Angie Brunson and her late husband, Isiah, shared country roots and city living during their 53 years of marriage and their 40-something years with us at Eastern Market.
Angie grew up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, but each summer as a child she returned to the North Carolina farm where her father had lived as a child. There she’d enjoy the fresh air, the dandelions, and the clover blossoms, making them into bouquets and drawing pictures of them, climbing trees and playing outside with her brothers.
Isiah was from Sumter, S.C., where his dad was a sharecropper. He grew up tending to cotton and tobacco. Late in his teens Isiah moved to Brooklyn and got work as a car mechanic, but he never lost his love of the country and of growing things.
It was not their shared feelings for nature that brought Angie and Isiah together, though. In the summer of 1963, an older cousin of Angie’s invited her to join him for what he told her would be an historic event, an opportunity to travel to a new place and to be present for something exceptional. Angie was 17 and she thought that sounded fine – to get out of her neighborhood and be part of history – so when her mother asked if she wanted to go, she said, “Yes!”
At 3 a.m. on Aug. 28, the two cousins were among the throngs of people from the Brooklyn chapter of the NAACP who boarded buses bound for Washington and the March for Jobs and Freedom. It was indeed an historic event in the life of the country and it turned out to be highly significant for Angie as well.
On the National Mall that warm August day, she found herself chatting with a softspoken young man who, like her, had come to the march from Brooklyn. Isiah Brunson was a bit of a celebrity, having organized 15 representatives of the Brooklyn branch of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) to make an emphatic statement by walking the 225 miles from New York to the capital to be part of the march. He suggested that sometime Angie might want to come to a CORE meeting in Brooklyn. She did.
The next year, Angie accompanied Isiah to Albany to protest school segregation. On the return, when she felt rain coming in the broken window on her side of the bus, she asked if she could sit by him. Soon they were dating.
In the spring of 1964, Isiah and the Brooklyn CORE group became controversial after they proposed a dramatic demonstration against ongoing racial inequality – a massive, planned traffic tie-up on the opening day of the New York World’s Fair.
The idea of the “stall-in” made government officials extremely uneasy, and even the national leadership of CORE was against it. Dissension among activists led to the suspension of the Brooklyn CORE chapter. When opening day for the fair came, the stall-in did not happen. But it had succeeded in keeping the spotlight on the country’s racial situation and drawing attention to organized opposition to it. Landmark civil rights legislation would be enacted that summer.
Isiah and Angie were married the following year, and Isiah’s focus shifted to his work and his family. After a couple of years living and working in Brooklyn, Angie and Isiah moved to Washington, DC, and a new life in a new business – selling flowers.
Isiah would drive down to Richmond, where he’d meet his brother who had driven up from South Carolina with lilacs, peonies, apple blossom branches, and daffodils grown on his farm there. Later, the two brothers purchased land in Gainesville, Va., and raised flowers there.
After a couple of years selling from a stand on Connecticut Avenue, Angie and Isiah heeded the advice of a regular customer (Hill resident and owner of Splash! Carwash Tim Temple) and made inquiries about selling at Eastern Market. Their application was accepted and they began selling flowers, first outside and then inside and, briefly, from a store on Seventh Street Southeast. They named the business for Isiah’s favorite flower and favorite color – Blue Iris.
Living not far from the Market, Angie and Isiah raised two daughters, Jill and Kenya, who worked with their parents as they grew up. Kenya is now a librarian and Jill still works in the business, often driving the truck for early-morning pickups of fresh flowers at National Airport and deliveries of bouquets and arrangements throughout the metro area.
Isiah was seriously injured in 2011 when a truck hit his car. As a result of his injuries his left leg was amputated. The following year he had open heart surgery. He was desperately ill, and Angie took time off to care for him. But by 2014 Isiah was back at the market, riding to work in a specially equipped van, selling flowers outside, greeting customers with a smile.
When Isiah died, in May of this year, he and Angie had never been apart for more than a couple of days. She says she will be crying for him for the rest of her life. But that does not mean she will slow down at the Market. Angie compares herself to Maria Calomiris, who died in 2015 and whose sons, Tom and Leon, continue the family fruit and vegetable stand at the center of Eastern Market.
“I loved Mrs. Calomiris,” Angie says. “She was a wonderful person. I’m like her. I will be here to the end.”
In the meantime, Angie will be working her usual long days and long weeks, eating greens and fresh rockfish from Market Lunch, and looking forward to spring, her favorite season, and to selling her favorite flowers – tulips.