Legends of Little Harlem, Won’t you be my neighbor?

Published 5:07 pm Monday, March 6, 2023

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I am so thankful to have the opportunity to write this column. I have met so many wonderful people who tell me they love reading it, and how much they have learned about Washington and the many communities that make up our town.

I love sharing about the communities I grew up in, and although so much has changed over the decades, the warm memories still live vividly in my mind. I am especially excited about the renovation projects taking shape in Washington in many of the neighborhoods I played in, visited friends in, and walked through going to school, church and grocery stores.  Many of the neighborhoods my African American History Tours takes visitors through have great stories behind them. And many of Washingtons’ residents who have always lived here are learning about parts of the town they had heard about but never seen or visited.

As the weather warms, I can’t wait to showcase the neighborhoods on my walking tours that I love so much and tell you about the wonderful people who contributed so much to those neighborhoods and to Washington. While many of the houses and structures are gone, my memories and biographies about who lived there will tell you of the legends that I grew up with.

I will share one of the ‘legends of Little Harlem’ which was part of Gladden Street from Second Street to Seventh Street. It was a commerce center like no other.  Called by locals, ‘Little Harlem,’ it was so prominent, two locations on Gladden Street were listed in the Green Book. Everything you needed from groceries to gas, from medical help to hairdos, you could find it in Little Harlem. It was called Little Harlem because many of the entertainers and others that played in the Cotton Club, at Small’s Paradise Lounge and The Savoy Ballroom in New York City’s Harlem, came to this section of Washington back in the day to perform.

But it was amazing that even if there had been no listings in the Green Book, all a visitor had to do was find their way to ‘The Hollywood Inn,’ a restaurant and store at the corner of Fifth and Gladden Streets that was owned and operated by the gentleman in the picture, Mr. Pomp Credle (1904-1979.) He was so well known, people still talk about him in Washington NC, New York City, Chicago, Boston, Washington DC, and anywhere there is someone who ate the food he served or, had one of the double-headed cone ice cream cones he would fix for us kids. Folks came from near and far just to get a bowl of his famous and delicious beans.  His kindness was his calling card and reminded me of a quote from Mr. Fred Rogers, who said “in every neighborhood, all across the country, there are good people insisting on a good start for the young and doing something about it.”

As a kid, if you went to Mr. Pomp’s for an ice cream cone or hot dog, he gave you a lecture about staying in school and out of trouble.  His advice became even more valuable as we grew up and left home.  We all knew the value of being a good neighbor because that is what he was.

As I write this column, I want to invite you into my neighborhoods and ask you as Mr. Roger’s did in his song, ” Won’t you be my neighbor?”

So, let’s make the most of this beautiful day,
Since we’re together, we might as well say.
Would you be mine? Could you be mine?
Won’t you be my neighbor?

Won’t you please, won’t you please?
Please, won’t you be my neighbor?

Neighbors are people who are close to us
And friends are people who are close to our hearts.
I like to think of you as my neighbor and my friend.

This picture of him and his sister Margaret, was taken around the early 1950’s. It was shared by his niece Kai Charlton Gibbs.  Colorized by Lorenso Dow.

Leesa Jones is a Washington native and the co-founder and co-executive director of the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum.