- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 4, 2004

Back in the 1940s, when Elaine Bowman was small, it seemed that there was no reason at all to leave Deanwood, a neighborhood of modest homes and rolling hills in far Northeast Washington.

“We didn’t know that there was any other part of Washington,” the lifelong Deanwood resident remembers.

Deanwood was everything, and for a time, at least, it seemed as though everything was Deanwood. There were church socials, baseball games with members of the Washington Black Sox and ice cream from the DGS store at 44th Street and Sheriff Road. Friday and Saturday nights meant movies at the George Washington Carver School, where families would pack up a picnic and watch a movie under the stars.

Deanwood’s story is just one of those told through the African American Heritage Trail, actually 15 separate neighborhood trails from Anacostia to Georgetown and beyond. The project has been put together by historian Marya McQuirter and Cultural Tourism DC, a group of 130 heritage, arts and other organizations around the Greater Washington area.

• • •

Did you know that Frederick Douglass lived for a time on Capitol Hill? He did, in an imposing home on A Street NE (on the Capitol Hill neighborhood trail) before he moved to the more familiar Cedar Hill in Anacostia (on the Old Anacostia and Hillsdale trail).

Did you know that Jacqueline Kennedy’s wedding dress was designed by a black woman? It was, by Ann Lowe, and you can find out more about black designers and the history of fashion at the Black Fashion Museum, just a stone’s throw away from the U Street Metro (on the Greater U Street trail).

Did you know that Deanwood boasts not only a collection of houses designed and built by black Americans, but also contains an important black educational institution, the Nannie Helen Burroughs School?

All this information and more is available from the African American Heritage Trail guide, available from public libraries and at selected locations throughout the city.

A comprehensive Web site, www.culturaltourismdc.org, lets Washingtonians and visitors even deeper into the black experience with features by neighborhood and by topic on more than 200 sites throughout the city.

“The sites themselves are wonderful pieces of history, of course,” says Miss McQuirter, who received her Ph.D. in history from the University of Michigan. “But don’t forget the people from the neighborhoods who are trying to save them.”

These are people such as Mrs. Bowman, who has written a history of the First Baptist Church of Deanwood. They are people such as Joyce Bailey of the Black Fashion Museum on Vermont Avenue Northwest, who took over the collection after her mother’s health began to fail — and Alice Aughtry, who as president of the Le Droit Park Civic Association led the effort to restore the home of activist Mary Church Terrell. And countless others who have kept scraps of information, photographs and memories around and alive for the next generation.

Here’s a sampling. Just remember: Every building, every photograph, every site of what once had been, has its own tale to tell.

Deanwood

Take the George Washington Carver School in Deanwood, which began as the Deanwood School in 1909 and changed its name in 1946 to honor the black scientist from the Tuskegee Institute. It was designed by D.C. municipal architect Snowden Ashford, who also designed Eastern Market and the old Dunbar High School.

“It was the center of things,” Mrs. Bowman says. “There was always something going on.”

The Carver School closed in 1990, but the building remains at 1927 45th St. NE and is today the IDEA Charter School.

Then there’s the nearby Nannie Helen Burroughs School at 605 50th St. NE, today a private school. It was established in 1909 by famed educator Nannie Helen Burroughs (1879-1961) as the National Training School for Women and Girls. Black women from around the country received vocational and academic training here.

Greater U Street

Unlike Deanwood, where some folks kept chickens and goats in their back yards well into the 1960s, U Street has always had an urban feel, with movie theaters and nightclubs drawing black audiences from around the city. Today, it’s viewed by many as the historic heart of black Washington.

By the 1940s, U Street was the place to go to hear the great names in American music, such as Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald. Mr. Ellington grew up on Bates Street NW and got his start in the clubs that flourished along 14th Street in the 1910s.

The Duke Ellington mural by G. Byron Peck looms over the neighborhood from the side of the True Reformer Building at 1200 U St. NW. It’s a fitting tribute to both the man and the community he sprang from.

The Lincoln Theater, built in 1922, has been rescued and renovated into a community showpiece at 1215 U St. NW. Next door at 1213 U St. NW, Ben’s Chili Bowl, a community fixture since 1958, continues to dish out chili half-smokes to eager customers.

In fact, the Chili Bowl has its own historical credibility. During the 1910s, the building was known first as the Minnehaha Theater and then as the Dudley, a 200-seat movie theater that was one of the many nickelodeons dotting the city. This one, however, served black audiences. Today, patrons of Ben’s Chili Bowl can still see traces of the old theater inside.

A short walk from the Lincoln is the Black Fashion Museum at 2007 Vermont Ave. NW. Founded in 1979 by Lois Alexander-Lane, the museum houses a collection of quilts, clothing and other materials related to blacks. You can even see the dress carried by Rosa Parks on the day she refused to give up her seat on the bus.

There are also features about Elizabeth Keckley, dressmaker and confidante to Mary Todd Lincoln, and dresses by Ann Lowe, the designer of Jacqueline Kennedy’s wedding dress. But of a piece with all the quilts, clothes and patterns, Mrs. Bailey of the fashion museum says, are the stories visitors tell her.

