Black Home Owners of Truxton Circle: Susan E. Brown/Berry

Today’s African American Truxton Circle resident from the 1920 Census who owned their home is the widowed Susan E. Brown of 237 O St NW (Sq. 553, lot 58). This address no longer exists, and is currently an empty lot behind the Friendship-Armstrong Charter School. In 1920 she lived there with her son William J. Brown and her daughter Alethya’s family, the Williams.

In the Recorder of Deeds’ records Mrs. Brown was also Susan E. Berry (b. 1865). She died in 1927 and according to her will, left 237 and 239 O St NW to her married daughter Alethya H. Williams, who used the property to borrow money from the American Security and Trust Company in 1934 and 1949. In 1966, Alethya sold the property to the District of Columbia.

A little thing about the will. One of the witnesses was named Ethel Witkowska, a very Polish sounding name. She lived at 21 Tea (T) St NE. She appears in the 1930 census as a 24 year old bookkeeper. According to the Social Security Death Index Ethel Witkowska was born March 1905 and died in 1974, so she was just 20 when she witnessed the will in 1925. Her name just stood out.

Another little thing about her will, is that she may have owned property in her native South Carolina. The property was in Sumter county. Since no town was mentioned, I’ll assume it was rural land.

Anywho, Susan Brown only appears in the 1920 census at that address. Susan E. Berry appears at 237 O St NW in the 1900 Census, living with her husband Hilyard/ Hilliard, a hotel porter, their sons Hilyard Jr (aka James Hilliard) and William and daughter Althea. A faulty family tree (there are a few errors) claims her maiden name was Ruffin.

Since I’m looking at the census for 1920 and her family owned the neighboring lot, let’s look at 239 O St NW. It was lot 819 or old lot 11 on Sq. 553. Susan Berry’s will had named both Alethya and Hilliard Jr. as beneficiaries for 239 O St. NW. And it is Hilliard Berry and his wife Jessie Gordon Berry mentioned in the land records, not Alethya. They borrowed several times from the Washington Loan and Trust Company and individually named lenders, in 1929, 1930, 1934, 1935, 1937, 1939, 1942, 1943, 1945, 1947, 1950 and 1953. The widow Jessie Berry sold the property in 1965 to Sylvia H. Miller, who then turned around and sold the property in 1966 to the DC government.

The Clarkes and the Stewarts lived at 239 O Street as renters. In total there were 11 people living at 239. Like their landlords, they too were African-American. The head of the Clarke family was Henry who was listed as being an Assistant Engineer. I should note that William Berry or Brown’s occupation in 1920 was that of an Engineer. William’s brother, Hilliard, in the city directory is some sort of Engineer in the DC Public Schools. According to a WWII draft card, Hilliard worked at Dunbar High School. I wonder if Henry Clarke and the Berry/Brown brothers worked together?

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