PAPERBOYS FOR THE PRYORTOWN PROSTITUTES
The Civil Writer Magazine
According to his autobiography, Richard Pryor says the "home where he grew up at" was 317 Northeast Washington, a two-story wooden house. His paternal grandmother, Marie Carter, lived at 313, a flat-roofed house. The house in between, 315, was a brothel ran by a woman called madam "China Bee". All three dwellings were houses of ill repute. Pryor's grandmother, who he called "Mama", was a madam of one of the houses. Marie raised Pryor when his mother, Gertrude Thomas, moved back to her family in Springfield. After his parents' divorce, Richard went to 313 to live with his grandmother. This neighborhood, which now includes Taft Homes of the Peoria Housing Authority, where I-74 runs through and where Caterpillar's headquarters now sits, was the area where most resettling Blacks from the south were directed by the Green Book "The Negro Motorist Green Book", a mid-20th century guidebook for African-American travelers who were guided to live in the north side of Peoria including my maternal grandparents Goings and my uncle and aunt O.B. and Gracie Goings who were first in the family to arrive from Mississippi. There were some families like the Hightowers and my wife's family the Gorts, who lived in what were considered mixed neighborhoods around Smith street and State street by (Lincoln school) in the 1940s.
When Blacks settled in on the north side of Peoria there were houses of prostitution ran by the Pryor family and other madams, a 1950 federal report chronicled 132 placed of prostitution in Peoria but prostitution was not limited to the north side. Once Washington Street became a flashpoint for a reform movement that sought to wipe the red-light district off the map prostitution started one mile south to the south side of Peoria. Richard's stepmother Ann born in New Orleans in 1921, a light-skinned Creole woman who could have easily passed for white upon arriving in 1947 landed as an understudy at China Bee’s 315 North Washington Street brothel, just a few doors down from the brothel operated by Richard’s family.
She opened a house on West Aiken Avenue. Back in the day, it was known as "Aiken Alley" and was a hotbed for local prostitution. Some years later Richard "Dickie" Pryor and his wife Dee Pryor took over Aiken Alley with approximately 8 houses of prostitution, the location was just around the corner from Old Morning Star Baptist Church that resided on Goodwin st., between First st., and Aiken Alley. To digress just a little Dee Pryor the wife of Dickie.... the comedian Richard Pryor's uncle and aunt who use to live on Aiken Alley in its heyday was the same aunt who put out Richard's fire on his body after chasing him down the street at damn-near 70 years old in LA on June 9, 1980 when the troubled comedian set himself on fire while freebasing cocaine.
Back in 1967-72, Aiken Alley was poppin with white clientele from East Peoria, West Peoria, Morton, and Pekin, Illinois I saw them daily even on Sundays. Back then the prostitutes sat in the windows of the various homes like many do in Amsterdam Netherlands only exposing the waist up. As a kid traveling through the alley for 6 years rain, sleet or snow going home to 616 West Hurlburt st., two block down from Joseph Brothers store I became desensitized to the unclothed women who were mostly white. I would even see Dee Pryor in a bra sitting in the window of the house her and Dickie owned. Many said Dickie was pimping her out but I believe she was watching out for the Peoria police traveling down the alley. And if the police were spotted all the windows shades on the whole block would go down and the Johns (white male clients) driving through in cars would suddenly disappear. For six years my brother and I would travel through Aiken Alley on our way home from our daily downtown Peoria paper route, so they were use to seeing us. We were not just 10 and 13 year old kids trying to get a peep of tits and tail we were like little business men because we knew that any extra papers we had they would want to buy especially the Saturdays and Sundays editions that would bankroll candy. When they wanted our attention to buy a Peoria Journal Star newspaper they would tap on the windows to beckon us over as we strolled through with our newspaper bags. They were always respectful to us when they came to the door. They would be covered up with a nightgown however leaving nothing to the imagination. At that time we didn't know anything about the comedian Richard Pryor because he was just getting his career in comedy started but we knew who his uncle Richard "Dickie" Pryor was and we knew who Satin Doll was. Satin Doll was the oldest white prostitute in the alley looking to be in her 70s and wore satin nightgowns as she visited her associates throughout the block. During the whole 6 years walking through the alley I never saw Black clientele or a police raid. Peoria was known for three things booze, VD and prostitution since the early 1930s. When I hear Richard Pryor Town as the moniker for the city of Peoria I think of uncle Dickie Pryor first than the comedian Richard Pryor second. The Pryor prostitutes were my first introduction to pimping and prostitution, and boy! was it a lesson learned.
:Pictures and Peoria history comes from www.becomingRichardPryor.com
:The 1967-72 Aiken Ally prostitution scene comes from Rodney Walters