Mildred Harris was born in Orange in 1936. Her family home was on Central Place, where she still lives, though in a different house. Her parents both came to New Jersey from the south (Georgia and Virginia) as part of the great migration. Both held working class jobs. Her father, Herman Hicks, worked at Swifts Meats and a percolator factory in Newark. Her mother, Satarrah Hicks, trained to be a teacher but could not find a job teaching because she was black, so she worked in a laundry.
Mildred remembers a great deal about the African American neighborhood on Oakwood Avenue. The things that stand out most from these memories are the diversity of small businesses run by and for African Americans. These included what she call doctor’s row at the intersection of Oakwood and Central Aves, where there were offices for Dr. Alexander, Dr. Scott, Dr. Longshore, Dr. Isaac, Dr. Jones, and Dr. Sparks. Mary Woody and her son T. Colson Woody ran Woody’s Home for Services (funerals) and Catherine Dunham was a dancer on Oakwood Avenue. On Oakwood, Parrow, and Hickory there were a number of African-American owned stores like Whitlock’s sweet shop, Golden’s general store, Titian’s Pool Room, Reed’s Temple, Shorty’s barbershop, and Brownie’s Hot Dog Stand.
Expect for Woody’s, where Mildred works, none of these businesses still exist. This is one of the most profound effects of I-280. Besides cutting through the north end of the African American community, the highway also devalued adjacent properties and led people and businesses to leave. One difference that Mildred notices is that in the past everyone had a place to go, but now, since they don’t, they are hanging out on the corners.