Tales of Xenia: Life in the East End–Part I

01 Dec

Growing up in the East End of Xenia was like growing up in a separate town from my white counterparts. The fact that they called downtown”uptown” was only part of the disconnect one had with them. Because the East End was so thoroughly segregated, with only a very few white women and the occasional white man living there, it was possible to feel that we had our own town which just happened to be connected to the rest of Xenia.

The East End, had an informal boundary of Monroe Street to the west, Third Street to the South and Church Street to the North. I can remember when the first family, Richard and Sue Betts bought a house that was on the other, i.e. west, side of Monroe. It caused quite a stir in the East End. Blacks had not previously been able to buy in any other area of Xenia, not even with cash, because it had been tried by more than one family.

The East End had its own businesses so that the only thing you had to go to town for was new clothes and cheaper groceries. We had small markets, Mrs. Smith’s and Anderson’s to name two, but they had limited stock and were relatively expensive. That meant most black families ventured out of the East End to buy groceries at James’ or Kroger’s. James’ was the closest to the East End and got most of the business. There was also Brewer’s market on East Main, but it had similar stock and prices as the black markets. It also had a very nice lady who worked there but who stunk to high heaven in warm weather.

I primarily went to Brewer’s before going to the movie theatre, which was around the corner on Greene Street. The candy at Brewer’s was cheaper and there were more choices.  Due to my limited exposure to white folks I thought the reason the woman at Brewer’s smelled so bad had something to do with her ethnicity. I was not sure what the connection was, but I knew I knew I had never met a black person who smelled like that.

There were certain establishments in the East End that were considered important community centers. The first was Cue’s Drug Store, which was next door to Zion Baptist Church and the recipient of many a dime that had been given to the child for the collection plate. I was not allowed to go into Cue’s because “bad” people hung out there. That, of course, made it very attractive to me and I sneaked in whenever I could, especially to get a Tin Roof Sundae for 15 cents. A Tin Roof was vanilla ice cream, hot fudge sauce, whipped cream, nuts and a cherry, all served in a tall sundae glass.

Cue Rickman, the owner, knew my father well and so I often got treated to my sundae. He also probably knew I was not supposed to be in there. His establishment was not viewed as a good place for young women, but it was not in the same league as Jim’s Pool Parlor, across the street from Zion. I would never have set foot in there, except that Jim Wilson who owned it was our neighbor across the street and his daughter Sarah Anne was my friend. I had to go to the poolroom with her one time to get something from her father. We actually had to go to the office but I still got a thrill at the idea of being in such a den of inequity.

Besides drug stores and pool halls beauty parlors were the most fascinating places to visit for me. Having “good” hair I did not have to have my hair straightened. My sister, Barbara, was not so lucky in the gene pool and she did have to have hers done. This process was nothing like today’s relatively clean and simple procedure done with chemicals. The beauty parlor of the 1950’s and 60’s was a place of fire and smells. Ethel Jane’s was one and Mildred and Mack’s was another that my sister frequently. I preferred to accompany her to Mildred and Mack’s which was on the corner of Evans Avenue and Market Street and right across from Lincoln Elementary. Johnson’s funeral home occupied the front of the house and Mildred and Mack’s the back. Convenient, they could also do the hair of the corpses, but I digress.

At Mildred and Mack’s you went in, got your hair washed and then the fun time began. They had open fires in little braziers shaped like turtles, the flames coming up out of the back of the shell of the turtle. On these iron turtles they would lay wicked looking combs in the fire to heat. They would then slather grease, sometimes vaseline, sometimes something more exotic on a strand of hair and run the hot comb through it to straighten it out. This was done to the entire head. Some women had them put curls in their hair with a curling iron, likewise heated on turtle back and would leave the parlor with the hair on their heads in tight curls. They would then comb them out for church the next day, making a nice cap of hair for Sunday services.

I was desolate as a small child to be denied the drama and pomp and circumstance of the beauty parlor. My hair just got washed and put into two braids, or on state occasions in what was called Shirley Temple curls. People kept telling me how lucky I was to have “good” hair, but I felt like I was being denied one of the more glamorous events in the life of young women, the black beauty parlor.

Years later when we were integrated my white female classmates informed me that they washed their hair every day. I was horrified. I washed mine once a week. I did not understand that black hair, even “good” hair, does not make oil like white hair. I tried washing my hair every night and ended up with masses of the driest mess imaginable. It was not kinky enough to be an afro and it was certainly not straight enough to be fashionably poker straight like the trend that had even my white classmates ironing their hair to remove any curls. My hair, down to my mid-back looked like a black lion’s mane!

