Under a special grant from the Heritage Harbor Foundation, Stages of Freedom, a Providence-based nonprofit, is conducting interviews to collect oral histories from former residents of the Lippitt Hill neighborhood on the East Side of Providence, which was razed in the 1960s to make way for the University Heights apartment/shopping complex.
Following the standing-room-only first round of interviews in June, a second series of oral history interviews was conducted with former residents of Lippitt Hill on Wednesday, September 20, at 6 p.m. at the Providence Public Library, 150 Empire Street. The event was free and open to the public.
“Remembering a Lost Black Neighborhood, An Oral History Project on Lippitt Hill in Providence” seeks former residents and others who can share their experience and knowledge of the neighborhood.
“It is extremely important to record this history from the people who lived, worked, and played on Lippitt Hill,” Ray Rickman, project director, said, "before it is lost. More than 5,000 people were displaced, and many religious institutions and businesses destroyed in the name of 'progress.'”
June 29, 2017
A Standing-Room-Only Crowd Gathered Last Night at Rochambeau Library to Share Memories
of Providence's Lost Neighborhood.
As eleven former Black residents recalled their halcyon days on Lippitt Hill, an integrated audience of 78 listened intently to the stories of childhood, church, education, entrepreneurism and interraciality. Bounded by North Main Street to Hope and Olney to Doyle, Lippitt Hill was laced with little streets lined with homes and businesses. Here a predominantly African American and Cape Verdean population lived harmoniously with Jewish, Polish and Italian residents in a neighborhood that dates back to the freed slaves of the Brown family. In this idyllic setting, families flourished, block parties brought people together, vigilant parents kept an eye on each others children, lively retail shops bustled, and life-long friendships were formed. It all came tumbling down in the 1960s with a city-sanctioned eviction notice disguised as redevelopment. Residents were ousted but told they could return as renters of new apartments that now front Olney Street. The promise never materialized.
Phase One of this exciting story, filmed by StrayCreatives, concluded last night with the sharing of photographs and a trophy that Celebrity Club performer Sugar Ray Robinson bestowed upon young Hope High scholar Meredith Spicer.
See Phase Two of the story via the button below.
Lippitt Hill Redevelopment Project (1959-1968)
Lippitt Hill, a dense, predominantly African-American, 30-acre residential neighborhood on the northern edge of College Hill and bounded by Olney St., North Main St., Doyle Avenue and Camp Street was identified as “blighted” by the PRA through the provisions of the Federal Housing Act of 1949 and the City’s Redevelopment Act of 1956. The PRA took ownership of the project area in 1959, releasing its Official Redevelopment Plan the same year. Its vision for the transformation of this area was unambiguous:
The community expects that there will be created on the East Side of Providence a vigorous and outstanding neighborhood consistent with the position of America as a leading moral force in a pluralistic world.1
While “slum clearance” was being carried out by the authority, the PRA initiated a competition for proposals for private development according to the agency’s vision. Although the PRA had made no requirement for a plan addressing the inevitable displacement of minorities and ethnic communities, the chosen developer, University Heights Inc., led by Providence merchant Irving Fain, addressed the matter with some clarity. From the Philosophy and Objectives section of the 1962 proposal:
It is their [the developer’s] determination that University Heights will become a wholesome, desirable area of Providence, outstanding not only for its environmental advantages but…as a demonstration to Providence and to America that people of many backgrounds can live in harmony.2
Lippitt Hill as a neighborhood would cease to exist. University Heights, the name adopted for the project, would be designed as a diverse, harmonious community of residents of various income levels and ethnic composition in a distinctly modern setting. UHI had good reason to address the matter of racial harmony. Within five years of this proposal, rising racial tension would explode nationally in the summer of 1967. South Providence saw its own riots the same year.
UHI retained Victor Gruen Associates to design a group of low-rise, modern apartment buildings in a garden setting with an abutting shopping plaza. Since the 1940s Gruen had been a strong advocate of the suburban shopping mall idea. In Mall Maker, M. Jeffrey Hardwick’s study of Gruen’s work, he addressed the siting of suburban-type malls in declining cities:
Long the nation’s most glamorous shopping districts, downtowns had been declining precipitously. Though automobiles had made the downtown functionally obsolete, all was not lost. With a combination of slum clearance and suburban shopping centers, downtown could regain its prominence, with regional shopping centers serving as “satellite downtown areas.” The latter then would accommodate “the hordes of automobiles” with “restfulness, safety and aesthetic value.”3
And so would it be in Providence; the anchor of this commercial plaza was Star Market, the involvement of which was sought by UHI as a 50% partner in their visionary enterprise. As stated in the proposal:
Star’s initial interest in Lippitt Hill was sparked by the potentialities of the shopping center. However, at the outset, Star recognized the important social challenges of the residential area. It also recognized the role of modern community developers in open-occupancy housing.4
Gruen proposed the removal of the earlier street pattern and its replacement with a “superblock” as articulated earlier in the work of urban designer Clarence Stein. At the time Gruen was completing the Charles River Park redevelopment project in Boston. His plan for University Heights included about twenty 2- to 4-story, flat-roofed, garden apartment buildings with interior views into common, landscaped quadrangles and peripheral parking at the edge of the development. A stairway (now demolished) led from the residential areas to the shopping plaza fronting on North Main St. Income diversity was assured through the availability of two types of FHA mortgages. The exterior design of the low-income blocks was such that this status was considered to be indistinguishable from the higher income units.
Tension between the idea of slum clearance as a necessary precondition for urban renewal versus the possibility of historical preservation is evident in another University Heights innovation, the creation of an “annex” along Doyle Avenue which rehabilitated a small group of 19th-century Lippitt Hill residential houses at the northern edge of the project. This concession was likely influenced by the ongoing restoration being carried out along Benefit and North Main Streets.5
Note: Plans on file at the Providence City Archives Blueprint Collection dated 1966,
attributed to the firm of Collins, Kronstadt, are located in Box 7.
1 Lippitt Hill Official Redevelopment Plan, p. 16.
2 University Heights: A Proposal for Lippitt Hill, p. 4.
3 Source: M. Jeffrey Hardwick, Mall Maker, p. 120. Quoted passages were taken from a 1952 Progressive Architecture article by Victor Gruen and Larry Smith.
4 University Heights: A Proposal for Lippitt Hill, p. 4.
5 Noted preservationist Antoinette Downing was a member of the University Heights corporation.
Providence’s Lippitt Hill residents get a chance to tell their story
By Ben Berke / Special to The Providence Journal
Sept. 15, 2017
An oral history project funded by the Heritage Harbor Foundation focuses on the mostly-black neighborhood razed in the 1960s.
“Georgana Park lived a block or so up from what is North Main Street. Her father had a massive garden,” said Sylvia Ann Soares, speaking of land now occupied by the University Heights Apartments and University Marketplace. “His three-decker was pushed back and on Sunday mornings he would get flowers and put them on the picket fence so that people going to church could take flowers. And they could also work with him about getting the vegetables in the garden.”
“We had the pool and everything,” said Virginia Veiga, two seats down from Soares, remembering a playground farther up the hill. “We didn’t have to go the beach, we had the pool!”
“We had a fish man, oil man, rag man, fruit man, and an ice cream man,” said Deborah Tunstall.
Joanna Tavares added that, in addition to all these men, there was also the crab man.
