Photo by Nancy Hartnagel

Shirley Womack

Shirley Womack grew up on Heckman Street SE, which was renamed Duddington Place when the restoration movement began on Capitol Hill. 

Her friend Nancy Hartnagel was the interviewer in this November, 2011, interview, and so the discussion was frank and open regarding the segregated society in which Shirley was raised. Her memories of those days include a loving family, headed by her maternal grandfather Papa, who welcomed Shirley's mother and her eight children into his home when her marriage ended. There are also painful memories, especially the lengths to which park officials went to prevent black children from using the playground at nearby Garfield Park; they made their own fun in their part of the park by pretending a rock was their "horse".

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Interview Date
November 30, 2011
Nancy Hartnagel
Betsy Barnett

Full Directory

Interview with Shirley Womack

Interview Date: Interviewer: Transcriber:

November 30, 2011 Nancy Hartnagel Betsy Barnett

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

Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

[This transcript has been edited to remove feedback statements between interviewer and interviewee and to smooth text for easier reading.]


HARTNAGEL: Okay. Good afternoon, Shirley. This is Nancy Hartnagel interviewing Shirley Womack for the Overbeck oral history project, Capitol Hill History Project. And we’re at Shirley’s house at 127 33rd Street NE, Washington. And the date today is Wednesday, November 30, 2011. And, so, Shirley, I wonder if you could tell me where your grandparents and parents were born and what their names were.

WOMACK: Okay. My grandparents were born in southern Maryland. One was born in Charles County, and I believe that was my grandmother, Mary Tolson Worthington. She was born in Charles County. And my grandfather, Joshua Worthington, I believe he was born in St. Mary’s County in Maryland. Don’t know the cities or anything, but that’s where they were born.

WOMACK: My mother, Leola Young, was born in Washington, DC. My father, William Young, he was

born in South Carolina. I think, Greenville. I’m not quite certain.

Shirley Womack’s great-grandmother, Mary Tolson Curtis (left), grandmother Mary Worthington (middle), and mother Leola Worthington Young (right).

HARTNAGEL: And do you know what his parents names were, Shirley?
WOMACK: I know that it was Mary and George Young. And they were from South Carolina.


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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

HARTNAGEL: And the—I think the grandparents, the Worthington grandparents, are the grandparents who lived on Duddington Place. How did—do you know the backstory of how they met, when they came into the city of Washington from southern Maryland?

WOMACK: No, I don’t. I believe they were married when they came here to Washington.


WOMACK: And, as far as I know, the first place that they lived, I believe, was 142 D Street SE.

HARTNAGEL: And do you know anything about that particular block? Or do you have an idea of the time that they might have moved there?

WOMACK: I don’t know. But I think—I know all of the children were born in Washington and the oldest one was born in 1906.

HARTNAGEL: And, so, they would already have been on D Street.
WOMACK: I believe they would have probably already been on D Street because the oldest was born in

1906 and the youngest was born in 1921. And she was born on Heckman Street.

HARTNAGEL: And Heckman Street is now Duddington Place.


HARTNAGEL: Yeah. So, the children who were born from 1906 to 1921, they would have been your mother and her siblings.

WOMACK: Correct.
HARTNAGEL: And how many of them were there, Shirley, altogether?
WOMACK: Altogether there were six. I think there were two others that died at, you know, at birth.HARTNAGEL: Yeah.
WOMACK: But, there were six, you know, live births.
HARTNAGEL: And what were the names of—

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WOMACK: Okay. I’ll start with the oldest.HARTNAGEL: Okay.

WOMACK: Okay. The oldest is James. The next is Leola, L-E-O-L-A. The next is Mary. The next is Augustus. Next is Thomas. And, then the last is Edith. That should be six.

HARTNAGEL: That is six. And, what did your grandfather and grandmother do? Did they work?WOMACK: My grandfather worked—I don’t know which railroad, but I know he worked for the

railroad. He was a laborer on the railroad. And ...
HARTNAGEL: Do you know if that means he helped lay tracks or ...WOMACK: I don’t—I really don’t know.
WOMACK: And, then, my grandmother as far as I know, she was a housewife.HARTNAGEL: Okay.

WOMACK: She was a housewife. I don’t believe she worked outside of the house. Now, she might have, during that time, did some work, domestic work. Maybe took in laundry for people. She might have done things like that.

WOMACK: But, as far as I know, she was, you know, she was home. But she could have done some of


HARTNAGEL: Yeah. Do you know when, approximately, from 1906 to 1921, they might have moved from 142 D Street to—what was the exact address on Duddington where they ...

WOMACK: 129 Duddington.
HARTNAGEL: 129 Duddington. Do you know approximately when they might have moved?

WOMACK: From listening to my mother, Leola, she said she was nine years old when they moved over there. And ...

HARTNAGEL: And what year was she born in?

Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

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WOMACK: She was born in 1908.

HARTNAGEL: So—And you said, how old would she have been?

WOMACK: She said she was nine.

HARTNAGEL: Nine. So, maybe around 1917?

WOMACK: Sounds—yes.

HARTNAGEL: Okay. And, then, did the property stay in your family, 129 Duddington Place?

WOMACK: It is still in the family.

HARTNAGEL: It’s still in your family.


HARTNAGEL: And, I think you have said that members of your family owned other property on Duddington Place?


HARTNAGEL: No. Just the one.

WOMACK: Just the one. Just the one house on Duddington.

HARTNAGEL: Just the one house. Okay.

WOMACK: Mm-hmm.

HARTNAGEL: And do you know what the roots of your family were, like in southern Maryland? Were they farmers? Did they come from farms, your mom and your grandparents?

WOMACK: You know, I don’t know. [Her mother never lived in southern Maryland.]HARTNAGEL: Yeah.

WOMACK: Because when you think about back then, like whether or not black people owned, you know, property to farm down there, I don’t know.


Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

WOMACK: And, then, it was—I know my mother talked about when she was a child how she would have to go down there. Sometimes she would go down there to take care of her grandmother that was still down there.

WOMACK: So, I don’t know actually what they did, you know, down there. But once they came here,

then, like I say, Papa, my grandfather, he worked for the railroad.
HARTNAGEL: Okay. [Pause] Shirley, when and where were you born?
WOMACK: Okay. I was—Okay, I was born also in Washington, DC. I was born at Gallinger Hospital.HARTNAGEL: Gallinger?

WOMACK: Uh-huh. Which is—was the DC General. Okay. Because, usually, that was—Gallinger was the hospital, Gallinger and Freedman’s were the hospitals, you know, mostly where black children went to.


WOMACK: Okay. And, so, I was born there and ...

HARTNAGEL: And what’s the date of your birth?

WOMACK: The seventh of July, 1936.

HARTNAGEL: And, I wonder if you could tell me when you were married and your husband’s name and ...

WOMACK: Okay. I was married on the 23rd of February, 1957, and my husband’s name was Ronald Womack.

HARTNAGEL: And I believe you have one daughter.

WOMACK: I do, named Theresa.

HARTNAGEL: And, does she live in Washington now?

WOMACK: No, she lives—matter of fact, she went back to her roots. She lives now in southern Maryland.


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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

WOMACK: Okay. She lives in White Plains. You know, just a skip from Waldorf, Maryland. She and her family.

HARTNAGEL: Okay. And she’s married and has ...WOMACK: She’s married and has two sons.HARTNAGEL: Okay. What’s her married name?WOMACK: Her married name is Parham, P-A-R-H-A-M.HARTNAGEL: And her husband’s name?

WOMACK: Ronald.
HARTNAGEL: And—she has children?
WOMACK: She has two sons.
HARTNAGEL: And what are their names?
WOMACK: Jonathan and Jabari, J-A-B-A-R-I.
HARTNAGEL: And what are their ages now, Shirley?
WOMACK: They are 20 and 21.
HARTNAGEL: Okay. And, then, I wonder if you could tell me what jobs you have had over the years.

WOMACK: After I got out of high school, I went to work for the U.S. Department of the Army, and I spent 40 years working for the Department of the Army. Went to different offices. My last time there was for—I worked with the office Chief of Chaplains for 25 years. And ...

HARTNAGEL: And what was your job in the Chief of Chaplains office? You worked directly with the ...

WOMACK: With the Chief. Recruiting—well, I didn’t actually go out to recruit the chaplains, but we—I processed all paperwork and—to approve, all paperwork for someone coming ...

HARTNAGEL: For new chaplains.

WOMACK: For new chaplains. And, then, in the last, I think, five years, I was the Assignments Officer. So, I assigned chaplains where they needed to be assigned.

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

HARTNAGEL: Mm-hmm. And what year did you retire in?WOMACK: 1995.
HARTNAGEL: Okay. So you’ve been retired now for ...WOMACK: About 16 years.

HARTNAGEL: And are you enjoying your retirement?WOMACK: I’m enjoying my retirement. Yes, yes.

HARTNAGEL: Okay. We’re going to go back now to your Capitol Hill home on Heckman Street, which did become Duddington Place. Was it your grandfather Joshua who bought that property, Shirley?

HARTNAGEL: And did he—do you think he bought—do you know if he bought it when they might

have moved into it in 1917 or around then? Or was it sometime later?WOMACK: I believe he bought it then. From what I can understand.HARTNAGEL: Yeah, yeah.
WOMACK: But I believe that he bought it then.

HARTNAGEL: And was Heckman Street—because this was the days of segregation in Washington ...WOMACK: Right.

HARTNAGEL: Was Heckman Street largely a black street, do you know, at the time that your grandparents moved there?

WOMACK: Well, I think when my grandparents moved there—and I’m not real sure of this—I think my mother used to hear them say that on the—and I don’t know whether south or north, the other side of the street—that there might have been, like, Italians over there. But, then, as I was growing up, Heckman Street was all black, all black. Heckman Street was black. But then you had one or two black families on First Street, which is around one corner, and one or two black families on Second Street, which was around the other corner. And then on F Street, which was, you know, around ...

HARTNAGEL: The next block down.WOMACK: Yeah.

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

HARTNAGEL: To the south.
WOMACK: Right, right, right. And then you might have had one or two on E Street, but not many. On

those streets, there was mainly whites on those streets.

HARTNAGEL: Mm-hmm. Okay. And have you always lived in the city?

WOMACK: Always.

HARTNAGEL: Yeah. You grew up on ...

WOMACK: Heckman.

HARTNAGEL: Heckman. How was it that your mom came to stay there with her family, I believe in your grandfather’s house?

WOMACK: That’s correct, that’s correct. When she and my father separated, my grandfather told her to come there. And, so, she came there with all of her children.

HARTNAGEL: Okay. And this would be you and your siblings?WOMACK: Yes.

HARTNAGEL: And do you know what year that was, Shirley, when your mom moved back there with ...

WOMACK: You know, I’m thinking I wasn’t in school at that time. But, so, I could have been, like, three or four when she moved back there.

HARTNAGEL: So, it might have been around, right around 1940 or so.
WOMACK: Right, it could have been.
HARTNAGEL: Yeah, yeah. And, I’m not sure, did we say what your father’s name was?WOMACK: Yes, we did.

HARTNAGEL: Oh, okay. All right. And, who else might have been living in that house besides your grandfather and your mom and your family?

WOMACK: Oh, we had a lot.HARTNAGEL: Yeah?

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

WOMACK: We had a lot. But, that’s the way we did it in those days. Because it was—had my grandfather, had two uncles, two aunts, and then it was the eight children and, you know, my mother. And, then, sometimes if some of the people from southern Maryland would come up—and I’m saying some, but it was really only two that I recall—because they did, they were like live-in work. So, they would come there to sleep on ...

