Little Washington neighbors reunite
By John Joyce
Published in News on August 31, 2013 10:46 PM
Doreatha Macklin bows her head and begins the blessing.
From a tent a few hundred feet behind her, Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell's, "If I Could Build My Whole World Around You," plays softly over her prayer.
"These are the children of the people raised in Little Washington," she said. "Welcome back."
For the 11th year, there was not a cloud in the sky above the Little Washington Reunion.
Men and women well into their 60s and 70s come together each year -- with their children, grandchildren and godchildren -- to keep alive the legacy fostered by the community they built around themselves.
"We had more people in this area than they had downtown," Ms. Macklin said.
She is the president of the reunion committee -- a group that works annually to realize the dream she had more than a decade ago to bring people from the loving community she remembers back together again.
Many have since moved away or passed on, but the community still exists as a bond between its people.
"It was just different," said Orie Henry, a committee member and Little Washington resident. "We were all poor, but we thought had everything."
And they did.
From shoe stores and florists, doctors and lawyers to seamstresses, tailors and five funeral homes, Little Washington was truly a self-sustaining community.
"The only thing you had to go downtown for was the jail or the courthouse," Ms. Macklin said.
And today, without the insulation and intimacy offered by such a close-knit community, too many young people are seeing those facilities, she said.
"You can't even speak to other people's children anymore," she said. "But I do."
In Little Washington, everybody knew everybody and looked after each other.
Children could be five blocks away from their home and their parents would know what they were up to even without the advantage of telephones.
When Ms. Macklin sees today that children are standing on corners and "doing things they shouldn't be doing," she tells them to stop it and to go home.
She does it out of love, she said.
"You've got to love them, they need and want to be loved. They respect that and they listen. They say, 'Ma'am? Yes, ma'am.'"
After blessing the food and making sure the children were called back from the park to the table, the eldest living resident of Little Washington, Mildred Henry Carlton, 84, received a bouquet of flowers and a serenade of "Christian Journey."
Two little girls with juice bottles in their hands and barrettes in their hair pushed their way around the legs of the adults, anxious to get their hands on the cupcakes and cake that were intended for after lunch.
There was barbecued chicken and pork, fried chicken and fish and string beans.
Ms. Macklin's daughters, Faye, Tasha and Cheree, did the serving.
This was their mother's dream -- to bring the family and community together for what once took place in their own back yards with people who now travel from as far away as Maryland and Virginia to enjoy a day with old friends.
Ernestine Wooten, a retired school teacher and education consultant was raised in Little Washington in the home her father, Earl, built.
Her father taught her and her siblings that going to school -- from School Street all the way through Dillard High -- was their job.
"And you didn't go late to your job," she said.
Her father sold newspapers and built houses.
And he went to every P.T.A. meeting.
To the side of the gathering, a man sat in a camping chair under the shade of a tree.
Seated next to him, his son's face seemed to suggest that he didn't want to be there.
The music was still playing and the food was being served.
People were talking and laughing and sharing the stories of the old neighborhood.
They seem to know, somehow, that time would tell a different story than the young boy's face told them now -- years from now when he is the old man sitting next to a young boy.
"This is not just Little Washington's legacy, it's our mother's legacy, too," Faye said.
She said it is about the love, the unity, the pride.
"And we're going to keep it going when, Heaven forbid, when she's gone," she said. "We'll still be out here, coming together."