Tag Archives: Dr. Carter G. Woodson

The Aftermath Of Integration

1I recently had a conversation with a group of young people, none of which lived during the age of government segregation. Each had strongly convoluted opinions about the era that were not based in fact. This made me think about how much the current world view has changed the reality of black life, as it relates to a historical perspective.

First, white folk never wanted it and chatted go back to Africa at the time. It was never intended to be fair or equal! I am not suggesting that integration should not have happened, but it did have a negative impact on black life and the future of African Americans in many ways. Two prominent ways were in the areas of family and black business.

One thing that happened, for sure was that the black community stopped supporting the businesses in their own communities. After segregation, African Americans flocked to support businesses owned by whites and other groups, causing black restaurants, theaters, insurance companies, banks, etc. to almost disappear. Today, black people spend 95 percent of their income at white-owned businesses. Even though the number of black firms has grown 60.5 percent between 2002 and 2007, they only make up 7 percent of all U.S firms and less than .005 percent of all U.S business receipts.

I took the opportunity to educate these young people that in 1865, just after Emancipation, 476,748 free blacks – 1.5 percent of U.S. population– owned .005 percent of the total wealth of the United States. Today, a full 135 years after the abolition of slavery, 44.5 million African Americans – 14.2 percent of the population — possess a meager 1 percent of the national wealth.

If we look at relationships from 1890 to 1950, black women married at higher rates than white women, despite a consistent shortage of black males due to their higher mortality rate. According to a report released by the Washington DC-based think tank the Urban Institute, the state of the African American family is worse today than it was in the 1960s, four years before President Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act.

In 1965, only 8 percent of childbirths in the black community occurred out of wedlock. In 2010, out-of-wedlock childbirths in the black community are at an astonishing 72 percent. Researchers Heather Ross and Isabel Sawhill argue that the marital stability is directly related to the husband’s relative socio-economic standing and the size of the earnings difference between men and women.

Instead of focusing on maintaining black male employment to allow them to provide for their families, Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act with full affirmative action for women. The act benefited mostly white women and created a welfare system that encouraged the removal of the black male from the home. Many black men were also dislodged from their families and pushed into the rapidly expanding prison industrial complex that developed in the wake of rising unemployment.

Since integration, the unemployment rate of black men has been spiraling out of control. In 1954, white men had a zero percent unemployment rate, while African-American men experienced a 4 percent rate. By 2010, it was at 16.7 percent for Black men compared to 7.7 percent for white men. The workforce in 1954 was 79 percent African American. By 2011, that number had decreased to 57 percent. The number of employed black women, however, has increased. In 1954, 43 percent of African American women had jobs. By 2011, 54 percent of black women are job holders.

The Civil Rights Movement pushed for laws that would create a colorblind society, where people would not be restricted from access to education, jobs, voting, travel, public accommodations, or housing because of race. However, the legislation did nothing to eradicate white privilege. Michael K. Brown, professor of politics at University of California Santa Cruz, and co-author of“Whitewashing Race: The Myth of a Color-Blind Society” says in the U.S., “The color of one’s skin still determines success or failure, poverty or affluence, illness or health, prison or college.”

Two percent of all working African Americans work for another African American’s within their own neighborhood. Because of this, professionally trained Black people provide very little economic benefit to the black community. Whereas, prior to integration that number was significantly higher because of segregation people in the black community supported each other to sustain their lives and families.

The Black median household income is about 64 percent that of whites, while the Black median wealth is about 16 percent that of whites. Millions of Black children are being miseducated by people who don’t care about them, and they are unable to compete academically with their peers. At the same time, the criminal justice system has declared war on young Black men with policies such as “stop and frisk” and “three strikes.”

Marcus Garvey warned about this saying:

“Lagging behind in the van of civilization will not prove our higher abilities. Being subservient to the will and caprice of progressive races will not prove anything superior in us. Being satisfied to drink of the dregs from the cup of human progress will not demonstrate our fitness as a people to exist alongside of others, but when of our own initiative we strike out to build industries, governments, and ultimately empires, then and only then will we as a race prove to our Creator and to man in general that we are fit to survive and capable of shaping our own destiny.”

Maybe this proves that once past truths are forgotten, and the myths that are lies are born with an unfounded reality detrimental to all, but those who seek to benefit. As I have often said, “I firmly believe education is the single most important ingredient necessary to neutralize those forces that breed poverty and despair. We can change the world but first, we must change ourselves.” And that’s my thought provoking perspective…

Twitter @JohnTWills

Source: Black Atlanta Star


The Mis-Education Of The Negro

16266194_1576646812351280_7451924563813283492_nWe have been hoodwinked and led astray when it comes to what we have been taught. False information is as dangerous as no information. Remember black people were denied by law to read! This is significant because we know most whites are marginal at best! If by chance, either statement is true I often wonder why the liberty of black people has been so long in coming – over 400 years.  We know “they” don’t want us and no longer see a need black people in America. So the question for them is – what to do with black people? It appears the answer is TO KILL THEM by any means necessary. I call it genocide!

