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A group of displaced public housing residents is asking the DC Historic Preservation Review Board to grant historic landmark status to Barry Farm in southeast Washington, one of the city’s most historic Black communities.

The nomination submitted this week, calls attention to the early history of Barry Farm, originally a settlement created by the Freedman’s Bureau where hundreds of free and newly emancipated Black families purchased one-acre lots and built homes shortly after the Civil War.

“This site should be designated historic because the people and history of Barry Farm should not be forgotten,” said Detrice Belt, president of the Barry Farm Tenants and Allies Association.

Belt also lived on Stevens Road, the same location where many notable leaders in Barry Farm’s history lived.

“We want to see our history reflected in the newly developed community — not wiped away to create a new development that has no identity, like anywhere else in the country,” Belt said.

Most of the nomination focuses on the historic importance of the Barry Farm public housing community built in 1942, a community which was central to the successful legal campaign to desegregate public schools in 1954. It was the also the site of a nationally recognized, youth-led tenant organizing project funded through President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty and was the home and organizing base of Etta Mae Horn, who co-founded the National Welfare Rights Organization in 1967.

The row houses with private yards and shared spaces are aligned along streets named for abolitionists who fought to end slavery. That street grid is the only remaining remnant of the original Barry Farm settlement, which was later targeted for “slum clearance,” with portions taken by eminent domain for the building of Suitland Parkway, and even 31 houses taken for the development of the public housing community itself.

“We want to return to our community, and to homes and businesses that we own,” Belt said. “We want to return to a community that is designed by us and for us.”

Parisa Norouzi, director of Empower DC, added that both her organization and BFTAA hope the nomination will cause city officials to pause and reflect on the important history of the community and on the culture of the District.

“If we allow Barry Farm to be wiped away with no intention to preserve the history and culture that it represents — what does that say about our city?” Norouzi said. “We can improve Barry Farm without losing our history and our soul. Barry Farm residents have a vision for how to do that — [and] we need to invest in their vision.”

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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