Photo by Kirsten Sloan

Josephine Green

One of five children, Josephine Green was born near the Navy Yard in 1931. After working at the General Accounting Office and the Geological Survey, she bought her own home near D and 11th Streets NE in the 1970s.

Now known as the “Matriarch of 11th Street,” Green discusses early Capitol Hill life with her neighbor Kirsten Sloan, describing the days when corner stores were ubiquitous and fish, ice, wood, coal, and even portrait photography were sold by venders traveling the streets.

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Interview Date
April 30, 2023
Kirsten Sloan
Betsy Barnett
Elizabeth Lewis

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photo by Kirsten Sloan

Interview with Josephine Green
Interview Date: April 30, 2023
Interviewer: Kirsten Sloan
Transcriber: Betsy Barnett
Editor: Elizabeth Lewis

This interview transcript is the property of the Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project.
Not to be reproduced without permission.

SLOAN: Okay. This is Kirsten Sloan and I am interviewing Josephine Green for the Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project. It is April 30, 2023, and we are meeting at Josephine’s home on Capitol Hill.
GREEN: How do you like that?
SLOAN: Josephine, thank you for agreeing to do this. [Interviewee laughs.] So, start out by telling us where you were born.
GREEN: I was born in Southeast, New Jersey Avenue, 1000 block, down near the Navy Yard. We stayed there and then they started selling out the houses. So then I went to [the state of] New Jersey. I went up there because I was supposed to be a nun. [Some material removed because it is more thoroughly discussed later.]
SLOAN: Oh, my.
GREEN: Yeah.
SLOAN: Well, go back a minute to where you were born. You were born in Southeast. Were you born in a hospital or at home?
GREEN: I think I was born in the hospital but don’t ask me which one because I don’t know.
SLOAN: Okay. And what year were you born?
GREEN: 1931.
SLOAN: So, you are 92 years old.
GREEN: Yeah.
SLOAN: And you’ve lived in Washington, DC?
GREEN:  All my life. Well, not quite all my life because I went to Jersey that time.
SLOAN: Okay. And tell me about your family, your mom and your dad and your siblings.
GREEN: Well, we were okay. My father, he left home. He would come back and give us a couple of dollars to eat off of but that’s about it.
SLOAN: What did he do for a living?
GREEN: He used to sell wood, coal, and ice. See, that’s what they had back in that day. And so he did that. But things were much cheaper then than they are now, you know. You could take five dollars and buy a week’s worth of groceries. Now you can’t take five dollars and go across the street. [Both laugh.]
SLOAN: So, you were one of how many children?
GREEN: Five.
SLOAN: And what were their names?
GREEN: Let me see. My older sister was Eleanor and I was Marian at the time. Well, I was still Josephine, but they called me Marian. Then, Charlotte, Joseph. Well, wait a minute. Bernard was the oldest of all of us.
SLOAN: Okay.
GREEN: And, then, Joseph, he was the youngest of all of us. I’m in the middle.
SLOAN: In the middle. Okay. So, there was Bernard …
GREEN: Eleanor, she was named after my mother.
SLOAN: Okay.
GREEN: And, then, we had me, then Charlotte.
SLOAN: Okay.
GREEN: And Joseph.
SLOAN: Got it.
GREEN: And my father’s name was Frank.
SLOAN: So, Frank and Eleanor were your parents.
GREEN: Mm-hmm.
SLOAN: And your dad delivered coal, you said?
GREEN: Wood, coal, and ice.
SLOAN: Wood, coal, and ice. And how did he do that?
GREEN: On his truck. He had a truck. He had one guy working with him. And he would go to the ice house every day and get a big thing of ice. And you’d call out––say you want a piece of ice, he’d take his ice pick and run it down the piece of ice to cut out a piece for the size that you want. Bring it to you, you know. Then, in wintertime, he would sell, you know, like, wood and coal and stuff like that. Summertime he mostly sold ice. And that was basically it.
SLOAN: How long did you live in Southeast? [Some material removed at request of interviewee.]
GREEN: All my life until I came over here.
SLOAN: And when did you come over here to D Street?
GREEN: I don’t remember. [Laughs.] It’s the truth.
SLOAN: I think you told me once 1974. Is that when you bought the house?
GREEN: I don’t even remember the date, tell you the truth.
SLOAN: Okay.
GREEN: But it was somewhere around there. I don’t know why I don’t remember the date. I could go up there and look at the [deed] before I could tell you. But I don’t even know where that is. I think I gave it to Carol and I told her to take all the papers over to her house because when I die she’s supposed to be in charge.
SLOAN: What made you want to live in this area of Capitol Hill?
