The Man Behind Duke’s on 14th Street

Flickr: Adam Gurri

After passing it for years, I’ve often wondered about the shoe shine/repair place with dramatically high ceilings across from Busboys and Poets on 14th Street, in the Frank D. Reeves Center of Municipal Affairs; I had no idea that it had been there for 75 years. TBD has a video featuring the 89-year old proprietor of the shop. Here’s how they describe it and him:

Irving “Duke” Johnson has been shining shoes in the heart of Washington, D.C. for the past 75 years. His shop, Duke’s Shoe Repair, is located at the intersection of 14th and U Streets. For this 89-year-old man working is a joy and a way of life. He says he has no plans of retiring.

The first comment on the piece is amusing:

God, I can’t believe he’s still there. He used to scare the crap out of me when I was in daycare there. I’m pretty sure he was old as dirt then, and that was 22 years ago.

Speaking of 20 years ago, in 1991, Mr. Johnson had this to say about Anita Hill, Clarence Thomas and the state of his people:

To some black men, however, the issue is different. Fearing a backlash in the wake of Hill’s accusations about Thomas’ behavior, they said that sexual harassment is of far lesser social concern than the advancement of black people.

“We’re falling behind now,” said Irvin (Duke) Johnson, the 70-year-old proprietor of Duke’s Shoe Repair and Shine in Washington’s Reeves Municipal Center, as he listened in disbelief to Hill’s testimony. “If black folks keep telling on one another, the black man will never get ahead.”

  • Golden Silence

    “If black folks keep telling on one another, the black man will never get ahead.”

    Attitudes like Mr. Johnson’s are what keep the “stop snitchin’” culture alive.