“There was Blunky’s market. She lived upstairs and she had candy,” said Naomi Jax-Brown. “We used to go in there and buy the Jewish pickles.”
“We had markets. We had laundromats. We had things! We were poor but we didn’t know we were poor,” said Tunstall, to the agreement of 10 of her former neighbors.
The group had convened on June 29 in front of an audience at Providence’s Rochambeau Library to share their memories of Lippitt Hill, or, as they called it, the East Side, a majority-black neighborhood razed in the name of mid-century urban renewal.
Their conversation was filmed for an oral history project undertaken by Ray Rickman, a local historian and the owner of the Stages of Freedom bookstore, museum and event space. Former residents of Lippitt Hill, for want of a more specific term, will convene for a second public conversation on Sept. 20, this time at the Providence Public Library.
Rickman plans to publish both text and video versions of the oral history, physical copies of which will be available for purchase in February at the Stages of Freedom bookstore. Additionally, Rickman plans to exhibit photographs of Lippitt Hill and its residents in the Stages of Freedom museum space in October.
Lippitt Hill had been home to black residents since the early 19th century, when Moses Brown sold land on Olney Street to his former slave, Noah Brown. Rickman considers the “black Browns” Lippitt Hill’s first black residents. He said their descendants remained in the neighborhood until 1936.
By the 1950s, Lippitt Hill was a dense, historic and diverse neighborhood — desirable by today’s standards, but deplorable in 1959. In November of that year, the city condemned the entirety of Lippitt Hill, transferring all property in the 57-acre tract between North Main, Olney and Camp streets, and Doyle Avenue to city ownership. With little bargaining power, Lippitt Hill homeowners were forced to take cash settlements for their properties. Renters received stipends to assist with move-out costs.
Formerly Providence’s largest black neighborhood, by January 1961 most of Lippitt Hill had been razed, the city stalling demolition on a few homes for families struggling to relocate. The view outside their windows would’ve been increasingly bleak, especially so in March, when a demolition subcontractor tested the efficiency of clearing homes with a 20-ton Army surplus tank.
Relocation was difficult for Lippitt Hill’s black residents, who faced a housing market that was, in 1960, legally discriminatory. A study from that year by The Providence Journal reported that 85 percent to 90 percent of black residents relocated to streets adjacent to Lippitt Hill. The second most common location was South Providence.
In total, 650 dwelling units on Lippitt Hill were demolished, 450 of them occupied by non-white tenants. Federal contributions to the slum clearance project amounted to $3,731,900, roughly three-quarters of the cost.
Lippitt Hill was replaced by the privately developed University Heights, a complex of 482 middle- to high-income apartments, and the adjoining University Market Place, a retail strip currently occupied by Whole Foods, McDonald’s, Staples and other businesses. Antoinette Downing, who had spearheaded the Benefit Street preservation effort less than a decade earlier, served on the board of University Heights Inc.
“It’s a very complicated story,” said Rickman, who added, “It was not a slum in the classic sense. And I believe if white folks lived there, it would have been restored.”
This is not Rickman’s first oral history. In September 1999, he organized a panel of 19 current and former residents of College Hill to speak before an audience, later publishing an edited transcript of the afternoon as, “African Americans on College Hill 1950-1979”.
“When that became public, I must’ve had 60 people all but call me names,” said Rickman. “If I was going to pick a neighborhood, I should’ve picked Lippitt Hill is what they’d say. And I kept telling them I didn’t have the money.”
Until recently. In 2016, Stages of Freedom received a $17,500 grant from the Heritage Harbor Foundation for the Lippitt Hill oral history project.
Rickman said he stressed two aspects of the project in his application. First, that he “promised not to over-structure.”
“Most folks who are trained to collect oral histories like to ask exacting questions,” explained Rickman. “If a theme emerges, wonderful, but each session will be different because the people will talk about what they want to talk about.”
Second, the project’s central voice would be that of the Lippitt Hill resident, not a historian. “I cannot tell you how seldom people who lived history are asked what they lived,” said Rickman. “Their voices are just not heard enough.”
— Ben Berke is a freelance writer. He can be contacted at email@example.com
“Oral History Interviews with Former Residents of Lippitt Hill”
Thursday, June 29th at 6:00 p.m.
The Rochambeau Library--Providence Community Library
Funded by the Heritage Harbor Foundation
Transcribed by Ben Berke
Ray Rickman: About 26 years ago we did an oral history of people who lived on College Hill and I was so happy with it. Thirty-six people came out and we interviewed them. We created a pamphlet. We printed 1000 copies. And all I got was criticism from black folks who lived on Lippitt Hill telling me that 90% of the black folks lived on Lippitt Hill. I was in the wrong place.
I told them I didn’t have any money to do Lippitt Hill because too many black folks lived there. It was a lot of work and basically I was a volunteer. But I promised about 85 people over the years that we’d do this and we went and got a little grant and now we’re doing it. I’m old-fashioned: I keep my word even though it takes me years sometimes.
I believe in capturing history in the living years. If you read things written by historians sixty years later, 100 years later, they’re generally garbage. Unadulterated garbage. And until recently, it’s the story of great white men. So no historian would ever write the history of Lippitt Hill in mid-century because that’s not how American history has been written.
Since about 1940, there’s been an effort to capture the voices of black people, who are the real historians of their history, and they don’t often get to tell it. So we’re going to do this right. The goal is 100 people and, as you can see, we’ve got a lot of work to do.
So let me deputize every human being in this room, and then for you to go and deputize someone else. I will bet you that folks in this room know 500 people who lived, visited, worshipped, or shopped on Lippitt Hill in the ‘40s, ‘50s, ’60s. My business card is near the back door. It takes a village. And I’m making you part of the village so that next February we’ll say that we talked to 100 people.
Now anyone who wants to talk, come on and sit on that side, because we’re going to focus on the folks on that side. If there’s anyone on that side who wants to talk, please get up now. And, later, we may have a couple minutes for folks who are not over there, because when we did this before for College Hill, it was fascinating. We had folks in the near circle, and then we had the outer circle, and then we had the third circle, 80 people or whatever it was.
It was so fascinating when the folks in the inner circle talked, because they had lived on College Hill. And then we let the real estate men who chased them away talk. It was the most fascinating kind of gathering. So I’m not going to read this because time is of the essence, but here’s a 4-page statement on Lippitt Hill and I’m reading it today—we have volumes of information from the Jewish historical society—they have the best records on Lippitt Hill and I’ve read them. But today I was reading and I’d never seen this in the footnotes before: Antoinette Downing, preservationist, was a member of the University Heights Corporation.
Now, that surprised me. So, Lippitt Hill is the ultimate early Urban Renewal get rid of 100% of the people project. The law was created to do it. Because they couldn’t do it before. So they created a law in 1949 and then the Feds came along in the ‘50s and the money became available and they cleared the community.
Now remember, this black neighborhood was pushing up against College Hill, as going from being mixed—When I came, I loved College Hill because the Browns were living one block from other browns. And the other browns didn’t have any money. I’d never seen anything like this in my life. In Detroit, the Fords and the Chryslers lived in Grosse Point or Indian Village--wherever they lived, nobody black lived a block from them. And nobody, nobody, lived a block from them in a beat up house. Or a triple-decker. I’d never seen anything like this in my life.
Guess what? As far as I know, I’m one of only two long-term—and I’m not long-term—but I’m the second long-term black resident of College Hill. Everyone else is gone. Gone. From a neighborhood once more than a third black, to 2 out of 499.
