Photo by Kristin Moe

Ralph Dwan

Ralph Dwan was a Catholic priest working for the Washington archdiocese when he first came to the Hill in the mid-1960s.

After growing up in Chevy Chase DC and graduating from Gonzaga high school in 1950, Ralph attended college and law school before studying for the priesthood. He and others ran a summer youth program for St. Joseph's and St. Peter's churches in 1965, which led to other assignments in community organizing and social services. In 1967, he joined an existing community outreach storefront across from the Marine Barracks on Eighth Street SE, and that's where he was working during the 1968 riots. Ralph served on the Friendship House board and worked with the Capitol Hill Group Ministry before starting a law practice, still on Eighth Street SE. In this interview, Ralph also provides details about his house at 416 Sixth Street SE, which was built in 1938 for the women who ran Friendship House.

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Interview Date
April 15, 2008
Kristin Moe
Jack Womeldorf

Full Directory

Interview with Ralph Dwan
Interview Date: April 15, 2008
Interviewer: Kristin Moe
Transcriber: Jack Womeldorf

photo by Kristin Moe

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

TAPE[1] 1/SIDE 1
[tape starts with microphone tests]
MOE: This is Kristin Moe. I’m interviewing Ralph Dwan for the Overbeck Capitol Hill oral history project. It’s April 15, 2008, and we’re meeting at his home at 416 Sixth Street SE. What are you making a note of?
DWAN: Just your last name.
MOE: Oh, yes. M-O-E. Norwegian. Why don’t we start out? I like your suggestion of talking about this house a little bit. I’m very interested in it.
DWAN: Well, this is an unusual house, because this was built in 1938. You’re familiar with “The Maples”? Which is the Friendship House now? The Maples was the manor house of this area, back when it was farmed. When in 1938 or thereabouts, Friendship House, which used to be, I think, in Southwest Washington near the river, moved over here to The Maples, and they built I guess just one substantial addition to The Maples to use. At that time, they built this house. It was built for Lydia Burklin, who was the director of Friendship House at that time.
MOE: OK, and this was 1908, you say?
DWAN: 1938. So it’s a very unique architectural design, and in fact, there’s a curious coincidence because the architect for this house was the same architect who built my parents’ house back in, let’s see, 1941, in Northwest. So the signature of that architect was that there is a circular flow in the house. So you can go over here, and go down the steps, and you can walk around through the laundry space, through the kitchen and come back out here, so there’s a nice circle. That’s what my parents’ house in Chevy Chase DC had. Not the same layout, but it had that circular flow. You could just go start in one room, and do a big circle and come back to where you were.
MOE: And you can certainly feel that. It feels very light and airy. What was that architect’s name? Do you remember?
DWAN: (loudly, to his wife in another room) Honey, what was that architect’s name? We’ll think of it. Horace Peasley. P-E-A-S-L-E-Y. Something like that. And so, when this house was finished—well it was built by Emily Storer, who was the housemate of Lydia Burklin, and I think they probably were together before they moved over here. The Storer family built this house for the two of them, and so after—I forget when Lydia Burklin—I never met her, and I never met Emily Storer either. This house came on the market in ’74, I think it was, after Emily Storer had died. She was the last of her family, so they put the house on the market. We looked at it. One of the long-time real estate people in Capitol Hill, whose name escapes me right now—she had got us our first house over on D Street and so, when she realized that we wanted to get a bigger house, and this came on the market, she brought us over here. So we had a friend who was an architect—he kind of opened it up. This room just had a door, over there by the front door, and two or three steps coming down to the living room. Our architect came up with the idea of opening it up, cutting this wall, and building this little entrance way, steps down. He organized the painting so that, as he said, you kind of get this “perspective”, or whatever. (laughs) We’ve enjoyed it very much.
MOE: When did you have the architect come in? When were the renovations made? Right after you moved in?