I can remember being offended when some of my white classmates complained that the black kids in the swimming pool at the YMCA made the water oily with their hair grease. They did not realize either that most black folks have to put something in our hair to make it shiny and manageable since our scalps do not know how to provide oil. I did not have any clue that white people’s hair did that either until a high school friend drove to my house one morning to show me her hair before she washed it. I was amazed!  Fortunately for the white kids Pinecrest, the only “public” pool in town besides the YMCA did not allow black people to belong to it, not even when they lived in the neighborhood after integration. I wondered if my white peers wearing their Pinecrest Swim Club tee shirts to school realized how racist it was and how their proud wearing of the tee shirts made me think they must be racists too.

The East End was not perfect, but we did not have anything that we denied people access to because of the color of their skin. That is only one of the things we had to be proud of.


Posted by on December 1, 2010 in Childhood, Race, Xenia


11 responses to “Tales of Xenia: Life in the East End–Part I

  1. klahdane

    December 1, 2010 at 11:02 pm

    I love this story, Cookie! I look forward to reading more.

  2. Ron G.

    December 2, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    Once again you have brought back some memories. Excellent writing!

  3. Karen Davis

    December 2, 2010 at 7:11 pm

    I have been writing a book pertaining to the East End of Xenia for the past ten years. There is so much information and one day soon, I will complete this mission. There were over thirty stores housed on the East End of Xenia. I am glad that you have the same insight and that is, the story of the East End of Xenia, OH needs to be told. Thanks Cooke. I have spoken to many, many people to gather the information that I have accumulated and some is hard to believe.

  4. Mark

    December 3, 2010 at 1:58 am

    Love this! Thanks. Although a white boy from Amlin Heights and then Stadium Heights, my barber for many years was Earl Johnson from up in the East End. He gave me my very first hair cut back around 1954 or 1955. Our families were friends and I remember that his wife made the best pot pies and the best sweet potato pies I have ever tasted. She always made us some around the holidays. I sure miss those days of the simple life. I never knew what the fuss was about segregation and integration until I got older.


  5. Danny Rowe

    March 8, 2011 at 11:27 pm

    I enjoyed the blog and also learned a couple of things.I do remember most of it and it was pretty accurate.I for one am proud I grew up in “The End”

    • Steve Duerson

      April 30, 2016 at 10:47 pm

      Danny Rowe, I am Steve Duerson. I do not know if you remember me but, I will never forget you my friend. We had a lot of fun growing up. I lived in the double house next door to Keith Hawkins. Would love to have you contact me. If you ever get this, please email me at

  6. Deborah Austin

    September 19, 2012 at 3:41 pm

    I loved reading about East End my home! All the memories! Thank you!

  7. james Austin

    January 13, 2013 at 4:11 am

    Peacocks on Orchard, Sweeneys on Church, Neets barber shop on Market to name a few. Mr Quincy lived on the corner of Church and Taylor. He worked on all the bikes down at Famous sporting gooods down by Brewers. Anyone remember the street preaching done in the east end by Rev Porter and Rev Thomas West that was really good stuff. .Mrs Annabelle Green had a dog named Tippy that when everyone heard that he was loose holy terror hit the hood… the Big fight that occured in front of Mrs fitch,s house involving the Browders,Howard West, Denny Scott, Toby Turner and everone else that wanted to fight the Cops. Every time the cops put someone in the car someone would let them out. the had to call the Sherriff and Highway patrol. It was just like watching a hero movie LIVE… Chucky Porters Camaro, Everrett Floyds Challenger, Peto Allens Super Bee, Sput Browder,s Firebird, The Green,s had a black GTO,Labby,s 65 Chevy, Ronnie Oatneals 70 Torino Cobra Jet, Ronnie Austin 70 Duster, Peti lewis Riviiara, Rick Austin 64 Tempest. Neal Austin,s Ford Galaxie. Anyone remember bonded gas station on Main St, Austin tire, Green Elf center is where i went for pre- school..Riding Wheelies all the way up market street by Mark Skinner, Mark Pope. Basketball at the park . Rolling dice by Boss Allens on Market Street. Pimp Danny Nared nobody dressed or even dared to walk the way he did and he was the shizzle. man do i miss the good ole days wish we could have a reunion of some sort just to talk and enjoy the moment before we all become history… Much love and respect to all that remember X- town. Just another Austin

