go to it.
MITCHELL: My mother was famous for that. Taking us to things like that.

HARTNAGEL: Yeah. And I think I remember your telling me that she took you shopping down to the Central Market, and...

MITCHELL: Uh huh. Used to be a Market right at Seventh and, right down there where the Archives at, that used to be a market down there. We used to go down there on the Saturdays, because my mother didn’t cook on Sundays. No cooking and no...not...on Sunday. Cook Saturday for Sunday.

HARTNAGEL: You cooked Saturday for Sunday, and then what would you do, eat cold food?MITCHELL: You could warm it up but you couldn’t cook.
HARTNAGEL: You could warm it up but you couldn’t cook it. Okay.
MITCHELL: Yeah. But yeah, I remember down there...

HARTNAGEL: And the...and the markets like that, Connie, like the Eastern Market and the Central Market, they were not segregated?

MITCHELL: No! I ain’t never know no market segregated.HARTNAGEL: Okay.

MITCHELL: But I remember we used to go down there and...on Saturday, and shop, and then we’d...she’d cook Saturday night and Saturday. But on Sunday we couldn’t go to the stores...we couldn’t go to stores to get something to eat.


MITCHELL: Was it wrong? I don’t know if it was wrong...

HARTNAGEL: Well, it might have...there were a lot of laws. Blue...what they New England or up in New York State where I was, they were called ‘blue laws’. And all the stores had to be closed on Sundays.

MITCHELL: Well here in Washington we didn’t do nothing on Sundays. We’d go to church.HARTNAGEL: Yeah.

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Cornelia Mitchell Interview, November 14, 2004

MITCHELL: My mother didn’t...wasn’t so much of a church person, but her friend was the one that I thanked for...brought me up in the Catholic church.

MITCHELL: Yeah. She loved the Catholic church. She was...she was...I forgot her name, though. And

she had a little car and everything. She had money. And that was something back then.HARTNAGEL: Yes, right.
MITCHELL: To have money. But I remember in ’29 when the crash...HARTNAGEL: Do you?

MITCHELL: I remember the crash.
MITCHELL: ’29. I remember...
HARTNAGEL: And...did that affect, for instance, Bertha and Mamie?MITCHELL: Huh?

HARTNAGEL: Did the crash affect Bertha and Mamie?MITCHELL: Yeah.
HARTNAGEL: In what way, Connie? Do you remember?MITCHELL: They lost their money in the bank!HARTNAGEL: They lost their money...

MITCHELL: They fool with people, telling them not to keep it at home, put it in the bank, and put it in the bank at the wrong time. (laughs)

HARTNAGEL: And they lost it?MITCHELL: Lost it.
HARTNAGEL: Because the banks failed?MITCHELL: The banks failed.HARTNAGEL: Yeah.

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MITCHELL: Yeah. 1929. Mm hmm.


MITCHELL: I remember Valentino, and I remember all of them. Mae West. I remember all of them people. I remember...I remember, yeah. I remember the crash. But I don’t remember no bread line or going downtown to eat, no. We never did that.

HARTNAGEL: Yeah, okay.

MITCHELL: I don’t know what happened during that time but we didn’t do it. Because I think...oh, I know. People were taking care of us. My mother worked for the Misneisers, Medneisers, somebody, at 14th and Euclid, and they were Greeks or Italians. Millionaires. Her husband was a...a builder, or something. And they had plenty of money, and she had...

HARTNAGEL: And Bertha worked for them?
MITCHELL: She had three children. She had...she had...two boys and one girl, or two girls and one

boy. Yeah. And mama used to bring all this food home from up there, and we would eat it. Oh yeah.HARTNAGEL: Okay.
HARTNAGEL: And so, Connie, do you remember the days, for instance, that John Kennedy was killed?MITCHELL: Oh yes!

HARTNAGEL: Or Martin Luther King?
MITCHELL: Oh John Kennedy. I kept the television on three days. I saw when they shot Ruby...right

on television. I was ironing when they killed John Kennedy.



HARTNAGEL: And how about Dr. King, when Dr. King was assassinated. Do you recall that?

MITCHELL: Oh yeah, I remember that. I just saw...I was in the paper for that. Yeah, they interviewed me down at 14th and G about Martin Luther King.

HARTNAGEL: And would you recall what you said?

Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Cornelia Mitchell Interview, November 14, 2004

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Cornelia Mitchell Interview, November 14, 2004

MITCHELL: I said I just couldn’t...I couldn’t believe at this day and time, after they killed Kennedy, that they’d turn around and kill Martin Luther King on the balcony like that. I couldn’t believe it was happened. Yeah, I was interviewed for that. At 14th and G, NW.

HARTNAGEL: And, the riots in Washington followed that assassination. Riots in many cities.MITCHELL: Oh, they tore up everything.

HARTNAGEL: Do you remember what the effect of the...did you ever feel like you were living, I think, in Southeast by then...


HARTNAGEL: ...and maybe even down in your house on Potomac Avenue?


HARTNAGEL: Do you remember being afraid?

MITCHELL: Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!

HARTNAGEL: What did you think when the riots were happening?