DWAN: No, it was made before we moved. Once we got the house, then he came in, did his study, and then we got a friend, Jim Parker, who lived on the Hill, (now lives out in Idaho, with his wife, they settled out there after he retired). He was a builder, and became a good friend, too. He did the work in the house. So it was a great combination for us. So we’ve enjoyed it very much. We have these two yards, which is kind of unique. Unfortunately, take a look at the north yard—it really is in bloom—it’s really lovely. South yard needs some work, but we’ve got … you’ve probably heard about Capitol Hill Village, that new organization in the community that is trying to help people to stay in their houses. They linked us up with Kim [Brenegar] who runs Ornamental Gardens—they do work in yards here in Capitol Hill. So she’s taken over and she’s been good in her operation. I can’t do that any more. Mary can’t do that any more. It’s been a good experience.
MOE: Let’s rewind a little bit, back to the beginning. You weren’t born in DC, were you?
DWAN: No, I was born in Minneapolis. My father was a law professor at the University of Minnesota Law School. He just up and decided to move here in ’36 to go to work for the New Deal.
MOE: What year were you born?
DWAN: ’32.
MOE: What particular New Deal program was that, that caused him to move to Washington?
DWAN: He was recruited by the Roosevelt administration. They were out recruiting lawyers and whatever to come here to work, so he came here to work for the Treasury Department. There’s an interesting side story. Not long before my mother died, which was ’96, I asked her, “That must have been a very traumatic move.” Because both families were Midwestern families. All their roots were out there in Minnesota and South Dakota. I said, “You must have talked a lot about it!” She said, “Well, that wasn’t really the case.” She said “Your father decided to go to Washington and work for the New Deal. So he came down here to Washington, and he left me to sell the house.” There were two of us children at that point—and her mother was living with us—so she had to do all that and drive them out here, and arrange for the … but she said “but your father; what he did do? He got a house down here.” So at least they had a place to go to when they got down here.
MOE: And where was that? What was the address of your first home?
DWAN: Well, I don’t remember the number. It was on Hesketh Street. Are you familiar …? No? Well, if you go out Connecticut Avenue in Northwest, when you come to the District line, Chevy Chase Circle is the marker of the District line on Connecticut Avenue till it goes into Maryland. Hesketh is one of those streets that goes off Chevy Chase Circle on the Maryland side. That’s where we lived.
MOE: How do you spell Hesketh?
DWAN: Hesketh. H-E-S-K-E-T-H? That sounds pretty close. It only runs for about four blocks from the Circle to Wisconsin Avenue. That’s it.
MOE: How did your father commute to the Treasury Department every day?
DWAN: On the bus. Everybody did, at that time. (laughs) That was a wonderful place to grow up, for a number of reasons. Nice young family community. We were … right across the street from our house there was a fence. There was a creek—a vacant yard with a creek and a fence. The fence was Chevy Chase Country Club; it’s a golf course. So as kids we could go over there and see … There was a space between the creek and the fence. You could go underneath that—and go play on the golf course! We used to do that; I’m not sure we ever played golf, but we used to ski and use our sleds in the wintertime on the golf course. Nobody ever bothered us. It was cute. So that was ’36. We moved in ’41 into the District. That’s where my family settled; stayed there until my father died in ’70.
MOE: Where was that house?
DWAN: Linnean Avenue. L-I-N-N-E-A-N. Linnean.
MOE: And where is that?
DWAN: That is … Connecticut Avenue runs out from downtown all the way out to Chevy Chase Circle. It was just two blocks east of Connecticut Avenue. Ellicott Street is not far from the Maryland border. It’s out in that area, called Chevy Chase DC.
MOE: You lived in that house through high school?
DWAN: College, law school (laughs). When my father died, then my mother sold it. She didn’t want to stay there. Too big anyway.
MOE: Tell me about your high school years. I have to confess that I spoke briefly with Larry Molumby.
DWAN: Larry Molumby; my classmate.
MOE: He said you’d gone to high school together from 1946 to 1950. So this was up in Northwest Washington. This wasn’t on Capitol Hill.
DWAN: The high school we went to was Gonzaga High School, which is right over by Union Station. It’s on North Capitol and Eye Street. As everybody in those days, we took the bus. Two busses and a streetcar. We still had a streetcar that ran down North Capitol Street.
MOE: How long did that take you?
DWAN: It’d take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour. Like all kids at that time, we tried to … especially when we got to North Capitol Street, we’d just thumb a ride down. Easier than …
MOE: From a private car?
DWAN: From a private car.
MOE: Really? That was safe?
DWAN: Back in those days, everybody did that. Yeah, it was safe.