Shirley and her siblings on Heckman Street, about 1946.HARTNAGEL: So, they lived in someone else’s ...

WOMACK: Else’s house. Where they took care, you know, took care of the house. And, then—but, like, if on the weekend if they couldn’t get back to southern Maryland, then they would come to the Heckman Street house. And we—there was always—as many people as there were, there was always room to put someone up.

HARTNAGEL: And where did everybody sleep?

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

WOMACK: Oh, wherever you found a spot. [both laugh] In the—for my mother, my mother and all of her girls, okay, we slept all in one room.

HARTNAGEL: Uh-huh. And you’ve said that your mom had eight children.

WOMACK: Right.

HARTNAGEL: So—but, I don’t think we’ve named all of them. So, maybe we could name them now.

WOMACK: Okay. We had—Okay, I’ll start from the oldest. Okay. There’s William. Vivian. Okay. Deshawn, D-E-S-H-A-W-N, David, Shirley, Charles, Maxine, and Carolyn.

HARTNAGEL: Okay. So, the girls would sleep with your mom.
WOMACK: We were all in there. We, yeah, everybody had a bed. You might have been doubled up in

it, but it—I shouldn’t say everyone had a bed, but you know.HARTNAGEL: Yeah.

WOMACK: We weren’t sleeping—the girls weren’t sleeping on the floor. Okay, but we all—there was always a bed in there, you know, enough. And then in the front room was ...

HARTNAGEL: This was in the back room.WOMACK: No, we were in the middle room.HARTNAGEL: The middle room. Okay.

WOMACK: And, then, in the front room was my grandfather and all of the males, including the three boys and the two uncles. And, I know one of the uncles worked at night so that, you know, that freed up some bed space. [interviewee laughs] That freed up some bed space. And in the back room, which is a smaller room, that’s where the two aunts—they stayed back there. And, then, I think, it was only females that came up from southern Maryland, you know, to stay. And I think we had a pullout couch down in the living room, so they could, they could sleep there.

HARTNAGEL: So, was it like three rooms on the first floor and three ...
WOMACK: No. Three rooms on the—oh, oh, oh, yeah, upstairs. Three bedrooms upstairs.HARTNAGEL: Three bedrooms upstairs and three rooms on the main floor?WOMACK: Right. The living room, dining room, and kitchen.

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

HARTNAGEL: And kitchen. And, then, uh, did you have a basement?
WOMACK: We had—look, call it a basement now. We called it a cellar. Because we never had it fixed.

It was still the—you know, the cement floor. Yeah.HARTNAGEL: And did you have like a coal chute? Or a ...

WOMACK: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. The man would come to bring the coal and the coal would go in the coal bin.

HARTNAGEL: And where was that? At the back of the house?
WOMACK: No. It was in the front of the house.
WOMACK: It was in the front of the house. The coal bin was in the front of the house.HARTNAGEL: And so was there a chute that they would put the coal?

WOMACK: They would put the coal—it was a bin. We had—it was a wooden bin. I don’t know who built it up there, but it was a wooden bin. And, so, when the coal man came, he would put that chute there and push it down in there. Because the people that didn’t have a place for it to go, when they had to have coal, then the coal man just put it out on the sidewalk.

WOMACK: And, then, they would have to take it, you know, take it in the house if they didn’t have a

chute for it.
HARTNAGEL: Themselves. They would have to do the work.
WOMACK: Right. Right. But we were fortunate enough that it went down the chute.HARTNAGEL: And how often would you get coal, like once a month?
WOMACK: Oh, yeah—I don’t know.
WOMACK: But it was a fun day just to hear that coal coming down that chute.
HARTNAGEL: Yeah, yeah. And you mentioned that your grandfather was a laborer for the railroad.

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

HARTNAGEL: Your grandmother wasn’t living by the point—by the—at the time that your mother and

your family came back to the house? Or was your grandmother still living?

WOMACK: No. I—matter of fact, I just read something the other day that my grandmother died in 1920—in October of 1925 or ’26. It was ’25, because my Aunt Edith was just about four years old when she, when her mother died.

HARTNAGEL: Yeah. And so she died as a relatively young woman then?WOMACK: Yes, yes, yes.
HARTNAGEL: Do you know how old she was when she died?WOMACK: I understand she was in her early 40s.

HARTNAGEL: And so, some of their children, your grandfather and grandmother’s children, were still quite young when she died. So, then, was it—who took care of those younger children?

WOMACK: Well, from what I understand, that, between my mother, since she was the oldest girl—but, then, I think my grandfather sent for one of his sisters and she came up to help out. Because Edith, who was born in 1921, would have been, like, about four years old. And, then, Thomas, who was born in 1916. So, he would have been about nine years old, I think. And, so, I guess they were the youngest two. But, then, they had those older siblings, I think, that helped out.

HARTNAGEL: And would one of the aunts—your [grand]father’s sisters who may have come to help— would she have been one of the aunts who subsequently came and stayed also sometimes?

WOMACK: I think—evidently, she must have. Because I would say at that time, you know, it was— because this is my grandfather’s sister now—it was just the six children and Papa in the house. And, so, I would imagine, you know, she probably came and stayed for a while.

HARTNAGEL: Yeah. And do you recall what, like, other relatives might have done for work, for professional work? Like did your mom ever work? I mean, having to care for eight children would be enough work for—

WOMACK: [Interviewee laughs] Right, right. No, when she moved back there, God bless my grandfather, and Mother, I think—no, she worked at Providence Hospital when it was up on Second Street.

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WOMACK: Okay. Across from St. Peter’s. Okay. I think she worked there as a young woman. But, when she came back there and she was going out to look for work, she was going to go out to look for work ...

HARTNAGEL: This is after she’s married ...

WOMACK: After she’s married and ...

HARTNAGEL: ... and has all of her children.

WOMACK: All of these children. And she wanted to look for work. And Papa told her, no, you stay here and take care of the house and we’ll take care of you and the children.

WOMACK: And, he—matter of fact, he just didn’t want her to leave. He didn’t want her—she even

applied for public housing.HARTNAGEL: Oh.

WOMACK: And, she—from what I understand, she said that when they found something for her, Papa told her, “You don’t know where they’re going to put you.” He didn’t know what neighborhood they were going to put her in. So, he told her to stay there. So, therefore, that’s where we stayed. And, he was right. They took care of us.

WOMACK: You know. Now, my father did pay some child support but they took care of us.

HARTNAGEL: Mm-hmm. And did your father, after your mother and father separated, did he go back to South Carolina?

WOMACK: No, he stayed here and they divorced and he remarried.
HARTNAGEL: And the aunts who would be living in the back room, staying in the back room, what

kind of work did they do, Shirley?

WOMACK: Well, they started off doing as—you know, they would call it back then domestic work. Work in someone else’s home. But, then, as things opened up, they went to work for the government. They worked at the Bureau of Engraving, matter of fact, both of them worked at the Bureau of Engraving.

Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

HARTNAGEL: And were they, like, secretaries? Or did they have ...

WOMACK: No. They weren’t secretaries. They—during that time, they would—I think the government had blacks working for them. But, if they didn’t have, you know—maybe sometimes even with a college education you still got a menial job.

HARTNAGEL: Oh, okay.

WOMACK: Okay. And—but, I think they were working on, like, the printing press or something like that. And one of them stayed there at the Bureau of Engraving and the other one, she eventually—I know she went to the Census Bureau. And then she retired from National Security.

WOMACK: That was ...
WOMACK: Uh-huh. Yeah, uh-huh. That was my aunt Edith. But, uh ...HARTNAGEL: This is Edith Worthington?

WOMACK: Correct.
HARTNAGEL: And how about your, like, uncles who might have been around?

WOMACK: My uncles, I had—okay. One of them, Bureau of Engraving. But he was more in the maintenance area.


WOMACK: My uncle James, the eldest one. He was in the maintenance area down there. And, as a matter of fact, he even—before he went there, he worked in one of the coal yards. Okay. I don’t which one or how long. And, then, my uncle Augustus, he was—he served time in the Navy. He was the only one that went in the military. He served time in the Navy. And, when he came out, I don’t know what he did when he came out. But, when he retired, he retired from U.S. Post Office.

HARTNAGEL: Okay. And had he been a letter carrier? Or had he worked ...WOMACK: He was a letter carrier.
HARTNAGEL: Yeah, yeah.

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

WOMACK: And, uh, Thomas, the youngest one, he was the man who did the odd jobs. He was the odd- job man. But, he, he did well, you know, with his odd jobs.

HARTNAGEL: Okay. Then, Shirley, we’re going to get into your schooling.WOMACK: Mm-hmm.
HARTNAGEL: Where did you go to school for ...
[Sound from the tape recorder]

HARTNAGEL: I think we have a little bit more time on this.WOMACK: Oh, okay.

HARTNAGEL: Well, no, actually, let’s stop and we’ll turn it over. Okay, I’m going to stop and turn over the tape to Side 2.


HARTNAGEL: Okay. So, Shirley, now we’re going to get into your schooling. Where did you go to grammar school?

WOMACK: I went to Giddings grammar school. Okay.HARTNAGEL: And that is here in the ...WOMACK: Right. Third and G.
HARTNAGEL: Southeast?

WOMACK: Southeast. Yes. And, because—what’s that? The Results gym now? But, that’s where we went to school. Because even though Heckman Street was around the corner from Dent School, but this was during the time of segregation. And, so, therefore, we had to go across the park, okay, to the school.

HARTNAGEL: Where was the Dent School?
WOMACK: Right around the corner, right on Second Street.HARTNAGEL: Okay.

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

WOMACK: Okay. Because we had to pass that school in order to go across the park to Giddings School. And, but I enjoyed myself there.

HARTNAGEL: Was your school all black, just black children?WOMACK: Oh, just black.
WOMACK: Yes, yes, remember ...

HARTNAGEL: Yeah. And this would have been in the 40s, Shirley?
WOMACK: This would have been in the 40s.
HARTNAGEL: And when did you—what year did you graduate from the eighth grade?WOMACK: Uh, no. That school only went through the sixth grade.

WOMACK: You went through the sixth grade and then, I can’t tell you what year it was, but we went to the sixth grade there. And, then, we went to Randall Junior High. Like I say, even though Hines was right there at Seventh Street, we had to go to Randall down at South Capitol and I SW.

HARTNAGEL: Because that was the ...

WOMACK: Black school.

HARTNAGEL: The black school.

WOMACK: In the area. And, then, I left—that was junior high and that was from the seventh grade to the ninth grade. And, then, in the 10th grade, I went to Cardozo High School.

HARTNAGEL: And where is that?
WOMACK: And that is up at 13th and Clifton NW. And I graduated from Cardozo in ’54.HARTNAGEL: ’54. And, so, you graduated the year the DC public schools were integrated?WOMACK: Right.

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

HARTNAGEL: So, I wonder if you could talk a little bit about your experience of schooling, Shirley. Did you feel like you were deprived in some way because you couldn’t go closer to home? Or, was the quality ...

WOMACK: I—as you get older, and you begin to read how, you know, you had inferior books and whatnot—but I think the teachers that we had, unlike what I hear today, I think we had teachers that really wanted us to learn and they worked with you. And, they—I didn’t feel, you know, like, deprived. I guess if you don’t know any better, this is all you know.