MITCHELL: Oh, you could pick up jewelry and stuff on the ground and it was two white guys had a store on Eighth Street...


MITCHELL: Eighth, figure eight.


MITCHELL: Near I. They emptied the man’s store. They went in and take all his furniture then. After they killed Martin.

HARTNAGEL: Oh, I didn’t realize that there was also looting and rioting...
MITCHELL: Oh, they looted right here. Right here in Southeast. Oh yeah, they emptied the stores and

MITCHELL: You could go out and pick up anything you wanted right on the street.HARTNAGEL: Were there fires down here?

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MITCHELL: The liquor store...the men went crazy. They take...they emptied his liquor store right here on Eighth Street. Put all his liquor outside. Everything but the chair.

HARTNAGEL: This is on Eighth Street...
MITCHELL: Eight, figure eight.
HARTNAGEL: ...along where the Marine Barracks is?MITCHELL: No. Down this way. Down...down...down....HARTNAGEL: Closer to Pennsylvania?

MITCHELL: Closer to Pennsylvania. It was...HARTNAGEL: Near where the fire house is?MITCHELL: It was near G.

MITCHELL: Uh huh. They emptied the liquor store down there.HARTNAGEL: This was during the riots in 1968?

MITCHELL: It was a...a sister and brother had it. White people had it. And they emptied. Put everything outside. Take everything out. But what? But the chair.

HARTNAGEL: And so you were a little frightened by this?MITCHELL: Oh yeah.
HARTNAGEL: Do you remember staying in the house?MITCHELL: Oh yeah. I was scared to death.HARTNAGEL: Hmmm.

HARTNAGEL: And keeping the kids home?MITCHELL: Huh?
HARTNAGEL: Did you keep Wayne and Michael in?

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MITCHELL: Oh, well, they went to bed nine o clock, ten o clock. They was in bed...they didn’t go out...Michael and Wayne, they don’t know what night is when they was coming up. They stayed in the house.

HARTNAGEL: Yeah. They stayed in the house.
MITCHELL: Yeah. I didn’t...they didn’t run no street at night. Didn’t go nowhere at night. Mm hmmm.


MITCHELL: I’d be in there and play. We’d buy all kinds of clothes and things and I’d be in there playing with them. You know, yeah.

HARTNAGEL: Well, Connie, what are some of the biggest changes that you’ve seen know, you’ve been living on Capitol Hill now for more than 50 years. What are some of the biggest changes that you think have taken place?

MITCHELL: I seen it change from black to white. Because my block where I lived at there was all black, supposed to live around there. All those houses was rented houses. Now they’re owned houses. Bought houses. They did the same thing in Capitol Hill as they done in Georgetown. They taken all the black people’s houses in Georgetown, and left the fronts, and made the inside beautiful, and then sold them to white folks. They did the same thing in Capitol Hill. In my block they did they same thing.

HARTNAGEL: Which block is this you’re talking about?MITCHELL: Where I’m at now [626 E Street SE].HARTNAGEL: Okay.

MITCHELL: Used to be all black people living around there. Because the houses was for rent. They wasn’t bought. Then the real estate, well, you see. Now, let me tell you. All the real estate people, like Susan, they know who own a house and who don’t. They got all that...they got the big yellow book right there. And they know who owns the houses and who rents the houses.

HARTNAGEL: And do you see that as a good thing or a bad thing?MITCHELL: Well...
HARTNAGEL: I mean, do you see that as progress?
MITCHELL: I think it’s progress.

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HARTNAGEL: You think it is?

MITCHELL: Um hmm. I think it’s progress because you could come down E Street bout in the ’40s or ’50s and all you could hear was loud talking and cussing and loud music and all. And now you don’t even know people live around. You’d think people are dead, everything dead. (Laughs)

HARTNAGEL: (laughs)

MITCHELL: Yeah, so I call it progress.

HARTNAGEL: Do you feel like black people were forced out, or...?

MITCHELL: Well, they was. They was. They was forced out, yeah. They was forced out, but good come out of it.


MITCHELL: Uh huh. Cause they would stand in the door and cuss and eat and throw the bones all over the front. (laughing). I ain’t talking about it because I’m black too. I don’t know know, some people will think I’m white but I’m black.

HARTNAGEL: (laughs)

MITCHELL: Yeah, but it made the diff...just like now, I hate to ride the 90 buses, cause it’s all black and it’s constantly swearing, and they don’t have no respect for old people, children, nobody. And I don’t know what’s going happen to black men. They gets on the bus, they get all the front seats, all the seats, and don’t care how old you are or if you’re pregnant or what. They don’t get up for nobody. So we got to start holding meetings again like Martin Luther King and them did, and...excuse me (clears throat) and teach them. Respect. And give people the seats and stop being so...Yeah, I don’t know.

HARTNAGEL: Well, Connie, I’ve asked you most of the questions that I had written down. Except...and here’s one about politics and home rule in Washington.

HARTNAGEL: I know you’ve been involved in politics for a long time...MITCHELL: Yeah.