“A lot of women share knowledge of sewing,” Mrs. Bailey says. “I think I learn as much from them as they do from me.”

Le Droit Park

If U Street was the heart of black Washington, it was not the only hub.

“People tend to stop at U Street,” says Miss McQuirter. “But there were many thriving black neighborhoods, with black-owned businesses and places to go.”

A short distance away from the commercial bustle of U Street is Le Droit Park, a quiet neighborhood in what is now the heart of the city. Begun as a whites-only enclave in 1873, by the 1890s, the community was attracting middle-class blacks, many of whom taught at nearby Howard University, on the neighborhood’s northern border — a campus that rates a neighborhood tour all its own.

Le Droit Park was named for real estate broker Le Droit Langdon, father and father-in-law, respectively, of developers Andrew Langdon and Amzi Barber. Barber was one of the founders of Howard and stayed at his post there until 1873.

Just one of the things that sets this neighborhood apart, residents say, is its unusual architecture. Le Droit Park is designed to be a world apart from the rowhouses and grid pattern that are usually associated with Washington. Instead, streets are canted away from the grid, and the homes are often large, imposing “villas” with slate roofs, upper-story porches and gingerbread.

Poet Paul Laurence Dunbar lived here for a time, at 1934 Fourth St. NW. So did poet Langston Hughes, who is believed to have stayed with a relative in Le Droit Park before moving to the Anthony Bowen YMCA (now the Thurgood Marshall Center for Service and Heritage at 1816 12th St. NW, on the Greater U Street tour).

Le Droit Park residents included Anna J. Cooper (at 201 T St. NW), author of “A Voice from the South” and a leader in postsecondary education; Medal of Honor winner Christian Fleetwood (at 319 U St. NW), a sergeant major of the 4th U.S. Colored Troops during the Civil War; and U.S. Rep. Oscar De Priest (at 419 U St. NW), a Republican who represented Chicago from 1929 to 1935 and was the first black elected to Congress from the North.

Pride of place, though, may go to the home of Mary Church Terrell, who lived at 326 T St. NW along with her husband, Robert Terrell, the first black judge of the D.C. Municipal Court. He was appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1902.

A longtime advocate for civil rights, Mary Church Terrell led the picket line protesting segregationist practices in front of Thompson’s Restaurant, at 725 14th St. NW (on the Downtown trail), when she was in her 90s. The resulting Supreme Court case, District of Columbia v. John R. Thompson Co. (1953), ended segregation in D.C. restaurants.

Today, the Terrell house in Le Droit Park is but half a house. The other half was destroyed by fire, but neighborhood activists are making a wholehearted effort to restore the house and convert it to a museum and cultural center.

“We want to honor the work that Mary Church Terrell and Robert Terrell did,” says Mrs. Aughtry, who is working to raise the funds needed to start the renovation.

“Mary Church Terrell spent her entire life looking for the uplift of African-Americans and African-American women in particular. Her life was a testament to what could be done when you really persevere.”

Mount Vernon Square and Shaw

Among the notable sites in this neighborhood is the home of Carter G. Woodson, “the father of black history,” at 1538 Ninth St. NW. Woodson bought the house in 1915 and used it also as the headquarters of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History.

In this area also, at 817 Q St. NW, is the building that, from 1943 to 1978, was the headquarters of the International Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first successful black trade union in the United States. Its leader, A. Philip Randolph, was a giant on the American labor scene until his death in 1979.

Capitol Hill

Perseverance was also the watchword on Capitol Hill, where blacks have lived since the earliest days of the city, drawn by the promise of jobs at the Capitol and the nearby Navy Yard. One important institution for Capitol Hill residents was the Ebenezer United Methodist Church, at 420 D St. SE, the oldest independent black congregation in the city.

“There is no question there was a significant black community here,” Miss McQuirter says. “There were clusters of black people throughout the Hill.”

Ebenezer is a case in point. Black parishioners broke away from a Capitol Hill congregation in 1827 in response to segregationist practices that were becoming common at the time.

Beginning in 1864, Ebenezer housed the first publicly funded school for black children, resulting from a May 1862 law that provided for the allocation of public funds for that purpose.

Also on Capitol Hill is the first Washington residence of Frederick Douglass (circa 1818-1895), who came to the District in 1870 to work as corresponding editor for the New National Era newspaper. He combined two houses at 316 and 318 A St. NE.

Beginning in 1964, the Douglass home and two adjoining residences were home to the Museum of African Art before it moved to the Mall in 1987. Today, the Caring Institute runs the home as the Frederick Douglass Museum and Hall of Fame for Caring Americans at 320 A St. NE, a memorial to Douglass and to other notables. Visitors to the Douglass home must enter it through 320 A St.

The house contains a number of relics of Douglass’ time in Washington, including his violin case; the papers that certified him as a freeman; and a copy of “The Columbian Orator,” one of his favorite books.