GREEN: Well, it was a next-door neighbor. She told me that the people over here wanted to sell this house. And, at that time, I came over here, I was living with my —well, I had gone to Jersey. Then I came back here after things weren’t going right up there. And so I stayed with my aunt down there in Vanessa’s house.
SLOAN: So your aunt lived here on this street.
GREEN: No. On 11th Street.
SLOAN: On 11th Street.
GREEN: In Vanessa’s house. You know Vanessa, right?
SLOAN: Yeah.
GREEN: In Vanessa’s house. Then, the lady next door, Miss Ford, she told me about this house. And I was saving money anyway because I wanted to buy [a] house. And would you believe—I’m going to knock you off your chair now—that boss of mine, when they called to ask about whether I was working there, you know, when I first thought about [buying] it, you know what he had the nerve to say to me? “How you going to pay for it?”
I didn’t tell him. I told him, “I don’t know.” I’d been putting money in the bank. Every payday I put a certain amount of money in the bank for a house. Not particularly this one. But when the lady told me about this one, I was happy to get it, you know. Because she told me all I had to do was just finish paying it off for her. Which wasn’t a whole lot, really, you know. So I finally got it paid off. But the thing that really made me mad, “How you going to pay for it?” I didn’t ask him how he was going to pay for his! [Interviewer laughs.] You know what I mean?
SLOAN: I do. So, tell me a little bit about what it was like being a child in Washington, DC. What was the city like then?
GREEN: Well, it was a lot of prejudice going on, you know. You couldn’t go there, you couldn’t do this, and all that kind of stuff. Because we lived down near the Navy Yard. And, so, we just did our little thing the way we wanted to do it, you know. And let the other folks do what they were going to do, see?
But that was the main thing, was a lot of prejudice. You couldn’t go here, you couldn’t go there. And they had a separate movie theaters, you know. These theaters right here for the blacks, these theaters over here for the whites, you know. All crazy stuff like that. And, eventually, it started thinning out a little bit, you know. But it took a long time.
So we didn’t pay any attention. We just lived, you know, just the same. Because, at that time, food and stuff was really cheap. I don’t know how people feed their kids today. I hardly feed myself on what they charge today. But we all knew each other. And, like I say, my father used to sell wood, coal, and ice. So, people, you know, when he come through, they would buy the wood, coal, and ice according to the season and whatnot. And the neighbors were all good to each other. If you had four or five kids and you were struggling, having a hard time, I’d put on a pot of stew, take it down there and give it to you. And you would say, “Thank you.” Now, if I was to do that today, they’d throw it in your face. You know.
SLOAN: So, you told a story once about going to the corner market to get potato chips.
GREEN: Oh, yeah.
SLOAN: Tell me that story.
GREEN: Well, the guy, he knew everybody in the neighborhood. You go down there, you get ice cream, potato chips, and whatever else you wanted, you know. Junk stuff like that. Peanuts and all that. And they had the double headed cones then, you know. And you’d get your two scoops on it. I think, let me see, two scoops, I think, was ten cents and one scoop was a nickel. You know and whatnot. And because my father was selling the wood, coal, and ice, he’d put a little bit more on there for us. [Interviewer laughs.] But the other kids, they just got the regular scoop per se.
SLOAN: And how did they sell you the potato chips?
GREEN: In a bag, a little bag about so big.
SLOAN: And they would fill it up?
GREEN: No, it was already …
SLOAN: Already filled.
GREEN: Mm-hmm. Yeah. And then you had the little bags that we could get for a nickel and then they came up with the bigger bag. I think that was something like about 15 cents, something like that. 25 cents. That was a big bag like this.
SLOAN: Yeah.
GREEN: Mm-hmm. And all that was good. And, like I say, everybody knew everybody. The man down at the store, he knew us. Well, because we were my father’s kids and my father sold ice and stuff to him, he’d give us a little teeny bit more than what the other kids would get, you know. [Interviewer laughs.] And everybody was congenial to each other, you know. [Repetitive material removed.]
SLOAN: Tell me, where did you go to elementary school? Do you remember?
GREEN: Yeah. I went to [William] Syphax. You know where Syphax is?
SLOAN: No. Say the name again.
GREEN: Syphax. Half Street Southwest between M and N [1322 Half Street SW, closed in 1994].
SLOAN: Okay.
GREEN: Of course,we had to take them two feet and get down there and take them two feet to get back.
SLOAN: So, no school bus.
GREEN: No school bus. And then snow. You didn’t stay home because of snow. The only time you really stayed home was when it was icy or something like that. Snow could be that deep. Put your boots on and your leggings and your hat and coat and everything. Truck it on down there and get out the same time at 3:00, you know. But it was nice, you know, because it gave you something to do, you know. And everybody knew everybody.
SLOAN: And where did you go to high school?
GREEN: I went to Cardozo [13th and Clifton Street NW].
SLOAN: Cardozo.
