Lincoln, Kaiser Wilhelm, and the New Deal

Allen Beach: Oral History Excerpts

My American grandma and mother in Berlin
So the ancestors came from England?

AB: Yes. I believe from the area of East Anglica. But that’s the best I can figure out. Now my mother was born in Berlin, Germany as a result of the fact that her mother had been born in Sacramento, California. At one point her mother—my mother’s grandmother—said, “well, I’m going to take the girls and we’re going to go and visit the family homes in Germany.” And so they went over there and went to art school, the girls did. After about a year, all but my mother went back to Sacramento. My mother at that point was doing some art work or something like that and eventually got a nanny type job and eventually, she was introduced to this military officer, Edgar von Usedung, and after a period of time, they got married. And that’s how my mother was born in Germany. However, when World War One started, a day she remembers very well, only because her father took her down to Unter den Linden, the main street in Berlin, and they were all cheering about the war going on, which didn’t mean anything to a four-year-old, except for the fact he was smoking a cigar and dropped an ash someplace on her hand and created a scar she remembered to her very death.

After World War Two—he had fought in the Franco-Prussian War as an officer. By the time the [First World] war ended, things weren’t so good for them. And then they had the great inflation of 1923-1924. And the father had died. So her mother said, “well, we’re wiped out—I’m going home.” That meant Sacramento, California. And for a 15-year-old in 1925 it was “go home? Go where? I don’t want to leave all my friends.” “We’re going.” So in 1925, they boarded the SS Cleveland in Hamburg harbor and set sail for New York. Now, for my mother it was a great trip, because her mother was sick the whole way over. So, she was able to run around and do what she wanted to do, carouse with the boys that were on the ship. She had a hell of a good time, to be honest. Wo they arrived in the United States and since her mother was an American, they said “where were you born” and she could say Sacramento, California, so they said “walk in!” So they didn’t have to go to Ellis Island. And they went to Jersey City, where there was somebody they knew. They stayed there about three days and then got on a train and started west.

Well, one of the family member’s husbands—one of grandma’s sister’s husbands worked for the Central Pacific Railroad, I think, and could get free passes. So, he got on the train in Sacramento, where they lived and boarded the train and went as far east as he was allowed, which was Ogden, Utah. And there is where my mother met up with some of her family for the first time. They lived at 1214 H Street in Sacramento. For my mother, this was a huge come-down. First off, it was all women living there. Most of the men in that family had died. Secondly, in 1925 she came from this beautiful apartment in Berlin with a lovely living room and dining room as well as indoor plumbing. 1214 H Street had plumbing out the back. Well, I can tell you that a friend of grandma’s took her under her wing and saw to it that she got into a school, learned some English, and in a year and a half graduated from Sacramento High School. She went to Sacramento Junior College for two years. And over the dead bodies of all the members of her family she then transferred to Stanford University in Palo Alto. She was in a summer class and lo and behold it was Professor Beach who was teaching it. So, they got to know each other. She got a B+ for the course. To her dying day she said “I deserved an A-“ He always said “you deserved a B+.”

Was it an economics course?

AB: yeah, something in economics. That’s how they met.

Did she graduate from Stanford?

AB: Oh yes—she graduated from Stanford in the class of 1930.

What was her major?

AB: History or political science, something like that. So she graduated and a couple of weeks later she got married in Aunt Crety’s house.

Communists and terrorists
AB: No. It was secret work. That reminds me about another story about security clearances which I love to tell. Around 1944 my mother was interviewed by an FBI agent. They were interviewing about a person who lived across the street. “Do you know this person?” “Yes.” “Do they have friends like everybody else?” “Yes.” “Do they look ok?” “Yes.” “Do they look like Communists?” My mother replied “What’s a Communist look like?” He said, “well, you know.” And she said “no, I don’t know.” So, whenever I have been interviewed for anyone since then I have said “don’t ask me if they look like a Communist. I don’t know what a Communist looks like. Don’t ask me what a terrorist looks like. I don’t know. You’ve got to tell ME.” You can see how people could use that sort of a statement.

DC Schools in the 1940s
AB: Well, high school was more interesting from that point of view. My high school class had some very interesting people in it.

This is Wilson?

AB: Right, Wilson. Congressmen and Senators kids, there were plenty of those. Gene Douglas, Senator Douglas of Illinois, is one I remember. Mary-Lou Judd—her father was Congressman Judd of Minnesota. I talked to her at our 60th high school reunion recently. She said her father would be appalled at how things are now. We had some baseball people. Harris, Harris—can’t remember his first name—they called him rats-leg Harris. He was the son of Bucky Harris, who was the manager of the Senators. He was one of the great players when they won the {World}Series in ’24 and they were in the Series in ’25 and in ’33. Before my time. There was another boy; his name was Keith Einen. His father was like the secretary of the Senators. Judy Morse was in my brother’s class and that was (Senator) Wayne Morse’s (Oregon) daughter. Senator Douglas was an interesting person because in 1948 he and the Democratic candidate for governor—his name was Green—they won the state by 500,000 votes, a huge win. And all night the Truman margin kept sliding and sliding during the 1948 presidential election. Then suddenly Cook County would produce a few more votes, then downstate and upstate votes came in alternately. Finally, by 4:30 in the morning it was declared that Truman had won Illinois. It was that close. You remember that’s when the Chicago paper had “DEWEY WINS!” on the headline and Truman was holding it up.

