Seven area residents recall the days of dinner dances, wartime rationing and memorable encounters with celebrity.
Bette Thompson, 74, Potomac
From Falls Road to what’s now Democracy Boulevard was all black families in the 1950s—maybe the ’40s— and considered Rockville. All that was the Scotland neighborhood. My great-grandfather worked for a Scottish man and bought land from him.
Where Cabin John Shopping Center is, some of my family—the Doves—used to live there. The black families were Doves, Coopers, Masons, Crawfords, Thomases, Wilsons. The Scotland AME Zion Church goes back to the 1800s. Until 1905, it was where Cabin John Shopping Center is; since then it’s on Seven Locks Road. All the large families went to it for generations.
South of Democracy, at Bells Mill and Seven Locks, there was a grocery store. Sweetie Williams and his wife, Dolly, ran it. On Saturday night, people would put a nickel in the jukebox and play records and dance. My siblings and I couldn’t go at night until high school; my family said the wrong sort of people were there on Saturday night. There were house parties, too, all over the area, and a beer garden in Gaithersburg. Fats Domino and Shirley & Lee (“Let the Good Times Roll”) played there before they became big names.
Most Scotland [residents] worked in Bethesda. The women cleaned houses, watched kids, sometimes stayed late to cook for parties or for the kids if the parents went out. My mother and grandmother did. My grandmother’s husband worked in people’s yards. There was no segregation—white and black people used the same stores, banks, and so on. The stores treated us the same, but at the movies in Rockville, near the courthouse, we had to go up the steps to the balcony and not through the front door. I only did that once.
Save Our Scotland [a community group working for improved housing conditions] began in 1965 with a different name. Many citizens had no heat or running water, just coal, kerosene and wood stoves. Some had wells, and you’d have to turn on the pump to get water—so when the electricity was out, no water. As [children], we had to walk up to Bells Mill and Seven Locks and bring water back in buckets. Most families had outhouses. The county condemned the Scotland houses in the early to mid-’60s to put in a horse stable. These town houses on Scotland Drive were built in the late ’60s and early ’70s.
My class went to Lincoln High in Rockville, near the Metro, and finished at [George Washington Carver High School and Junior College in Rockville, built for African-Americans] when it opened in 1951. My children went to Seven Locks Elementary and later Bells Mill when that was built [in 1968], because it was closer. The principals expected the Scotland kids to go there, but some Potomac parents didn’t want our kids in Bells Mill; they said it would be overcrowded. I had to go up to Carver [Educational Services Center, school-system headquarters since 1961] and meet with the education superintendent and the principal and Dr. [Thomas] Warren, the principal at Cabin John Junior High, and other parents. Dr. Warren tried to demonstrate to the kids how the black kids felt by having all the blonds sit at one table by themselves.
They went home and told their parents, and the Potomac parents got rid of him. When Bells Mill was almost finished, the [Montgomery County] Sentinel came out with a story that said something like: “How would you feel if your kids looked over at a child next to them who’s black?” My cousin passed the article around. I called a meeting with the area school head, saying we didn’t like what was in the paper. It took 1½ years to fight this, but by the time Bells Mill opened, my children went there. My girls had no problems, but at PTA meetings and back-to-school nights, other parents said they felt unwelcome. I didn’t fight for myself ever, but for kids—don’t do them no wrong. Treat them fair.