GREEN: Yeah. Junior high school was Randall [65 I Street SW, closed in 1978]. We all went to Randall because we could walk there all right. But then when we got up to high school I went to Cardozo. My sister went to—Charlotte, she went to [Margaret Murray] Washington [Career High School, 27 O Street NW, closed in 2008]. And my older sister, she went to Armstrong [Manual Training School, 1400 First Street NW, closed in 1958].
SLOAN: And were all these schools black only?
GREEN: Mm-hmm.
SLOAN: Okay. So it was still segregated. White kids went to one school.
GREEN: Yeah.
SLOAN: Black kids went to another.
GREEN: Right.
SLOAN: And what kind of activities did you participate in in high school?
GREEN: Well, me, I didn’t participate in too many. [Laughs.] That was me.
SLOAN: Yeah.
GREEN: But we had art class as a class. I always liked art. I really do, I still do. Then we had, you know, the regular English and history and math and stuff like that. We had that. But …
SLOAN: Now you once told me the schools for black kids got hand-me-downs. You didn’t get the new …
GREEN: No, we didn’t get the new books. We’d get the books that they tore up. And then you get the book and the teacher says turn to page so-and-so and you look and page so-and-so is not in the book! [Laughs.] You know. You might have it in your book but I don’t have it in my book. You know what I mean?
SLOAN: Yeah.
GREEN: So there it was. Very seldom we got a brand new book. Most of the books we had were hand-me-downs. And, like I say, some of the pages were missing and whatnot. So when a page was missing and we had to read, I had to bring my chair over there by you and we’d sit next to each other to read the book. Because your book got a page in it, my book didn’t have the page in it. You know what I mean?
SLOAN: Mm-hmm.
GREEN: But we managed anyway.
SLOAN: When you graduated from high school, what was the first job you had after graduation?
GREEN: What in the world? I think I worked at General Accounting Office.
GREEN: Mm-hmm.
SLOAN: How long did you work there? Do you remember?
GREEN: [Laughs.] Let me see. I guess about seven or eight years or something like that, but I’m not sure. I don’t remember all that stuff.
SLOAN: And then when did you join the convent?
SLOAN: Before GAO?
GREEN: Mmm—no, no. That was after GAO. I think I quit GAO and went there. I think when I came back, I think I went back to GAO again. But I just had to come home because it was too much favoritism.
SLOAN: How long were you in the convent?
GREEN: Maybe about four or five years.
SLOAN: Oh, that long?
GREEN: Yeah. But then I just gave it up because it was this favoritism. Like I say, this one family, the father was a doctor and he gave them free medicine. And so all three of the sisters all came to the convent. And this one [time], we were getting ready to have another service, you know, because two or three times during the day you go up and pray. I’m going up to the service. I’m walking by myself, naturally, because I stayed pretty much to myself because the rest of them ...  [Except] one of them that was foreign. She was about my complexion, too. I still keep in touch with her because both of us, we stuck together with each other. And if the novice mistress hadn’t come out the house and seen [one of the three sisters] kick me in the butt, she wouldn’t have said anything to her.
SLOAN: Goodness. So, prejudice …
GREEN: I’m walking down there minding my own business, trying to get up there, you know, so we can have the service. Because we had to go up there about four or five times a day to pray. And, so, the prejudice—because it was the three sisters, all three sisters came up there.
SLOAN: Same family.
GREEN: Yeah.
SLOAN: And so there was prejudice even in the convent at that time.
GREEN: Yeah, yeah. That’s the way I look at it.
SLOAN: Yeah.
GREEN: I still keep in touch with one girl. She was up there, too, but she’s gone over to—where’s that place? It’s over in Maryland. But we still keep in touch with each other every now and then.
SLOAN: And so,when you came back to DC to live in the city again, you worked for GAO for a while and then you went …?
GREEN: Department of Interior, Geological Survey.
SLOAN: And how long were you there?
GREEN: [Laughs.] Don’t ask me.
SLOAN: Okay.
GREEN: Let me see. I stayed there about, well, at least about six years.
SLOAN: And what did you do at GAO and at Geological Survey?
GREEN: Well, GAO was the same little prejudiced job, you know. The dumb, stupid jobs that, you know, white folks didn’t want to do so they give it to the black folks. You know, little dumb, stupid jobs. But when I went to Geological Survey, I had my regular office job plus I used to take fingerprints.
SLOAN: Really? Fingerprints for what?
GREEN: When somebody was getting hired for a job ...
SLOAN: Yeah.
GREEN: … they come in and I’d take their fingerprints and whatnot. And you see that thing on the wall there? [Points to a flower holder.] A lady I used to work with gave that to me after I moved here, you know. But she was very nice to me. But the rest of them, you know ... Like the people come up for the fingerprints? They’re white and I’m black. So I grab hold of their hand to roll their finger. [They are] pulling away, trying to pull away. Mess up the fingerprints. Then you had to start all over again, you know. You can’t win no kind of way, you know. But.
