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Neighbors come together during riots

In 1964, life on Martin and Grant Streets revolved around a grocery store no bigger than someone's living room today.  "Anything that happened in the neighborhood would find its way into the store.  It also had the only pay phone," recalled Gap Mangione.

If the store was the pulse of the neighborhood, Gap's father Frank was its heart.

"My father, to my mother's dismay, would extend credit to just about everyone who lived in the neighborhood and came by and asked for it," said Mangione.

"It was informal," recalls Willie Turner, who also lived on Martin Street.  "He kept a little sheet and I'd go in and say 'Mr. Mangione, my mom needs some rice and sugar,' and he's write it down.

He adds:  "Frank Mangione was caring man and a good community person."

That year, Turner turned 14 years old.  He recalls the neighborhood shifting from mostly Italian families to African American.  Not everyone extended the same welcome as the Mangione family.

"There was a lot of pent-up frustrations.  We were poor and lived among people who had things.  We didn't know how to change that.  There were no jobs," Turner recalled.

Something that would happen four days before the riots would further solidify the Turner family's and the neighborhood's relationship with the Mangiones.

Gap and his younger brother Chuck were already successful jazz musicians living with their parents behind the store.  One day Turner's sister arrived in hysterics.

"She was screaming that her baby had drowned," recalled Gap.  "I asked where is the baby now and she said 'still in the tub!" 

They ran across the street.  Chuck scooped the unresponsive one year old boy out of the water. Gap took over.  "I had his chest to my hand and my hand to his back and I just pressed and released.  Then, there was a reaction," he said.

"I just kept doing it and eventually he was breathing on his own.

Later that week, returning from a concert, the Mangiones could not get down their street.  It was blocked off because of crowds and rioting.  When they returned days later, buildings were destroyed, but not the store.

"The neighbors decided that our place wouldn't be among those affected," recalled Gap.   "They came out , confronted the gang, and said not here, somewhere else," said Mangione.

"You wouldn't break into Mr.  Mangione's store!  He's such a good guy," said Turner.  "We were like, they're our friends."

The Mangione family returned to the neighborhood and ran the grocery store for several more years.  But many merchants who sustained losses never re-built.  "That was the biggest impact.  We lost all of the stores," said Turner.  "No one thought about that when the rioting was happening."

Gap and Chuck Mangione went on to become nationally and internationally known jazz musicians.  Yet Gap says he still recalls that era-and the neighborhood-fondly.  "Even now, a long time later, I still think of that as home," he said.

The store was torn down and replaced by a factory some years ago.  While photographs from the race riots capture the division of this neighborhood people who lived on Martin and Grant streets recall an act of solidarity which came from neighbors looking out for each other.

"We loved Frank Mangione, but what happened with the baby just made us know we weren't going to let anyone touch that store," said Turner.

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Washington Times