So all these people lived in the neighborhood, then, and went to school there?

AB: Ahh umhummm (yes). By the way, some of my classmates had also been in Warren Buffet’s house near Tenley Circle. Warren Buffet went to Wilson four years before I did. Well, his father was a Congressman from Nebraska. That’s why he was here. He lived somewhere around 43rd Street and Tenley Circle. I didn’t know him and my older brother didn’t know him, but some of my classmates knew someone in the family because I can remember going into the house. There was Tommy Caudle in my class. His father was T. Lamar Caudle, a big shot in the White House under Truman.

Do you know where Senator Douglas lived?

AB: No, I don’t know where he lived.

Any of the others you mentioned?

AB: Not really. Truman, you know, lived at 4701 Connecticut Avenue when he was a senator. 

AB: I don’t know. Out biggest competitor when I was there was Western, which is now School of the Arts. The other one was Coolidge, but more Western. If you were Jewish you would tend to look at Coolidge as the big competitor.

Why is that?

AB: Coolidge was a heavy Jewish school.

Where is it located?

AB: Coolidge? Northwest, on the other side of the park.

And Western, was it Africa-American?

AB: Both were division one schools. When I read obituaries—anybody who says I went to Coolidge, McKinley Tech, Anacostia, and they’re my age, I can tell you their race. They went to a division one school.

Is that what they were called?

AB: Yeah—division one and division two.

And everyone understood what that meant?

AB: I didn’t, but my parents did. When we moved to this area, my father, having been a professor at Williams, had also been on the admissions committee at Williams. So, he knew schools all up and down the east because people applied to Williams. He knew that in this school you go to this bar and to that school to another. And in those days the schools in Virginia, to be honest, were not that good. And even those in Montgomery County were below those in DC. So DC was the place to go. And that’s why the people I named in my high school class were there.

They didn’t necessarily live here?

AB: no, no. They lived here. There were a few Maryland kids to came across. In those days they could come and go free in DC. We had some kids who lived just on the other side of Western Avenue who came to DC schools—particularly Wilson.

So what was your first awareness of race and discrimination?

AB: Probably when I got to the military. Though I didn’t see much. By that point the military didn’t care who you were. Stay in line! Do what I tell you!

This was after Truman…

Ich bin kein Berliner
Speaking of your mother, particularly her German background, did you learn German yourself?

AB: Well, the answer to that is no. The reason is simple. I should have started when I had been between 8-12 years old. That was 1941-1945. Nobody spoke German. If you had a Germanic name, you tried to downplay it. That just wasn’t the right milieu to learn German. Nobody did it.

Did you study a language in school?

AB: Yes, I did study French. And in my senior year in high school I took German and I took German in college. So, I learned a little bit.

Did your mother ever communicate in German with you?

AB: Not really. The odd word or phrase. I mean, when my mother came to the United States in 1925—I have at least one diary left—in ’25 it was all in German; in ’26 it was all in German, but by 1930, everything was English. By the way, in about 1933 or so, she was in Williamstown and said, I don’t know what my legal status is. On my father’s side, we had somebody who worked in the State Department, one of his cousins, somebody like that. So he went to him and he said I don’t know what you are. So, my mother, now with three children, a high school graduate, a college graduate from Stanford University, knowing plenty of Political Science, was suddenly enrolled in immigration classes to become an American citizen.

What year was that?

AB: My younger brother was already born, so it was 1935 or so.

So, she took the exam…

AB: Passed right through, easy. She was doing this in northern Massachusetts where most of her classmates were French Canadians.

So, she was actually naturalized.

AB: Yes, she became a naturalized citizen. Well, it wasn’t clear as to what her citizenship was when she came over in 1925. I think she had some piece of paper that said she was the daughter of this [American] person. But it didn’t say what her citizenship was. It wasn’t clear. When my mother came up they asked her where were you born. She said Sacramento, California. They said pass through. Hey—you’re an American citizen, by definition.

Civil rights connection
Did the family belong to a church?

AB: When my parents lived in Williamstown I know my father and mother went to the Congregational Church up there. When we came here we went to All Souls Unitarian Church on 16th Street. We went for several years, but the war was a different problem for men and for my father Sundays was just too much after he worked six days a week to get up and go to church on Sundays. So, he stopped going.

Did you go to Sunday school as a child?

AB: Well, I went here at All Souls Church. All Souls Unitarian—not the Episcopal one on Connecticut Avenue and Woodley Road. That’s the church where my wife and I got married. The assistant minister lived across the street from me. His name was James Reeb. Not a famous name to you, but several years after we were married, he went to one of those freedom marches in Selma, Alabama. He was hit over the head with a brick or some such and died at the age of 35, 36, something like that.

