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Maryland politics were controlled by people in his neck of the woods, which were remote until shortly after 1940, when “the government started doing things, and you had people who worked for it coming down and building cottages as summer homes.”

But the lack of technology was most striking in the rates it was present in the nation’s capital, even as others lived well just blocks away.

Raspberries and apples

R. Barbara Adams grew up on a no longer existing path in the Takoma section of the District, then a suburban area where raspberries and apples could be picked, just across the street from the Maryland line.

In 1940, as a 13-year old, she lived in a double house with her brother and sister-in-law on one side and her mother and sisters on the other. Her father had died three years earlier.

“We didn’t have a lot of modern facilities like the white folks up the street did. We were almost back in the Stone Age. We did not have running water” or electricity. Her mother had a sixth-grade education, compared with eighth-grade educations the parents of most of the others in this article.

“But when everybody’s poor, nobody knows they’re poor,” she said. “Our community was a nucleus where everybody knew everybody. It was just a nice place where children could grow up.” Behind the next house was “what we called the park, and those of us with more initiative would perform plays there.”

Though they lived in proximity to whites, certain jobs were off-limits to blacks, and to get to their school on Military Road, they had to walk past two white schools.

“We didn’t have any toys, so we invented a lot of stuff. The little white kids seemed to have noticed that we enjoyed ourselves, and they’d come and romp with us. Kids are kids, regardless,” she said.

The plight of those who crowded into shacks in the District’s alleys was so bad that it became a primary cause of first lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

“Everyone gets nostalgic, and 20 years later, people who are villains become heroes,” said Sherwood Smith, who was 16 in 1940 and living in a Bethesda that was “little more than a crossroads.”

“People who had been solid middle class were finding they couldn’t get enough to eat. There was this constant fear that the recession will return. The communists — who were fairly well tolerated at that time — were saying that’s the evil of the capitalist system, and it’s usually only saved by a war,” he said, adding that indeed, “we were rescued by the war.”

Mrs. Adams recalled cooking and bathing with bucket after bucket of water hauled from the street and heated over a wood-burning stove. “There were city hydrants, these green pumps, and in the winter, it’d freeze so you’d light a paper underneath to thaw it out,” she said.

“So much has changed. You look back, and I’m so grateful for the experience. But I’m more grateful I don’t have to carry those buckets of water anymore.”