WOMACK: That, then, you go with what you have.HARTNAGEL: Mm-hmm.

WOMACK: But, we had very good teachers, very, I think, dedicated teachers. And, I know when I was in elementary school, I used to stammer. And, I remember, like, even in the first grade. Okay. I mean, like, they caught it that soon and we had this little teacher—her name was Miss Matthews—she would— everybody called her mean. But, she was a—she just wanted you to get, you know, your lessons. But, if you needed help, she was right there. And she helped me to get over that. She would take the extra time, you know.


WOMACK: And, even back then, they had a—because there must have been a lot of us, because, I think it was once a week, we had a speech teacher to come in. And I used to go to speech classes up until, I think it was in the fourth grade.

WOMACK: And, I think that’s the reason today I talk fast because they teach you to talk fast so you can

get your words out.
HARTNAGEL: Oh, because of the stammer. Aah.

WOMACK: Because of the stammer. Because, back then, if you asked me my name and I would say “Sh-, sh-, sh-, sh-, Shirley.” [Both laugh] And, Miss Matthews, this little first grade teacher, she used to tell me “Say it fast. Say it fast. Say it fast.” And, so, that’s how I started talking real fast so I could get it out. [Laughs]

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

HARTNAGEL: Were your teachers black professionals or ...WOMACK: They were—they were all black professionals.HARTNAGEL: Okay.
WOMACK: Yes. They were all black professionals.HARTNAGEL: Did you recall having any white teachers ...WOMACK: Never.

HARTNAGEL: ... or white administrators?

WOMACK: Never ever.

HARTNAGEL: Not even in, through high school?

WOMACK: Not even in high school. Not even in high school. All of our teachers were black. They assigned black teachers to black schools.

HARTNAGEL: Yeah. And, so, Shirley, your education stopped at the end of high school?WOMACK: At the end of high school.
HARTNAGEL: Because you said that was when you got your job with the Department of the Army?WOMACK: Right, right.

HARTNAGEL: Do you have happy memories of your school days? Or was it ...WOMACK: Yeah. We had—we had good times—we had good times in school.HARTNAGEL: Yeah, yeah.

WOMACK: I mean I can even remember, around at Giddings School, you know. Like I say, Miss Matthews and—you know—and recess was always good. But, we always had fun playing tag and what have you. And, like I say, the teachers were very, very good, very good. And even in junior high school, going down to Randall, it was—then you were out of, you know, your neighborhood and so now you were in another neighborhood. Because now you’re picking up children that’s gone to school in Southwest. So, it was Southeast and Southwest. And, it was back then that we used to think that—not only just the children but the people in Southwest were bad. Okay. [Interviewer laughs] And, so, we had to deal with that. And sometimes, some of those kids, yeah, some of them were bad, because some of

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

them would chase us home. [Both laugh] Would chase us across East Capitol, I mean, South Capitol Street.

HARTNAGEL: Yeah. And were these children—were they black children also?
WOMACK: I—I tell you. There were nothing but black children. [Laughter in her voice]HARTNAGEL: In Randall?
WOMACK: In Randall. That’s right. I have never gone to school with white children. Never ever.HARTNAGEL: Okay. And was Southwest largely a black neighborhood then?

WOMACK: I’m going to say yes. As far as I know—I’m going to say it was mainly, mainly black. Because before we moved on Heckman, we used to live in Southwest. Okay. We lived down by the wharf. The street—you know, once they renovated Southwest, that street isn’t even there anymore. But, yeah. It was black.

HARTNAGEL: This was when your mom and dad were still together?WOMACK: When we were living down in Southwest.
HARTNAGEL: Was your high school graduation a special event in your life?

WOMACK: Oh, yeah. Oh, yes. I said it was really nice. I think I was the first one in the family that went to the high school prom. Okay. Because I had two sisters ahead of me and two brothers ahead of me, but no one had ever gone to a high school prom. So, I went to the high school prom. And that was—that was good. Because I had—matter of fact, even in junior high school, we had like a little dance or something. And one of my aunts, this is on my father’s side, made a dress for me for that occasion. And, for the prom, one of my—one of the girls I went to high school with, she loaned me a gown to wear to the prom. And, then, I didn’t have a date. And, then, one of the guys across the street—now he went to Dunbar High School.

HARTNAGEL: Across the street on Heckman?
WOMACK: On Heckman. And, so, but we had been—we had started off in kindergarten together.HARTNAGEL: Uh-huh.

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

WOMACK: And, so, he told me, he says, “Do you have a date?” And I say, “Nope.” So, he said “Well, I’ll take you to your prom.” because I think he was a lover boy. He just wanted to go to it. [Both laugh] His prom and my prom, too. But, it was nice.

HARTNAGEL: Did you go with him to his prom, also?

WOMACK: No, he had a girlfriend. [Interviewee laughs]

HARTNAGEL: He had a girlfriend. Uh-huh.

WOMACK: He had a girlfriend that I knew, you know. But, yeah. But, it was—but it was nice, it was nice.

HARTNAGEL: And you probably weren’t the first in your family, though, to graduate from high school.WOMACK: No.
HARTNAGEL: Did every—all your siblings went all through school?
WOMACK: I only had one brother to graduate high school.


WOMACK: The rest of them—the other two brothers, they went in the military.


WOMACK: Okay. But all of the girls graduated from high school.

HARTNAGEL: And the two who went in the military, did they make a career out of military life, Shirley?

WOMACK: No. No, no, no. After their three years, they got out. Matter of fact, the youngest boy, he went in the military also, but after high school. After he graduated high school.

HARTNAGEL: Okay. And, to get back to your high school graduation, was it considered a special family event, everybody celebrating with you?

WOMACK: Oh, yes.
HARTNAGEL: Was there any special family kind of remembrance of it? Or party, or—

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

WOMACK: No, no, no. Just happy to get—[laughing]—happy that you graduated and everything went well.

HARTNAGEL: Do you recall celebrating with your fellow students?WOMACK: Well, yeah. We celebrated.
WOMACK: You know, some.

HARTNAGEL: Did you have anywhere to go in the city to mark the occasion? Or was there—WOMACK: Well, no. You know after the—well, then, the graduation was during the day. Okay?HARTNAGEL: Ah.

WOMACK: It was not in, like, nighttime, you know, a nighttime thing. And, like after the prom, we didn’t do anything much. Now some of them might have. But, see, with me going to Cardozo—see I’m coming from Capitol Hill, going up there, 13th and Clifton. So, you just go back home. Take the streetcar and come back home.

HARTNAGEL: Yeah. That’s how you traveled, on the streetcar?WOMACK: Just had to take the streetcar.

HARTNAGEL: Do you remember what the route was of the streetcars? How would you—where would you start?

WOMACK: Where would I start?

HARTNAGEL: Where would you pick it up?

WOMACK: Oh, I would, uh—

HARTNAGEL: Or maybe you could just describe what your commute to school would have been like, what it would have involved ...

HARTNAGEL: ... walking, bus, streetcar.

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

WOMACK: No, but I would take the bus. And I think I would take it down to 11th Street and then catch the streetcar going up 11th to 13th and Clifton.

HARTNAGEL: Is this 11th Northeast?
WOMACK: Northwest.
HARTNAGEL: Northwest.
WOMACK: because Cardozo is still where it was at that time. And, uh, I would go up there and—HARTNAGEL: So, you’d take the bus from here to ...

WOMACK: To, I think it was 11th Street. And then got on the streetcar. And the streetcar went up 11thStreet. And, then, I think it went down—I think it went down Florida Avenue and then up 13th Street. But, yeah, and then we went up to 13th and Clifton.


WOMACK: Yeah, but that’s a—

HARTNAGEL: And do you recall how long it took?

WOMACK: No, I don’t. No, I don’t. Now, we used to go to—you know where the car barn is down there at the—

HARTNAGEL: East Capitol?
WOMACK: No, no, uh-uh, no. Car barn down here across from Navy Yard.HARTNAGEL: Oh, okay.
WOMACK: Okay. You know that blue building or whatever it is?HARTNAGEL: Yes, yes.
WOMACK: That used to be the car barn.
HARTNAGEL: Oh, really?
WOMACK: That was a—
HARTNAGEL: On the corner of Eighth and M Street?
WOMACK: Right, right.

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HARTNAGEL: Yeah, okay.

WOMACK: And that’s where we used to have to go down there to get the school tickets. They used to have little school tickets. And, so, you know, we didn’t have a school bus, so you had school tickets. And—

HARTNAGEL: And did you have to pay for them?
WOMACK: Oh, yeah. You had to pay for them, you know. Because it was like three cents, I think.

Because it was, like, you’d get a little book for, like, 30 cents or something like that with 10 tickets in it.HARTNAGEL: Oh, okay.

WOMACK: And, then, sometimes you could get a larger book. But, we used to have to go down there to buy the school tickets. Mm-hmm.

HARTNAGEL: Okay. And this would have been really through your high school years. Because we’re talking about Cardozo.

WOMACK: Right. That’s right. And that’s when you had to take the bus.
HARTNAGEL: Yeah. And would one ticket cover your entire trip on both the bus and the streetcar?

WOMACK: Yeah, because you could get a transfer. So, you had to have a ticket to go to school and a ticket to come home from school.

HARTNAGEL: So, you needed 10 tickets a week.WOMACK: That’s right, that’s right.

HARTNAGEL: All right. Any special things you remember about your school years? You talked about this one teacher who was—helped you with your stammer.

WOMACK: Right.
HARTNAGEL: Were there any other special highlights of your school years?

WOMACK: You know what. I guess I just had—I had fun. I enjoyed school. And it was—and then it was nice getting out of the neighborhood, just meeting other people, you know, from different areas. Because, like I say, when I left the elementary school and then had to go down to Southwest in order to go to junior high school, then I met different people. And, matter of fact, my first locker mate that was down there in junior high school come to find out my youngest brother married her niece. So [laughs], it

Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

was—like I say, so this sort of goes on, you know. And, then, in high school, then I was meeting people really from all over the city. Because with the high schools at that time, like we said that they were segregated. So, blacks only had a few high schools that they could go to.

HARTNAGEL: And Cardozo was one of them?
WOMACK: Cardozo, Dunbar, Armstrong, Phelps, and Margaret Washington, which was a vocational

school for girls. Phelps was a vocational school for boys.HARTNAGEL: Okay.

WOMACK: And, Armstrong was a—they didn’t call it vocational, but I forgot what they call it. But, anyhow, but those were the only schools that we could attend.


WOMACK: So, children had to come from all over the city. So, you really met a lot of different people.

HARTNAGEL: Okay, we’re going to move on to church ...

WOMACK: Mm-hmm.

HARTNAGEL: ... Shirley. Where did your family attend church?

WOMACK: They attended Ebenezer United Methodist Church up at Fourth and D SE. They attended there and ...

HARTNAGEL: When you say they, are you speaking of your mom?WOMACK: My mother. The family. When they came to Washington.HARTNAGEL: Yeah.
WOMACK: I’m going to say when my grandparents came to Washington.HARTNAGEL: Yeah.

WOMACK: And, my mother tells me that the reason—she said, because her mother, I think, was Catholic when she came out of southern Maryland. Now, I’m not sure about my grandfather.


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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

WOMACK: Because down in southern Maryland is a lot of black Catholics. But, Mother said when they came here—and I guess they were, like I say, they were probably up there on the Hill—and maybe she tried to go to St. Peter’s or something like that, but wasn’t received well.


