Revisiting a 20-Year-Old Oral History from Frank and Norma Boling


Oral History Interview American Studies Class – 1993 the University of Maryland, Baltimore Campus By Student, Jennifer L. Dickinson

About the Interviewees

Frank-NormaBoling1990sFrank Burton and Norma Florence (Ford) Boling [my maternal grandparents] are in their mid-60’s.  Frank is a retired Federal Government Employee—a pressman by trade.  [Born in the mid-1920’s, and married in their teens], for most of their marriage (47 years), Norma has been a stay-at-home wife and mother. Because the Boling’s are my grandparents, it was easy to ask them to participate in my oral interview–an assignment for my American Studies Class at the University of Maryland, Baltimore Campus, Catonsville, MD, 1993.

Where They Live

ForestvilleGISMap The Boling’s live in Prince George’s County, Maryland within a 4-square mile unincorporated area and census-designated place (CDP) known as Forestville. According to the 1990 Census of Population and Housing, that population was 16,731 persons.

The Interview

The Boling’s do almost everything together and it is hard to set a time to interview just one of them. I conducted this interview with both answering my questions. As I began, I noticed that I was a little nervous, and to a small degree, so were they. There were a few distractions while doing this interview. My grandfather kept yelling at the dogs in the backyard. My grandmother kept noticing other things about the kitchen we were in. When they started arguing, I stopped the tape. (Maybe I should have kept it rolling because it was quite amusing.) They spent five or ten minutes trying to clean the front of the trash compactor and blaming each other for the mess. Sometimes I lost track of my thoughts and had to stop and refer back to my questions.  I did jump from one type of question to another, but it was unavoidable. I was curious to know their thoughts and how they related to my census analysis. My grandmother was quite accurate in her guesses. They answered most of the questions realistically.  I did not perceive much exaggeration if any. I learned a lot about my grandparents that I had never known before. The interview was a good experience. NormaFrankBolingNorma and Frank Boling were born near and/or raised in Washington, D.C.  They met at an early age and were married. Frank began work in the printing industry at age 15. He worked there for awhile but, because of World War II, he entered the service at age 17 (1945), just as every eligible man did. Frank said when you got old enough you automatically joined the service. He said he earned, “twenty-one dollars a day once a month.” Twenty-one dollars seemed a small amount but Frank said the Navy also clothed and fed him. After the service, Frank went back to printing and worked in that field (about 38 years) making much more money until he retired for a disability after a stroke in 1985.

Their Homes, Neighbors, and Neighborhoods

During Frank’s time in the service, Norma did not work and received an allotment. She saved her money and both of them put what they had together to buy a piece of property on which to had their first house built.  They had plans drawn up and built a small frame 2-bedroom house in a town called Capitol Heights–next door to Norma’s brother’s and parents’ houses.  In the 1950’s they covered the asbestos shingles with the “in-material of the day”–aluminum siding.  They were trendsetters in their neighborhood as it turned out.

scan0001But, they felt like they were in a little poor country town. Norma’s brother and parents had moved on. Their second child slept in their bedroom with them. There were no sidewalks or street lights. They wanted to live in an area more like a city that had sidewalks, street lights, close to shopping, schools, and work.  Frank and Norma agreed that everyone commuted to D.C. to work and a community close to the district was desirable. Of course, the idea of brick house was appealing also. Driveways were an added attraction, at least for Norma. Forestville (about 3-1/2 miles SE of Capitol Heights) seemed most appropriate and had a couple of new subdivisions under construction.

scan0002

The Boling’s sold their little house in Capitol Heights and enthusiastically moved to Forestville on September 13, 1960, (in the midst of Category 5 Hurricanes Donna and Ethel).  They have lived there ever since. Norma said, comparing 1960 with now, “when we first moved here you could sleep without locking your doors if you wanted to—now, 33 years later, there is crime across cities and small towns everywhere.”