Old Anacostia and Hillsdale

Eventually, in 1877, Douglass moved to an even larger home in Anacostia, which began as a whites-only suburb called Uniontown in 1854. Today of course, many tourists come to visit Douglass’ home at 1411 W St. SE, called Cedar Hill, and the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Museum of African American History and Culture nearby at 1901 Fort Place SE.

That’s not all that’s here. Adjoining Anacostia is Hillsdale, once called Barry Farm, an early settlement of blacks that grew during and after the Civil War. Some houses from this period remain. Also here, at 2562 Martin Luther King Ave. SE, is Campbell African Methodist Episcopal Church, organized in 1866 as an offshoot of Allen Good Hope Church and renamed Campbell when the present structure was built in 1890.

Georgetown

Across the river is Georgetown, the once-thriving tobacco port that was home to blacks since its beginning in 1751. Some early black entrepreneurs lived here, including Alfred Pope, who lived at 2900 O St. NW and owned several single-family homes in Georgetown as well as a wood and coal yard on 29th Street.

By the 1920s, black people made up a sizable portion of Georgetown’s population. Testimony to their presence can be found at the Mount Zion Cemetery (actually the Old Methodist Burying Ground and the Female Union Band Cemetery) tucked away behind the apartment buildings in the 2500 block of Q Street NW.

Mount Zion United Methodist Church remains, as well (along with several other churches with predominantly black congregations) in a grand building erected on 29th Street Northwest in 1884. Adjacent to the church is Heritage House, at 1334 29th St. NW, a repository of records, photographs and reminiscences that is also the last remaining example of English-style cottage architecture in the city.

Taken together, the trails add up to a comprehensive record of black people in the District. And that, Miss McQuirter says, is exactly how it should be.

“My interest is the whole city,” she says. “Most people didn’t stay in one place, like they did in Deanwood. You can see how an individual can move throughout the city at various times.”

Just don’t expect to do it all in one day.

What you’ll see at heritage stops

The African American Heritage Trail booklet is available from public libraries or directly from Cultural Tourism DC at www.culturaltourismdc.org. It’s light enough for explorers to carry with them as they go, and it features thumbnail photographs of many of the sites, a foldout map and explanations of the places along the way.

More information can be found at the Web site, along with a listing of other places to obtain the guide.

In addition to the neighborhoods mentioned here, the Heritage Trail includes locations in Brightwood, Brookland, Downtown, Dupont Circle and the “Strivers’ Section,” Howard University, Logan Circle, the National Mall, Southwest, and other sites in all four quadrants of the city.

Here’s more information on places mentioned specifically in the story:

Deanwood

National Training School for Women and Girls: Site at 605 50th St. NE. Now the private Nannie Helen Burroughs School.

George Washington Carver School: Site at 1927 45th St. NE. Now the IDEA Charter School.

First Baptist Church: 1008 45th St. NE. 202/396-0534

Greater U Street

Duke Ellington mural: 1200 U St. NW, on the side of the True Reformer Building.

Lincoln Theater: 1215 U St. NW. Free tours by appointment 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday. 202/328-6000

Ben’s Chili Bowl: 1213 U St. NW. 202/667-0909.

Black Fashion Museum: 2007 Vermont Ave. NW. Open by appointment only. Closed Sunday and Thursday. Donations requested. 202/667-0744.

Le Droit Park

Paul Laurence Dunbar Residence: 1934 4th St. NW. Private home.

Oscar De Priest Residence: 419 U St. NW. Private home.

Christian Fleetwood Residence: Site at 319 U St. NW. The house no longer exists. In its place is a recently built town house.

Anna Cooper Residence: 201 T St. NW. Private home.

Robert and Mary Church Terrell Residence: 326 T St. NW. Private home.

Mount Vernon Square and Shaw

Carter G. Woodson Residence: 1538 Ninth St. NW. Under renovation.

Headquarters of A. Philip Randolph and the International Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters: 817 Q St. NW. Private home.

Capitol Hill

Frederick Douglass Museum and Hall of Fame for Caring Americans: 320 A St. NE. Tours by appointment only. Free. 202/547-4273.

Ebenezer United Methodist Church: 420 D St. SE. Services 11 a.m. Sunday. 202/544-1415.

Old Anacostia and Hillsdale

Frederick Douglass National Historic Site (Cedar Hill): 1411 W St. SE. Operated by the U.S. National Park Service. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily April 16-Oct. 15, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. daily Oct. 16-April 15. Admission $2 for adults and children. Reservations for groups of more than five: 800/967-2283.

Anacostia Museum and Center for African American History and Culture, Smithsonian Institution: 1901 Fort Place SE. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. Free. 202/287-2060.

Campbell African Methodist Episcopal Church: 2562 Martin Luther King Ave. SE. Services 7:45, 10:45 a.m. Sunday. 202/889-3877.

Georgetown

Mount Zion United Methodist Church, Heritage House: 1334 29th St. NW. Services 9:45 a.m. (summer), 10:45 a.m. Sunday. Heritage House hours by appointment only. Admission free. 202/234-0148.

Alfred Pope Residence: 2900 O St. NW. Private home.

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