MOE: Did you have any regulars that you rode with, or just with whoever happened to be passing?
DWAN: You mean classmates? There were usually, often there were one or two students, but I was the only one who got on the bus at my stop, at Ellicott Street and Connecticut. I rode down to Porter, then you got on the bus and went across town, Porter Street, to North Capitol, and that’s where the streetcar picked you up.
MOE: Tell me about your high school. It was a private school, I assume?
DWAN: Yes. It was run by the Jesuit priests. It was, like everybody else, I guess, the only outstanding thing, sort of, was when I was a senior, our football team won the city championship. I was on the team that year; that was a great excitement.
MOE: What position did you play?
DWAN: I was quarterback, backup quarterback, and I was a defensive back. That was a lot of fun. It was a good school. They were tough on you. It was a good experience, it really was. I still have a lot of friends from that scenario.
MOE: Who have stayed in DC?
DWAN: In this DC area, yeah. And Larry’s the one that I see the most.
MOE: Perhaps I should interview him next (both laugh).
DWAN: Well, of course, you know, Larry has had a lot to do with this Capitol Hill Village. That’s the recent history of Capitol Hill, which is a great thing that they’ve got going, to help us stay …
MOE: What are your impressions of Capitol Hill in those years? Did you spend any time here? Did you have friends who lived on Capitol Hill? Did you have any experiences here before you actually moved here permanently?
DWAN: My first contact with Capitol Hill came, I think, in 1964, because at that time in my career, I’d gone on in school, and I’d become a priest in the Washington archdiocese. After a year of being out in Bethesda, I was asked to do some more studies, and to work at the main office of the diocese. When they asked me to do that I thought, I wanted to get into the inner city, to see what that was like. Since I agreed to do that, they assigned me to St. Joseph’s Church, which is over here on the Senate side, Second and C Street, 215 Second Street [NE] I guess. It’s right across from the Hart Senate Office Building. I spent a year there. That was my first introduction to Capitol Hill. I got to know the people in the community who were members of the church. At that time, I think most all of the people who attended that church, lived in the [area]. It was a mixed crowd; African-Americans and white people. It was an integrated church.
MOE: Was that unusual?
DWAN: It really depended upon the neighborhood, I think. This was predominately, at this point, except for some senators here and there, and other people, still largely an African-American community. It was a very interesting experience. So they got me involved in the inner city. Then we were doing some work for Father [Geno] Baroni, who was sort of the bishop’s right-hand man for the inner city. At the church he was living at, he’d started summer programs. He’d done that for a couple of years. So I got interested in that. When summertime came in ’65, we had a summer program for St. Joseph’s Church and St. Peter’s, which is on the House side, Second and C Streets [SE]. We used the school for the summer program. That was very interesting. That’s how I met Mary first. Most people who worked there were either teachers like Mary was, or seminarians, or just some young people who had been recruited around. It was a lot of fun. The community we were serving, and the young people who were involved in the program, were basically African-Americans. It was really an opportunity to get to know some of the parents, and stuff like that.
MOE: What would you say about the socio-economic mixture of the congregations? Was there a wide range, or did they fall mostly in one income bracket?
DWAN: I think it was a wide range, because there were some senators and congressmen living there; a smattering of white middle-class people—people working in the government, and there were some African-Americans who worked for the government, too. It was pretty much a middle-class community. But then, of course, when we ran the summer program, which was open to anybody who wanted to come, we would take anybody, so there was a much greater mix.
MOE: What was your exact position at St. Joseph’s at that time?
DWAN: I just lived there. I was “in residence” as they say. But then I got the summer off, and I got the chance to run [the summer program]. Then I convinced my boss at the church diocese that it was something I really wanted to do. I was relieved of my responsibility at the office, and I was assigned to the main inner-city parish where Father Baroni had been as assistant where he kept these programs started. He was moved up to an office in one of their pieces of property, to run the city-wide programs of all sorts, and so I was made his assistant. Then I took his place at St. Paul & Augustine’s—St. Augustine’s [parish] now. I did that for a couple of years, got into community organizing; a whole bunch of stuff. I got on a couple of city-wide committees; they were responsible for summer youth programs and stuff like that. That was interesting because it opened up to contacts with people in the city. I was there for a couple of years.