So I share this with you because we do these things in plain view. And again, Lippitt Hill’s very interesting because in its covenant it’s supposed to do things, but we’ll talk about that. But it’s supposed to be an integrated community. Irving Fein had promises. I’ll just give you one: one or more businesses are supposed to be Black-owned in that shopping center forever. Is one of those businesses Black-owned currently?
Audience Member: Not now.
Ray: I share that with you because I believe that if Irving Fein was around, that would be the case. But we’re on the third owners and they ignore. So you can’t have your economic development if you’re not invited to be part of…I’d love to have a business next to Whole Foods. Do you know what kind of cash you’d make? So again, it’s a very unique place with a bunch of promises that we will discuss. Now I don’t want to talk anymore because I could be here all day. I’ve been studying this since I made the promise 20 years ago.
I want to share another piece of history with you. We always bring one book in case anyone wants to buy it. It’s $20. We bought the last 12 in the world. This is William J. Brown and he wrote this book. William J. Brown was a grandson of slaves of the Brown family and this is, I believe, the very best narrative written by a free man of color in America.
There are about 140 free whatever; there are 600 slave narratives. The slave narratives are famous. The ones by free people are not very. This one is incredible. We don’t sell this to just anybody. You have to have a purpose to buy this. In it, he talks about living on Bates St. Because they’d made the little street. And it’s complicated. They get the land from Moses Brown and Moses gives them lots of land and then later, he takes it back. He takes it back because they didn’t really have a contract; they only had an agreement. And this is a time when you could handshake. You can’t handshake in America anymore, in case you don’t know that.
I share this because this is how long and deep the history of Blacks on Lippitt Hill is. It’s fascinating. Now any quick questions before we start?
Audience Member: What are the boundaries of Lippitt Hill?
Ray: Lippitt Hill is Doyle to Olney and kind of Camp to North Main, but not really. It’s really to Hope St. Legally, that’s not included but if you look at those 3 to 4 streets in there, including the part of Lippitt St. that’s left, much of the rest of the hill looked like that. Remember, there’s a Jewish Synagogue, there are three churches. Then the very best meat market in all of Providence was on Camp St. And on and on and on. And then my favorite: in the part next door to where McDonald’s is was a laundry place. The largest in Rhode Island. Where all the restaurants in Rhode Island got their stuff cleaned and it was mammoth. And stunning. Very interesting mix. And a lively community. I’m not supposed to do the talking. Any other questions?
Now again, is there anyone who wants to be over there to talk who’s come late? Because if you stay over there you can’t talk. So what’s going to happen is each person who speaks needs to say their first name, last name, and if they lived on a street, say that, and then talk either until you’re not interested anymore or we have to go to the next person.
Do not be shy; say anything you want. Try not to say anything you don’t want your grandchildren to hear later. There are no ground rules. And I may have follow up questions for you because sometimes we don’t finish our statement or comment.
SYLVIA ANN SOARES
Bates St., 17 Lippitt St., Carrington Ave., Cypress St.
Sylvia: Good afternoon, I’m Sylvia Ann Soares. When I was about four years old, I lived on Bates St. Bates St. is hard to describe because it’s not there now. But if you’re standing in front of Staples in the University Heights, and you look over behind it sort of to the right, it came down from Camp St. and came down right about there, and then it took a left turn and came down Lippitt St. I then moved down there to 17 Lippitt St., Lippitt St. was located right where the entrance to University Heights plaza off North Main St. is, except that they cut out the land to put University Heights Plaza in. So if you will also look over past Santander Bank, you will see that their land is higher, and that land actually came sloping down. Our house was near the bottom and it would’ve been where today the Starbucks is--who knows what’s going to be there later? There’s a driveway on that side. The few houses down there, you had to go up the cement steps to get to the house. So our house would’ve been up in the air over that driveway if it was still here now.
Lippitt St. went all the way up to Camp. Billy Osborne lived on Lippitt St. before they went to Olney St. Georgana Park, who is our friend, also lived about a block or so up from what is North Main St. Her father had a massive garden. His three-decker was pushed back a lot and on Sunday mornings he would get flowers and put them on the picket fence so that people going to church to could take flowers to church. And they could also work with him about getting the vegetables in the garden.
Ray: Tell us the decades.
Sylvia: So I was born in 1941. I’m 75. But now what happened with me was that I went to Doyle Avenue School. Doyle Avenue School is not there anymore, but it was standing exactly where the East Side Apartments are on Doyle Ave. I was there only until the third grade. For the fourth grade, I ended up somewhere else, at a boarding school in Woonsocket. So I never came back until high school, when I came back to Carrington Avenue just above Camp St.
Ray: Last question Sylvia. Did you have a sense of community as a child there?
Sylvia: Yeah. It was a very strong community. Some of those houses—if you went to visit people, you walked up the back steps—you could eat off the stairs because people’s homes were immaculate. Of course everyone knew everyone else and if you did something, at home they knew about it. When I was there I remembered the fish men coming round and ringing the bell and the cart. And the ice cream man. [East Siders: “Rag man”]. I want to let somebody else talk, and maybe talk about Bates St.
North Main St., Kirk St., Grand View St.
Virginia: My name is Virginia Veiga and I’m 74 years old and I lived on the East Side all my life. I started off on North Main St. I went to Benefit Street School before I went to Doyle Avenue, then Nathan Bishop, graduated from Hope High School. I lived on Kirk St. where University Heights is. My father owned a three-decker house there, which we had to sell because they needed the property. We moved to Grand View St., which is still there and my brother still lives there.
Growing up on the East Side, we had a lot. More than what we got now for these kids. We had the Benefit Street Recreation Center. Mr. Thomas. We had Halloween parties with Hope High School. Get the children bicycles and gifts every year.
We grew up with everybody. [Panel: “Right!”]. The Jewish people, us--East Side. Raymond Patriarca Jr. was one of my best friends. I went to his house when I went to school. We all got along. It was peaceful, nice. You could go into the stores. Ruthie Cory owned the store next to the Osbornes. My house was facing them. I used to go there and pump oil.
Ray: Where was Ruth’s store?
Virginia: On Olney St. Olney and Pratt St. On the corner.
Ray: They don’t know that.
Virginia: Hers for years.
Ray: And it’s still there.
Virginia: Then we had Mr. Nathan’s store. And Fruit Market. And a deli.
Ray: So tell us where the deli was.
Virginia: The deli was right on North Main St. And then it moved to Hope St. Davis I think his name was.
East Siders in unison: Miller’s.
Virginia: Coming up on the East Side, you could walk the streets all hours of the night. No one bothered you. If one parent seen us doing something, they could scold us. As old as I am, I still say “Yes m’am” and “Yes sir” to people older than me. I have friends who say, “Don’t say that, Virginia.” If you’re older than me, it’s the way I was brought up.
Jesse Bradley: She never said it to me.
Virginia: You’re lucky I speak to you. I love his mother. His mother’s going to be 104 years old this month.
Jesse Bradley: No, tomorrow
Virginia: She knows everything. She don’t forget anything.
Ray: Did she ever live on Lippitt Hill?
Virginia: Ms. Bradley? Yes, she did. She lived on Lippitt Hill. And I grew up with everybody back here. We all went to school together.