WOMACK: And they chose not to go to the Catholic church.


WOMACK: And so they went to the Methodist church. And that’s what I was raised up in. The Methodist church.


WOMACK: Okay. But, then, I guess, when I was about 16, one of my sisters was dating this guy and he was taking instructions, you know. I guess RCIA [the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, for people converting to Catholicism]. Okay. Down at St. Vincent de Paul, which was—we called it the black Catholic church down there at South Capitol and M. And, my sister wanted to join the Catholic Church. So, she started taking instruction. Well, my mother and a friend of hers had already been, you know, for years had been going down there, just to the novenas on Mondays.


WOMACK: You know, we—they would drag us down there to the novenas on Monday.

HARTNAGEL: Even though they were members of Ebenezer.

WOMACK: Right. And, so, she decided—and Mother said that, as a child, said her mother would try to teach her the rosary.


WOMACK: Okay. And, so, it was just in her, I guess, to be a Catholic. And, so, she and her—my mother and her girlfriend decided they wanted to become Catholic. And, so, they spoke to the priest and then they began to take instructions.

HARTNAGEL: And this was at St. Vincent de Paul?
WOMACK: At St. Vincent de Paul. And, so, when—I think my sister had finished her instruction, and—

but, the priest wouldn’t baptize her because once he got Mother in there, then Mother told the rest of us page 26

Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

we had to go, too. And, so, the rest of us went for instructions. But he wouldn’t—he said he was going to wait until Mother was baptized first. And, then, he would do the children.


WOMACK: So, my sister had to wait. And—so, I was baptized just before I graduated from high school.

HARTNAGEL: So, maybe, 19 ...

WOMACK: ’54. 1954. In 1954, I was baptized a Catholic and was also—had my confirmation in 1954 and graduated from high school. So, it was a banner year for me.

HARTNAGEL: Mm-hmm. And you received your first communion, I presume, at the same time as your confirmation or ...

WOMACK: Right. Yeah.
HARTNAGEL: And was your Baptism and Confirmation and Holy Communion all on the same day,


WOMACK: No, no, no. We did the conf—we did the baptism one day and then I’ve forgotten when we did the confirmation, but it wasn’t all in the same day.

HARTNAGEL: And this was all at St. Vincent de Paul?

WOMACK: All at St. Vincent de Paul.

HARTNAGEL: Yes. And did you continue to go there until your, until you ...

WOMACK: Yeah. I got married there.


WOMACK: And, then, after I moved out of the area, then I went to St. Benedict the Moor. Went there for a while. I went to Holy Name for a while.

HARTNAGEL: Because you were living in that part of the city?

WOMACK: Part of the city. Right. And, then, I—with my daughter, when she got ready for school, I— matter of fact, she went to Giddings in kindergarten. Okay. Because St. Peter’s didn’t have a kindergarten. And, then, when I knew I was going to put her in Catholic school, that’s when I joined St. Peter’s.

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WOMACK: Okay. So ...

HARTNAGEL: What year would that have been, Shirley?

WOMACK: So, let’s see. She was born in ’58 so it would have been when she was six, so we’re going to say ’64.


WOMACK: And, so, I started going to St. Peter’s Church.

HARTNAGEL: And have you been going to St. Peter’s ever since?

WOMACK: Ever since.

HARTNAGEL: What role, I wonder, did church, St. Vincent de Paul, play in your neighborhood or social life?

WOMACK: Not, not really. It really didn’t. Now—because by that time I was, I was high school. But, now, see—Ebenezer played more of a role in my—like when I was in junior high and elementary school—because I was in the Girls Scouts up at Ebenezer. Uh-huh. And, I used to go to Sunday school up there. Mm-hmm.

HARTNAGEL: And do you have memories of that Sunday school experience?WOMACK: Oh, yeah. We used to have—yeah, I used to love to go to Sunday school.HARTNAGEL: Yeah?
WOMACK: Yeah. We used to, you know, have a—

HARTNAGEL: What about it did you love?

WOMACK: I just—I think I loved the people. Because, to be honest with you, I was—they used to—my family used to call me the Rev. Because—[Both laugh] I was the only one of the kids that always—I don’t care if it was snowing, raining, or what—I still wanted to go to Sunday school where the rest of them didn’t want to go. [Both laugh] And I had this thing, and, like I said, and I—I guess it came from, you know, things that I learned at Ebenezer. I used to think I wanted to be a missionary in Africa.


Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

WOMACK: And I had that thought for, you know, for a good little while.
WOMACK: because I mean, I just loved the Lord and loved going up there learning, you know, things.HARTNAGEL: And what—what made you finally decide not to be a missionary in Africa?

WOMACK: I guess—look, I guess boys. [Both laugh] Yeah, but, yeah. So—but, yeah. I had that thought, like I say, I know it was in elementary school and probably in junior high school. But, then that just sort of floated away.


WOMACK: Uh-huh. Floated away. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

HARTNAGEL: Was Ebenezer just a black congregation, Shirley?


HARTNAGEL: So, no whites there.

WOMACK: No whites.

HARTNAGEL: Did—I mean at this point in your life, were you feeling any sting from segregation, or—

WOMACK: You know, I—yeah. Like when you’d go downtown. Sometimes you couldn’t try on clothes, you know. Things. You couldn’t try on a hat, or something like that.


WOMACK: You know, you felt it. But, as far as for, like, entertaining, you know, and things, there were movie theaters up on Pennsylvania Avenue, like the Penn Theater. And, then, on the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue was another theater used to be over there. I don’t—I can’t remember the name of it. But, if we wanted to go to a local theater, then we had to go down Southwest, where there were two theaters down there. We—

HARTNAGEL: So, for black people.
WOMACK: For blacks, for blacks. Or either you had to go up on U Street.HARTNAGEL: Oh.

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

WOMACK: Because as white as U Street is now, at one time white folks wouldn’t go up there. Okay. That—it was just that it was all black. Okay. Up there. And, so ...

HARTNAGEL: But the Penn Theater and the one opposite it on Pennsylvania Avenue were for whites only?

WOMACK: For—were for whites only. And, uh—but, we would—a nice Sunday, you know, like, we could go up to the Lincoln Theater or the—it was the Republican Theater. Or go to the Howard Theater where they had the stage shows.

HARTNAGEL: Oh, okay.
WOMACK: Okay. And we could go there. But, that was, a lot of our, you know, entertainment and what

have you.

HARTNAGEL: Well, you mentioned shopping downtown, that you were restricted there. But, were there stores that were for blacks only?

WOMACK: No. I mean you could go into the stores, you know, and buy things.HARTNAGEL: Are we talking now about the department stores, like ...WOMACK: Department stores.
HARTNAGEL: Woodward & Lothrop ...

WOMACK: Uh-huh.
HARTNAGEL: ... and Hecht’s ...
WOMACK: Uh-huh.
HARTNAGEL: ... and Garfinkel’s. Those are the ones I remember ...WOMACK: Okay.
HARTNAGEL: ... but were there other ones?
WOMACK: Yeah. There was Kann’s.
WOMACK: Okay, now. Oh, they would really—

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

HARTNAGEL: And where was that, Shirley?
WOMACK: That was on Seventh Street, but it was probably like Seventh and E.HARTNAGEL: Okay.
WOMACK: Okay. Seventh and E or Seventh and D.

WOMACK: Okay. Northwest. That was downtown. And then there was Lansburgh. Okay. And, like right now I think they have some kind of theater or something in where Lansburgh’s was. And, then, up on—further up, like near New York Avenue or Mass [Massachusetts] Avenue, there was a store called—I don’t know if it was Goldenberg’s or just Goldberg’s. Okay. That was a department store. It was. Then it was a cheaper one, you know. But, they had, that’s where—sometimes that’s where your money took you.

HARTNAGEL: Yes, yes.

WOMACK: You know, because they would have little sales and what have you.


WOMACK: But—yeah, that was up there at Seventh and New York Avenue.

HARTNAGEL: And you could shop in all of these stores?

WOMACK: Uh-huh. But—

HARTNAGEL: But you weren’t allowed to try—

WOMACK: Not allowed to try clothes on. And, then in some of the stores you didn’t feel wanted, you know.

WOMACK: They could take your money, but they didn’t, you know—then, they’re looking at you.HARTNAGEL: Yes.
WOMACK: And what have you.
HARTNAGEL: So, you didn’t feel welcome in—

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WOMACK: Right, right, right.

HARTNAGEL: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, where did your family tend to shop? Do you—

WOMACK: We shopped at Hecht’s.


WOMACK: You know, we shopped at Hecht’s and Golden—but, Goldenberg’s and Lansburgh’s were the main stores.

HARTNAGEL: Okay, okay.
WOMACK: Because we didn’t have money to shop at, like, Woodie’s [Woodward & Lothrop] or the

Garfinkel’s, you know. That was out of our pocket.HARTNAGEL: Mm-hmm.

WOMACK: But, like I say, we were poor, and didn’t—a lot of times and didn’t even know you were poor. [Laughs] You know.

HARTNAGEL: Yeah, yeah.
WOMACK: But we shopped, you know.
HARTNAGEL: Yeah. And how about food shopping? Would that be in the neighborhood or—WOMACK: Well, food shopping ...


HARTNAGEL: Okay. I think we’ll be all right to go now. We’re good to go. We were talking about food shopping, Shirley, and you were—

WOMACK: Oh, okay. I was saying that on First Street, there was—before there was a Safeway, they called it the Sanitary.

WOMACK: Okay. And, so, that was up on First Street, so—HARTNAGEL: What was the cross street, do you recall?

Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

WOMACK: Oh, yeah, right there by the—you know, across from Capitol South Metro station.HARTNAGEL: Oh, okay.
WOMACK: Okay. So, it was up there where—
HARTNAGEL: Where the Republican Club is now? Or the—

WOMACK: No, no, no, no. Across on the other—across D Street and coming down towards Duddington. But it was on the—as you are leaving or going up First Street, it was on the right hand side.


WOMACK: Yeah. It was called Sanitary, just a little, small store. And, then, I remember—I don’t remember this one so well, but evidently when Mother was a child, and I know it was there when, you know, for a little bit. On the—right across D Street, where the Capitol South elevator is, okay, it was a store called Freelander’s. Okay. A little store. And, so, usually if you, you know, you would go up to the Sanitary Market, as they would call it, which is now Safeway, and we would shop there. And, then, really down on Duddington, you had, as you were coming into Duddington, that big house that sits there on the corner?


WOMACK: That was the corner store.

HARTNAGEL: Now, this was on the corner of First Street—

WOMACK: At First and Duddington. Okay.


WOMACK: That’s where you could go there and get the pickles out the pickle barrel and stuff.

HARTNAGEL: Uh-huh. Yeah.

WOMACK: And, then, at the other end, on the opposite side, at the corner there was another little grocery store.

WOMACK: It was called Exler’s. Don’t ask me how to spell it.HARTNAGEL: Okay.

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

WOMACK: Okay. But, it was called Exler’s.
HARTNAGEL: And, was that on—when you say at the other end do you mean on the Second Street side

of Duddington?
WOMACK: No, uh-uh, no. This was on Duddington.HARTNAGEL: Okay.
WOMACK: Like, both of them were right there on Duddington.HARTNAGEL: So, they were opposite each other?