MOE: I want to back up just a little bit and ask you about your decision to go into the church. Do you mind if I ask about that?
MOE: Was that always your plan? How did that come about? How did you know that was what you wanted to do?
DWAN: I’ll just tell you one anecdote. I went to college at the University of Michigan and then I went to law school there. My father was a lawyer; that was kind of a good thing to do. I think it was during my second or third year of law school that I started to be active in the Catholic community at the University of Michigan student community. I got to know the priests, and they seemed to be doing a good job. So I think I was sort of inclined at that point to try to see law as a public service thing. I remember going to a legal convention. I had talked to one lawyer; he said “What do you want to do when you graduate?” I said, “I think I’d like to work for a union.” And he said, “Work for a union? You’ve got to be kidding. That’s like working for a whore house!” I began to think, maybe the legal community isn’t ready for any idealism at this point. So I just started thinking about going in the seminary. I talked to the priest who was in charge here in Washington. We kicked around for a while, and finally decided to try it. After I finished law school, and I worked that summer for the legal aid program here in Washington, which was a good experience, but it reinforced my community service desires. And so I went to seminary. Six years—four of those years were in Rome, which was a good experience.
MOE: Tell me again where the other two years were spent?
DWAN: First two years were in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, at St. Vincent’s which is a Benedictine monastery—college—and seminary. That was a beautiful place. The summers I would spend working for the Legal Aid Society here in Washington. Then I got sent over to Rome, which is a good experience. So then I came back, got into the sequel [sequence?] I was telling you about. After being at St. Augustine’s, then I had some conflict, in a sense, with the pastor, because I think he saw the programs … we had a community center at St. Augustine. All kinds of programs, you know. We had … one of the things I got to know Bob Smith, who had been trained in Chicago as a community organizer, like Barack Obama (laughs). Bob was here to organize, and in fact, he was organizing … his main job was to organize Capitol Hill. I got to know him. He came over, and we organized some sessions for clergy and others.
MOE: Bob Smith was affiliated with the church, or was he independent?
DWAN: He was Presbyterian. He was an ordained minister, but he was a social worker, basically, a community organizer. He built the Capitol East community organization here. There was some conflict with the pastor, who was a wonderful man. He saw the church programs [to be] for church people. We had a good director of the program and we tried to reach out to the community and get the other churches involved—get anybody who wanted to participate, to take part. I think he felt a little threatened by that.
MOE: You really saw the church’s role as wider, as going beyond the parish or congregation?
DWAN: Yeah. That’s what happens when you work with community organizers, I guess! I was going to be transferred. The cardinal—archbishop—I thought he was a good friend. Rather than send me to Anacostia, to be an assistant over there, then he realized what I was doing, and so he sent me back here to Eighth Street where another priest had started a storefront. I think that was in ’67, when I came over here.
MOE: What was that called?
DWAN: The Catholic Community Center, I guess. What did we call it? Catholic Storefront … I’m not sure it had a formal name. It was just a storefront on Eighth Street. In fact, it’s just near my office on Eighth Street.
MOE: Where is it today? Would you know the address and maybe who occupies the building now?
DWAN: I think it was 718. That building was divided, I think.
DWAN: So we had a lot of different programs there. We had religious instructions, we had karate, we reached out, gave out food, and all the things that are sort of a storefront. We had just a staff of one. A woman who was social director, I guess you’d call it. We reached out. She was in the community, organizing too, so we were able to do some things to help the community. Like, for example, when the Marines—are you familiar with the Marine Barracks? OK. When I was there; of course that’s right across the street from the Marine Barracks, the storefront was. They didn’t have a whole lot of room for a lot of people. Really kind of cramped, so their first step to expand was to build across Eye Street. One of the issues of that was, some people were going to be displaced. And these were all African-American people, of course. We were able to work with some people on the Hill to get some legislation passed that would give them relocation funds, so they could actually buy …
MOE: Vouchers?
