So What’s A Block/Grit?
Blocks/Grits, were a social group/clique that inhabited predominantly Prince Georges County during the 60s and 70s, but were also found in Charles, and St. Marys counties, Maryland, and possibly some parts of Northern Virginia. First known as Blocks in the 60s, and for reasons still unknown to me, the term changed to Grits once I got to Benjamin Stoddert Jr. High in the Fall of 1970. Blocks/Grits were greasers (think the ones in the movie, “The Outsiders”) that had the tough guy look, and the bad attitude with it. And some were truly bad dudes you didn’t want to mess with. There were Grit/Block girls, too, who also wore the Chucks, Peters jackets, and the hair teased high, held in place with lots of Aqua Net hair spray, and plenty of make up.
The real hard core Blocks/Grits I remember were truly dudes you did not want to mess with. I think the first time I ever heard of one was at Ownes Road Elementary, when I was probably in the 2nd Grade, and another kid mentioned, “Blocks, Mods, and Collegiates”. One of the last things you wanted to hear a Block/Griit tell you was something like, “Meet me after school”, or, “You breakin’ bad with me?” Early on in elementary school, I became more familiar with Blocks/Grits when we moved to Deer Park Heights in the summer of ’67, and attended Sandymount Elementary. As a 4th grader, I remember seeing the Blocks first when we would line up outside behind Sandymount by grade, and these Blocks had the slicked back hair and long leather coats, and Chuck Taylors, or Chucks. They looked BAD. The photo below was taken in 1965, outside the Marlow Fairlanes bowling alley. Left to right are Steve Williams, Paul Minnick, and James Vandenberry, wearing leather coats, Peters jackets, Big Macs and Ban-Long shirts. Steve and James graduated in the Potomac Class of 1970
Whatever their true origins, Blocks/grits had a look all their own. They wore slicked back, greasy hair, and the pants were known as “Macs”, which were actually construction worker type trousers. The most common colors were tan/khaki, navy blue, and forest green. Later, when the movie, “American Graffiti, became popular (and by then they were no longer known as Blocks but Grits), some Grits started wearing straight leg blue jeans, mimicking the style of 50s toughs in the film. Blocks also usually wore Banlon shirts, which were a short sleeve, polo type, shirt made of “100% Monsanto Nylon”, and other Italian type knit shirts. Later, known as Grits, they wore short sleeve T-shirts known as “Silk Shirts”, which were nylon in garish colors (lime green for example, although yellow was a popular color). For shoes, what else but Chuck Taylor All Stars, or Chucks. These were worn with colored shoe strings, not tied but with the laces dangling out the sides. With this, a Grit would wear two or three pairs of basketball or hockey socks. For full effect, they would cuff their pants up, and cuff/fold the socks down to show the “colors”. To top it all off, a Grit wouldn’t be a Grit if he didn’t have a “Peters” jacket. This was a wind breaker made by the Peters Sportswear Company and the preferred color was navy blue. A lot of Grits also had embroidery on the breast pocket area, usually two hearts (with something like, “Louie & Marlene”, under it), or a pair of dice. Grits/Blocks also had dress socks, called silk socks or Thick ‘n Thins (which are still around today)”
Grits/Blocks had their own dress wear, which were trousers known as “Daks”, and I had a pair once. I believe they were actually shark skin pants. Worn with these were long sleeve Banlon shirts, usually with some sort of fancy stitching on it, dress shoes that we used to call Brogans, and the thick ‘n thin socks.
Eventually Grits became almost mainstream, given the wide availability of the clothing in the area at the time. I recall once being in Montgomery Wards at Iverson Mall, and an announcement over the PA system that told us, “Shoppers, we have Macs available in the Boys Department!” New Grits were Paper Grits really (myself included), because it was more a fad than a way of life for the “real” Grits. By becoming a Grit, a boy could adopt a “bad” attitude and get some perceived respect from the neighborhood or school. But if you talked the talk but didn’t walk the walk, eventually somebody would put you in your place. I know, because I thought I was a “bad dude”, getting into fights and such, until one day a classmate picked a fight with me before school, right in front of Benjamin Stoddert Jr. High, with everyone present. Got sucker punched because I thought the guy was my friend and it turned out I guess he didn’t like me much and was really in a mood for a fight that day. But I also remember the “head” Grit at Stoddert then (early 70s), Billy Arnold, turned around and knocked the other boy silly. I guess by me being a former Grit/Block, Billy took some pity on me and did something to give me some “get back”. Thanks, Billy! I actually met up with the boy I fought that day (although fought on my part was a stretch!) some 40 years after the fact at one of the Steak in a Sack get togethers that I host. The guy didn’t even remember that fight, and we just laughed about it.
Grits/Blocks, like many other social groups, cliques, clubs, or whatever term you’d like to use, had their time in society, and in this case, were uniquely PG County of the 1960s and 1970s. Their exact orgins aren’t well known, other than they came into being sometime during the early to mid 60s, and the end of Grits/Blocks came probably by the end of the 70s, and certainly by the early 80s for sure. Whatever you thought of Grits/Blocks, if you were one at one time, or knew people who were, they were a distinct part of our Marlow Heights and vincinity’s 60s and 70s history. Another segment of society that could be lost in our collective memories and gone forever once the Baby Boomers and Generation X’ers die off, except for capturing it all here, in our time capsule of Marlow Heights 60s and 70s.