Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Clay Street Burden

Our tour guide gave out on Clay Street.

Anyway you look at it, it was an awfully hot day for a walking tour. Our guide said she'd shorten the two-hour walk by half an hour in deference to the heat.

When I was the only person there waiting for the tour to begin, she had even suggested canceling it, but soon more people arrived and she seemed to feel obligated to carry on.

We were touring Carver, the neighborhood adjacent to my beloved Jackson Ward, a neighborhood alternately known as Elba, Sheep Hill and Buchanan Springs.

Settled by Irish (my people), Germans, Jews, Italians and freed blacks, the neighborhood was also home to some enslaved blacks who were loaned out to work the factories and brickyards in Carver.

We admired a couple of Queen Anne houses with their impressive bays and turrets. We saw the old Moore School in front of which Carver Elementary was built; I'd never even noticed it before.

I finally found out where all those mid-century ranchers on Leigh and north of there came from. That's the Hartshorn development, a 1960s HUD project.

Hoe unfortunate that back then it was deemed progress to take down late 19th century homes and replace them with siding-clad one-level boxes.

As well as I know the area, I hadn't known that Leigh and Catherine Streets were primarily for black residents, while Marshall and Clay catered to whites.

There you have it. Without even realizing it, I'm just part of a long Caucasian tradition on Clay Street.

Turns out that it was only in the early twentieth century that Carver and Jackson Ward became predominantly African-American.

No doubt a city ordinance requiring blacks to live north of Broad had a great deal to do with that.

It was when we walked up to Clay Street that our tour guide became over whelmed by the heat and, I guess, the walking.

As she stood there bright red and unable to speak, the group realized that something was wrong, which she finally acknowledged.

A couple of women offered to go get their cars for her. Finally one took the lead decisively, only to turn back to her husband and yell, "Where did we park again? And where are we now?"

As the minutes stretched out waiting for her to come back and rescue our guide, it became clear that she had to be lost somewhere in the adjacent six blocks.

Someone asked her husband if she had a good sense of direction.

"Nope," he said laconically. Oh, good, the rescuer might need her own rescue.

As I stood there thinking how close to home I was (although my car was back at Maggie Walker, where we'd met), another attendee started talking to me about the neighborhood.

He saw it as very sketchy and asked my opinion. I saw him as very West End and unused to city living. Naturally I raved about the area.

Finally the woman returned, screeching up to the sidewalk to pick up the guide and, presumably, her monosyllabic husband.

The last thing our guide told us was that if we ever wanted to do the Carver walking tour again, it was on her.

As the group disbursed, my new friend walked alongside me, peppering me with questions and listening when I pointed out places of note.

And although I'm really good at walking no matter the weather, I'm no tour guide.

But I feel like I have to do my best to convert 'em one person at a time.

Sketchy is in the eye of the beholder.


  1. Omg. Crazy. Hey, I've been following your blog for awhile. Love it! Are you on Twitter?

  2. Nope. Can you imagine someone as verbose as I am limiting herself to 140 characters?

    But, by the way, you are the umpteenth person to suggest that I do!

  3. Ha. It's actually been helpful for me, as a writer. I firmly support long-form though, as long as it stays engaging--as yours does.

    Well, I guess I'll just keep following along here, and if I'm at an event where you might be, I will look for those legs ------->, so I can say Hello! :)

  4. Thanks for the kind words! My hope is that I engage my readers so that the number of words isn't an issue.

    Please do say hello if you ever spot me out. Fair warning, though: it's not tights season, so they'll be bare.