DWAN: I forget if vouchers. Not really vouchers, because they all purchased property. They gave them some kind of a grant to go out—the families that were displaced were able to relocate, which is nice. Issues like that. I remember, our karate class was a tough bunch of guys. We had two very good young men who ran it. I remember when Martin Luther King was assassinated, and the riots broke out. All of a sudden, Eighth Street started … there was a lot of vandalism and stuff like that. I remember very distinctly that the two karate guys said “Hey fella, you better get out of here.” They said, “ We’ll stay. You get out of here.” So I went over to a friend’s house, and spent a couple of nights with him.
MOE: This was the night of the riots? April 4, 1968?
DWAN: Yeah. Right.
MOE: I’d like to hear your full story of your experiences of the riots. That was one thing that I really wanted to ask you about. Seeing we’ve just had the anniversary.
DWAN: I think that one of the interesting things, the NAACP had their office just a block away from St. Augustine’s, where I was.
MOE: Where was that?
DWAN: That’s at 14th and U Streets [NW].
MOE: You want to hear something funny? I work in the basement of St. Augustine’s.
DWAN: You do? Now? (laughs) Wow. Doing what?
MOE: I’m training to be a community organizer.
DWAN: Oh, you are? Good for you!
MOE: Yep. There’s this tiny organization called Empower DC that works out of the basement. They have two rooms down there. I was wondering if it was the same one, 14th and—
DWAN: Isn’t that an interesting coincidence? So, when the riots broke out, I knew the people that worked for the NAACP, the major group, and so the first thing I did was to go over there, because I knew them. Things were in chaos that night. But I went in, and I was just talking with people that I knew. All of a sudden, they said, kind of with one voice, “Better get out of here.”
MOE: You in particular.
DWAN: Yeah, because I was white. So it was dangerous. Then I came back over here. It had started on Eighth Street over here. That’s why the two karate guys told me to get out of there! (laughs) And of course, it was an awesome thing, because here we were across the street from the Marine Barracks, and here the Marines are lined up on one side of the street, and here all hell’s breaking loose on the other side of the street. It was really bizarre.
MOE: What was the street scene like? Can you describe it? What was going on?
DWAN: It was just a lot of young people running around, trying to figure out what to do, and I think there was some burning, and some looting. But most of that happened after I got off the scene. I had a friend just a couple blocks away, so I holed out over there. It would be one of the ironies of the whole thing—that there were two storefronts, centers, on the same block. One was run by the Episcopalians, and Jessie Anderson was running that, and he was an Episcopal priest, and he was an African-American. It was ironic. He got burned. They got burned out.
MOE: An African-American Episcopal priest.
DWAN: Yeah. We never could figure that one out. I guess maybe the kids in the neighborhood knew the karate guys, and so they weren’t going to mess with our center, because the karate guys would get after them. Whatever. It was very complicated. We wound up … Jesse first moved down to the very building that my office is in now, 729, over on Eighth Street.
MOE: Jesse first? [Jesse Anderson; see page 17 for clarification about his name]
DWAN: Jesse first; we had to close our office for some reason. Maybe we lost our lease. So we moved in with him. We both were together until the last year or year and a half. That was great! He was a good person. The irony of ironies is, he needed some more space, I had an office upstairs on the second floor, so I had that office up there, same landlady, and I’m back in that office now. (laughs) After, how many years later? We moved in there about ’95, I guess. No, about ’90; our little law office. When I’d come over here to work, I’d gotten involved in the Capitol Hill Ministers’ Association [most likely a reference to the Capitol Hill Group Ministry], which is being run by Tom Torosian [assistant minister of Capitol Hill Presbyterian Church], who became one of my best friends. That was using community organization skills, and also bringing the churches together.
MOE: I want to go back to the 1968 riots. How you saw the neighborhood change in response to that night. Was there a shift in the atmosphere, the mentality of Capitol Hill as a community after those riots? Were there racial tensions that were revealed?
DWAN: How do I try to reflect on that? I think it was an age thing, because there were so many black families who had been here for generations, and had roots, and they had neighbors, and some gentrification was going on. There was a good relationship on that level of older people. But I think there was some anger with the young kids who went crazy.
MOE: So you saw it as more of a generation gap that spanned ethnicity?
DWAN: Uh-huh. Because I’ve always felt, since I’ve been on Capitol Hill that among the older folks—part of that, I got active in Friendship House, and Friendship House was a catalyst of people coming together. All races; to serve, obviously; the main thrust of Friendship House is the younger people, but the people who do it are older, African American; the staff was largely African American. Friendship House was a good unifying factor up here.
