Transcript: Jenny Pickens for Montford & Stumptown Stories

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My name is Jenny Pickens and I lived in the Montford area around the late 70s, I would say. It started out on Clingman Avenue and then we moved to Cumberland Avenue and later Westover Drive. And I was there until I finished high school, actually.

The neighborhood at the time when I lived here was predominantly Black, but there were a few whites as well, but more Black than white. A lot of them lived in the bigger houses. Our house seemed like the meeting place where everybody would hang out because my sister used to braid hair, so everybody would come and hang out at our house. 

I had a couple of cousins who lived in the neighborhood, kind of like a circle. One family lived on Blake, one lived on Bearden, I lived with my grandmother because she is the one who raised us, so that was the house everyone went to on Sunday to eat and everything. 

The garden was on this side here, up in the back, and it was huge, we’d get out there and pull beans, potatoes, tomatoes of course, my grandma would can stuff… (pointing at house) and this actually used to be an apartment, you can see where there was a door. You didn’t know that, did ya? You can still see where there was a door there…

My grandma had chickens she had forever, I remember my granddaddy getting the eggs from her. He’d be out here in the yard pushing one of those hand held lawn mowers… 

As a kid we’d go on, we called it ‘adventure walks,’ and we’d go all through the neighborhood. There were a lot of apple trees, grape vines, pear trees, walnut trees, and that’s what we ate during the time we were outside. 

There was a community store that was on the corner of Flint Street, which is now a house, someone’s house now, but that was the convenience store that everybody walked to. 

There was also another store we went to on the top of Montford, that place I remember going in there, my grandmother buying meat – sliced meat or fresh meat or everything in there. I remember that a lot, and behind that was Cherry Street and there were a lot of houses, I guess you could call them stacked houses, where someone lives at the bottom and another family lives at the top – there was a lot of that… 

Walking to school, walking to Randolph, we’d sing songs on the way to school, I remember that, just so much, the street washers coming to wash the street, we’d take our shoes off and play in the water and everything, things like that, the lady with the Coca-Cola bottle on her head, we’d see her coming through the neighborhood..

I remember my sisters being older and I was the youngest so I’d like to sneak behind them and see what they were doing. 

The hangout was on the Montford wall, where the Randolph School was, what we called William Randolph at the time, which was the school all of us went to, and we’d sit there on the wall. There was this big tractor tire that sat by the basketball court and that’s where everybody would hang out and play basketball and then we’d sit up on top of the wall, and I’d just remember hanging out up there with them. We were supposed go to the store, grandma would send us to the store and we’d spend our whole time sitting up on that wall and when we got home two hours later we’d sit there and plot what we’d say when we got home, “We saw such and such,” played it out, I remember that. 

I forgot about Mr. Avis MIller who had the cab stand, which is now Hello Darling, that used to be a cab stand, and he lived in the house beside it, and I remember going in there, every time I would leave school, I would walk home and I would stop in his store and if I had dollar or 50 cents I would get a 100 tootsie rolls or 50 tootsie rolls, I loved tootsie rolls, still do to this day, and he’d count them, those are things I remember. 

We didn’t have a lot, but we didn’t know it, so we made good of what we had, we always had something to eat, always had a roof over our heads, always warm, like I said we grew our own vegetables..

I loved the fact that you knew everyone in your neighborhood, everyone stuck together, like I said, if you needed something, there was somebody to give it for you. I remember the stores, you could go into the grocery store – the one at the top of Montford or the one at Starnes  – you would run a tab, if the person was like, I need to get some eggs or something, and you were able to get these things, or run a little tab and pay it off when you had money, so there were a lot of people who looked out for people like that, you don’t see as much any more, people are more thinking about themselves as a whole…I think we’re better if we all work together. 

What has been lost? 

Community that you had, all the Black communities. That was a time when, if we were outside playing, the lady across the street, she’s got her eye on us, we knew to behave. You don’t have that anymore. And I notice a lot of older people, once their children finish high school or on their way to college or whatever, they would move away because there isn’t anything for them here. And I think a lot of that happened, the older people who lived in the homes could no longer afford living there by themselves so they had no option but to sell. And that’s what I hate, a lot of older couples had to leave because they couldn’t maintain their homes any more with the kids gone.

I think and to me a lot of it was done by putting us in this one little area like housing, and you’re no longer… you don’t have value any more, and I think if you’re able to stay in your homes, or even if you could come invest in your homes, there would be more people there. Like I said, it was people sitting down at the dinner tables together, it was church on Sundays, it was going to school and all those things, playing outside until the street lights came on, and all that was just erased once other people came in and started taking their homes, their safety net…

Dreams for the future

I think that’s the better way to bring neighborhoods back together, let’s say the neighborhoods where you’ve got sidewalks, you’re walking down, and everybody’s greeting each other in the mornings and in the evenings and everybody knows who their neighbors are and if your neighbor is without something or needs something people are reaching out to help them, especially the elderly, if they’re living by themselves, say a snow storm comes, going over there to check on the neighbors to make sure everybody has what they need, and nobody goes without, because you have community – I would love to see that again. Whether it’s Black or white, doesn’t matter, just more about community.