WOMACK: No. They weren’t opposite. They were at opposite ends of the street. Okay. Because one was—okay, you know where Genevieve Lynch lives [at 131 Duddington]? Okay. On the side of the street that she lives—


WOMACK: Okay. Then down at the corner, there at First Street and Duddington, on that same side of the street, that is where—that was the biggest grocery store. That was the big one for the, you know, block.

WOMACK: Okay. Because when I was a little girl ...
HARTNAGEL: Was that Freelander’s?
WOMACK: No, that wasn’t Freelander’s, no. Freelander’s is up at First and D Streets.HARTNAGEL: Oh, I see.
WOMACK: Okay. But this is First and Duddington, or Heckman.
WOMACK: And this was Mr. Glass’s store down there.
WOMACK: His name was—their names were Glass and they were family-run stores.HARTNAGEL: Yeah.

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

WOMACK: And, then, if you go up the street on the left hand side, okay, there before you get to the alley—


WOMACK: Okay. There was another little grocery store and that was Exler’s.


WOMACK: Okay. And, then, in the middle of E Street there was a grocery store. There was another little grocery store in the middle of E Street.

HARTNAGEL: Yeah. And, Shirley, were these—were black people welcome in all these stores?WOMACK: They were welcome.
WOMACK: They were neighborhood stores.

HARTNAGEL: And white people would shop in them as well?WOMACK: Well, yeah, the white folks that were around there.HARTNAGEL: Yes, yes, yes.
WOMACK: They would go in there also.

HARTNAGEL: Do—I mean, do you think of, like, that neighborhood with Heckman at the center because that’s where you family was, would you call that a middle-class neighborhood in your growing- up years?

WOMACK: I would say so. Okay. I would say so. Because, like I say, I was poor and didn’t know it.HARTNAGEL: Mm-hmm.

WOMACK: Okay. Because, like, we might not have had everything for the, you know, many of us as there were. But, we might not have had everything but we never went to bed hungry. We always had enough clothing. Okay, you know. Even though they might have been handed down from one sister to the next, you always had clothing. At Christmas time, you would—the girls would always, and I don’t know what the boys got, but the girls always got a dress for Christmas. But that dress was your Easter dress. But you got that dress at Christmas time. But you knew that that was your Easter dress. And, uh—so that’s

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

when I say that we, you know—and that was just the way things were. And, so, you never questioned that. And at Easter time, then you got the black patent leather shoes to go with it. [Both laugh] But the dress you got at Christmas time. [More laughter]


WOMACK: But, like I say—yeah. I think that we were sort of like middle class, and I’m going to say middle class from the neighborhood, you know, because if you—we used to call it—what is it, Smoky Bottom?

HARTNAGEL: Foggy Bottom?
WOMACK: No, uh-uh.
WOMACK: I said Smoky.
HARTNAGEL: Smoky Bottom.
WOMACK: Smoky. Because, you know, where the railroad ...HARTNAGEL: Your neighborhood you used to call ...
WOMACK: No, uh-uh. I’m going to tell you where Smoky Bottom was.HARTNAGEL: Okay. I’m sorry. Okay.

WOMACK: Smoky Bottom was—okay, you know where Garfield Park is?HARTNAGEL: Yes.

WOMACK: Okay. But, then, on the other side of Garfield Park, I’m going to say like there’s I [“Eye”] Street and whatnot like that. Okay, that’s where the housing projects were.

WOMACK: And that’s where the train came through ... talking about the other side of the track. Okay.

That’s where the trains came through there. And that smoke—[Laughs]HARTNAGEL: From the steam engines?

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

WOMACK: Right. And we called it Smoky—like, where you from? Smoky Bottom. [Interviewer laughs] Or he’s from Smoky Bottom. And so, because they lived in the—and most of those were housing projects.

HARTNAGEL: Even then?

WOMACK: Even then. That’s right. They were public housing. And, so, since we lived on the other [side of the] track, we thought—I’m not going to say we thought we were better because I had a lot of friends that lived over there.

HARTNAGEL: Yes, yes.

WOMACK: And they were, you know, really good friends. Because, matter of fact, I had one girl that lived over there—I don’t know whether her mother was deceased or what. But I said, even back then, it was the father that took care of these two, because he had two—was it two or three?—two daughters. And they were very, you know, nice and always looked nice. So, like I say, even though they lived on the other side of the track ...

HARTNAGEL: Were the tracks elevated at that point or did the trains run literally at ground level?

WOMACK: They ran at ground level and went under.

HARTNAGEL: Went underground. Do you recall where it went underground?

WOMACK: I don’t—I don’t know. Because see, that’s over there near where the Star [Washington Evening Star newspaper] building was. You know where the Washington ...

HARTNAGEL: Yes, yes. Where the Washington Star building ...WOMACK: Okay. See that’s—see that’s where that was.HARTNAGEL: But, before the Star building was there—WOMACK: Yes?

HARTNAGEL: Or was the Star building already there?
WOMACK: It seemed like the Star—it seemed like the Star building had always been there.HARTNAGEL: All right.

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

WOMACK: The Washington—the Evening Star. Because that was when you used to have two papers per day. Used to have a morning edition and the afternoon edition.

HARTNAGEL: Yeah. Those days are gone, I’m afraid.

WOMACK: Oh, I know. I know.

HARTNAGEL: Yeah. Did your family ever have a car, Shirley? Or—no?

WOMACK: First car that was in the family was when my aunt learned to drive. And I guess this was back in the late 60s or ...

HARTNAGEL: Which aunt was this? Was this Edith [Worthington]?

WOMACK: This was Edith. This was Edith and she learned to drive because she worked—this is where she worked at NSA. And, so, at first she was up on—up near American U. where they were. And, so, she was going to learn to drive because she had to leave so early. You know, to go to work. But after she learned to drive, then she was afraid to drive. [Both laugh] She was afraid to drive. She would see a dog a mile away and she would, you know, be braking.

HARTNAGEL: Yeah, yeah.
WOMACK: And, so, she didn’t drive. And, so, I was—I was, like—when I got ready to drive, that’s all I

prayed for, that I did not become [Both laugh] really like she was. But, no, we never—HARTNAGEL: So, all through your youth, you got around on public transportation?WOMACK: That’s right.
HARTNAGEL: Was public transportation segregated? Like, did you have—WOMACK: To go to the back of the bus?


WOMACK: You know what? No. Uh-uh. I’m going to say no because I can’t ever recall having to get in the back—you know because when we got on it, the bus or the streetcar, we sat wherever we wanted to. Because it—that was another big thing. What did you do? You had to make your own, you know, entertainment.

HARTNAGEL: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

WOMACK: So, one of the things was that they used to have a weekly pass, you know, to get on the bus. And, so, like, the folks that worked in the house a lot of times they would buy a weekly pass. And, so, you could get on the bus and buy the pass. And, then, we would buy the pass and around the corner the bus there would go out to Congress Heights.


WOMACK: And, this is before it was as black as it is now. And, so, you could take that bus and just ride out to Congress Heights and come back. Okay. And, so, that would be something to do on a Sunday afternoon.

HARTNAGEL: Like your family? Or your—

WOMACK: No. Uh-uh.

HARTNAGEL: You and your girlfriends?

WOMACK: Or either me and my little sister. You know, like, I want to go. Like, oh, I want to go. So Mother said you had—you got to take her, too. So, that was something just to ride the bus around.

WOMACK: Okay. So, it’s because a lot of the—a lot of other things you couldn’t do. Because like I—I

might have told you earlier, you know, like, with the playground right around the corner from us.HARTNAGEL: Mm-hmm. This is Garfield Park you’re speaking of?

WOMACK: This is Garfield Park. Yeah. Garfield Park was segre—it was—well, on one side of Second Street, because now Garfield is just one big park. But, back when I was growing up, Garfield Park was separated by where the playground was and then where there was nothing. Okay. Where the playground was, that was for the white kids.

HARTNAGEL: And would that have been west of the Second Street line?WOMACK: Now, you know, don’t ask me about which is west—HARTNAGEL: Okay.
WOMACK: Or which is—

HARTNAGEL: Oh, all right. Closer to First Street.

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WOMACK: Closer to First Street.

HARTNAGEL: That was for the white children?

WOMACK: That was for the white children.

HARTNAGEL: So, like, between what would now be where First to Second Street?

WOMACK: First to Second. Right.

HARTNAGEL: Was for the white children?

WOMACK: Was for the white children.

HARTNAGEL: And what kind of a playground was there?

WOMACK: Oh, well, they had the swings.


WOMACK: They had sliding boards. A sliding board. They had, you know, seesaws. They had the— what we called the baby swings. And they even had a swimming pool.

HARTNAGEL: Ah. Where was the swimming pool, Shirley?
WOMACK: The swimming pool was—I’m going to say it was closer to Virginia Avenue.HARTNAGEL: So closer to the Star building?
WOMACK: Closer—it was, yeah—it was down that way. And, it wasn’t a very deep pool.HARTNAGEL: What? Was it one of those round, concrete sort of things? Or ...WOMACK: No, it was—it was a square.

WOMACK: It was a rectangle ... you know, pool. And, so, like, during the summertime, the white kids—because, on F Street, like I say, F Street and E Street and whatnot like that ... it was a lot of kids ... white kids around there.


WOMACK: So, they went around there with, you know, swimming and what not. But, black kids couldn’t go. And ...

Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

HARTNAGEL: And you couldn’t use the playground equipment either?

WOMACK: No, I couldn’t—I couldn’t—no, because even in the evenings when it’s—and this is specially in the summertime, you know, when all kids wanted to go out. That they, when—whoever the playground guy was, director or whoever he was, when he left in the evenings, he would interlock all of the swings.


WOMACK: And put a chain on them and lock them up.

HARTNAGEL: So, no—So, actually, no one could use them?

WOMACK: No one could use them. No, we walked through the park in the evenings. We could go where—we’d go round—and, well you couldn’t do anything with the sliding board, so we could slide.

WOMACK: Couldn’t do anything with the seesaw, so we could seesaw. But, evidently, they must

have—I guess they must have drained the darn pool every night, though, because ...HARTNAGEL: Really?

WOMACK: They must have, because I know we never went—nobody ever went over there to get in that pool.

HARTNAGEL: And, so, there wasn’t a fence around the pool?
WOMACK: Now, I can’t—you know what? I don’t—it might have been.HARTNAGEL: Yeah.
WOMACK: It might have been. But, I know we didn’t—we did not get in that pool.HARTNAGEL: Yeah.
WOMACK: Okay. But—and then they did have a basketball court there.HARTNAGEL: Also on the right side of the park?

WOMACK: Right. On the right side of the park. Because, believe it or not, see—so in the evenings the guys would go out there. Even—you probably know him. Elgin Baylor.

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WOMACK: Yeah. He would play.

HARTNAGEL: Ah, okay.

WOMACK: Okay. See, because he lived on Heckman.

HARTNAGEL: Oh, did he really?

WOMACK: He lived on Heckman. That’s right. So, you know, he would go over there. I shouldn’t say that’s where he got his start. [Interviewee laughs]

HARTNAGEL: Well, it certainly might be. [Interviewer laughs]
WOMACK: That’s right. But, he would go over—but, he and my brother, you know, and some of their

pals, they would go over there and play, play basketball. And it just—and it seems to me—HARTNAGEL: And where was this court? This was in ...
WOMACK: Garfield Park.
HARTNAGEL: In Garfield Park, but on the white side. No?