MOE: I read that, a little bit after the riots, you helped to convene a service, a Mass, in the streets. Can you talk about that night? What was that experience like?
DWAN: (laughs) I’d forgotten about that.
MOE: You did not!
DWAN: I did. It was an attempt to be a healing thing, but it was just too much going on. It didn’t really … I forget what day of the week it was. I think it was on the Sunday after the riots. I think it was outside our center, our storefront. I think that the Capitol Hill Group Ministry was involved in that too. I think that organization was helpful.
MOE: How many people came to this service?
DWAN: There weren’t more than a couple of dozen, I think. That’s funny; I hadn’t thought about that a lot (laughs). At that point, while I was running the center, I got back into the legal thing. First, there was somebody who was going to teach a course at Georgetown Law School; [he] approached me and said he had a conflict and couldn’t do that, and asked if I would take over the course, which I did, and so I taught that for a couple of years, just one night a week. After the riots, somehow I was contacted by the dean of the Catholic University law school. This was after the riots. They wanted to make a reach-out. They invited me to come and teach a course in Urban Law (laughs) at Catholic, so I did that for a couple of times, too. So I sort of got back into that. I kind of reached a point where it didn’t look like things were going … crazy where it’s going, so I decided to …
MOE: Crazy how?
DWAN: … leave. Where was this all going to go? Where was this center going to go? Should I be teaching? So I finally decided … I left, gave up the priesthood. I proposed to my wife, who I’d worked with over here, and got to know her. I left at the end of ’69, I guess, and my first job then was to go to University Legal Services, which at that point was on 11th Street NE, which was running an inner city legal clinic. I ran that for a year. It sort of gave me a transition.
MOE: That’s a huge vocational shift for you, to go from the priesthood back into law. Was that difficult?
DWAN: The whole legal thing had changed so much! Here was this center, University Legal Services, which was providing legal services for the poor, the neighborhood, which hadn’t existed, you know. Well, it had been in existence for a couple of years. I just took over the office of director; someone asked me to take it over. After I’d done that for a year, “what am I going to do next?” I’d gotten to know this African American lawyer who had an office up here on Pennsylvania Avenue.
MOE: What was his name?
DWAN: John Harmon. I got to know John, mainly through Friendship House. He was a street lawyer. When I took a couple of weeks off from running the University Legal Services, I asked John if he would fill in for me. So he did, and that worked out well. So at the end of that year doing that, I said, “John, you got some room in your office. Why don’t I just move in with you?” And he said, “Fine.” He welcomed me to do that, and I started practicing street law!
MOE: When you say ‘street law,’ what do you mean?
DWAN: That means pretty much anything of anything, you know? Taking cases in court, where you get paid by the court, for indigent people. Some of that. It slowly expands, you know. You do different kinds of minor trial work. It just kept me busy, and it seemed to work out OK. Now, I guess for the last ten or fifteen years, I’ve been doing estate planning and kind of laid-back stuff, wills for people, estates.
MOE: Tell me more about University Legal Services. What particular kinds of services did they provide?
DWAN: A lot of landlord and tenant stuff. Some tenants’ rights stuff. It was a really mixed bag. Custody. This is back when I was active in it. Then I was on the board for several years. They have … it’s still going strong. They have a good staff, and they have an office up in Northeast. They do a lot of patient rights. Very much involved in St. Elizabeth’s Hospital—abuse of patients or neglect. Major cases have been going on for years. I still know some of those people that are working there. I often sometimes ask myself “What if the legal profession had been different when I’d been at law school? Would I have gone into the priesthood?” I don’t know the answer to that. It was something I have no regrets about. It was a great thing.
MOE: Were there any particularly memorable cases, where you developed a strong relationship with a client, or felt that you’d really made a change in someone’s life?