JESSE BRADLEY III
Camp St., Howell St., Lippitt St., Doyle Ave.
Jesse: My names Jesse Bradley the third. I’m 79. My mother, like she said, is 104 years old. She could be here today. A group went by to see her yesterday and she told some of the stories. She has pictures. She was secretary of the East Side Neighborhood Council for years. Still has her minutes. This goes back. She worked at the school department, her mother worked in the church. It goes on and on.
My grandfather and my grandmother owned four houses on the East Side until they took them away and told her what they would pay her for them.
Ray: Which church?
Jesse: Olney Street Baptist Church. That was the church that a lot of people don’t know but my mother was one of the people who fought for that church to be located at where it’s at now on Olney St. Brown University wanted the property. Olney Street had to fight for it to keep it. And we’re still fighting to keep it.
Ray: You should tell them. The church faced Pratt St. I have a postcard. It’s a little version of the First Baptist Church in America. You would think no one would tear that church down.
Jesse: Nope. We’re 116 years old in December. I’m still in the church. Been in the church. I was the little boy with the suit and tie on that had to be in church. In every organization I was the chaplain. I also used to play at the Jewish Community Center. I have a golf partner I play with who’s an attorney now. I play with him now because I found out—we had a drugstore on the corner of Camp and Lippitt St.
East Siders in unison: Harry’s spa
Jesse: His grandson I play golf with and I didn’t know it was his grandson until we got in a conversation. I used to work for his granddads. And we’re friends and he’s my attorney today. And he’s back on the East Side. He’s just moved in back of Holy Name Church. He bought his mother’s house and the new house is in the back.
Ray: Tell us where your father’s houses were.
Jesse: They were on Lippitt St, in the middle of Lippitt. We call it the bottom portion of Lippitt St. That’s from North Main to Camp and halfway in-between he owned four houses there. One of the big deaconesses is from the Olney Street Baptist Church. As a matter of fact a lot of us are from Olney Street Baptist—we all still stay in the church family here. Congdon Street Church, Olney Street Church. We’re still existing and still sisters in the church business.
Ray: What did they pay your father for his houses when they took them?
Jesse: They didn’t pay much at all.
East Siders in unison: Not much at all
Jesse: I was very young at the time and we didn’t ask.
Virginia: Can I just add one more thing? Remember Dr. Gross? There were a couple black doctors on the East Side. We had Dr. Gross on Doyle Avenue. Right where Carver Courts is now. Little houses, still there. He used to be there, we used to go there.
Ray: So tell folks about Dr. Gross.
Virginia: Oh you get sick, you could go to Dr. Gross’ house. Or I had a Dr. Mandell who came to my mother’s house. We never went to the doctors; the doctors always came to us. We got treated very well. And it didn’t cost much, let’s put it that way. If you didn’t have money, they came.
Ray: So tell them what Dr. Gross did.
Virginia: General practitioner. But he did anything else that you came for.
Ray: But he had a specialty on the side. He birthed 3,000 black babies. I’m not supposed to say that. 3,000 babies. And he had no hospital privileges. Miriam wrote him wonderful letters telling him no. And Rhode Island hospital wrote him nasty letters saying no.
Virginia: And he was excellent, because we’re here today and we’re old. We’re young.
Audience: You said there were two doctors, who was the other?
East Siders in unison: Dr. Jackson, he was a dentist.
DEBORAH YOUNG TUNSTALL
Deborah: My name is Deborah Young Tunstall and I lived on Howell St. I grew up on Howell St. and I went to Doyle Avenue School. It was a community where everyone knew one another and all the kids respected the elders. We had a fish man, oil man, rag man, fruit man, and an ice cream man. And not one of our big kids stole off the ice cream man. The kids, we respected our adults. If a parent said, “You belong in the house”, you went in the house.
Doyle Avenue School was a community school. Some went to Jenkins St. Some went to Summit Avenue. Some went to Howland Holland??. I went to Doyle Avenue. It was a community. I could tell you all the streets that were on there.
Ray: Where did Howell run to?
Deborah: There was a lower half that went to North Main St.. Then were was a street called Scott Street which was the Jewish community with the Jewish synagogue there. Then there was another street called Bell St. There was a little candy store that was on the corner of North Main and that.
Ray: Who’s candy store?
Deborah: Tinko’s??. We had markets. We had laundromats. We had things. We were poor but we didn’t know we were poor. Dr. Andrew Jackson was a black dentist. Dr. Gross. We had a beautician, Grace Butler.
Ray: Where was Grace Butler?
Deborah: On Olney St. Two or three houses up from Ruthie Courier’s store. There was Dr. Gross’ nephew--they lived there.
Ray: Was she in the basement of the house that still has the storefront?
Deborah: Yes, and my grandmother, Ms. Brown, lived right next door to the beauty shop. That white house which now has the garage. And my aunts lived next door. And then on Prospect St. I remember a few people that lived down there. The Duffy’s lived...
Ray: We have to stop you though because you’re getting off Lippitt Hill onto College Hill.
Deborah: Oh no, but I’m telling you it wasn’t College Hill then. It was the East Side.
Ray: Okay! What else do you want to add?
Deborah: It was the Olney Street Church, then it was Mendy’s Funeral Home, and Bailey’s was across the street.
Ray: Mendy’s was where?
Deborah: On Olney St. Near Pratt. And then they moved to Camp St. And Bailey’s was across the street near North Main. I know my streets.
Ray: You know, there were all those streets in there which are all gone.
Deborah: Let me tell you, when you came down, you went to Camp St.—my grandmother lived on Camp St.—and back up Camp St. was a street called Mallett St.
JOANNA TAVARES FERNANDEZ
10 Clorane St.
Joanna: My name is Joanna Fernandez. My maiden name is Tavares. I was born in 1940.
Deborah: Did she say her age?
Joanna: That means I’m 77. We lived on Clorane St. If you’re going up Olney St., just before you get to Pratt St., it was on the right hand side. You guys were on Kirk St. Kirk St. was the next one up. We went to Holy Name School on Camp St. We belonged to the church there. And there was six of us.
Ray: So Holy Name was racially integrated when you were a kid?
Joanna: Not really. It was, but there was only a few of us that was there. We used to walk to school in the morning, from Clorane St. over to Camp St. Clorane St. was a dead end street. At the end of the street was Bates Street Playground. It had a pool.
Virginia: We had the pool and everything. We didn’t have to go the beach, we had the pool.
Joanna: They did arts and crafts. We even had dance. Then at the end of the season, we went to Roger Williams Park. We all had the skirts and stuff on, and the pom poms, and it was all of the playgrounds in the city of Providence, at the end of the year, that did that thing at the park there.
Ray: And what years were those?
Joanna: What year were those? ‘50s. Well, a little bit before ’50. Probably ’48, ’49. Like they said, the Benefit Street drop-in center used to have movies on Tuesdays, canteen on Thursdays.
Ray: Across from?
Joanna: On Benefit St. It was where St. Dunstan’s was after that.
Ray: Near Star St. There’s a parking lot there that belongs to the Episcopal Church now.
Virginia: That’s where I started. I was born on North Main Street originally, where they built those apartments on the right coming up from Star St.
Ray: Constitution Hill.
Virginia: That’s what it is? And then you had to go down the stairs and there was a river bank in there.
Ray: Now could I ask a question and maybe the gentleman will have to answer it? On College Hill, there were houses of—
Virginia: There were houses and stores—
Ray: No, no, I’m trying to do a little euphemism here and you won’t let me.