HARTNAGEL: What’s your view of how things are now and where they’ve come from in terms of politics in the city. Do you think...?

Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Cornelia Mitchell Interview, November 14, 2004

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Cornelia Mitchell Interview, November 14, 2004

MITCHELL: Politics...pol...well, I hate to say this for a record, but I think Bush has turned his clock back. I think Clinton made a big, big change, like, but he didn’t go as far as he could have gone. But I think Bush is going to undo all the things that he’s done.

HARTNAGEL: Well, I was meaning more local politics, like DC politics, in terms of home rule, and...MITCHELL: Well, for one thing I...
HARTNAGEL: Statehood, for example.

MITCHELL: Well, Washington wasn’t built for no state. No state. State got to have two congressmen. Washington wasn’t built for a state. So I don’t see how they can make the state a home rule out of Washington. I don’t see how they going to do that. But also we need a good mayor. We don’t have a good mayor, I think. I think Tony [Williams]...I don’t think he’s doing nothing. But I think he’s doing the best he can. And that ain’t too much. But, no, I don’t think we’ll...I don’t think we’ll ever have home rule here. I don’t think so. And then I don’t think it would be...I think it was good when we had...we had commissioners running Washington. It was pretty good. I knew both of them; I knew them.


MITCHELL: I used to go District Building when it was all white. Didn’t no blacks work in there. Only chauffeurs that chauffeured those commissioners. I remember when the District Building was lily white. Every desk in there.

HARTNAGEL: So, do you think that represents some progress?MITCHELL: (long pause) Why, I hate to say this on the record...HARTNAGEL: Okay.

MITCHELL: White people helped black people more than black people helped black people. We get more help from the opposite people than we do from our own people. Our own people passes us by...up...and look down on us. White people will help you, because I been helped so much by them, so I just give them the praises because they helped me. But no, I don’t think we’ll ever get home rule.

HARTNAGEL: Well, I’m going to ask you a couple more questions, Connie. Looking back over your whole life what are the best times you remember?

MITCHELL: My old life...old times.HARTNAGEL: Old times?

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MITCHELL: When I got old.
HARTNAGEL: You mean as a senior?MITCHELL: As a senior.
HARTNAGEL: They’re your best times? Yeah?

MITCHELL: Well, I was...I was confused and messed up and I got around to learning life and learning how to live and how to love and how to worship in my senior years more than I did in my young life. If I’d only knowed half of the things then that I know now, I would have a beautiful life. But I didn’t know and I didn’t have no way...I did a lot of reading and read about...bought a lot of books and read a lot of books, but it’s not like talking to somebody else, other than the book. The book learning is good; it’ll help you. But it’s not like learning from a person. Or talking to a person. And I found out now I’m lonely for the first time in my life because I’ve never lived by myself before. And it’s a lonesome life to be by yourself. And the child raising I’ve had practically all my life. I’ve had children since in the ’40s, ’50s. And it don’t mean a thing. It’s nothing. You can’t learn nothing...I can’t learn nothing from it.

HARTNAGEL: And what are the worst times you remember?MITCHELL: Huh?
HARTNAGEL: What are the worst times you remember? (long pause)

HARTNAGEL: If there are any. Maybe there aren’t?

MITCHELL: The worst times I remember is having a child that was sick...Michael...and the other worst time was having money and not knowing what to do with it. Having money’s okay if you know what to do with it, and I didn’t know. But I had a couple of people in St. Peter’s that was willing to help me, and I wouldn’t accept it. I didn’t accept it. Of course, they gave me their cards and their numbers and said they was going to help me to deal with my money, how to make it last, and I said thank you, okay, but I didn’t pick it up. Didn’t do. And I wished I had. I wished I had because I would have been in a good position now. I’d of died well-off rather than died broke, like I’m going to die broke. (chuckles)

HARTNAGEL: Well, is there anything else, Connie, that you would like to say? You know, about Capitol Hill or, I mean, this is a history project that kind of focuses on Capitol Hill. Has Capitol Hill been a good place for you to live?

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MITCHELL: Been a beautiful place to live.HARTNAGEL: Yeah?

MITCHELL: Uh huh. And I wished I had learned how to live here long ago than now, when I’m getting ready to go out. (laughs) Yeah, it’s a lovely place to live.


MITCHELL: And it’s...if you meet with the right people, and I have met some very good people—very good—and I think I’ve been blessed. I think I’ve been blessed by God and by good friends. And I really do appreciate it.

HARTNAGEL: And so is there anything else you would like to add to this interview? Anything that maybe comes to your mind that we haven’t touched on?

MITCHELL: Well, I like family life, and I don’t have it.
HARTNAGEL: But did you had some. You’ve had plenty over the years, yes, or

would you...?
MITCHELL: But I didn’t appreciate it...
MITCHELL: I could now. I didn’t learn in time.
HARTNAGEL: So there’s something to be said for getting wisdom as an older person.MITCHELL: Right. Yeah. Yeah. And I appreciate you.
HARTNAGEL: I appreciate you, too. So, shall we end it there?
MITCHELL: Was that a good interview?
HARTNAGEL: I think so, Connie.