  8. Stevie Austin

    January 14, 2013 at 2:35 am

    Yo Bro, At the end of your comment, I remember going to Lexington park to watch the baddest softball to around at that time. X-Town. Mrs. watermans girls, the basketball games. and I even remember at night sometimes in the summer nights the court was used for in Virginia since 1987 I’ve told people about the April 3rd, 1974 Tornado (A date you will remember like your birthdate.) and The Blizzard of 1978. It is somethingelse coming back home after a while. My family and I was home from Va. for two days, I have to be very honest, and very open to the criticism, But when I grew up in The End. The Quakers living beside Mrs. Annabelle where the only non-blacks I can remember. That is not the criticism or conrtivercy I am speaking of, because I am sure some can say several non-blacks lived in The End. The hood I was from was from Main Street over to 42.
    We went to Second Street to go to Mr.Porters and Third Street to visit Aunts ,Uncles, and Cuzins.
    Thats just my opinion, but as a whole we were the best at everything. The Cobras, The little Cobras and The Lil Sistas. winning all the drill compatitions. Could you imagine if the Xenia High coaches would have let The End boys make the team rather then cutting them? RIP Johnny. LUV YA BRO.
    By the way Who played football and basketball at Greenes Apartment.and how in the HELL did we do it without getting jacked up on the Hargraves fence playing basketball.Well everyone knows about ALL the obsticals playing football.I think I better stop here because I can really go. Yes Bro they said something about a East End reunion on facebook. We can let off baloons for all the ones we can remember who passed.By the way going up in The End, taught me that I can go anywhere in the world and survive. Later “THE END”

  9. Bert Greene

    January 27, 2013 at 3:53 am

    Cookie, thank you for the blog. And, James Austin. Stop. Take a bow. You took me back to the east end of Xenia as nobody has in a while. My five brothers got their bikes repaired at Famous sporting goods. Brewers was the spot our parents sent us to for balogna and jowl bacon. My brother Anthony would wait until Christmas Eve to buy all our gifts at Brewers. Yes. We’re talking gifts of peanuts and similar delights. As a child, I lived on the lower end of East Second Street and attended Bethel Temple Church which was located on the higher end of East Second Street. After Sunday School, we would walk over to Porter’s or Peacock’s for candy, snow cones, and ice cream. Man, those were the days. And how in the world could you be so brilliant to bring back the vivid memory of Danny Nared pimping SO hard???!!! I personally thought he’d hurt himself with that level of crazy, demonstrated, unabashed, coolness. And, how you know your cars! I do not know the vehicles but I remember some of the players, e.g., Chucky Porter, Sput Brown, Peety Lewis, etc. OMG, I remember when Peto had that fatal crash on 68. As a young girl, I froze in time for at least two weeks because my naive construct of youth immortality was forever shattered. The song “Betcha By Golly Wow” was a hit at the time, and to this day, that song invokes in my mind the trauma of that untimely tragedy. Reality can be a buzzard. And, Mark Skinner on Market Street? He was like a brother. I do believe Mark is the only guy in my history that I actually got in a fight over in 4th grade. Somebody said something wrong, and I just went OFF! May he rest in peace. The memories. Xenia is home. On a lighter note, there are also sweet memories from the 60’s. Today, I ate sausage patties laced with maple and the taste reminded me of “Pancake Day” at the Field House. Do you remember that? Wow. Greene County forever… for always.. for love. bert g

  10. rick austin

    April 19, 2013 at 2:48 am

    Do you remember going to Donge’s; I. T. Pizza; The Old Library across from the YMCA; The Laundry Mat which is now Hotties, or Scotties.
    Do you remember Mother Goose, Junior Nared, Raymond Stincen, Reed the Sneed, etc. Memory of: Victor West, Raymond Glass, Allen Beuford, Michael Williams, Robert Humprey, Warren (Cheif) Giles, and many more.
    We used to walk a path to the playground, Lexington Park, and there was a bees nest in the downed log, the bees would chase us all the time. Don’t miss jumping the fence, you didn’t want to get caught. The Eastern Express— practice at the Purple House, on Market Street. Football at the Board of Education, and the Turkey Bowl at the high school. Flamigos and Papa Joes. There was a Duff’s Smorgersboard and Godfather’s Pizza. The Red Barn with the A&W Root Beer Stand across form it. How about going skating at the Fairground Skating Rink. Getting our clothes at Rinks.


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