WOMACK: On the right side.
HARTNAGEL: On the white side?
WOMACK: On the right side. On the black side there was nothing.
HARTNAGEL: On the black side there was nothing.
WOMACK: Absolutely.
HARTNAGEL: But, on the white side they wouldn’t be chased away even though they were black kids?WOMACK: Oh, no, they—oh, no. You went ’round there after the white man left. [Interviewee laughs]HARTNAGEL: I see. After the director left.
WOMACK: After—right, right.
HARTNAGEL: So there was a director there every day?
WOMACK: Every day during the summer, I guess. And, like I said ...

Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

HARTNAGEL: So they would have to wait for him to clear out ...WOMACK: That’s right.
HARTNAGEL: ... before they could play. Yeah.
WOMACK: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

HARTNAGEL: But he couldn’t—he wouldn’t chain up the basketball nets. [Interviewer laughs]WOMACK: That’s—well, no, he didn’t take those down. Didn’t take those down.

HARTNAGEL: Yeah. So, what did—did you have—what kind of games or things did you do on the part of the park that you could have access to?

WOMACK: Well, you know, we didn’t—there was nothing to do.HARTNAGEL: Yeah.

WOMACK: There was nothing to do. All you had there was grass. Like I like to tell people, there was a big rock there.

WOMACK: Okay. And that was—the only thing we did was that. We’d sit on that and that was the

horse. [Interviewee laughs]
HARTNAGEL: It was your horse?
WOMACK: That was our horse. Okay.
HARTNAGEL: I think that rock is still there.
WOMACK: Yeah, it is.
HARTNAGEL: It has some kind of a plaque on it, I believe.WOMACK: Okay. We used to call it Indian rock. [Interviewee laughs]HARTNAGEL: Indian rock?
WOMACK: You know, we used to ...
HARTNAGEL: Because you were playing cowboys and Indians?

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

WOMACK: Because we were playing cowboys and Indians.

“Indian rock”, used as a horse by black children, is still in Garfield Park in 2012, near Third and G Streets SE. Tennis courts, SE-SW Freeway in background.


WOMACK: But, what we did is, because on Duddington Place there weren’t many cars, you know, most houses didn’t have cars. So, in the summertime we could play dodge ball in the middle of the street and not hit anybody’s car.

HARTNAGEL: Yes, yes.

WOMACK: So, those are the kind of things we did. We played dodge ball, we played hopscotch and, you know, and double-dutch. Okay. And things like that. So, we did—that was our entertainment. That we did.

HARTNAGEL: Yeah, yeah. And, Shirley, what did it make you feel like not to be able to go over and use the playground equipment?

WOMACK: Well, it should make you feel bad.HARTNAGEL: Yeah, yeah.

WOMACK: You know, like, what’s wrong with me? Do you know what I mean? What can I do to this? That was a bad part, but ...


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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

HARTNAGEL: Well, did that—you know, when school desegregation happened officially in the District, I think in 1954, which was the year of your graduation ...

WOMACK: Mm-hmm.
HARTNAGEL: Do you recall thinking—what do you recall thinking when that happened? Or was it a

big deal in your life?

WOMACK: Well, you know, it was, I guess yes and no, because I was out of school. I figured it was good for those coming after me. That kids could go into any school that they wanted to go to, and not have to, you know, travel all across town just to go to a school. And that’s the—and that was just the way it was. But, that would stop some of that.

HARTNAGEL: And do you recall a time when children were welcome, black children were welcome to play on all the equipment? Did desegregation of the park, for example, occur at the same time as the desegregation of the schools?

WOMACK: You know, I don’t know. I can’t recall. But, I know eventually they’d stop locking the park. The equipment in the park, I should say. They stopped locking it.


WOMACK: But, it was ...

HARTNAGEL: It was after your time?

WOMACK: It was after my time.

HARTNAGEL: As a child?

WOMACK: That’s right, that’s right.

HARTNAGEL: Yeah. Washington had some sports teams when you were growing up. Did you ever go to see a football or a baseball game?

WOMACK: Still haven’t. [Interviewee laughs]HARTNAGEL: Still haven’t. [Interviewer laughs]

WOMACK: The only thing is I think I went to a couple of basketball games. But, and this was even after I was out of school. But, I’m just not a sports person. Mm-hmm.

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

HARTNAGEL: Well, how about if your brothers played basketball with Elgin Baylor? Did they follow his career? Do you know? Or—

WOMACK: Not really.


WOMACK: You know, I mean, like, they followed it, to a point.

HARTNAGEL: Shirley, from your childhood do you remember how the seasons affected the city as you were growing up? Like, were the cherry blossoms in the spring a big deal even then?

WOMACK: You know, to be honest, I can’t even remember, like, cherry blossoms.HARTNAGEL: Okay.

WOMACK: But, I—like with the—I just remember seems like we had big snows. Like the snows that we’re complaining about now, it just seemed like every year we had all of that snow.

HARTNAGEL: Yeah. And did they paralyze the city in the way that ...
WOMACK: Well, you know, as a kid you don’t know whether it’s paralyzed or not. All you want to do

is go out there and play in the snow.HARTNAGEL: Yes, yes.

WOMACK: And that’s all we did. Now, I can’t remember—and maybe it was for a day, maybe it was, school being closed because of snow. Because I can remember trudging in that snow going to school. You know. But, I ...

HARTNAGEL: Even taking the streetcar and the bus?
WOMACK: Well—yeah. Yeah. But, I mean, I can remember walking to Giddings School through that

park. Putting those leggings on. You know and whatnot. Yeah. And going to the school.HARTNAGEL: Yeah.

WOMACK: And—but, I can’t remember school being closed for a week because of snow. [Interviewee laughs]

HARTNAGEL: And how about air-conditioning in the summer?WOMACK: Air con—

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

HARTNAGEL: There were a lot of you in that house ...WOMACK: Okay.
HARTNAGEL: ... on Heckman.
WOMACK: And, so, what did we do? Like, we had maybe a fan.HARTNAGEL: A fan?

WOMACK: A fan. Maybe a fan. And I’m saying maybe because I’m trying to picture a fan. But, you opened the windows. You made pallets on the floor because it was cooler down there. And, see, and then you locked your screen door and you could leave—didn’t have the crime that you have now. So, you could leave—just have the screen door there and no one, you know was—

HARTNAGEL: Was going to come in?
WOMACK: Was going to come in.
WOMACK: But, no—You just, look, you just sweat. [Interviewee laughs]HARTNAGEL: Yeah. And probably everybody on Heckman Street was in the same boat.WOMACK: Oh, right.

HARTNAGEL: No air conditioning anywhere.
WOMACK: Uh-uh, uh-uh. No. Didn’t even know what air conditioning was. All we knew about was a

fan. I want a fan.
HARTNAGEL: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

WOMACK: Uh-huh. Yeah, yeah, yeah. But, then—you know, I’m going to go back. You asked about, like, during the war. I remember the blackouts.

HARTNAGEL: Oh, do you?
WOMACK: Oh, yeah.
HARTNAGEL: During World War II?WOMACK: Uh-huh. I remember the blackouts.

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

HARTNAGEL: And what would that be like for your, like, both your work experience and your living experience?

WOMACK: Well, you had to ...
HARTNAGEL: Although you were in school and you weren’t working then.

WOMACK: Right, right. But, no, you had to –we had those green shades that you had. And then when you heard the siren, okay, and everybody made sure everybody was in the house and what have you.

HARTNAGEL: And how often would that happen, Shirley?

WOMACK: You know, I can’t remember how often it happened. But, I just remember, okay, blackout. [Interviewee laughs] And, so, then you had to go in the house. And I remember my grandfather would listen to the radio because that’s all we had was the radio. And listen to all, you know, listen to all of that. But, yeah, and then when they had the rationing stamps. Okay.

HARTNAGEL: This was for food buying ...WOMACK: Food.
HARTNAGEL: ... food and other things.

WOMACK: For—yeah. Because when things were scarce. You could get—I remember the little red token you had and that was for meat, I believe. [Interviewee laughs] And then they had some—and I think you got them—they gave them to you according to how many folks, you know, you had in the house. And, then—because I know there was—seemed like then there was a—there was the red token for meat. Then there was something for sugar. And it was something for milk, too, I think. But you had to go to the store and you had to give your little token and, you know, so you could get that. And sometimes if you were out of a red token you had no meat. [Interviewee laughs]

HARTNAGEL: And, Shirley, I didn’t ask this before when we were talking about all the grocery stores you had in the neighborhood, but it sounds as if your family didn’t have to go as far as the Eastern Market for shopping.


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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

WOMACK: Well, you know, like when the Sanitary there closed, then we had to go to—yeah, because I remember pulling my brother’s wagon going to the grocery store. Or having one of them to go with me with the wagon.

HARTNAGEL: So you could carry the groceries home?
WOMACK: Carry the groceries home. Because, I think, Nancy, where we went was—we did go to that

Safeway there that was across the street from Eastern Market. Because, you know, it was a Safeway ...

HARTNAGEL: On Seventh Street?

WOMACK: Yes. Right, right.

HARTNAGEL: Yes, yes. I remember that from even—it was still there when I moved into the neighborhood.

WOMACK: Right. Okay. Yeah, I think that’s the store we went to.
HARTNAGEL: But you didn’t shop at the Eastern Market that you remember, Shirley?

WOMACK: Uh-uh. No. I don’t ever recall shopping at the Eastern Market. You always went to the grocery store.

HARTNAGEL: To the grocery store.
WOMACK: But we always got fresh, you know, fresh veggies and whatnot, but ...HARTNAGEL: At the grocery store?
WOMACK: At the grocery store.
HARTNAGEL: Was the Eastern Market segregated?
WOMACK: You know, see I can’t talk about it because I didn’t go in there.HARTNAGEL: Yeah.
WOMACK: I didn’t go in there.
HARTNAGEL: It was a public market.
WOMACK: Market, yeah.
HARTNAGEL: It would have been hard I would think ...

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WOMACK: Right. Yeah.
HARTNAGEL: ... but we don’t know that.

WOMACK: Yeah, but, look. A whole lot of things were public that were still segregated. [Interviewee laughs]

HARTNAGEL: Yes, yes. I’m sure that’s true.
WOMACK: You know. But, yeah, so, it was—we would go up there. But, like I say, because everything

you had to go to had to be within walking distance. Had to be within walking distance.

HARTNAGEL: Did you have a sense during the war that it kind of brought people in the city together because you were—it was some sort of a common effort or did—as a black person, as a black kid really, you were—

WOMACK: I’m going to say kids didn’t even think about it. You know what I mean?HARTNAGEL: Yes.

WOMACK: You knew there was a war and, you know, you were rooting for the American. But like you really didn’t have a sense of all what was, what was going on.

HARTNAGEL: The blackouts were more like a fun thing?WOMACK: Right, right.
HARTNAGEL: Something different?
WOMACK: Different. That’s right.

HARTNAGEL: Well, I was going to ask you about World War II and we’ve talked about that. And it sounds like it wasn’t really a fearful time for you as a kid. I mean, do you recall your mom feeling—or your aunts and uncles feeling—


WOMACK: No. Because I think the one uncle that was in the military, you know, seems like they were concerned about him.

HARTNAGEL: Was he serving overseas at that point?

Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

WOMACK: Yeah. You know, I’m going to say I think he was, like, in Hawaii. But, then when you think about the time for most black guys that were in the military, they were cooks or something.

HARTNAGEL: Yes, yes.
WOMACK: You know, I mean they—there’s a lot that they did not do.HARTNAGEL: Yeah, they didn’t have the opportunity to do it.