SLOAN: And, then, you went to the Eighth and I Marine Barracks.
GREEN: Uh-huh.
SLOAN: And how long were you there?
GREEN: I was there about seven years, I think. That’s the one told me when they called for me to buy this house, “How you going to pay for it?” [Both laugh.] I told him, “I don’t know.”
SLOAN: Yeah.
GREEN: I had already been saving money, but I didn’t tell him that because it wasn’t any of his business. I didn’t ask him how he paid for his!
SLOAN: So lots of prejudice in the city growing up.
GREEN: Oh, yeah. Plenty. Everywhere you went.
SLOAN: How has it changed do you think?
GREEN: I’d say about 50 percent maybe. Because you still, every now and then, you still run into somebody, you know. Not everybody—it’s much better than it was, but it’s still got a certain amount of prejudice, you know, depending on who you run into. But, other than that, I don’t pay that any attention because I’m going to do what I want to do. You do what you want to do. I don’t care. I’m not begging you for anything so don’t you worry about me.
SLOAN: So, you have a very unique story about when your mom and dad—Talk about when your mom and dad passed away very close together. The timing.
GREEN: Well, basically, I ran the household. I mean we had to apply to get a check, you know, and they’d send a little check. And I was in charge more or less of the household because everybody else was out in the street. One or two had a job. The rest of them was, I guess, out there, you know. So I took care of the house. Fixed the meals and everything.
SLOAN: How old were you when your mom and dad passed away?
GREEN: Hmm. I’d say about fifteen, sixteen, something like that.
SLOAN: And they passed away within months of each other?
GREEN: Mm-hmm. The rest of them they were out there looking up the boyfriends.
SLOAN: Yeah.
GREEN: So I stayed home and ran the house.
SLOAN: How were five siblings allowed to stay—because all of you were under the legal age—how were you allowed to stay together?
GREEN: Well, by my brother, my oldest brother, Bernard, he went to see about trying to, you know, get a check. So, we got the little check. He left it to me then to more or less run the house because the others were out in the street all the time. We managed because things then weren’t nowhere near as high as stuff today. We could get a loaf of bread for, depending on the brand or the name of the bread, about seven cents. Then, if you got the other brand. you had to pay nine cents for that loaf of bread. See. And, then, after that, things just kept going up, up, up.
SLOAN: So, at age fifteen, sixteen, you started running the house. What did you do? Cook and clean and …
GREEN: Yeah. And see that food was in the house and whatnot because my brother would give me the money and, you know, then I’d go shopping, see that food was in the house. Most of the time I cooked most of it, you know, because the rest of them were out in the street, whatnot. But everybody was congenial, you know. The neighbors were congenial. We were congenial to them and whatnot.
I [am angry] to myself every day [because of] the way these policemen treat people today. Because they’ve gone about it all the wrong way. When I was growing up, we had policemen. He was assigned to this neighborhood right here. He knew you. He knew me. He knew everybody. And if he saw you doing something, he’d say, “All right now, Kirsten, I see you such-and-such a thing. Now, when I come back through here, I don’t want to see you doing it.” Now, if you wasn’t doing it, end of the story. But why did they have five people to lay on the one boy? [Referring to an unspecified news story.] You see. Every time I see something like that, it burns me up.
SLOAN: Yeah.
GREEN: Because he didn’t do anything. The other boy was running away. They shot him in the back.
SLOAN: Yeah.
GREEN: See. That kind of stuff burns me up.
SLOAN: Jo, talk a little bit about some of the changes that you’ve seen in the city since you’ve lived here as a little girl.
GREEN: Well, they’ve built a whole lot of apartments and stuff like that because most people had houses, you know.
SLOAN: Mm-hmm.
GREEN: They tore some of the houses down to put up apartments and whatnot. And, like I say, people were friendly with each other, you know. Well, of course, the white people stayed to themself, we stayed to ourselves. And, so, one or two might would speak to me because it was the block down the street from us. Some of the white folks would talk to you. Some of them would step on your toe and keep on going. [Laughs.] You know. But we didn’t pay that any attention because we were used to it anyway, you know.
SLOAN: So, what kind of things did you do for fun?
GREEN: Well, I didn’t do too much for fun. The rest of them, they went out and had their little fun. I was never one for that kind of stuff.
SLOAN: Did you go to the movies or …
GREEN: Once every blue moon I might go, but they would go, you know. Because movies were cheap at that time. But I just liked to stay home. I didn’t like to go out too much. So I’d stay home and, you know, keep the house clean mostly. And make stuff, you know. Cook the meals and whatnot.
