Brookland is a neighborhood in northeast Washington, D.C. and is home to Catholic University (not to be confused with Brooklyn, New York, the home of StoryCorps). Brookland was also home to two brothers, David and Eric Toatley, in the 1950s. They came to StoryCorps to record their memories of the neighborhood.
“My parents moved [to Brookland] in 1946 and got the house on the G.I. Bill. And the blessing that I am showed up in 1947,” said David. His younger brother, Eric, quickly added, “And they improved it in 1951 when I showed up!”
Eric remembered Brookland as a diverse, middle-class neighborhood that was a great place to grow up. “Every house on the block had two or three kids, if not more, so you had plenty of playmates. You could just go from house to house all day long until the street lights came on and it was time to go home.”
“The most valuable commodity Brookland had was its children. The whole community knew we were going to go places that the black community had never gone before,” said David. “They nurtured us and made sure we were prepared to step out. A lot of the dignitaries of the world were our neighbors.” Prominent former Brookland residents include professor and Nobelist, Ralph Bunche, HUD Secretary and Ambassador, Pat Harris, as well as singer and actress Pearl Bailey.
At the end of the interview, David reflected on some of the lessons he learned from growing up in Brookland. In a recent argument, a white colleague told David, “You know what your problem is, you don’t know you’re black.” To David, that wasn’t a problem, “That’s what I got from living in Brookland…I am who I am. As far as me shuffling and bowing my head, that is just not going to happen.”
David and Eric’s interview was recorded in partnership with the Black Women Playwright’s Group.