Reunion celebrates Lexington community

April 06, 1996|By GREGORY KANE

The late March wind gave me a slight chill as I walked from my car and strode down Fremont Avenue. I heard footsteps behind me and, several seconds later, the voice of a man serenading the night air with a Marvin Gaye tune.

At this point, according to that esteemed black leader Jesse Jackson, I should have looked behind me and felt relieved if the man was white. If he was black, I should have been struck numb with terror. Jesse said this to highlight the problem of black-on-black crime, not realizing he was buttressing the stereotype of the Negro as thug. But as most black folk know, the reprobates among us are a minority. The decent among us far outnumber them, and the chances that any black man walking behind you will be one of the decent ones are in our favor.

I made a mental note to conduct my own trial for Jesse. I would charge him with being stupid in a Stupidity Free Zone, try him, convict him and sentence him to be slapped into the next galaxy.

I played the odds. Soon the black man walked beside and then in front of me. Then he turned and gave a slight smile.

"Are you going to the reunion, brother?" Indeed I was, I replied. Soon we were both at the doors of Curley's Harbor City Hall in the first block of North Fremont Avenue, site of the Lexington Terrace Community Reunion. Bobbie McKinney, who still lives in the 755 Lexington St. high rise where we were both neighbors about 37 years ago, insisted that I attend.

As I walked into Curley's the disc jockey was cranking out hits from the '60s. When Junior Walker and the All Stars' "Shake and Finger Pop" came roaring through the loudspeakers, I knew I was home. A man dressed in a sports jacket and slacks ambled up to me as I made my way around the room. He looked familiar, but how many people could I possibly recognize after spending only a year at Lexington Terrace?

"Mr. Kane," he greeted me. "I read your column all the time. Every Wednesday and Saturday. Remember me from Harlem Park? We went there together."

What I had here was a homeboy times two. Not only had we lived in Lexington Terrace, but we had both gone to what was then Harlem Park Junior High (now Middle) School. He introduced himself as Clarence Carter. I had never known his name. But that face had stuck in my mind, especially since Clarence's mug had changed but little since he was a kid.

Clarence and I exchanged pleasantries and small talk about Harlem Park, being 40-something with children and pot bellies. After he left to sit with his relatives that left me with the problem of finding a seat in the packed hall. As Baltimore comedian Andre Brown warmed up the crowd for the evening's main attraction -- rhythm and blues group The Manhattans -- I managed to snuggle into a seat next to George Johnson Jr., who swore he also recognized me from the Lexington Terrace days.

These days George sells cars at a Security Boulevard Chevrolet dealership. At the Lexington Street high rise he lived on the seventh floor. When his father died, his mother married a man who worked for the Cloverland Dairy. Around 1963 or so, when George was in the seventh grade, the family moved to a house in Randallstown.

"My stepfather got us out of the projects," George recalled. That's no doubt bad news for the folks in the AC-To-Hell-With-You, who've built an entire agenda around the premise that black folks can't get out of public housing without their assistance. But the George Johnsons of the world are no surprise to those of us who know that blacks -- through their own hard work and initiative -- climb out of poverty all the time.

George's most vivid memories of living in Lexington Terrace are of watching Jack Ruby bump off Lee Harvey Oswald on live television and of an episode of the show "Route 66" being shot at the old Pine Street police station. It was George who gave Bobbie the idea of having the reunion.

"It started after the Lafayette Courts were imploded last summer," George said. "I told Bobbie that the former residents of Lexington Terrace should get together before they're torn down. Bobbie picked up the ball and ran with it."

For McKinney, running with the ball included booking The

Manhattans for the bargain price of $2,500 ("I know their road manager," she told me), taking out a full-page ad about the reunion in a local magazine, an ad in The Baltimore Times, a little plug from Dan Rodricks in his column and good old word-of-mouth advertising, still a reliable source of information in this technological age.

As comedian Brown wound up his act he praised those assembled who had gathered to exchange memories, hugs and handshakes for proving that former and current residents of Lexington Terrace are not the violence-prone drug addicts some like to think we are.

"Be sure you print that," a man dressed impeccably in a suit and bow tie said to me as he walked by. I'll print it gladly, in memory of those Lexington Terrace folks who came to celebrate a community where love once ruled.

Pub Date: 4/06/96

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