Norma says she considers all of Forestville and District Heights to be her neighborhood. She does not want her residency information limited to just their housing development nestled between Marlboro Pike and Pennsylvania Avenues.  Despite her concerns about changing demographics and crime she is happy with her community and has no plans to move.  She says she will stay right where she is.

Employment

Frank and Norma both agreed that people, in general, in the 90’s did not seem to have the same work ethic as when they entered the business world in the 40’s.  They say people want fast, easy money.

Migration to the Suburbs

Norma says people are moving out of the District of Columbia and nearby cities because their educational systems don’t measure up to those in Maryland’s suburban counties, crime rates in inner cities are typically higher than in the suburbs, and commutes into the district are reasonable with recent additions to the public transportation system; and, Forestville situated just 4 miles SE of the district line where Maryland’s Pennsylvania Avenue Extended meets the district line at Southern Avenue is convenient.

[The Boling’s overlooked mentioning a couple of major contributors to their changing demographics:

Between 1957 and 1964 to the in-migration of people and businesses to Prince George’s County; i.e., the construction of the 64-mile Interstate Highway known as the Capital Beltway.  The Beltway’s final Maryland segment opened to traffic on August 17,1964. The Beltway surrounds Washington, D.C., and the city’s inner suburbs in adjacent Maryland and Virginia.  Built to provide Interstate Drivers with easier access to the Washington Metropolitan Area, the Beltway quickly became the fastest, easiest way for locals to commute across towns and cities.

In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education made racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional.

In 1974, Prince George’s County, Maryland, became the largest school district in the United States forced to adopt a busing plan. The county at that time was over 80 percent white in population and in the public schools.  A 1974 Gallup poll showed that 75 percent of county residents were against forced busing and that only 32 percent of blacks supported it.  The white population of the Prince George’s County Public Schools was growing until school busing was started; it dropped significantly afterward.  The federal case and the school busing order was officially ended in 2001 and neighborhood-based school boundaries were restored. ]

When Frank and Norma moved to Forestville, they were a young couple in their thirties raising two children.  In 1963 their third child was born.  Since then they have been blessed with 6 grandchildren and 4 great-grandchildren. This was similar to other people in their community. However, there were a few couples who were older and had grown children and some couples without any children. Norma said there were more boys than girls being born. She says she remembers seeing many more boys than girls. Mrs. Boling attributes this to the fact that boys tended to play outside and the girls tended to play inside.

Norma also added about neighbors being friendlier back then. People had more time to get out and talk to each other. “Nowadays, everybody is so busy doing their own thing that no one has any time to show a neighborly [gesture],” I asked when they moved in if people came over with cakes and said hi to their neighbors. Norma said, “Nobody came over with cakes and said; “Hi, neighbor”—that only happens on TV.

The Boling’s and their neighbors shared other commonalities as well.  They all had and still have middle-class cars.  Norma said that you had to have a car living here. “Everyone that I knew had a car.” There was public transportation on the main road, but Norma considered it a long walk. Frank added that the buses did not have regular schedules like they do today. The main road itself has changed a great deal in the time the Boling’s have lived there. Norma says; “Marlboro Pike didn’t have the traffic that it has now–a whole lot less traffic. You felt like you were really in the suburbs when you lived here then. Now it’s much more populated.” She commented on how there were quite a few vacant areas on Marlboro Pike, gas stations, restaurants and the Catholic church. There was no post office that is now at the entrance to their development.

Mrs. Boling says Marlboro Pike has built up a lot. She said there were a lot more open areas on Marlboro Pike when they moved to Forestville.  When Frank drives down Marlboro Pike now he notices the many numbers of black people around and Norma feels the stores cater to them. To her, they seem to be the majority shopping there. When they moved to Forestville they used to eat out at various restaurants in the area. Now they do not do it as much for a couple of reasons. Some of the restaurants are no longer around and the other ones that are, Frank and Norma feel they are in an unsafe part of the community.

Before the major shopping center was built, the Boling’s used to have to go out of the community to either Iverson or Landover Malls to do shopping other than for groceries. There were major grocery stores right on Marlboro Pike. Like the Boling’s, the other neighbors shopped at these same places.

Another commonality between the Boling’s and their neighbors was that most often the husband worked while the wife stayed home to take care of the children and house. Norma said, “Back in the early 60’s and late 50’s the mother that worked was the one who was different–and in the 1970’s the mother that stayed home started to be the one that was different.” I did not ask why but assumed it was because it may not have been financially possible for this tradition of the mother staying home to continue. Norma and Frank’s children, like other children in the community, attended the local public schools. Schools were assigned based on where you lived.  This community was predominantly Catholic and some who could afford it chose to send their children to the local Catholic school. The children were not taken to and from by a bus, so they had to walk and in bad weather, they were taken by car.

When not working or in school, the Boling’s occasionally went to dances, bowled, and took in drive-in movies. Norma says, “They don’t have drive-ins around here anymore either. They used to be convenient to go to.” Now they do not do much for recreation because they are concerned with Frank’s health. Other people in the neighborhood belong to organizations such as the fire department for their recreation. Frank and Norma themselves belong to an organization called the Knights of Columbus.

On the topic of work, I asked Norma about unemployment.  Norma says, “I don’t think there was any unemployment then.  If a person wanted to work, they could get a job. Nowadays you could want to go to work and need a job and can’t find one.” I wanted to know if the unemployment is reflected in her neighborhood. Norma replied that she saw a homeless person walking down the main road that morning. She said he had all of his belongings in a shopping cart and regarded the whole thing as a shame. Since the Boling’s have lived in Forestville they have noticed some cultural changes in their neighborhood. Frank says, “[It] used to be a husband and wife, a couple of kids, and now there’s about eight kids and about five or six people–black, and Asian. We have a couple of Indian families—black neighbor right across the street.  Mrs. Boling stated that basically, the same people lived in the area.

She has noticed that there are a lot more single-parent families. Norma says “You don’t see too many two-parent families anymore–they’re usually one parent.” Frank has noticed that when the older residents retire, they sell their homes and return to where they came from. He says, “Older people moved out and were primarily replaced by younger black people.” Frank says the residents at retirement age cannot afford to live here anymore and go back to Florida or Pennsylvania. Norma added that some people get scared when non-white people move in and so they moved out.

[The term “white flight” was common in the 1960’s and into the 1990’s.  It harks to the tumultuous period of riots, fights for civil rights and not-so-civil disobedience, when white people living in racially diverse communities began to sell or walk away from their homes. Their moves were often born out of fear and sometimes outright racial prejudices.  As white people left their neighborhoods, minorities moved in. The words I remember hearing to describe this societal phenomenon were, “The neighborhood has changed.” The implication was that the area had gone from white to black.  Younger generations may not even know the term. But those who lived during that era remember the phrase well. ]

Throughout their thirty-three years in Forestville, the Boling’s have noticed the change that is inevitable with time. They have had many good memories and, of course, some bad memories. They appear to be happy with their community and have no intentions of moving out of it. They have made some very good and long-time friends in this community and have many shared beliefs and customs. They are happy and that is all I can hope for the rest of their lives in Forestville, Maryland.

2013–TWENTY YEARS LATER

DadMomSarahFrank and Norma are now octogenarians at 85 and 86 years of age struggling with some health issues.  Because of improved access to doctors, improved medical care, research, and technological advances they thus far have outlived their parents and grandparents by more than 10 years. The Boling’s live in the same house they purchased 53 years ago in 1960 for $18,750, with a 4 percent FHA mortgage loan.  They paid off their mortgage shortly after Frank retired. Their house was their primary life and financial investment.  Recent sales of houses in their neighborhood have brought $200-$250,000, despite the economic downturn that started in 2008.

Frank and Norma had three children; their children each had three children, and their 3 eldest grandchildren averaged 3 children; a great-grandson had twins two years ago; giving the family 5 living generations. The current count of living generations: 3 Children, 9 Grandchildren, 15 Great Grandchildren, and 2 Great-Great Grandchildren. The Bolings are now the only members of their family that live in Forestville and Prince George’s County.  In fact, according to the 2010 Census figures, there has been a 26.2 percent decline in the population of Forestville since the 1990 Census.

Forestville CDP:  2010 Census Population by Race and Ethnicity

 

Population

12,353

Persons under 5 years

6.3%

Persons under 18 years

25.0%

Persons 65 years and over

9.6%

Female persons, percent

54.4%

And, the Boling’s now represent part of the 4.7 percent of the non-Hispanic white population and the fewer than 10 percent population aged 65 who live in Forestville according to the 2010 Census.

Forestville CDP:  2010 Census Population by Race and Ethnicity

Percent

White alone

5.9

Black or African American alone

87.9

American Indian and Alaska Native alone

0.4

Asian alone

0.7

Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander alone

Z

Two or More Races

2.2

Hispanic or Latino

5.7

White alone, not Hispanic or Latino

4.7

Most of the remainder of their family in the early 1990’s moved to neighboring Southern Maryland Counties:  Calvert, Charles, and Anne Arundel; and in 2005, one grandson moved his family to Lynchburg, Virginia–one of his sons is in the Air Force and the other relocated to Chicago.

The Boling’s survive on Frank’s monthly social security retirement from his 20+ years in private industry and his small government retirement for his 8 or so years working for the Federal government.

Their immediate infrastructure of roads, highways, shopping centers, etc. has dramatically changed.  Malls started changing or disappearing with the advent of e-Commerce after my interview in 1993.  The ones they frequented no longer have the same retail store anchors in them; Landover Mall was demolished a few years back and replaced with an NFL stadium for the Washington Redskins and several “town centers” were built in neighboring cities.  According to the 2007 Economic Census, Forestville had 1,142 firms, with 75 percent of them being black and women-owned businesses. Hispanic owned businesses made up another 8 percent, and Asian-owned nearly 3 percent.  These more recent data validate some of Frank and Norma’s 1993 interview observations about Forestville’s and Prince George’s County’s changing demographics.

Forestville CDP:  2007 Economic Census

Percent

Total number of firms

1,142

Black-owned firms

39.1%

American Indian- and Alaska Native-owned firms

F

Asian-owned firms

2.7%

Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander-owned firms

F

Hispanic-owned firms

7.7%

Women-owned

35.5%

The Boling’s maintain their independent living with the help of family members.  They want to remain in their home for 53 years forever, but it is becoming more difficult all the time. Only a couple of their original neighbors remain in nearby homes.  Their newer neighbors over the past 10 or so years occasionally visit and exchange pleasantries with them across their fences.

Frank stopped driving his car about three years ago.  Norma drives only up the street and around the corner for her weekly hairdresser appointments in one of the few shops that have remained in the same location for about 30 years.

For much of their time, they watch their 37″ flat screen LED TV.  They are one of the dwindling numbers of people who still subscribe to the Washington Post Newspaper. Norma still works her daily crossword puzzles and looks at the obituaries. Frank still reads the news and clips restaurant coupons.

shopping mallFor health reasons, these past two years Norma has stopped attending her longstanding weekly ladies groups meetings, luncheons, and Saturday outings with a friend to shopping malls.  An additional reason–the e-commerce revolution is seriously impacting commercial real estate and creating the death of shopping malls.

The Boling’s no longer cook so they order in or visit one of several chain food restaurants just a mile away.  The family takes them to their weekly doctor visits that always includes brief shopping for staples and dining out.  The family maintains the upkeep of their home and yard. Though diabetic, they keep chocolates and ice cream in good supply.   Their two dogs are their babies and add greatly to their quality of life.   They are thrilled about and love their two-year-old great-great-grandchildren.  Their faces light up and their moods are lifted with every visit.

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