SLOAN: You had some best friends.
GREEN: Oh, yeah. Well, I only had about a couple of them. Now, in fact, they both are dead. Because Carrie is dead and Marian is dead.
SLOAN: What did the three of you used to do for fun?
GREEN: I stayed home and minded my business and made things while they just stayed home and did what they had to do. We might go around to each other’s house and, you know, talk for a couple of minutes or so. But that’s all. Because I never made a point of, might as well say, living in your house. You know, some people, every time you open the door, they’re standing there. I didn’t believe in that. I stayed home mostly and did stuff around the house, you know. Make stuff, clean up, cook the meals, stuff like that.
SLOAN: So, you once talked about the different kinds of merchants that would come up and down the street.
GREEN: Oh, yeah.
SLOAN: Tell me a little bit about those.
GREEN: We had the fish man, B. Kinney (sp). Well, that’s what everybody called him—B. Kinney (sp). He used to live in the next block down the street from us. He’d come with this little pushcart. And we used to mock him. He’d say, “Aah, fish here!” You know how they was. And we would mock him. He didn’t bother, you know. He knew you were going to do it when he came. Then we had policemen in the block. They knew you by name and they knew me by name. See. And, if he saw you doing something, he’d say, “All right, Kirsten, I see you doing such-and-such a thing. Now, when I come back through here, I don’t want to see you doing it.” Well, he’d come back through here, you’re not doing it, end of the story.
SLOAN: What other kind of merchants? So, there was the fishmonger.
GREEN: Well, he had his little pushcart. He’d push his little fish through there. And we used to mock him. He’d say, “Aah, fish!” something like that. And people would come out and get the fish and then he’d move on to the next place.
SLOAN: Were there merchants that sold other things that came, too? So, your dad did coal and wood and ice. There was a fish merchant. Who else?
GREEN: Basically, as far as I can remember, that was about it. You might get somebody come knock on your door trying to sell you something, you know. But that’s about it, you know. But at that time people got along with each other pretty good, you know. And one or two of the whites that lived down in the next block, they was friendly to you. But most of them would turn their nose up and keep on going, you know. But we didn’t worry about that because we knew it was going to happen anyway. So we let them keep on going, you know. But that’s it, you know. We made it through.
SLOAN: So, when you bought your house, you were a single woman buying your own home. Pretty impressive, huh?
GREEN: “How you going to pay for it?”
SLOAN: So you saved for many years and you bought—that was pretty unusual for anybody to buy their own home in the 70s.
GREEN: Well, I didn’t save for a whole lot of years, but it did take a few. I just automatically was saving money each payday, not particularly to buy a house at that particular time. But every payday I made a point to put a certain amount of money in the bank because I was staying with my uncle and aunt up there where Vanessa lives now. And I come to find out when I’m at work she was going through my stuff. So, I say, I got to get out of here, you know. I didn’t touch her stuff. I just tried to keep the house clean and everything. You know, if I got something that you want to look at, ask me if it’s all right that you look at it. But I could tell. You know how you put stuff away yourself. You know how you did it. I came back, opened up the drawer in the bedroom there, and I could tell that she’d been rumbling through it, you know. That made me angry, so I said, I got to hurry up and get out of here. [Laughs.]
SLOAN: So, when we celebrated your 80th birthday, there were some photographs of you taken with a fancy backdrop. Do you remember those?
GREEN: I don’t even know where the book is right now.
SLOAN: Do you remember, when you were younger, having your portrait taken?
GREEN: Oh, yeah. The man used to come through the block every Sunday. And people would come through there. And you call him and he’ll take your picture, stuff like that. And pictures were cheap then. But, you know, he passed through the block. And he might have his little—I think he was the one that had the bell. Used to ring the bell, ding-a-ling-a-ling. And then you’d know they was coming through. And people could call him and he’d stop and take your picture for you. I think pictures were about 15, 20 cents or something like that apiece.
SLOAN: And did he have a backdrop or he would just …
GREEN: Well, he had no backdrop. He’d just take the picture.
SLOAN: Just take the picture.
GREEN: Wherever you were, in front of your house or someplace. But it was cheap, you know. So, you had your Sunday best on at the time. [Laughs.] Which wasn’t much then but it was your Sunday best, because that’s all you had. And he’d take the pictures and different ones would come out and he snapped pictures. Snap. He snapped everybody’s picture who wanted one. He went on his way. I mean, you had to pay him. I think a picture was about 15 cents, a quarter, something like that. Wasn’t much. But they were the good old days. And, like I say, everybody was congenial. [Repetitive material removed.]
SLOAN: So, talk about what Christmas was like when you were a kid here in DC.
