Bottom Tales and Others
(Collection of short stories)
by Loretta Moore
Softcover: 126 pages
Product Dimensions: 5.5 X 8.5 inches
A lost world revealed: the bottom, an African American community that once existed in the city of Philadelphia
Imagine a community where neighbors all know and assist each other, where they never have to lock their doors. A myth, a pleasant dream? No, this once-vibrant African American community existed as part of Philadelphia. The Bottom, also known as Black Bottom, was located roughly between 33rd and 40th streets east and west and to Lancaster and University Boulevard in what Philadelphia city planners called Area 3. It was a place that transcended the physical infrastructure of the city. This community existed from the early 1900s until the mid-to-late 1950s before state and federal urban renewal displaced its residents. It was in 1984 that the first reunion of former Bottom residents was held, and later this lost community was honored by the City of Philadelphia. In 1999, the city declared the last Sunday in August as “Black Bottom Day,” as a tribute to the legacy and the history of this lost community. It is through Bottom Tales and Others that this vanished community of over 5000 residents again lives. Like raising Lazarus from the dead, author Loretta Moore brings this once-thriving community back to life for you to experience, along with the edifying journeys the Bottom inspires.
The Bottom , also known as Black Bottom, existed as an African American community in the City of Philadelphia. Located roughly between 33rd and 40th streets east and west and to Lancaster and University Boulevard, The Bottom existed from the early 1900s until the mid-to-late 1950s. In 1999, the city declared the last Sunday in August as “Black Bottom Day,” as a tribute to the legacy and the history of this West Philadelphia community.
The Bottom during the 1940s and 50s, while I was growing up was a place spreading encouragement and hope, and was astounding with productions of myths and glory. Because of its texture and fertility, no amount of sophistication could have provided better than the Bottom, for it was an excellent, bejeweled poetic excursion nothing could drain from my memory; it endued the Writer I am today.
By: Loretta Moore
The Bottom was a lowly place inhabited by the working class, and just as much by the poor. Nevertheless, throughout, my childhood flowed with precious, valuable humanity. A principality of longing and invention, The Bottom introduced glimpses of the brilliant light of inspiration sparkling wonder. A location of dim surroundings during the 1940’s 50’s, The Bottom was for me a place deep mystery, intrigue and discovery with astounding productions of myths and glory, spreading encouragement and hope. Because of its texture and fertility, no amount of sophistication could have provided better than The Bottom for it was an excellent, bejeweled, poetic excursion nothing could drain from my memory; it authorized the Writer I am today.
Ostensibly, The Bottom was so called because it was wedged in the lower portion of West Philadelphia. (The ascription, “The Bottom” could also have meant that most of the residents lived at the low end of society.) Lowly, brick row houses banked many of The Bottom’s mostly little and narrow streets. Some apartment buildings along with some impressive, stalwart homes, and avenues and boulevards were also in the area. Over the many years the working-class community had existed, The Bottom had been inhabited by many ethnic groups: Germans, Irish, Italians, Jews, Dutch, Polish, plus others. However, The Bottom in which I grew up during the l940’s and 50’s was composed of a majority of Negroes, with only a sprinkling of its’ earlier residents.
The Bottom’s inhabitants were largely poor. People were employed in factories, plants, as domestics and in other service-type jobs: city workers, garages and filling stations, restaurants, hotels as well as in other skilled and unskilled jobs across the City. Nearly everyone in the community worked for a living and in spite of the struggles and misery faced by all, The Bottom was incorporated by a caring, cooperative spirit.
In those times, many living in The Bottom were among that enormous flow of Negroes who were abandoning their southern homeland for big northern cities. My parents and a slew of my relatives were a part of that huge migration abandoning the south. They were romantics, adventurers, young dark pilgrims clothed in innocence and immaturity, leaving behind the burden of poverty and racial segregation and injustice, for a life in the North they assumed promised shelter, and was better. Northern-bound, the southerners traveled on trains, Greyhound and Trailway buses, and by automobile. Traversing rails, highways and roads, with their projections dented by doubt, and visions ushered by burgeoning loneliness, they were wrapped in the strength of an idealistic dream, and hope. (Traveling in the summer months meant days of relentless, burdensome heat and blazing sun with images of solemn countryside and burning seas of prolific fields, while nights swelled with the sweet aromas of honeysuckle and magnolia, and the pure magic of soundless, smooth darkness looming with mystery and intimidation over long tracts of landscape. Autumn and winter travel presented cobalt, somber skies, cold rain and vast vigils of stark, lonesome woods. And, there were the sights of lifeless pasture, and empty fields stretched by stubble and isolation. Some areas of countryside bore gracious manors, or tiny, tarpaper houses shackled to silent, leaden landscapes).
The announcement was affectionately spread of ‘newcomers’ throughout the community more rapidly than a runner passes a baton. Habitats in the northern cities were enriched by the arrivals of southerners, for they brought a tender message: the melodious song of the south. Sadly, the new implants were separated from a place that they never left with finality, and seemed always to long for their southern roots. (An association, a bond had been broken, leaving a cherished memory of their southern past nurtured in their reflections, and in the familiar accented phrase used by all, “Down Home,” which when said was by description, a badge of honor and/or courage.