Virginia: There was stores—
Ray: Can I be more explicit? There were places that women were peddling services.
East Siders in unison: No!
Ray: One at a time!
Deborah: No way
Dorothy: We never had that.
Theresa Tavares Christy: What is Constitution Hill?
Ray: From Star St. going towards University Heights. Those eight or ten houses. It’s just a fancy name.
Joanna: My godmother had a store over there. And then we had the Holy Name Hall, where the Cape Verdeans used to have the dances and everything.
Virginia: We had a Holy Name Club that our family owned and we was there all the time.
Ray: Who owned it?
Joanna: The Cape Verdeans.
Ray: It was a Cape Verdean Club?
East Siders in unison: Yes!
Ray: Owned by who?
East Siders in unison: The Cape Verdeans!
Ray: What was it called?
East Siders: Holy Name Club/Hall/Society!
DOROTHY MONTEIRO MCCULLOUGH
47 Howell St.
Dorothy: I’m Dorothy Monteiro McCullough. I was born on Constitutional Hill in the year of…somewhere in there. And when I moved to what you call Lippitt Hill I was about one years old. But it was always called the East Side. Where Lippitt Hill came from, the Chaffees and them...someone named that area. Now it’s Mount Hope. So whoever gives these names, you know.
Ray: Slow down a second. In the ‘40s, people did not call that Lippitt Hill?
East Siders in unison: No!
Dorothy: After they started renovating and tearing down and moving us out, it all of a sudden became “Lippitt Hill”.
Ray: Okay, so we have to find out what year Lippitt Hill…because the city calls it Lippitt Hill on the maps.
Dorothy: That’s the name that they gave us. They always tried to name us.
Ray: Before that, you were just, “On the East Side, or on Bates St.,” or something.
East Siders in unison: East Side.
Dorothy: The East Side was considered Fox Point all the way to Pawtucket. The lower East Side was from, I’d say, North Main to Hope St.
Ray: So you’re telling folks here what we know to be true—that you start giving these places names and then they’re not part of the East Side.
Dorothy: So we’re still separated. I moved to 47 Howell St, which was close to the end. I did go to the Doyle Avenue School. We lived in the bottom off. So there was the Napolis—
Ray: Two floor or triple?
Dorothy: Triple. We lived in the rear. Near the bottom of the Howell St. there were the Napolis—they were Italian. There was the yarmulke—well they were Jewish and he owned a store on Lippitt St. And there was a lady named…
Ray: What kind of store?
Dorothy: A little variety store. And then there was IyaDevedas?? They had a food stand on North Main and Howell. There was Scott St. and that was the Jewish synagogue. And this was all before Doyle Avenue. So I lived at 47 Howell St. ’til I was 14 years old.
Ray: And does the building still stand?
Dorothy: Oh no.
An unidentified East Sider: Nothing stands!
Dorothy: And then we moved to 68 Olney St. for a short while. I went to Hope High School and after that, I guess two or three years later, redevelopments came.
Ray: But 68 was on the Lippitt Hill side?
Dorothy: Well, my parents were there in 1968 on the University Heights side. And then redevelopment came in so they had to move across the street, which was 72 Olney St. That’s Olney and Prospect. They were a number three-decker home.
Ray: Was this next door to Mr. Penderhughes?
Dorothy: Right next door to Mr. Penderhughes. The houses are still there, the three-decker houses. My father was a construction worker. He worked for A.C. Beals, Turging Construction, and a few others. And he helped build University Heights. My father worked construction until he was 70 years old.
Ray: Tell us your father’s name.
Dorothy: His name was Peter Monteiros, Sr. And what happened was, him and a 26-year-old young man was working on the bottom floor when the top floor caved in on them. So my father was buried and so was the young man. My father spent three months in the Miriam Hospital. The young man he came out with bruises--he didn’t spend that long.
The funny part about it is we lived across the street from University Heights and my mother was on the porch when all this commotion happened. But she didn’t realize that it was her husband that was there until someone came later on and told her. My father, it took him a while to recuperate because of his age. But he was a strong man. He was very strong. And when he got well he wound up working for the neighborhood P for P.
East Siders: Pro Cap.
Dorothy: Where he was helping food and all of that. And then a young man came in one day to rob them. And my father in his seventies is fighting him and had a good grip on him. The only reason my father let go is because my father’s glasses came off. Whether he got caught or not, I don’t remember.
Ray: And where was Pro Cap located?
Dorothy: This was on Camp St.
Ray: Camp St.?
Dorothy: Camp between Abbott and Forest.
Ray: Oh, way up.
Dorothy: Yeah way up. Some people went from Howell, Olney St., moved over to Doyle Avenue, Grand View, you know. As we got more educated and was able to buy homes.
Ray: Did Jeffrey Osborne’s family live two doors or three doors from you?
Dorothy: The Osbornes lived in the 60s.
Ray: I thought that you lived at 72.
Dorothy: I did, on Olney St. But they lived near the bottom, near Pratt St. and Olney St.
Ray: Half a block away! So did you know Jeffrey Osborn?
East Siders in unison: Yes!
Ray: I’m just trying to get him in here!
Dorothy: Yeah, he knows me by name. He can call me by name.
Deborah: He went to school with us. All of them.
Virginia: You should’ve told me I would’ve brought pictures!
Dorothy: What’s the church at the bottom of the hill? St. John’s Cathedral? St. John’s also had another church which was on the corner of North Main and…Church of the Savior.
Ray: Which was the…
East Siders in unison: Black Episcopal Church.
Ray: Now I’m Episcopalian and I’m always embarrassed by this: The church was segregated.
Dorothy: It was segregated, yeah.
Ray: Now did anybody go to the Church of the Savior?
Deborah: We did when I was younger. And then we ended up going to Congdon Street because my grandmother, who lived on Olney St., first she went to Olney Street but then she transferred over to Congdon Steet.
Ray: Now how did you jump from Episcopalian to Baptist?
Deborah: I didn’t know. Back then, you had to go to church.
Dorothy: Mrs. Moore-Brown’s father was the minister and plus I think he was the chaplain of Brown University.
Ray: For a short period. Visiting or something.
Dorothy: Abbey Teller on Prospect St., her father was a chaplain for Brown University. Abbey Teller--her father was a professor and chaplain at Brown University.
Ray: And was this the big house across from Christian Science…
Dorothy: On Prospect and Meeting St.
Ray: So you’re the first person I’m going to suggest that you have a seat.
75 Lippitt St, Carrington Ave., Cypress St., Doyle Ave.
Naomi: My name is Naomi Jax-Brown and I was born in 1939 and I grew up on Lippitt St. My father owned a barber shop on Lippitt St., two on Camp St. And then we moved from Lippitt to Carrington Avenue and then from Carrington Avenue to that big house at 140 that’s the Providence Learning Center.
Sylvia: Mount Hope Learning Center.
Naomi: I’ve been over on the East Side—we always called it East Side and not Lippitt Hill—all my life. I went to Doyle Avenue School, I went to Nathan Bishop, and I graduated from Hope. And then I went to Johnson & Wales and then I went to URI.
Ray: And you live now?
Naomi: I live on Doyle Avenue.
Ray: In that beautiful plaqued house.
Naomi: Yes. I have two plaqued houses.
