Zionette Circle, arm of the Women's Society, social club at Mount Zion United Methodist Church, in the 1940s (Courtesy of Mount Zion United Methodist Church Archives)
Zionette Circle, arm of the Women's Society, social club at Mount Zion United Methodist Church, in the 1940s (Courtesy of Mount Zion United Methodist Church Archives)

Washington Informer: What is the importance of examining Georgetown in more racially and culturally-inclusive terms as both residents and scholars?

C.R. Gibbs: Georgetown is, in many ways, a microcosm of this region and this nation. There are experts who believe that this community went through multiple shifts on the road from tiny hardscrabble, tobacco port to a tony, upscale neighborhood. By studying, particularly, the social, historical, and economic forces behind these phases, we can illuminate the engines of change that have affected us in the past and continue to affect us all today across the nation.

WI: Much of the Black heritage of Georgetown is ‘hidden in plain view’ — most notably for me, the Dean and Deluca on M Street which once served as a slave auction site. How necessary is it to uncover these spaces and name their historical value?

C.R. Gibbs’ work “Black Georgetown Remembered” remains the most pivotal examination of African-American life across socioeconomics and condition. Key points of interest featured in the book will be discussed during his tour of Georgetown as part of The Washington Informer Charities’ annual African American Heritage Tour. (Courtesy photo)

Gibbs: Back in the 1980s, after I had researched and written a brief Black history of Georgetown with specific locations, I took it to a leading local white civic leader who solemnly informed me that there was no physical history left of Blacks in Georgetown so that there was nothing that he could do with my material. A short time later, a good friend of mine who worked at the university and knew what I had done, informed officials there who were planning the school’s 1989 bicentennial. My manuscript became the nucleus of the book, “Black Georgetown Remembered.” The market building at 3276 M Street, Northwest, Dean and Deluca, has a special resonance for me as well. I think it’s primarily the architecture. Even though the current structure dates only from the mid-1860s, the basement is believed to contain remnants of its horrid past. The truth, however, is that enslaved Black folk were sold at many other locations in Georgetown. Our battle, I believe, is to recover, recognize, and commemorate the history and continuing presence of people of African descent in the “town of George.” I was honored to play a small role in the Herculean task undertaken by Mrs. Adrena Crockett in the location, documentation, and celebration of Black sites in this neighborhood.

Click here to take this week’s African-American History Trivia Challenge

WI: What opened your initial inquiry into Black Georgetown as a scholar?

Gibbs: Personal curiosity and inspiration from the elders and ancestors.

WI: Now, more than two decades removed from your pivotal work, Black Georgetown Remembered: A History of Its Black Community from the Founding of “The Town of George” in 1751 to the Present Day, how has your research shaped the discourse? How has the initial inquiry expanded?

Gibbs: I think that the work of myself and my co-authors has become an essential source authority on African Americans in Georgetown. The continuing public and scholarly interest in the work even after the passage of a quarter of a century proves its value. The book has demonstrated its usefulness to academics, lovers of history of all kinds, and even to writers of fiction.

WI: You’ve mentioned Georgetown as an area encompassing enslaved and free, immigrants, working-class, and affluent Blacks. How do those variables inform the larger discussion of Black Georgetown?

Gibbs: The presence of these different groups of Black people and the stories of their strivings reminds us that while many of us have common concerns, we are not monolithic. The study of the variations on a theme represented by each of these groups should enliven and enrich our appreciation of Black Georgetown.

WI: What is the one thing (or maybe two things) you would like each person taking part in The Washington Informer Charities African American Heritage Tour’s Black Georgetown visit to embrace?

Gibbs: That we helped build this neighborhood and that we are still here.

Dr. Shantella Y. Sherman

Dr. Shantella Sherman is a historian and journalist who serves as the Informer's Special Editions Editor. Dr. Sherman is the author of In Search of Purity: Eugenics & Racial Uplift Among New Negroes...

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *