“My grandmother couldn’t read or write when she moved from Wilcox County to Mobile, but she made a living with rental properties. She started with two apartments in the back of her house on Dearborn Street, just off Davis Avenue. She also had houses in Trinity Gardens and one next to Hodges Funeral Home. She told people, ‘If you need a place to stay, come see me.’ I still live in her house.
My grandmother did well for a lady who couldn’t read or write, but she made sure my mother and all of us were educated. We were the only ones with the World Book encyclopedias, so all of the kids in the neighborhood came to our house. We also had a 52” Zenith TV with a turntable.
The Ace Theater was down the street. The building is still there. When Charlton Heston’s movie, The Ten Commandments, came out they let us in for free if we could say the Ten Commandments. Across the street was a 2-story house with a restaurant and a club. The steps are all that is left. The building was torn down several years ago. It was empty for a long time.
I sold the Mobile Beacon and then the Press-Register in the streets. I walked up to cars on the streets or on the corner saying, “I got the Press-Register. I also sold them to the big shots at the Elks Club. My daddy got laid off at GMO railroad. Then he went to the shipyards. That’s where he died. My mother cleaned white people’s homes for years. We called her ‘Mother Dear’ and she made sure we said it right.
My mother made me take piano lessons and my teacher, Odile Pope Owen, lived across the street. Back in the 1950s, Black folks didn’t have a place to stay when they came to Mobile. They had to stay at someone’s home. Her home was a tourist home and was listed in the Green Book. Fats Domino stayed there when he played in Mobile. My teacher invited us to come over and play for him. My Brother and I played a duet for Fats Domino in the hallway. He had some pretty curly hair. I also met Jerry Butler from the Impressions over there. I still have their autographs.
There was a night club near Fisher’s Alley and there was a teen club at the top. One night me and the twins Avelle and Harvelle were stuck in the window upstairs and saw Aretha Franklin walking across the street and going into the club downstairs. The name of the club was the Savoy or the Golden Nugget.
There were a lot of houses around here. My neighbor had four apartments in her backyard. She sold whiskey out of the front of the house, but she drank more than she sold. I lived in Louisiana from 1984 to 2001. I came back to Mobile because I had a house that was paid for. A lot had disappeared. Even the streets are gone.
I used to play tennis. Now I am 77 and there is just dust on the cover of my racket. I was in the Army stationed in Germany. My girlfriend had blonde hair., Hildegard. She told me ‘I love you’ in Dutch. My first girlfriend there was Italian with pretty black hair. We played the piano together.
My son was hit and killed when he was riding a bicycle. He had pretty hazel eyes. I am the only child left. My grandmother and father are buried at Oaklawn in our family plot. My brother was a prisoner of war in World War ll and is buried there. I guess I will be buried there, too.”
This is from an interview with Caudrey Gray for the story “Life on Davis Avenue” that is now running in Lagniappe. It is the third part of the series “Buried in Oaklawn.” Here is the link: https://lagniappemobile.com/the-story-of-mobiles-harlem/?fbclid=IwAR1_TgX8_Ao4ujby1FTcUMmzeXZethMjUQFcHffwvy7bLcLyrrHdVMZ-Rd8
There will be more stories from Davis Avenue on Our Southern Souls. Nicknamed The Avenue, it is now Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue in Mobile