GREEN: Oh, Christmas was beautiful because things wasn’t so overly expensive then, you know. So, you got put to bed early and Santa Claus came and put your stuff out. And after Santa Claus put your stuff out, your mother came and woke you up. You come down and see your stuff. Then you’d go back to bed. And you’d be happy because I asked you for a doll, I asked you for a carriage, I asked you for skates and all kinds of stuff. And I got everything I asked for. See. Now you can’t afford it because everything is so darn expensive you’re lucky you can get one thing.
SLOAN: So you said a doll baby and a carriage and skates. So those were the kinds of activities when you were a girl that you played?
GREEN: Well, [for] most of us, if you got a nice doll baby and you had your skates and the scooters and all such stuff as that––wagon––boy, you were somebody. You know. And, I forgot what it was now, but I got something or other that nobody else had and I thought I was Miss Bigshot then. And we had great big dolls like this. Then we had the regular size dolls, too, you know. It depends on, you know, how the money was running at the time.
SLOAN: What was it like during the second World War to live in Washington, DC?
GREEN: Everything got expensive. You could hardly buy anything. You were lucky you could buy a little piece of bread. [Laughs.] You know.
SLOAN: Did you have ration coupons?
GREEN: Oh, yeah.Yeah, we had them. You’d get them about once a month and when you went to the store you tore out so many according to how much stuff you bought, you know. But you still had to put a little money on the side of it, too. See. But it was nice because people were friendly to each other and each one try to help each other, you know. Nowadays people are not friendly and they try to take everything that you got. [Laughs.]
SLOAN: Did you ever visit places in the city when you were young, like the Capitol or the museums?
GREEN: Yeah, yeah, uh-huh. We went. That was our big thing on Sunday. We’d walk up to the Capitol or we’d go to the library or go to one of the buildings or something or other. We did all that. But, you know, we’d get the kids together, three or four of us, and go ahead and go to one of them places. That was our big amusement, to go to one of them places. Then, like I say, the man used to come along the street and you can call him and he’ll snap your picture there, because you paid for it, of course. But he’d take your picture and everything and that was a big thing, to have your picture taken. See. Then we went down to the store on the corner. Well, they had a single ice cream cone. Then they had a double header ice cream cone. And I think the single header was a nickel, the double header was ten cents, something like that.
SLOAN: You never learned to drive. How did you get around the city?
GREEN: My uncle was going to teach me how to drive but I got scared and backed out. [Repetitive material removed.]
SLOAN: So how did you get around the city?
GREEN: We had the bus. They had taxicab and bus.
SLOAN: And what about the streetcar?
GREEN: Yeah, the streetcar. I forgot about it. I haven’t seen a streetcar in so long I forgot about it! Yeah, we had the streetcar. That’s how we got along. I’m going to be a bigshot pretty soon because my doctor already informed me that she’s going to move over Georgetown. So, they are going to send a taxicab after me.
SLOAN: Oh, my goodness. You are a big deal.
GREEN: Then the taxicab’s supposed to bring me back.
SLOAN: There you go.
GREEN: See. I don’t like that. I mean, I worked in Georgetown. Sure, I did. But why would I have to go so far over there?
SLOAN: Well, she’s probably at the hospital over there. There’s a medical center.
GREEN: Well, she’s going to the hospital over there. Uh-huh. She’s at the hospital up here now, Washington Hospital Center. But I guess she’s spreading out.
SLOAN: Yeah.
GREEN: Mm-hmm. She lives right down the street there. Do you know the Richter family?
SLOAN: I don’t.
GREEN: Mm-hmm. She’s a very nice person.
SLOAN: What do you think are the biggest changes in the city since you were a girl? Not with people but the city itself.
GREEN: Cleaning up. Because you put your trash out, the man would take it. Now you put your trash out, you’re lucky if he takes it. [Laughs.] You know. And people, you know, people got along well, pretty much well with each other, you know.
SLOAN: How else has it changed, like building wise and the way the city looks?
GREEN: Oh, well. It’s a big change because everywhere houses were, they turned around and put buildings there, you know. Everybody’s out to make the dollar bill. But [people] had houses and everybody knew each other and everybody helped each other, one way or the other, you know. [Repetitive material removed.]
SLOAN: What kind of games did you guys play when you were kids?
GREEN: Well, we played dodgeball. We had jump rope and stuff like that. We played checkers and, you know, little games like that. Well, things were cheap then, it’s true, but still, basically, you could say it was high just the same because you didn’t make that much money at that time. People make more money now than we ever thought any of us would ever make.
SLOAN: When you worked at the 8th and I Marine Barracks, what did that area look like?