DWAN: Well, I think a lot of times, but I … nothing stands out. It’s just relief, help, and it’s sort of a winding down example here. So anyway, John Harmon and I shared offices all these many years. He was married, they had no children, he and Ollie. They were just good friends. She had been ill the last five or six years. John really spent a lot of time taking care of his wife, who was older than he was. Darned if they didn’t—last May, coming home, John had taken Ollie over to Delaware to play the slot machines, get her out of the apartment, give her a change-of-pace. They were coming back late one night, going down to Waldorf to get some food for breakfast, and they went out on the road after the light changed, to go south on Branch Avenue, and somebody ran the red light, and smashed right into their car. After seeing the car, couldn’t figure out how in the world they survived after the accident itself. So they both wound up in the hospital, critical care. They didn’t have any relatives right here, so it fell upon Mary and me to make the arrangements, do the—I’d helped with their estate planning, so it all kind of came together, and then the next thing to do … John lasted for three weeks, and then we thought he’d turned the corner, but then he was transferred to VA [hospital] and we saw him once; had a good visit with him; he was alert, he was on the phone—obviously in pain and suffering. Just two days after that, he died. So we contacted his church, Shiloh Baptist Church, and made the arrangements for the funeral. Having been in the religious life and a lawyer kind of worked together, so we were able to do that. To get that worked through, it went well. Ollie lasted for … she really kind of gave up after John died, because she realized she couldn’t live by herself. He was gone, so she died. He died in June, she died in September.
MOE: Of this past year, 2007?
DWAN: Yeah.
MOE: It must be very hard to lose such good friends.
DWAN: Yeah, it was.
MOE: What was it like to be a Catholic at that time? I’m thinking that John F. Kennedy was elected president in 1960, and there was this whole debate whether a Catholic could be president. Did you … what was that like?
DWAN: Well, that’s an interesting question. I was still studying in Rome when Kennedy came over there, and so there was a big to-do about … he came for a visit to Rome, and in fact, his helicopter landed at the seminary where I was studying. It was a big plus, because I think the church had gotten in … the back-of-the-yards in Chicago had been underwritten by many of the Catholic churches. I mean, they were really involved. I remember going out once when I was at St. Augustine’s to get to know some of those priests who’d been working in Chicago, who were working … there was so much going on in the wintertime: no heat in the apartments and stuff like that. So many issues, and the church was very much involved in that. There was a building tradition of the church’s involvement, which was great. And so I think that’s carried over to Washington. The [Washington Archdiocese] cardinal-archbishop at that time, Patrick O’Boyle. He attended the “I have a dream” event down at the Lincoln Memorial. Which is just terrific; to show up and be part of this. We remember marching in the Poor People’s Campaign. There was a lot of support from the churches, particularly the Catholic church.
MOE: Certainly a lot of the organizing that was done in the 1960s was done by different churches, by priests.
DWAN: I don’t know any priests personally who were organizers. I did know some Protestants, clergymen, who were full-fledged organizers. Certainly got the support of the Catholic church.
MOE: Tell me a little bit more about Friendship House. You spent many years on the board of Friendship House, I believe. What was that experience like; what effect did Friendship House have on the community? Tell me a little bit more about the organization.
DWAN: I think it was … the main pulling-together institution in the community over the years. Now it’s gone on hard times. Maybe you’ve heard that. It’s distressing.
MOE: But it’s still in operation.
DWAN: Well, I don’t know how much operation. But because it brought together, as more middle class white people, professionals, came; they were encouraged to get on the board. Also the professional African-Americans, staff, it was a good mix. And it was serving the poor, to bring them educational programs. Then they went off—I was off the board by that time—get into charter schools. Apparently you could understand Donald Hense when he was running the program, he felt … I think he told me at one time—he needed to provide the opportunity for teenagers. They couldn’t just have children’s programs. They had to find a vehicle to move them out. So they got involved in charter schools. That wound up being the tail that wagged the dog.
MOE: Why is that? Was it just too big of a project to take on?
DWAN: Yeah. Where was the money going to come from? How do you divide the money between the schools and Friendship House itself, and stuff like that? I had a lot of friendships from the board and staff at Friendship House. It was great.
MOE: What would you say the peak years were, when they had the most effect on the community?
DWAN: I’d probably say the 70s, because there wasn’t much structure for working together at that time. And so Friendship House was a very needed role. When we got Home Rule, and we got a political structure in place, and you got various levels, I think that changed it a lot. It made a settlement house … let them do their kids’ thing, or pass out food. They don’t have to try to build community anymore. I think that’s sort of what happened.
MOE: Are there any other organizations around here right now that you feel sort of fill that role?
