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Schott's Alley: 1941

Schott's Alley: 1941

        A scene last glimpsed here, but without the trolley.

September 1941. Washington, D.C. "Schoots Court [i.e., Schott's Alley] with Senate Office Building in background. Four very small dark rooms rent for fifteen and eighteen dollars per month with water and privy in yard. It used to rent for six and eight dollars. Frank Coles and his friend are sitting on the bench. He was a cement plasterer but has been on relief during the past year. He has frequent heart attacks and his feet and ankles are all swollen. Doctor advises a chicken and lamb diet, no pork or beef, but he doesn't even have money to buy fuel. He can't get waited on in a clinic or get to one. He waited from before 11 until 4 p.m. but still could not see a doctor. He has been in Washington since 1906." Medium format acetate negative by Marion Post Wolcott for the Farm Security Administration. View full size.


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Not at all surprising

One commenter expresses surprise that this slum existed in DC despite nearly a decade of progressive government. This seems disingenuous, considering that the picture shows Black Americans in 1941. The Senate that sat in the building behind this slum may have been associated with a progressive administration, but it was only progressive for its time.

The alley's residents wouldn't enjoy even nominal equality in employment or housing for another 23 years, and it would be another year beyond that before the federal government vigorously protected their right to vote for any government. Casual racism was rampant, and government programs to help "the poor" routinely excluded anyone who was not white. While another World War was just around the corner, its unifying force upon American society didn't extend to racial or ethnic equality (the US armed forces remained segregated for years after the war ended), and post-war economic boost did not affect Americans of all races equally.

[N.B.: That's the Senate Office Building, not the Senate wing of the Capitol. - Dave]

Schott's fired

I came across this series of articles about Schott's Alley: first, second, third, fourth, fifth.

The alley was first home to African Americans from DC, gradually became a home to Italian immigrants, then eventually home to African Americans migrating from further South. One of the buildings housed an Americanization school, where immigrants could take English lessons and prepare for naturalization tests. See the final article for fires, murder and an explosion!

The Elephant in the D.C. Room

I'll say it. After eight years of the Progressive FDR Administration, the simple fact that this level of poverty existed in the shadow of our Capitol and that our elected leaders could and would ignore it speaks volumes as to where their priorities lay.

I fully accept that the "Great Depression" was just beginning to wane, finally, thanks to the advent of World War. Considering the IRS was originally established by Congress to collect income tax, specifically in order to fund the District of Columbia, one would assume they would have used it to modernize all of the district not just the elitist areas.

Just saying.

Do not go gentle into that good night

Between the two photographs, Frank Coles has barely moved while everyone else has shifted one way or another and the tallest kid in the previous photo has been replaced by the tyke at left. I remember hearing if you have a heart condition and swelling in your feet and ankles, you should not sit for long periods in the position Frank Coles is. But who can resist sitting in the sun with friends and entertaining and being entertained by a group of kids who have endless energy?

So Close And Yet So Far

The juxtaposition of a symbol of our nation's wealth and privilege within a few hundred feet of its poorest citizens is striking. I'm not sure I could define what, if anything, has changed in 80 years.

The lesser known H street

Despite it's its name, Schott's Alley had a generous 28 foot width, and a curious "H" shape, designed to maximize use of the interior of the block (these are actually the fronts of the houses we're seeing, not the backs)

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