Ray: And tell me, in the 1940s, did you have a sense of community?
Naomi: Oh yeah, I lived on 75 Lippitt St. At that time my father had a barber shop underneath in the cellar.
Ray: Is this up from North Main?
Naomi: On the lower end. There was another barber at the bottom.
Deborah: Mr. Amos
Naomi: There was another one also.
Jesse Bradley: Mr. Carrie
Naomi: No, Mr. Carrie was on Camp St.
Ray: How many barbers on Lippitt Hill? We have to call it that…
Ray: So there was a barber every two blocks?
Rob Dimmick: Can talk a little bit about the importance of the barber shop in that community?
Naomi: Well my father used to work for Mr. Carrie and he opened up his own barber shop on Lippitt St., 75. And then from 75 Lippitt St. he went to Randall St. No he went to North Main where the fruit market used to be.
Deborah: Frank’s Fruit Market.
Naomi: And he went from there to Randall Square, near the Celebrity Club, and then he had a lot of famous people who used to go to the Celebrity Club.
Ray: Such as?
Naomi: Fats Domino.
Virginia: They all came to my mother’s house because she sold dinners afterwards and the Celebrity Club all popped in. Charlie and Ray. Everybody used to come to our house.
Ray: So who met Duke Ellington?
Dorothy: I did.
Virginia: I did. The Arcadia we used to go to. That Arcadia was the bomb.
Sylvia: My paternal family lived in Fox Point, on John St. But my uncle Eddie Soares was a pianist and he actually sat in for Earl Father Hynes in the Louis Armstrong Group when he was ill one night. So people afterwards would go to my grandmother’s, my uncle’s and my grandmother’s, and that was in Fox Point. And Sarah Vaughan came. And Deloise??? came. To our house.
Naomi: And there was a baking place. We lived at 92 Lippitt St. at one time and there was a baking place and it was owned by the Sheckman’s and they had horses there. And we used to cut through that street to go to Doyle Avenue School.
Deborah: It was a little weird looking street and there was a man, he used to have the junk shop.
Naomi: Not only that. My uncle John Santos owned two houses right next to us. And then there was Blunky’s market. And she lived upstairs and she had candy. We used to go in there and buy the Jewish pickles. She had a big keg with the pickles in it.
Deborah: Weren’t they two cents at that time? They were the biggest little things you’ve ever seen.
Naomi: And then my uncle bought Blunky’s and my cousin, later on, she moved into the store. Mimi Catlin and Obie Catlin. And then from there they moved over to Pleasant St. and had a little variety store on Pleasant St. And then my other uncle, Mr. Santos, that used to live next door--when they moved out they went to 166 Prospect St. So we all lived right around there, the whole family. And then I had an aunt that lived up on the top part of Lippitt St. and she moved to Duncan Avenue. And when she moved to Duncan Avenue she gave me a paper where they wrote something about the black people moving to Duncan Avenue and the white people moving out. It says, “Denies Negro neighbors’ motive for house sales.” They didn’t want the Negroes to move onto Duncan Avenue.
Ray: So, to move to the other side of Doyle Avenue, to go to…
Naomi: Duncan Avenue.
Ray: So the story goes that they’re tearing down the black neighborhood and someone comes and tells the Mayor one day, “These black people have no place to go.” Because it’s redlined and they can’t live there. And the Mayor has to call in the realtors. It’s a long story and I’m not supposed to do the talking.
So do you all know the story about Billie Holliday? She’s at the Celebrity Club and she wants a drink. You’re supposed to say yes you know the story. Well, she wants a drink and it’s two o’ clock in the afternoon and she goes into a Polish bar on North Main Street and they inform her that—”Whites only. And she said, “It used to be.”
Now do you remember places being segregated?
Some East Siders: No.
Ray: Well we have two answers.
Virginia: Not on the East Side, no no.
Joanna: Oh not on the East Side, no.
Dorothy: Not really.
Deborah: Not when we were growing up, no.
Naomi: Not on the East Side.
Ray: So, most, correct me, most of the merchants who are not black are Jewish—
East Siders: Italian.
Ray: I was gonna get there! In Lippitt Hill, next door to where you lived, and everybody shopping in those stores, and there’s no discrimination.
Virginia: Every Saturday my father and us, we had our little shopping bags and we went to Federal Hill. And that’s how she shopped and got our food and came back home. We walked because my father didn’t ride no busses. Because he didn’t really believe in giving nobody his money.
Sylvia: Can we talk a little bit about Camp Street that’s totally empty now from Doyle to Olney St. It’s empty except for Martin Luther King School and some building or something. The Olney Street Church was not there so Camp St. went all the way to Olney St. at that time. Along that street were—let’s talk about it—there were drugstores, there was Jewish markets, there was black businesses.
Deborah: There was a market on the corner of Camp and Doyle called Blue Ribbon. Next to it was a little variety store. Next to that was a store of Mr. Piles.
East Siders: He was an electrician
Deborah: Coming on down there was a market on the corner of Camp and Howell called My Three Sons.
Dorothy: There was a First National, and an A&P store on Camp and Howell St.
Ray: Was this a little A&P?
Virginia: No, a big market.
Dorothy: Yeah, a grocery store.
THERESA TAVARES CHRISTY
10 Clorane St.
Theresa: I grew up on the East Side and listening to all these ladies talk and the young man here, I don’t know half the stuff they’re talking about. I honestly don’t. We grew up, like Joanna said, and went to Holy Name School and Church. We used to walk to school. We used to come home for lunch. I remember Record House to tell you the truth, and dancing at the different clubs. I remember my dad was in a band. On Labor Day we went to the band and we still have the beautiful picture of all the Cape Verdean people that came from Boston and Connecticut and came together. And we danced. And we had a dinner.
And there was a store on what you call—I don’t know what—it was North Main St. And it was her godmother. And if you were coming up the street there was a store right on the left and you went a little further and the hall was there. I wrote down some stuff but this…
Ray: The gas station was in the middle of the street right?
Theresa: I don’t remember the gas station. When University Heights came and we were told that redevelopment was coming in and then when they were finished we would get first choices to move back. And that never happened. So my Dad bought a house, which we kind of still have, on Jenkins St., and we lived there. So we walked from Jenkins St. and we went to St. Pat’s high school and we used to come down the hill to go to school. And St. Pat’s Church was there and it’s no longer there. It was on Smith St. But my memories of East Side were happy memories. Like my sister started to tell you, we were on 10 Clorane St. We were the third house from Bates St. if you were coming up the hill. And we were near Ruthie’s store. We were near Bailey’s Funeral Parlor. Mendes Funeral Parlor. Mr. Mendes owned the house that we lived in. And a lot of other houses that were more or less robbed from his children.
So I don’t know what else to say, because I was sitting here getting so excited because …
Ray: Well what else do you want to say? Now I just realized something. Were there three funeral homes?
Theresa: There was Bailey’s and Mendes.
Ray: There were two black funeral homes. And where was Bailey’s?
Theresa: Bailey’s was on Olney St. If you were coming up Clorane St. from Bates St., then Bailey’s would be right to the left there. There was another street which was Burr’s Lane. That’s still there. My grandmother used to live on Burr’s Lane. We used to go up from North Main St. to Burr’s Lane, visit my grandmother, and keep going. You could go to Pratt St.
Ray: And the house wasn’t at the top of Burr’s Lane then so you could go up to Pratt.