GREEN: Well, it looked about the same as it looks now, you know, right now. Except you had a lot of prejudice there just the same. But, like I say, that boss of mine, he was about the most prejudiced person you would ever want to run into, you know. I was supposed to be a big supervisor over two or three kids. And one or two of them didn’t like me to be their supervisor so they would go down the other end of the room. Instead of the Marine who was in charge over them telling them, “Go back up there and do your work,” they didn’t say anything to them. Sometimes I had to go down there and tell them, “Come back up there and get your job done,” you know. But, basically, the boys were pretty good.
Then I would have extra stuff in my desk drawer. Like I’d take some goodies down there and keep them in my desk drawer so if I got hungry, I wouldn’t have to go down to the cafeteria and buy something, you know. I’d come back in the morning. The night folks, when they were there, would go in my desk drawer and eat my stuff up. [Laughs.] Yeah, they would. I didn’t bother them.
Then I had two or three guys that worked for me. One or two of them still keep in touch. They used to like to come over here because I would, you know, let them come over and I’d fry some chicken, mash some potatoes, or stuff like that. And they ate it and everything. One or two of them still keep in touch right now, you know. But the girls, they were kind of funny. Because the woman who was in charge of them, the Marine lady, she would back them up on whatever they did instead of telling them to get on back up there and get [their] work done. I had to go down and tell them, “Look, you got your work up here to do,” you know. But other than that, it wasn’t that bad because if they didn’t want to work, it wasn’t my fault. I just let them stay on down there, wouldn’t be bothered with them.
SLOAN: So, the area itself that you worked in––It’s very built up today, lots of restaurants and things.
GREEN: Oh, yeah, yeah.
SLOAN: What was it like then?
GREEN: Mostly houses. They tore down a lot of houses just to put up these little joints, you know. People had to move out and whatnot.
SLOAN: Were there restaurants that you used to go to growing up?
GREEN: We ate at home. We didn’t have the money to go to no restaurant. My mother would cook, I would cook. Once in a while my two sisters would cook but most of the time I’d cook or my mother would cook.
SLOAN: What were your mom’s specialties?
GREEN: Well, we had stew and we had chicken and roast beef and stuff like that. But you had to vary it because you couldn’t eat it all, you know. Even though things were cheap at the time, they were still expensive according to living at the time. You know. So, she had to buy [enough of] something that she was going to fix. And you can get some, I can get some, she can get some. But, see, some stuff you had to buy two or three packages of in order to get enough to feed the family. Because most people had five or six kids and it took a little more food to eat. Whereby people have one or two kids now. See. What if you’ve got five or six kids and they ate hearty? See. So we had to buy a little more. Food was what they called cheap at the time but basically it wasn’t cheap according to the money you made because most people didn’t have these high time government jobs at the time. See.
SLOAN: So, when you bought your house here, what was the neighborhood like? Who used to live on the block?
GREEN: Well, the woman that lived in this house, she had five kids, I think it was. I don’t know why the lady sold it. [The lady who lived here] didn’t sell the house. The lady who owned the house sold it.
They tried to give me a fit one time at the bank. I was paying and they wasn’t putting it down. So I had to go there and raise sand and say, “Wait a minute here!”  See, I always kept my receipts and whatnot. So, I went there. I said, “Look, how come y’all didn’t record this?” So they found out I was watching and then they did all right after that. But I was paying and they wasn’t putting it on the books.
SLOAN: Oh, wow.
GREEN: Yeah.
SLOAN: So, who else, what other kind of people lived in the neighborhood?
GREEN: Well, that’s all we had––black and white. The center of the block down the street there, you know, they were white. Block up here, we’re all black and whatnot. And, once in a while, you might get one of them down there that might come up and say hi to you. But, basically, they pass you by like you’re a piece of dirt, you know. People weren’t friendly. As time changed, one or two of them got a little bit friendly, you know. And, like we had the man used to come around on Sunday, and he’d take your picture.
SLOAN: Was the corner store always there? Where Mr. Ko’s is now? [The 7-River Market , 250 11th St. NE. Mr. Sam Ko has moved on.]
GREEN: No. People lived in there. Then when the people sold out, the store came and stayed there, you know. We had a store on that side of the street where the laundry is now. Well, it was no laundry there at first. But down where we used to live on New Jersey Avenue, that same area type, was a store. Like I say, we knew the man because my father used to sell him wood, coal, and ice. He would give us a little bigger scoop on the ice cream.
SLOAN: So, there were no big grocery stores, like Safeway. Is that right? They were just mainly corner ... Where did you buy your groceries?
GREEN: Well, we had corner stores. You had to walk a mile and a half to get to the Safeway, you know, because there wasn’t none close by. So if you wanted to go to Safeway, you had to get yourself ready to go. We used to go to Safeway and get some stuff.
SLOAN: But, wait. Was there a Safeway when you were a child?
GREEN: Yeah, but you had to go quite a distance to get to it, you know. And, well, you had to haul all them bags back home because they had no service to bring it unless you brought it yourself.
SLOAN: Yeah.
GREEN: You know. That was close down near the Navy Yard, you know. Down, you know where South Capitol Street is. You had to go all the way down there to get your stuff and come back home. So, we had a wagon. We had to take the wagon and take it down there to put your groceries on, and come back home, you know. But we survived. Thank God, you know.
SLOAN: Did you have a garden? Or a vegetable garden?
GREEN: Yes and no. Sometime we had it and sometime we didn’t, you know. In the back yard. But it wasn’t all that big because, you know, wasn’t anybody too much to really take care of it because everybody had to get out and get that dime and put it together so you can live. Because you had to buy clothes and shoes and … Well, things were a little bit cheaper then, but still was expensive for the time.
SLOAN: What kind of stores did you buy your clothing at?
GREEN: Well, we went to Morton’s. That was down on Seventh Street. Then we’d go up on H Street, get your shoes and stuff. Lember’s Shoe Store, what used to be up there.
SLOAN: What was the name of the shoe store?
GREEN: Lember’s.
SLOAN: Spell that for me.
SLOAN: Lember’s, Lember’s.
GREEN: Yeah.
SLOAN: Okay. I’ve never heard of that.
GREEN: Oh, yeah. Well, they’ve been out of business for years now. But we used to go up there and get shoes and whatnot. And, basically, then you’d go downtown on Seventh Street and you’d get, like, your clothes, you know, and whatnot. So. And, then, my mother used to make a lot. She used to get material and make our dresses and stuff and whatnot. It was good living. And everybody got along fairly well with each other, you know. Like I say, you have four or five kids, I might have four or five kids. My kids’ clothes got too small for them. If they would fit your kids, I’d take them over and give them to you. And you’d say, “Oh, thank you so much.” Now, if I did it, they’d throw it in your face.
SLOAN:  So, you never drove a car. Have you ever flown in an airplane?
GREEN: No. I don’t want to do nothing like that. I don’t like the dangerous stuff. [Some material deleted.]
SLOAN: So, you had four brothers and sisters. How many nieces and nephews do you have?
GREEN: Quite a few. [Laughs.] A whole bunch of them. One of them, she’s coming over here tomorrow. She stopped past here the other day. Because she wants me to make this quilt for her. So I’ve been up there, cutting up pieces and sewing some of them together and whatnot. So, I’m going to show her how to do it
SLOAN: So, you’re famous in the neighborhood for your Christmas decorations.
GREEN: Oh, is that right?
SLOAN: Yes. Talk about them a little bit.
GREEN: Well, I didn’t do too good last year for the simple reason—Danilo and his wife, they called their self helping me out and it didn’t get up the way I wanted it up, you know.
SLOAN: Well, when did you start doing Christmas decorations on the outside?
GREEN: After I moved here. Well, we used to decorate at our house, too. But I make—in fact, I’m working on some stuff up there now—I make my own decorations and put them up, you know. And a lady around the corner she gave me some lights that Bill had, but I had plenty of lights. I’ve still got plenty of lights of my own. And I made my own wreaths and stuff like that. And most of the stuff I made because I just didn’t have the money to buy all the stuff. So, I made it. And I like making things, you know. I do. Well, see my flower pots I made? What do you think they’re made out of?
SLOAN: A bucket.
GREEN: An ice cream bucket. But I notice here lately the ice cream buckets have shrunk in size a little bit.
SLOAN: Yeah.
GREEN: Mm-hmm. But the price didn’t shrink. But the bucket did.
SLOAN: Yeah.
GREEN: Yeah. And whatnot.
SLOAN: So, you’re also pretty famous in the neighborhood for being an incredible cook. What are some of the best things that you make?
GREEN: Oh, what? I don’t know. I make them and eat them. [Laughs.]
SLOAN: Well, your fried chicken is world renowned.
GREEN: Oh, it is?
SLOAN: And your watermelon rinds.
GREEN: I haven’t bought a—I don’t think I’ve bought a watermelon this year. Or bought a piece maybe. But I don’t think I’ve bought the whole watermelon. But, well, I like chicken so I make the chicken. So I guess I’ve gotten a little better each time I cook it. But I don’t know, I just throw something at the stove and cook it and eat it and clean up the kitchen and go upstairs and lay down. Best I can do. Because, you know, some people run in your house and talk to you, then come back, “Child, you know she said so-and-so-soa and she did so-and-so.” I don’t like that kind of stuff.
SLOAN: Yeah.
GREEN: So I stay right here because you can’t throw me out of here. [Interviewer laughs.] See. If I go to your house, you can throw me out. But you can’t throw me out of here. [Laughs.] See.
SLOAN: All right.
GREEN: That kind of stuff.
SLOAN: Thank you, Josephine.


Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project
Josephine Green Interview, April 30, 2023

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