woman with dogs standing near the lincoln memorial reflecting pool
Photo by Katie Doane on Pexels.com

Last week, this series began by sharing a portion of historical documentation from the District of Columbia Office of Tourism. In particular, Dr. Marya Annette McQuirter’s research shows how African Americans have been a significant part of Washington, D.C.’s civic life and identity since the city was first declared the new national capital in 1791.

This is the second of a series that I’m writing about where we are today in the District of Columbia, which will lead to the third submission, which shares how African American churches have fared for the most part, especially during the gentrification that has been taking place during the past two decades.

According to the most recent American Community Survey (ACS), Black or African American are still the largest majority in the District, though the margin is much smaller — with 45.39% Black residents and 41.07% white. Let us take a look at how this all began for African Americans, here in Washington, D.C.

World Population View cites that the median age in Washington, D.C., is 33.8 years, with a slight gender gap of 52.5% female, and 47.5% male spread across the state. When you’re out late at night, you see the thick crowds along U Street, especially during the warmer seasons.

You see white people walking dogs, and they are taking daily walks through neighborhoods that once were all African American. It seems no neighborhood has been spared. Gentrification is all across the city.

There are many denominations represented in the District, including Baptist (17%), Catholic (13%), Evangelical Protestant (6%), Methodist (4%), Episcopalian (3%), Jewish (2%), Eastern Orthodox, Pentecostal, Buddhist, Adventist, Lutheran, Muslim, Buddhist, Mormon, Hindu and Presbyterian.

As we continue to talk about the history of African Americans in Washington, D.C., let’s look back at how our people began their lives here.

During the Great Depression (19291939) and World War II (1939-1945), the early civil rights movement gained ground. In fact, in 1933, the same year that President Franklin Roosevelt (1933-1945) began to end segregation in the federal government, the young Black men of the New Negro Alliance instituted “Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work” campaigns against racist hiring practices in white-owned stores in predominantly Black neighborhoods.

This history also shows how the Washington chapter of the National Negro Congress also organized against police brutality and segregation in recreation beginning in 1936. The “Double V” effort Victory Abroad, Victory at Home increased civil rights activity.

In 1943, Howard University law student Pauli Murray led coeds in a sit-in at the Little Palace cafeteria, a white-trade-only business near 14th and U streets NW, an area that was largely African American. In 1948 the Supreme Court declared racially restrictive housing covenants were unconstitutional in the local Hurd v. Hodge case. Beginning in 1949 Mary Church Terrell led a multiracial effort to end segregation in public accommodations through pickets, boycotts and legal action.

Four years later, in the District of Columbia v. John R. Thompson Co., the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that segregation in Washington, D.C., was unconstitutional based on the 1872 law passed during Reconstruction but long forgotten. In 1954 a local case, Bolling v. Sharpe, was part of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, which declared separate education was unconstitutional.

In 1957, Washington’s African American population surpassed the 50% mark, making it the first predominantly Black major city in the nation, and leading a nationwide trend.

The 1963 March on Washington for Jobs, Peace and Freedom brought more than 250,000 people to the Lincoln Memorial. Its success was helped by the support and contributions of local churches and organizations.

The assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968, triggered immediate and intense reactions throughout the nation and the city.

During the 1968 riots, buildings were burned and destroyed, you could see African Americans carrying furniture down the street as they looted and took whatever they wanted.

The federal government took first steps towards “home rule” by appointing Walter Washington as mayor in 1967. In 1974 residents chose Washington as the city’s first elected Black mayor and the first mayor of the 20th century.

By 1975 African Americans were politically and culturally leading the city with more than 70% of the population, and indeed, Marion Barry, who succeeded Washington as mayor, began his public life here as a leader of local justice movements.

Next week in the third submission, look for a couple of interviews from some of our “great” and long-lasting pastors of some of the Black churches of the District of Columbia.

Lyndia Grant

A seasoned radio talk show host, national newspaper columnist, and major special events manager, Lyndia is a change agent. Those who experience hearing messages by this powerhouse speaker are changed forever!

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