Oral history with Betty Greene

Oral HistoryAudiovisual

An oral history interview conducted with Betty Greene during Lakeland Heritage Weekend 2007. Betty Louise Thomas Greene was born on September 13, 1938 at Freedman’s Hospital in Washington D.C. to Annie Venerva Hebron Thomas and Sam (probably Samuel) E. (possibly Edward) Thomas. Betty, the last of eight children, was born when her mother was in her 50s. Betty married her husband, Ambrose Augustine Greene, on June 29, 1957 at Holy Redeemer Church in College Park, Maryland, after he left the Army. Betty and Ambrose both lived in Lakeland, and developed their relationship by going to weekend dances at the Lakeland Tavern. They had one daughter, Danita Darcel Greene Costley. Betty also has two grandsons and three great grandchildren, whom she enjoys visiting in Arlington, Virginia as often as possible. Betty belonged to several community organizations, including the House of Ruth and the Lakeland Civic Association, and is a charter member of Post 140 John Henry Seaburn, College Park (which merged with the American Legion Auxiliary, Post 275, Glenarden.) She is a proud lifelong member of the Embry A.M.E. Church in Lakeland, which was her parents’ church and where she was baptized as an infant. Betty has fond memories of growing up as a child in Lakeland, emphasizing that while her family did not have much, they were very loving towards one another, and belonged to a community where everyone looked out for each other. The children would generally create their own entertainment by “playing store” and “playing house.” They even emulated the behavior of adults and once had a funeral for a dead bird. Betty and her siblings would also collect discarded glass soda bottles and redeem them for penny candy. They would either walk up the tracks to Berwyn, or patronize Mack’s Store or Black’s Store in Lakeland. Her father worked for a coal and feed business in Berwyn. He did the weekly grocery shopping on Saturday, which was payday; the family could look forward to hot dogs and beans for dinner, and as a special treat for the kids, a box of animal crackers. Betty’s mother, a domestic worker for families in Berwyn, knew how to be creative with food, so the family never went hungry. Betty also recalled that her mother got the best hand-me-down clothes from her employers for her children. Betty explained that there was no lack of discipline in her childhood, and that her parents used a switch to discipline their children. Rather than feeling like it was unnecessary, Betty feels that she’s a better person for having been disciplined, though she does hope that parents have learned other methods of disciplining their children. She also recalls being disciplined by her teacher, Richard Brown, by having her hand smacked with a ruler, while attending school in the two-room schoolhouse in east Lakeland. Betty expressed her disappointment over urban renewal in Lakeland because the program did not live up to the expectations that had been promised. The community did need some subsidized housing, but she notes that most of the apartments and lower income houses that replaced single-family houses and small businesses have become student housing; investors are buying homes for sale in the community and renting to students. She feels that this is a disadvantage for the community. Drugs are a problem in Lakeland now, and Betty attributes this to the fact that young people do not want to work at a minimum wage job, and turn down their noses at manual labor. Betty describes her family’s various housing situations. As a child, Betty lived at 5407 Detroit Avenue, now the site of Lake Artemesia (she mentions that she could walk over to Lake Artemesia today but would not be able to locate where her house had been.) They shared a double house with the Stewart family, renting it from the Kleiner family. Betty’s mother eventually went to live with Betty’s sister in Laurel. After Betty and Ambrose married in 1957, they moved in with Ambrose’s grandmother Elizabeth Greene, whose house was located, along with the houses of the Gray and Gross family, on the current location of Paint Branch Elementary School. After some moving around, including a stay in an apartment on Emerson Street in Hyattsville, Betty and Ambrose settled in a house owned by Ambrose’s mother, at 8001 51st Avenue, where Betty lives today. She raised not only her daughter, but also her brother’s four children, in this home. She cites raising her family while working for twenty-seven years as a cleaner at the Paint Branch Elementary School as her proudest personal accomplishment. Betty’s greatest joy in life comes from her involvement in the church. She has served in practically every capacity and church office, and still participates in church activities and charity events, like feeding the homeless. Her love of God and her faith have sustained her through some difficult times in her life, including the tragic loss of her mother in a house fire, a devastating blow for Betty since her mother had a significant influence on her life. To this day, Betty thanks her mother for all the wisdom she imparted, even if Betty did not appreciate the advice at the time. Wrapping up the interview, Betty recalls that she and her siblings looked forward to church, since it was their time to get away from the house. But, their mother’s wild and joyous behavior at church would embarrass them. With a knowing glance, Betty’s mother told her that one day, she would understand. Betty now finds herself acting just like her mother in church. And she couldn’t be happier.