Theresa: Right. We would go to—where’s that park we walked to? Prospect. Well see, we used to call him Roger. We went to Roger’s park. And Joanne doesn’t remember but I know and maybe I shouldn’t say this but we used to help ourselves to pears in someone’s yard. And they were very good pears. We have so many beautiful memories.
Ray: Whose yard was it?
Theresa: I have no idea.
Ray: Because if it was one of the old families that still lived there then you could make amends.
Theresa: Well I’d be happy to bring them some pears but they wouldn’t be as good as those.
Ray: You knowingly or unknowingly just shared something with the audience.
Theresa: And what was that?
Ray: In the early days, on Benefit St. and the like, there were 17 orchards because everybody had an orchard on their land. And in William J. Brown’s book, he talks about getting arrested for stealing apples on Marand??’s land. So that would be Bowen. So the apple orchards went all the way to Olney St.
Theresa: Well we had pears.
Ray: Oh I’m sorry, the orchards. I stand corrected. So would you like to talk a little bit?
Bates St., Camp St., Lippitt St., Duncan Ave.
Vivian Moore: No thank you.
Ray: But you did sign in?
Vivian: Yeah I did sign in. I’d just be repeating whatever they’re saying. I was born there. I’m still there.
Ray: You were born where?
Vivian: I was born on Bates St., moved to Camp St. My mom bought a 10-room house on Camp St. I had 9 brothers and sisters and we stayed there until they came to University Heights. After that, I went back to Lippitt St. and then I bought a house on Camp St. again and now I’m on Duncan Avenue so that’s my whole life.
Ray: Now did you know the Browns?
Vivian: Yes I did.
Ray: Did you know that Browns that lived on Bates St. They lived there until 1936.
Vivian: No. That’s before my time.
An East Sider: Anything Moses Brown in there?
Ray: No this is the black Browns. These are the slaves of the Brown family. They lived on Bates and at some point they owned most of Bates because Moses gave it to them. But then he took it back. Moses was a very interesting man.
Dorothy: Oh they were. The Brown boys were very interesting.
Ray: So, the floor is yours. You have to tell the mic what your name is.
MEREDITH SPICER DEBRITTO
Meredith: Good evening. My maiden name is Spicer and my last name is DeBritto, since 1954. I’m 81 and my first name is Meredith. My prized possession: When there was the Celebrity Club, Sugar Ray Robinson practiced before he performed and at the same time, Klaus Dickens??? was right in front or near.
Ray: Tell them who he was.
Meredith: He had this store. And it happened in that store that was his name worked this one lady, Madeline Davis. Her relative was James N. Williams, the head of the Urban League, if any of you remember the Urban League. So once Sugar Ray Robinson had been practicing at the Celebrity Club but then he needed another record to help him practice. So he went to Klaus Dickens and the sales girl was Madeline Davis and asked if he could borrow to practice. When he returned the record, he said, “Thank you so much, and I wish I could thank you” or “What can I do to show my appreciation?”
That weekend, downtown at the Grace Church in Providence, they were having a celebration of students graduating and I say they being the Urban League. Madeline Davis said it would be nice--there are three people going to receive an award--and it would be nice if you would present it. So that’s how I received this from Sugar Ray Robinson. Looks like 1953, it says.
Sylvia: For what?
Meredith: For having done well in school. I was the class president of Nathan Bishop when I graduated, and I was Vice President as a junior at Hope High School and as a senior I graduated from Hope High. And then with the Urban League, I think I was around 16, and Mr. James N. Williams lived across the street from where I lived on Dwight St. And just to tell you, the end of Dwight is still there and just to tell you, my grandchildren live there with my daughter and her husband. One goes to Brown now--our grandchild--and the other one’s at Syracuse as a sophomore. So when I go up and down the stairs—it’s a cottage—and when I have to go the lav, that’s where it is on the second floor. But my daughter of course knows how old her mother is so I can go up maybe but when I’m coming down, she’s like, “Mom be careful!” I say, “I had four kids and I went up and down visiting my parents to the same house.” But she’s cautious.
And then while I was at Hope, I was in the Young Artists Club, and I don’t know if I was the president but Mr. Green was the teacher of the club. There was the Jewish Auxiliary on Elmgrove Ave. and they were having a program and they asked the Young Aritsts Club and I don’t remember who else but I did go to perform.
Also, my uncle--who lived at 222 Howell St. as a young man; he and my grandparents and his siblings, my mother--when he left Providence, he was in Erskine Hawkins’ band and during the times that he was in New York...Bands travel but the bottom line was Uncle Bobby Smith, when he wasn’t in Erskine Hawkins’ band, he wrote the song “Tippin’ In”. And that was very popular at the time. And I enjoyed visiting him.
I was born in Harlem, on 8th Avenue, but only because my parents were—my dad stayed in the musician’s union even after they came back to Providence. But I was born in ’36, that means my parents were at that age where they weren’t really planning on marriages. Because I’m an only child.
Ray: Now remember, only tell as much as you want to.
Meredith: No, I’m just saying that as a musician that’s where he thought he would maybe do as well as his brother-in-law Bobby Smith in Erskine Hawkins’ band. It was during the Depression. They sent me as a three-year-old back to Crescent Park, Riverside where my grandmother paternal lived. And then when it was time for me to start school, speaking about the East Side, we lived—the first house after my parents came back when I was around 5—we lived at 257 Williams St. And next door were the Limas. And one of the males of the family was…I don’t know how many black policeman there were when he came a policeman.
Sylvia: He was the second.
Meredith: It was at the top of Dwight St. And until the Olney St. apartment complex was built—maybe it stopped before that. I don’t know. But as a youngster living on Dwight St., at the end of Dwight and the top of Lippitt, that’s where they erected a pedestal so that the bands could stand. And what was nice about that as a young girl at the time, during the day the elderly would have made preserves and they would have tables set up along Lippitt St. and people would purchase, etc. And then at night they would have a band that Sylvia Ann Soares’ relative was in.
Sylvia: No, but Legs Osborne was in it, and you sang in it.
Ray: Now we’re going to wrap up in the next six minutes. I want to tell you a piece of politics--because we haven’t talked about any--and find out who knew this. So, the police force--This is a very interesting problem in this country. The police force in this country—the police are wonderful, they were never bad, they were never racist, they were never segregated, they were never all white. You know, and so everything now is perfect.
But in Providence you couldn’t be a police officer. And the Mayor got desperate and barely won reelection so he cut a deal with the black community: if you all vote for me, I’ll give you one black policeman. And, by the way, I checked today—the police force is only 106 people, so one was a little less than 1% but it was a beginning. And he got 50-60% of the vote in the black community and he decided to honor his word and the leaders, including Mr. Williams, brought in the person they wanted to have the job, who had some background. And this is a little classified thing I want to be careful how I saw it—but the community wanted the perfect person to have the job so nothing would go wrong, but also they wanted a person who had a personality who could go down there and be abused and not give it back. So they spent a lot of time picking a person and they took him down to the Mayor and the Mayor said, “I can’t hire him. He’s too dark.” So then they brought their second choice.
Audience: What year was this?
Ray: And remember—I don’t want to talk too much—when I came to Providence there were only 12 black police officers and they weren’t permitted to be in South Providence. You just giggled at it. So there were 414 police officers, 12 of them black. We forget these things, don’t we?