WOMACK: The opportunity to do it. And, so, I don’t know whether he was a cook. But, like I say, he was in the Navy. And it was hard getting in the Navy because they didn’t have that many blacks in the Navy.

HARTNAGEL: I see. And this was in World War II years that your uncle was serving?WOMACK: Uh-huh, right, right.

HARTNAGEL: Some other big things that have happened in Washington, like the riots in 1968 or the March on Washington in 1963, do you have memories of those?

WOMACK: Oh, yeah. I remember the March. Okay.HARTNAGEL: The March on Washington?

WOMACK: And I remember the March, you know. And I know about the, like the sit-ins, you know, in the South and whatnot, and often wondered if I could have been as strong ...


HARTNAGEL: And, Shirley, you were saying that you often wondered if you could have been as ...

WOMACK: Strong as, you know, as—like, I don’t know whether I could have been a Rosa Parks. Or some of those black kids that were going to school down there. You know. Could I have taken what they took?

HARTNAGEL: Yeah, yeah.
WOMACK: And, so, with the marches, you know, in Washington, I was—I was proud.HARTNAGEL: Mm-hmm. Did you go to the march?

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

WOMACK: I went down there the night before King. I was leery of the crowd that they—you know, I mean, because it was going to be so many, many people. As we know, there were many, many people.

WOMACK: But, I—I did, you know, I did go down there the night before.
HARTNAGEL: And do you remember listening to his speech?
WOMACK: Oh, yeah. I listened to ...
HARTNAGEL: Was it on TV? Or—
WOMACK: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. You know, like—there was a lot of proud black folks.HARTNAGEL: Yes.
WOMACK: Not only in DC.
WOMACK: But all over.
HARTNAGEL: Yeah, because by this time you’re married and you’re living on your own, I think.WOMACK: Right. Well, I was—I was married but I was separated.
WOMACK: I was separated by then.
HARTNAGEL: And where were you living then, Shirley?
WOMACK: I was—oh, I’ve lived so many places.
HARTNAGEL: But always in the city?

WOMACK: Always I—like I tell my daughter now, she’s going to have to take me out of the city feet first. [Both laugh] But, no. And when the riots came, and that was a terrible, you know, that was a terrible time—but at the time that the riots came in ’68, that’s when my grandfather had been ill.

WOMACK: Okay. And he was at home. Because—

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HARTNAGEL: But he was still living in ’68?

WOMACK: He was still ...


WOMACK: When Papa died—Papa was 93 when he died. And, so, he had gotten sick and we had to call an ambulance for him. And this is what the riots—like, in order for you to—were you in DC then?

WOMACK: Okay. In order for you—because they had a curfew.
HARTNAGEL: What was the curfew?
WOMACK: Curfew that you couldn’t be out, you know. Like, at a certain time, you couldn’t be out.HARTNAGEL: Yeah. Was it like 10 o’clock?

WOMACK: You know, I can’t remember what it was, but my—when the ambulance came to take Papa to the hospital, the—yeah. Because by then, I was driving and I was—they took him up to Providence [Hospital in NE Washington] and I needed to go up there. Because with my aunt was going up there and I wanted to go up there to be with her. And I think she went in the ambulance.


WOMACK: But, I had to go to the precinct—

HARTNAGEL: To the police?

WOMACK: To the police to get—I had to get a paper permission that I was going to be out ...


WOMACK: ... and this is why. I was—that I was in the street.


WOMACK: And, so, we took him there to the hospital and—matter of fact, I think, Martin Luther King died on, what was it, the fourth of April?

HARTNAGEL: Might have been.WOMACK: Okay.

Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

HARTNAGEL: I don’t know the date. [Martin Luther King Jr. died on April 4, 1968.]
WOMACK: Right, right. But I think Papa died, like, on the 13th of April. He died right behind Martin

Luther King.


WOMACK: But, yes, so that was a sad time. That was a real sad time.

HARTNAGEL: Were you fearful about living in the city at the time?

WOMACK: At the time, not really. Okay. I was just—I think I was more fearful of that—who was the guy that was doing all the shooting? You know. When they were looking for the white van.

HARTNAGEL: Oh, yeah.
WOMACK: Muhammad. Whatever his name was. I was, I think I was more ...HARTNAGEL: John Muhammad.

WOMACK: Right. I think I was more fearful then than I was with Martin Luther King. Because, I think—and I actually lived in that area, I think, at the time. I lived—I had to go through that area. Okay. But you did things, you know, like, in the daytime and stayed in your place at night. I wasn’t near, like, a commercial area, because I think that’s where most of that burning and stuff ...

HARTNAGEL: Yeah. Along the H Street corridor, certainly.
WOMACK: Right, right. And I was across H Street. So, I just got home in time that, you know, nothing


HARTNAGEL: Shirley, in your growing up years, and really into your adulthood, what impressions did you have of the city government? I mean, it was controlled for a long time by the federal government, by a federal commission.

WOMACK: I know it and that still bugs me. [Both laugh] That it’s controlled, you know, the money is controlled. They don’t let you vote.


WOMACK: And I—first chance I could vote, I registered. You know, to vote. I think it’s terrible. You learned in school, and I learned it in school, black school, white school, that taxation without representation is tyranny. Right?

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WOMACK: I said so—and, then, I don’t understand how some people in some other states say they didn’t know we couldn’t vote, and they don’t, you know—and why some of these congressmen think we should not vote. No, I don’t understand a lot of that and don’t like it.

WOMACK: I thought that Washington was a good mayor.HARTNAGEL: Mayor Walter Washington?

WOMACK: Walter Washington. I thought—he was the first one and I thought he was a good guy. I voted for Marion Barry once. And never voted for him again. I just didn’t like, you know—I mean, like, he did some nice things. I’m not going to say that. But, I guess it was an attitude thing. [Interviewee laughs]

WOMACK: The way he carried himself, you know, was the reason I never would vote for him again.HARTNAGEL: Mm-hmm.
WOMACK: I voted for [Anthony] Williams. I did not vote for [Adrian] Fenty. I did not.HARTNAGEL: Mm-hmm.
WOMACK: I saw last week, and I was glad to read the article on—what’s her name? Coop?HARTNAGEL: Cropp. Linda Cropp.
WOMACK: Cropp. Thanks. Okay. Because that’s who I voted for.

WOMACK: Okay. And I say if [Vincent] Gray doesn’t step up, I say—he’s sort of let me down a little bit ... [Interviewer laughs] I say, so, he’s going to have to step up some. But, I don’t get involved in a whole lot of politics, in politics at all. But, you know, like I say, I do vote. I do vote and do try to read up on the candidates. And I think that it’s terrible what the Congress does to DC. By not letting us, you know, run our own—


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WOMACK: Affairs. Right.

HARTNAGEL: Do you remember what any of your family’s neighbors on Heckman Street did for a living, Shirley? I mean, both you and a couple of your aunts worked for the federal government in various agencies. Were there others on Heckman Street who worked for the federal government?

HARTNAGEL: Or even for city government?

WOMACK: Yeah. I’m going to say a lot of them worked for federal government. Some of them were cab drivers or truck drivers.

WOMACK: And, you know, they just did—as a matter of fact, where the Lynches live now [John and

Genevieve, at 131 Duddington], I know there were a couple of schoolteachers ...HARTNAGEL: Schoolteachers?
WOMACK: ... that had lived in there at one time.
HARTNAGEL: Black schoolteachers?

WOMACK: Black schoolteachers. You know, had lived in there at one time. We had a lot of—as a matter of fact, even in coming up, as a child, we had a couple—we had a few black schoolteachers on the block.

HARTNAGEL: And what did the people—do you recall any kind of controversy when it was renamed Duddington Place from Heckman Street?

WOMACK: Well, you know what? By that time, Nancy, most of the blacks had moved.HARTNAGEL: But your mom was still there.
WOMACK: And, hey, nobody asked us our opinion. [Interviewee laughs]HARTNAGEL: Yes. Okay.

WOMACK: Nobody asked us our opinion. Okay. So, the next thing we knew, the block was renamed.HARTNAGEL: Yeah.

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

WOMACK: Okay. Nobody—and then again I’m going to say they might have. But, see, I wasn’t living there then. And, so, maybe my mother and my aunt, they just didn’t pay any attention to it.

HARTNAGEL: Yeah. At that point, like in the 60s, after your grandfather died, was it your mother and your Aunt Edith who were living in that family home, Shirley?

WOMACK: It was my mother, my Aunt Edith, my Aunt Mary, and Thomas. Okay. So it was the four of them that was living in the family ...

HARTNAGEL: That were still living in the family home. Okay.WOMACK: Yeah.

HARTNAGEL: Just a couple of more questions. What did you like and not like about living on Capitol Hill?

WOMACK: You know I can’t say that I didn’t really like anything other than, like, not being able to go to a playground. You know, now that you think about—like I say, when you’re growing up in it, that’s just the way it is. Okay. But, I mean, like, how much more fun I could have had.

WOMACK: Maybe, like, here I am, 75 years old and never learned to swim. Maybe I could have learned

to swim. If I was able to go to that pool around there.HARTNAGEL: Yes.

WOMACK: Maybe I would have been able to swim. But I always said that I thought Capitol Hill, where we lived, it was convenient. Okay. It was close to places. Back when, like, they had the—they used to have a lot of parades.


WOMACK: Okay. Not only just the inaugural parades, but they just seemed like they had a lot of parades. And a lot of times they would ... the folks would be down near Duddington. Okay. Because you know the house ...

HARTNAGEL: You mean the people getting ready ...WOMACK: Ready for the parade.
HARTNAGEL: ... to parade.

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WOMACK: To parade. You know. Foremen.HARTNAGEL: Yes.
WOMACK: Things. You know, lining up.HARTNAGEL: Yeah.

WOMACK: Because you know where the building is down there on Duddington, that red brick building?


WOMACK: Which were the [congressional] pages.


WOMACK: That was just space.


WOMACK: That was just space.

HARTNAGEL: And, so, would the parade be on Pennsylvania Avenue?

WOMACK: It would be on Pennsylvania and—

HARTNAGEL: In Southeast?

WOMACK: No. On Constitution.

HARTNAGEL: Constitution.

WOMACK: So, you know, we could just walk up there. And see it if we wanted to. We could just walk up there.

HARTNAGEL: Because it seems like the parades now all take place between the Capitol, say, and the White House.

WOMACK: Right, right.
HARTNAGEL: But that wasn’t the case when you were young.

WOMACK: Mm-mm, uh-uh. No. no. We could go up there and see them marching on Constitution, you know.

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HARTNAGEL: Yeah, yeah.

WOMACK: I think that’s as far as we walked.

HARTNAGEL: That’s a pretty good trek from Duddington.

WOMACK: Uh-huh. Right. But, like, look. When you’re, you know, like 10, 11, 12, it’s all right. [Interviewee laughs]

HARTNAGEL: Yes, yes.

WOMACK: But that was a good thing. And, yeah—but, I had a good time there because, there were just things that you know, other things that you could do. Because at nighttime, especially in the summertime, like I said, we didn’t have anything to do. We could walk through the—walk up to the Capitol through the Capitol grounds and what not. And that was one of the things that we used to do.

HARTNAGEL: And did you feel welcome at the monuments in the period of segregation?WOMACK: Well, you know, I’ll be honest with you, Nancy, that we did not do a whole lot of

sightseeing ...


WOMACK: Tourist things like that.

HARTNAGEL: Yeah, yeah.