DWAN: No, I don’t think there are any. No. There is the Advisory Neighborhood Councils [Commissions], the lowest level of politics in the city. They do some of that; there’s no question about that, I think. But there’s no other organization. Well, I think the Capitol Hill Community Ministers’ Association is still operating, but I don’t think … that played a big role too, for a good while. But now the churches are getting stronger.
MOE: One other thing I wanted to talk to you about… I’m going to rewind a little bit—was to ask you about the Eighth Street businessmen’s meetings.
DWAN: Oh, yes (laughs)
MOE: So tell me about these meetings—who participated, who were these businessmen, what did you talk about? First of all, where did they take place, exactly, on Eighth Street?
DWAN: Ben Rivlin was the key person, who had the store which is now Ophelia’s Flower Store. Eighth and D Streets [correction: Eighth and E Streets SE]. He was just terrific. He loved the community. He had basically an old neighborhood grocery store. He was a wonderful guy. We worked closely together when I first came to Eighth Street. We used to … where did we have our meetings? I’m not sure if we went to Friendship House. We could have gone to Friendship House. Where else would … maybe we had them at the center. I’ve sort of forgotten.
MOE: At which center?
DWAN: At the Catholic center. It could have met there. I can’t remember whose shop had some space to do that. Ben and I tried our best to get that going, and it never really amounted to a whole lot, but it was fun.
MOE: What was the purpose?
DWAN: Trying to—kind of—security, better security, dress up the stores to look better. Try to maybe make an occasional donation to Friendship House, or to other …
MOE: This was for Eighth Street.
DWAN: Yeah. Ben Rivlin. Haven’t thought of him in a long time.
MOE: He owned a grocery store on the corner of Eighth and D?
DWAN: Eighth and D. Right. Ophelia’s Flower Shop now. [see correction above]
MOE: How long did these go on? How many years?
DWAN: I think we were for two or three years. I think it was started before the riots. And then they probably got a little rocky after the riots. But then I think Ben left. Maybe it was after the riots, Was his store damaged? I’ve forgotten.
MOE: Were a lot of the stores damaged during the riots? Was that what you mean by “rocky”?
DWAN: There was a lot of rock-throwing more than arson down here on Eighth Street. More fires up on H Street [NE] and 14th Street [NW].
MOE: I know you want to go, so I just have one last question—so many more questions, but one last question—you mentioned briefly that you met your wife Mary at one of these summer programs at St. Joseph’s. What was she doing there, and how did you meet; how did you become friends?
DWAN: Well, she was teaching at St. Peter’s School. She was a nun. That was first how I got to meet her. So she taught in that program at St. Peter’s. She was an eighth grade teacher.
MOE: Where is St. Peter’s?
DWAN: St. Peter’s is over here at … the school is at Third and E Street [SE]. It’s still going strong. She taught another year at St. Peter’s School. She lived in the convent next to the church on D Street [ed: C Street SE], I guess. Then she got sent to the University of Michigan to get a graduate degree, because they wanted her to come back to St. Mary’s College and be on track to be the president of the college. But she wasn’t very happy with that. We kept in touch. When I was teaching law, I went out [to Univ. of Michigan] and talked to some of my old professors, so I got to see her then. She came back here and taught in the public schools for a couple of years before we were married. So she’s a great teacher (laughs).
MOE: Just to wrap up, I made a little list of proper names you used; I want to be sure we have the right spelling. We have Horace Peasley, let’s see, Father Bruni; how do you spell Bruni?
DWAN: Baroni. B-A-R-O-N-I. Geno. G-E-N-O Baroni.
MOE: Let’s see: Jesse Furst? [apparently based on her misunderstanding Dwan’s statement about “Jesse first” on page 11]
DWAN: Jesse Anderson. Jesse Furst, no.
MOE: Donald Hense?
DWAN: He still runs the Friendship Charter Schools, I believe. I run into him occasionally. H-E-N-S-E.
MOE: Ben Rivlin?
MOE: Your date of birth. I forgot to ask you what day you were born.
DWAN: 10/12/32.
MOE: I know you want to get going, so we’ll wrap this up. I thank you very, very much, Mr. Dwan.
DWAN: I’m very [happy] to be able to participate in this.