Separated as it was, The Bottom somehow appeared to be entrenched in the aftermath of the progressive activity of the city of Philadelphia. There seemed to be a muted, gray, solemn atmosphere with shadowy clouds, formed by fallout from city smokestacks hovering over the area. And, incredibly, within certain boundaries sometimes The Bottom was capable of inducing spirits, and of producing unsettling images, and would seem to have fallen under a mythological spell. (The darkened heavens would erupt into dim, shadowy images of horrific Homeric and other ancient Greek allegories. However, more often the placid image of Aesop, of fable fame, with quill in hand and tablet, would glide across the sky on an opulent, white soothing cloud. The phenomenal transcendental occurrences of The Bottom were not always aloft, or of epic proportion or associated with legend and mythology. Transformations on the tiny streets sometimes were the canals of Venice or Holland. Once, seemingly in commemoration of Good Friday, all of a sudden thunderous, dark, ominous clouds dominated the continuous rows of lowly dwellings, masking everything in the small lane in which I lived. And then, almost shattering my composure, the Crucifixion appeared as a fresco, and remained an amazing presence until dark clouds were lifted away on the day of Christ’s Resurrection, and brilliant sunshine poured into the little narrow street).
The Bottom was overpowered and rendered helpless on this unrelenting broiling summer day so hot, the atmosphere incorporated the sulfurous stench of melting asphalt and abound with dizzying waves of heat.
I lay on the parlor floor against the fading flowers on the worn linoleum, my eight-year-old imagination captured by something transporting me from an idle spirit which straddled the plain, uneventful surface of The Bottom. I was supremely in the presence of magic encasing every trickle of life, fashioning everything and bulging my thoughts with everything around me. I was standing on the platform of life, lifted from my tepid environment toward pleasant, cheerful, glowing, comforting episodes and passages, to picturesque pictorials, and images and places cultivated by a universe of magic and mystery beckoning me.
“A Bottom ‘Fourth’”
My family and I were among the throngs of people returning home from the Fourth of July celebration held in Fairmount Park. The City Park where we’d spent the day picnicking with relatives, friends and crowds of people was not far, maybe a four-block walk from Mt. Vernon Street. The Fourth of July was the fulfillment of the summer weeks and days I had spent anticipating it. The day began early with the delicious aroma of fried chicken and the sound of my mother downstairs in the kitchen, preparing an enormous picnic lunch our family would carry to the park. At that very moment, all of my expectations for Independence Day were released.
A blazing, hot day framed thousands of celebrants and Fairmount Park. The exciting day had seen me and others through: there’d been lots of fun and games and great-tasting foods, and much romping about on the luscious green grounds for which Fairmount Park is exemplary. Even the Fourth of July program that had been echoing throughout the day from a platform across the ocean of enthusiastic picnickers had been entertaining and interesting. On Independence Day the lush, pantheon grounds of Fairmount Park served the public at large in a patriotic sense and in a social context as well. (During all of the levity and celebration, a hallowed, patriotic spirit presided over the surroundings: a permanence and intransigence parlayed and transposed the serene park grounds that a hollow strain inhabited. There were emanations from the American Revolution and from other wars fought in the preservation of our country’s freedoms. George Washington’s Troops at Valley Forge-Revolutionary War; the War of l812; Gettysburg; Manassas; Appomattox; the Civil War; the Mexican/American War; the Great War; World War I; Normandy; D-Day-World War II).
The affect of wars on our community was extensive. My family knew personally men who while fighting in World War II were injured or lost their lives. One very sad case involved a young man, who returned from the war with Japan, hopelessly shell-shocked. Another situation concerned a very notable action on the part of an employer at the factory where my mother worked. It seems that he was one of the three soldiers to place the American flag on the hilltop at Normandy, a brave act indeed. Nevertheless, he contracted a physical condition fighting in the jungles that left him with an incurable odor. A very young mother we knew was left with a toddler to rear alone when her young husband was blown to pieces by German forces. And, of course there were others, some even relatives who courageously contributed to the war efforts of our nation. I was among my family and others in the park’s natural setting. The lush, green floor was fertile ground, reconnecting the past and me. (As I listened, images and transformations of my ancestors hovered over the intimate conversations of my relatives, recreating the source of my background. The experience was comforting, encouraging, and inspiring, even elevating). A long day of excitement ended with the beauty and splendor of fireworks shattering the violet night sky.
Now, the plenteous, fulfilling experience was over and families and others were returning to where they dwelled in the Bottom. I was lost to longing and regret as I stood on the corner at the top of Mt Vernon Street. (A concentration of darkness and gloom saturated the lifeless rummage and plumbing fixture businesses and other businesses at that location. The darkened sky floated with stars and cloudy formations-some of it vestiges of exploded fireworks. A volume of sadness and disappointment infiltrated the darkness magnifying the solemn retraction that normally clung over the Bottom, with the concentration overflowing into Mt. Vernon Street.) With a deep sense of regret and reluctance, I climbed down into the canyon of Mt. Vernon Street. The spectacular, explosive day was over, my spirit and I would have to wait for next year’s ‘Fourth.’
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