WOMACK: But, I think, when we went we would, you know, we felt ...

HARTNAGEL: Yeah, welcome.

WOMACK: ... welcome. I don’t know. They might have had their eye on us thinking we were going to do something. You know. But, I say, sometimes a kid, you don’t notice a lot of that stuff.

HARTNAGEL: And the Smithsonian—you probably have seen that just grow bigger and bigger ...WOMACK: Oh, oh, my gracious, yes.
HARTNAGEL: ... throughout your life.
WOMACK: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Mm-hmm. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

HARTNAGEL: And how about the—this is one thing I wanted to ask you, Shirley, about residential neighborhoods that were greatly disrupted by, for example, the building of the Southeast/Southwest Freeway. Did that have any kind of an impact on you? Or on the neighborhood where you were growing up?

WOMACK: No, because, see, like, when they did that, it disrupted people on the other, like I say, on the other side. And a lot of those folks got displaced. But it didn’t bother me. You know. And, see, so that’s when they started spreading folks around in the city.

HARTNAGEL: Yes, yeah.

WOMACK: And, see, and probably by the time that happened, they were—it was like the white flight. You know. And, so, then people had other places to go. That’s when, I say, this moving out there in Congress Heights and other places. And I’m sure, like, because over in this area was ...

HARTNAGEL: This is Riverdale?
WOMACK: River Terrace. Okay. It was mainly white at one time.HARTNAGEL: Oh, okay.

WOMACK: Because my Uncle James, who moved up on this street up here called Alden Place—I think when he moved up there it was—I wouldn’t say it was predominantly white, but, I mean, he had white neighbors. And he moved up there in the 50s.

HARTNAGEL: Oh, okay. That’s really early.

WOMACK: Uh-huh. Because, as a matter of fact, when I moved here, there was still a little Italian lady that lived across the street. And she was over there for a couple of years after I moved here. And I moved here in ’92.

HARTNAGEL: Okay. And is this largely a black neighborhood where—WOMACK: It’s largely black, but now I notice Hispanics are coming in.HARTNAGEL: Ah, okay.
WOMACK: Okay. That we’re getting a lot of Hispanics in.

HARTNAGEL: Shirley, as you look back on your life in Washington, what do you think are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the life of the city?

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WOMACK: You know, I think one of the biggest changes I said to you earlier. Like, places changing from black to white. Okay. Like U Street was definitely black. That was our, like somebody say, our Broadway.


WOMACK: Okay. Because we couldn’t go downtown, to the theaters that were downtown in DC. And, so, I mean, like the Warner’s, you know, and like that, you couldn’t go. But to say that things have just opened, that—I can go anywhere my money’ll take me now. You know. But that I can go anywhere that my money will take me. Okay. And I—even in saying that, not to say that you’re always welcome though. Because that’s—and maybe it’s not—it might be just a person rather than the establishment.

WOMACK: And, so, you know, I see those kind of changes. So anywhere that I wanted to go or I

thought that I want to live, that I can afford.HARTNAGEL: Mm-hmm.

WOMACK: That I can go, you know—if I want to go over in Georgetown and pay a million dollars for a house [Both laugh], okay, then, if I got a million dollars, I can do it. Now my neighbors might not speak to me but that’s okay. But it’s still my house.

HARTNAGEL: Yes.WOMACK: It’s still my house.

HARTNAGEL: Do you think your mom had that same feeling? I mean, did you ever discuss the whole issue of segregation with her? And what sense did you have of the ...

WOMACK: You know, I never did discuss it with her. But, I think sometimes she would say, she remembered when she couldn’t go here or she couldn’t go there. But I think she enjoyed—once all of her children were grown, okay, and then we were able to, like, expose her. Because Mother just stayed home. Okay. Mother didn’t even take us shopping to get our clothes. My Aunt Edith did that.

WOMACK: Okay. Mother stayed home. She didn’t do the grocery shopping. All she did was stay home,

cook, clean, okay, and go to church.HARTNAGEL: Mm-hmm.

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

WOMACK: Well, once we were grown and were able to do things and expose Mother to things since she didn’t work, then I think she really enjoyed really getting out and just seeing things. And she was never, you know, like leery. Can I go in there? Because of the segregation and whatnot. She was never leery, because, I guess she knew that we weren’t going to take her anyplace where she wouldn’t be welcome.

WOMACK: Because, you know, like, we did get her on a airplane ride. Okay. She took one airplane ride

to see my daughter graduate from college.

HARTNAGEL: Oh, isn’t that nice.

WOMACK: Uh-huh. And she—what else did she do? Well, we did a lot of things. We, you know, taken her out to a nice restaurant. And she enjoyed doing those kind of things. Because she hadn’t traveled any. And she would go to New York, to visit my sister in New York. And she would take her around and whatnot. But I think she enjoyed all that she, you know, all that she could get—that we were able to do for her.

HARTNAGEL: Yes. Are there any other special things you remember about Washington? Maybe something that I haven’t thought to ask or—

WOMACK: I can’t think of anything, Nancy, because you were prepared. [Interviewer laughs] You were prepared.

HARTNAGEL: Or is there any final thought that you have about living, you know, your years on Heckman Street?

WOMACK: I mean, like, it was just a—look, as Jimmy Stewart would say, it was just a wonderful life. [Both laugh] You know, it was, like I say, when you’re growing up. But, then, like I say, when you’re poor and you don’t know you’re poor, but you have everything that you need. Even though, there was segregation over here, but you still had, you had teachers that were teachers. Like, you—not like teachers trying to just push you through. Because for the children who were having problems in school, the teachers were actually helping them. And, I mean, like here children say now, you know, like the child had to repeat the grade. And then, the parents would say let them repeat it if they don’t ... If they don’t know it, don’t send them forward. Because the teachers were more concerned, I think, than they are today. And they would—because I had a couple of my brothers that they were kept back, as we would

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

say. For maybe a half of a semester, okay, before they could go on to the next grade. And, so, you know, so we knew we had people that really cared for us. Those teachers really cared for us.


WOMACK: And, so, like I say, whether I would have had a better education in an integrated school, I don’t know. Whether I would have gone to college if I had gone to an integrated school, I don’t know. Because there wasn’t money to go to college if, you know, in a segregated school. So I don’t know where I was going to get it from [Interviewee laughs] ... because the school was integrated.


WOMACK: But I must say that after—that some of my—two of my sisters, a couple of my sisters—now I never did take any college courses, but a couple of them did. But I would say that then the next generation—like my daughter and whatnot. You know, we have ...

HARTNAGEL: And her cousins probably did. Yeah.

WOMACK: Right. That’s right. That we have a number of college graduates, you know, and what have you. So, the—because it’s like with my grandchildren, one of them now, he will finish, the youngest one will finish University of Maryland ...

HARTNAGEL: Oh, isn’t that nice.WOMACK: ... I think next year.HARTNAGEL: That’s great.

WOMACK: The other one decided he did not want to attend college, so he chose—he wants to be a carpenter. He went to the Charles County Community College for a bit. But, he wants to be a carpenter. Well, there have to be a carpenter. You know. Jesus was a carpenter. And, so, he is in an apprenticeship program, going in his third year.

HARTNAGEL: Oh, that’s great.

WOMACK: And, so, that’s good. And, you know, we have a couple of accountants and what have you. And then with the grandboys, with them going to school, my daughter home-schooled them all through high school.


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WOMACK: They had never been to a school.HARTNAGEL: That’s a big commitment.
WOMACK: Okay. Because, see, my daughter is a teacher.HARTNAGEL: Okay.

WOMACK: She’s a—so, she belonged to an association for home-schoolers. And, so, she taught them through, you know, through high school.

HARTNAGEL: Yeah, yeah.
WOMACK: And, so, he was—both of them took the SAT or whatever they ... because it seem like it’s

something different they call it for the home-schoolers. I mean SAT or ATC or something.HARTNAGEL: There’s one called ACT, the ACT.

WOMACK: Okay. They might have taken that. But, they did well enough to get into a, you know, college.

HARTNAGEL: College. Yeah, yeah.

WOMACK: And, like I said, the one that’s at the University of Maryland, they actually wanted him up at Drexel. So, I say, so, hey, I say, girlfriend, you didn’t do too bad. But it wasn’t just she that was doing it. There was a group of women. Okay. And they would ...

HARTNAGEL: They had support?
WOMACK: They had support.
HARTNAGEL: Now, just to clarify one thing, when did your mom die, Shirley?WOMACK: She died on July the second, 2008.
HARTNAGEL: And how old was she then?
WOMACK: Ninety-nine and a half.
WOMACK: Ninety-nine. . .
HARTNAGEL: That’s amazing.

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WOMACK: Ninety-nine and a half.

HARTNAGEL: Did she—was she reflective at all in her later years about her life in Washington? Or—

WOMACK: Mm-mm.


WOMACK: No, no.

HARTNAGEL: She just did it.

WOMACK: She just did it. No. I think she—you know, the one thing she enjoyed, Nancy, was when they had the Sodality up at St. Peter’s.

HARTNAGEL: Mm-hmm. At St. Peter’s.
WOMACK: And remember when—I don’t know whether you remember or not. On either Tuesday or

Wednesday they would go up there for bingo and lunch.HARTNAGEL: Yes, yes.
WOMACK: Oh, she enjoyed that.
HARTNAGEL: Oh, there was a whole group of them.WOMACK: Yeah.

HARTNAGEL: They were a great group.

WOMACK: That’s right. And that was the first—I shouldn’t say the first time. But it was good to see my mother getting out, socializing. Because, see, she had stayed at home for so long. So, it was good to see that she was out socializing.

WOMACK: And, then, I don’t know whether it was then or when, because one time she was even—she

even went to a ceramics class. I think up at Brent School.HARTNAGEL: Oh, wow.

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

WOMACK: And she was making all this ceramic stuff. [Both laugh] Because now I’m trying to ask people to—and most of them don’t like cats. I say, “Don’t you want that cat your grandmother did?” “Naw, I don’t like cats.” “Well, okay then.” [Both laugh] But, yeah. But, no. But she never ...

HARTNAGEL: Yeah. How about your Aunt Edith? Was she—I mean she had a different life from your mom—out working.

WOMACK: I know, she worked—yeah. She worked and she—I always say that my Aunt Edith never married because she was so busy helping my mother to take care of us.

HARTNAGEL: Oh, really?
WOMACK: Oh, yeah. That’s the reason when she got sick I actually left my house here for two months

before I was able to put her up at Sacred Heart [a nursing home in Hyattsville, MD].HARTNAGEL: Yeah. And when did she die, Shirley?

WOMACK: She died, like—matter of fact, she died like the 13th of May—was it 13th of May? Because she died just before her 89th birthday in 2010. She died in 2010.

HARTNAGEL: Mm. Long-lived women in your family.
WOMACK: Uh-huh, uh-huh. Yeah. And, see—and my mother was the only one out of those six children

that had children.
WOMACK: So we never had any cousins. [Interviewee laughs]HARTNAGEL: Oh, okay.
WOMACK: Well, I shouldn’t say we didn’t have any cousins.HARTNAGEL: You didn’t have any first cousins.
WOMACK: We had a couple of first cousins on my father’s side.HARTNAGEL: Oh, okay.
WOMACK: But they were older. You know. They were older.HARTNAGEL: Yeah.

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Shirley Womack Interview, November 30, 2011

[When the tape ran out, Shirley laughed and said, “Well, OK, we’re done.”]


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