Ray: So each of you have less than a minute if you want to say something profound and wonderful that you’ve not said.
Deborah: My name is Deborah Young Tunstall, lifelong resident of Lippitt Hill--what you call it. The East Side is what I call it.
Sylvia: Sylvia Ann Soares. We’re all profound. So I’m living on Cypress because we did go over to Carrington and moved out and I’m on Cypress now. Remember that along North Main Street too, between Olney and Doyle, there were a bunch of stores down there and when you’re looking across at the Providence Center--the two-story building--there was a third story on that and I saw it burn down. Court’s Bakery and one store owned by a Jewish man, a furniture store. It had the first television in the window that we’d look at. There was a fruit market, a liquor store, there were all kinds of things down there.
Meredith Spicer did sing at one of the block parties up on Dwight. All of those people did have tables and things and they had pies and chicken and it was all for sale all day. She sang with the band. What was your name?
Meredith: Candy Strawblue??. And I’d throw it out in the audience and some of them never forgot it.
Sylvia: They still have the candy.
Jesse: Jesse Bradley. Been there since 1938. Born in Rhode Island. Originally lived on Camp. Went from Camp, to Howell, to Lippitt, to Doyle, now to Smithfield. But I wanted to mention that as kids we had a drill team. We used to march home in the middle of the street coming from Benefit Street Recreation Center. And we were always chased by the police. So we took the initiative to go and see a Mr. Metz, who lived on Camp St. and told him what was happening. And Charlie Thomas used to run the center. And Charlie Thomas introduced me to Mr. Metz, and Mr. Metz in turn introduced me to Colonel Ryan, the gentleman from East Providence that put us in a drill team group which won the competition in Rhode Island five years straight. But they segregated that group because nobody else could go. We competed against everybody in Rhode Island and New England, and they flew us all over. It’s the first time the guys had ever been on an airplane. We flew in box cars as kids. We didn’t win in New York. But when we came back here, I’d like to say that mostly all of those guys that were in that drill team wound up being colonels and captains in the air force.
Ray: What years were those?
Jesse: I try to forget those years.
Ray: Fifty what?
Jesse: That had to be in the ‘40s. We all still stay in touch. But they would not let us go as an all-black group after we won it for three years. They segregated us. They made us put in guys from Warwick in our group. Because they would never get to go, because we would win every year.
Virginia: I have too much more to say. My name is Virginia Veiga and my parents house is still on Grand View St. and my brother still lives in it. And they caged that street nearly too. Now they’re building condominiums on the whole street that only had one family houses. It’s ridiculous. They look like big hotels across the street from these little bitty one-family houses. They’re renting them, they’re buying them, but they’re only living there like six months at a time. They should’ve never built them on the street. The rents are ridiculous over there. Taxes and everything else.
Meredith: Meredith Spicer DeBritto. Those of you who like to read, I was always with Frank Graham when he had the newspaper, and he used to pick me up because I didn’t drive—I was young—and he would take me wherever we had to assemble this or that or whatever, so I appreciated his attention during those years.
Joanna: Joanna Fernandez. I just want to say that Clorane St. went into Bates St. playground. Bates St. came down into the playground. And Lippitt St. was right over the playground too, so it was that big area there. Besides we have the ice man, we also have the crab man that used to come. So we’d all be sitting outside with your newspapers, eating your crabs so you could just wrap it up afterwards. My dad, we used to play hide and go seek. He used to sit out on the porch with us and then everybody put their finger in and he’d do a Cape Verdean Cidiembique? to find out who’s out and who’s not. And when we were kids too, we knew once the lights came on—better be in the house, you know?
So like the my sister said, the memories. You couldn’t do anything because before you got home, your parents already knew. Somebody would see you and tell them.
Ray: Who had a telephone in the 1940s?
Dorothy: We did.
Joanna: We had a telephone. The party line.
Virginia: We had one. And a black and white TV.
Deborah: Yeah, the screen’s that big and the furniture’s that big.
Ray: A gorgeous piece of wood.
Ann Blunt McGloshen: I didn’t grow up on the East Side. I didn’t go to the East Side until I was married later.
Ray: Did you marry someone who lived there earlier?
Ann: My name is Ann Blunt McGloshen and I’m 74 years old. I was married to George Alves who lived on Camp St. He was raised by Mr. and Mrs. Montero and he worked for Mr. Pile in the electric store that was on Camp St. And we met at Hope High School.
Theresa: Theresa Tavares Christy, I grew up on the East Side. I met my husband at the Arcadia at a dance and a couple years later we got married and moved away. He retired quite a while ago and we moved back here. And we live in North Providence because we couldn’t afford a home on the East Side.
Ray: And you went dancing at the Arcade?
Theresa: Arcadia. Boogie-oogie-oogie. Downtown.
Naomi: I’m Naomi Jax-Brown and my father had a number of barber shops on the East Side. My aunt she had a restaurant on the East Side on Camp St., next to the barber shop. Her name is Alex Hector.
Ray: What was the restaurant called?
Naomi: I don’t remember.
Jesse: Benny Wood’s? He had a restaurant on Camp.
Naomi: And then they had the cobbler, on Camp St. The shoe man. And he’s still on North Main isn’t he. Abe’s?
Vivian: My name is Vivian Moore. I had two beautiful children, a girl and a boy who all grew up and got good jobs. My daughter was a flight attendant for American Airlines, so I have flown all over the whole world. Coming from nine children. I think that was beautiful. We used to go down and watch the airplanes go up. And all of a sudden I’m on the airplane, in first class. I think God has been good to me, so that’s all I have to say.
Dorothy: I’m Dorothy Monteiro Mccullough, and I do have two children, a boy and a girl, and my son made lieutenant in the fire department and he was also working for AAA when he pulled a burnt guy out of the building, which was about six months ago. So he’s doing well. My daughter lives in Philadelphia. She went to Temple University. She came home. She couldn’t get a job in Rhode Island so she went back to Philadelphia. So they’re doing good. And I had a normal childhood as far I as I was concerned. I was born in Rhode Island; Stayed in Rhode Island; I’m going to die in Rhode Island.
Ray: Now let me ask one quick controversial question. So there was this famous man who was a number man. Allegedly, the Italian mob killed him to take over his business.
Dorothy: We don’t know about that.
Ray: He was a big numberman.
Virginia: He’d write it on them slips and fold ‘em up.
Dorothy: We were always protected by Raymond Patriarca on the East Side, so…I don’t anything about that.
Ray: So we know nobody here did it, but was there any number running in the neighborhood.
East Siders: Yes/of course.
Deborah: Only certain ones were doing the numbers, because the rest of the people couldn’t afford it. We were nickled and dimed.
Sylvia: Sylvia Ann Soares, and also Jesse Bradley is going to say something. Dixie Matthews. Was he the first black constable? He was the city clerk.
Ray: So you’re raising a very interesting point here. The black community used to have three or four leaders and if you wanted a job you had to go through them to go the white folks. And if you were lucky you could go to the post office. So the Feds were integrated. Nobody else was.
Dorothy: The City was.
Ray: You’re talking later.
Dorothy: I’m talking ’56.
Ray: OK. It’s your meeting. He worked at City Hall. And he and two or three other people probably got 90% of black folks their jobs other than being a maid in someone’s house. So it’s a fascinating time. They were kind of the real estate whatever. But remember, interesting things, black folks used to be Republicans. I mean, it was a very interesting time.