Did your parents belong to any organizations?

AB: Yes. I do know that at first my parents did not want to join the Chevy Chase Citizens Association because it was discriminatory. And once CCCA stopped being that, they joined.

Was it in their bylaws?

AB: Yeah. It was in the bylaws. When Chevy Chase Citizens Association started they were clearly discriminatory. No question about it.

Blacks and Jews excluded?

AB: Blacks as far as I can remember. But they weren’t the only ones. The guy who developed Sumner – that was very discriminatory—Blacks and Jews at that point, out there in Maryland. It wasn’t unusual. And those clauses, by the way, by the time I bought my first house, they said the covenants are there, but they are unenforceable.

Again, what year was that?

AB: It certainly existed through 1950. I can’t tell you when it ended. Now, my father was a singer and he belonged to the Chevy Chase Chanters for a number of years. 

Of the Gettysburg Address and the Connecticut Avenue trolley line

AB: I have subsequently learned of a family link to the Connecticut Avenue trolley line, first developed in 1893. The superintendant of that trolley line was my Great Grandfather. AJ Warner. He had become a friend of Senator Newlands through the silverite movement back in the 1890s.


AB: Senator Newlands had grown up in the south and went to California and then met a girl, whom he married, whose father was head of the Comstock Company in Nevada. So Newlands went to Nevada where he practiced law. In those days it was the state senate that appointed the federal senators. So Newlands was appointed and that’s how he got to be a U.S. senator. And of course he was always for the silver movement—16:1 instead of 15:1 , which would make silver cheap, and therefore would be the metal in circulation. And that meant more silver would have to have been mined, an important point for Senator Newlands. And for my Great Grandfather, it meant that money was cheap and he could borrow more money to start businesses. He started what became part of a railroad; he started what became part of an oil company. In 1893 Newlands wanted to find someone with railroad experience and my Great Grandfather had built the line from Marietta to Cleveland, so Newlands turned to him to be superintendant of the Washington DC project. There is still evidence of what they accomplished today on Connecticut Avenue. If you go to the corner of Connecticut and Albermarle, you will see a couple of buildings on the east side of the Avenue that appear to be at street level. As they indeed are. But to do that, earth needed to be shaved from the hill on the other side of the Avenue and pushed into the ravine on the east side. The up-and-down was reduced. If you look at the buildings on the east side, which is now where the Office Depot is, at one time there was a bowling alley in there on the lower floor and a skating rink on the top floor. But if you go behind it, there’s a huge drop off. My neighbor Dr. Morgan, who I mentioned, the transportation economist, he told me at one point in 1923 he got to Connecticut and Everett Street, he cut off his engine and coasted all the way down town. He started at the highest point and it was like a roller coaster—you go up and down.

Where did your Great Grandfather live?

AB: Marietta, Ohio. He’d been a Congressman a couple of times, too. Sometimes he won and sometimes Charles Dawes won. And that’s the Charles Dawes that became Vice President with Calvin Coolidge.

The Dawes known for the Dawes Plan for German reparations?

AB: That’s it—you got it.

Did your Great Grandfather ever live here?

AB: He lived here during the Civil War when he was serving in the Union Army and also while he was building the trolly. But other than that, no.

This ancestor is on your father’s side?

AB: Yes. He fought at both Antietam and at Gettysburg. He got wounded at Antietam. He was at the Lincoln Gettysburg Address and he was in Indianapolis, still serving, when Lincoln died and when the body came through he was an honorary pall-bearer. AJ Warner—AJ was Adiniron Judson. His mother gave him Biblical names.

So he was a witness to the Gettysburg Address?

AB: Yes, he was a witness. He was actually there.

What a history!

AB: He was quite the man. He started businesses. One of them became Pure Oil Company, which was eventually sold for $300 million. I didn’t get any of it. He went to Delonica, Georgia and decided he would wash dirt down the mountainside to pull the gold off. And the gold he pulled off is on top of the Georgia capital.

What he a mining engineer?

AB: No, he was an entrepreneur. He wanted money and that’s why he wanted cheap money. At one point he had to go to London to raise money for one of his enterprises. He was quite a character. One of his daughters married my grandfather. Oh—and a favorite he taught—he was teaching at Stanford—was Warner. So one day she went to visit Pop Warner’s wife. Now Pop Warner might not mean anything to you, but he was a famous football coach. A very successful one at Stanford. She went to visit the wife and he walked in. Before she left they figured out they were second cousins. So, I am somehow related to Pop Warner. And he is now famous for Pop Warner football—leagues organized for kids roughly 8-12 years old. It’s sort of like the day at Palisades Pool—I am treasurer of a pool out here—and I was told that we had a summer member who I said we should assign member number #44. And the women all said huh? All the men said: got it! It was John Riggins.

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