I would have loved to sit with some of the great black minds to learn from their wisdom in their lifetime.  People like Garvey, Brother Malcolm, or even Nate Turner. However, my favorite would be the great visionary, Dr. Carter G. Woodson, to marvel as he composed “The Mis-Education of the Negro.” This novel in my view is the most profound novel ever written concerning the African American Diaspora. It is profound and amazing because of powerful messages revealed within the pages; especially, when you consider this great literary work was originally published in 1933. Dr. Carter G. Woodson is known as and considered the father of Black History Month. This book should be mandatory reading for all African Americans – young and old.

I continue to be struck by the fact that we have not understood the potent message left for us. The thesis of Dr. Woodson’s book is that Negroes of his day were being culturally indoctrinated, rather than taught in American schools; actually, not even given the advantage of education. This conditioning, he claims, causes African Americans to become dependent, seeking out inferior places in the greater society of which they are a part. This assertion is clearly evident – over eighty years later.

He challenged his readers to become empowered by doing for themselves, regardless of what they were taught:

History shows that it does not matter who is in power… those who have not learned to do for themselves and had to depend solely on others never obtain any more rights or privileges in the end than they did in the beginning.

Today with all the advantages concerning educational opportunities, business exposure, social networking, and a president who looks like us; we are in the best position to succeed than at any time in our history. So the obvious question is “why are we not?” Every other ethnic community takes advantage of their options to strengthen and empower their communities while, sadly, robbing black communities in the process. We will let anybody set up shop in our communities and take our money.

My point is: Black people must learn to do business with each other in order to gain wealth by keeping our money in our communities. Some say we spend trillions annually, and nearly all of it leaves our community within 15 minutes. Let me remind you that the definition of insanity is to continue to do the same things and expect different results. We can change the world, but first, we must change ourselves.

Here is a quote from the “The Mis-Education of the Negro”:

“When you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his ‘proper place’ and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door he will cut one for his special benefit.”

This book is as relevant today as it was as it was the day of its first printing. It is time to build on what was left for us. More importantly, “know where you came from to know where you’re going if we are ever going to get there.” This begs the question, do black people know where they are heading or just continue being hoodwinked and led like lambs to slaughter! And that is my Thought Provoking Perspective…

Education as a Weapon


Black History Month Commentary

2Since the year of our Lord 1619, when those Africans were first dragged onto American shores of this place they called “merica”; our people have been chastised, raped, punished, beaten, robbed, and murdered. These atrocities were done while the culprits enjoyed wealth and prosperity as a result of our never ending allegiance and patriotism, often blindly to the people who kidnapped and brought us.

Even today, the system of white supremacy is still white America’s number one rule even as a black man has ascended to the White House! There are those, mostly white folk, who castigate this man because he is a uniquely qualified man of African heritage. I think, after all our suffering, just having a man who looks like us as the most powerful man in the “Free World” is an honor for all people of color. We should appreciate that which is something no one living or dead ever thought would happen.

We are a unique people, a forgiving people, a steadfast people, and a brave people unlike any known to the world. It was our labor that built this country. We are responsible for the great wealth America enjoys to this very today. When you look at America’s enormous wealth and the power derived from its tremendous control of resources, think about the sacrifices our forefathers made to make all of this possible. We have looked out for this country for hundreds of years and still doing so today, which is simply amazing.

Upon our backs, laden with the stripes of punishment for what they believed was for discipline and in spite of our loyalty, diligence and tenacity – we loved America. Even when America refused to allow us to walk in the shadows – we followed. Believing that someday we would come to be accepted and be treated like men and women. Our strength in the face of adversity is vastly understated.

Our history is one of unbelievable struggle. We’ve been brave on the battlefield despite being classified as three-fifths of a man. This was and is outstanding, and frankly beyond the call of duty considering that we have lived through slavery and under an Apartheid-like system through most of our time here. To be honest, we are still considered a race of people living in a nation without a nationality. We have raised America’s children, attended to its sick, and prepared their meals while those forefathers were occupied with the trappings of the good life.

Even during the times when they found pleasure in our women and took enjoyment in seeing our men lynched, maimed and burned. We continued to watch over America’s soul. We labored in the hot sun from can’t see to can’t see to assist in realizing the dream of wealth, good fortune, and made America a great world power. We were there when it all began, and we are still here today, protecting the system from those Black people who have the temerity to speak out against America’s past transgressions.

It was us who warned about Denmark-Vessey, told them about Gabriel Prosser’s plans, called their attention to Nat Turner, Malcolm, and yes Martin too. It was us who sounded the alarm when old John Brown came calling on Harper’s Ferry, and there are still some sounding warnings today. Black Nationalism has died and, as a result our community brings 95 percent of what it earns to other businesses while keeping little for itself in spite of the fact that other people controlled at least 90 percent of all the resources and wealth of this nation.

In today’s business environment, we sadly do not support each other and just keep doing business with the larger community; in fact any other community. Some say, as a people, we were very successful doing this after slavery ended and even as recently as 1960 but you know what happens when you began to build your own communities and do business with one another – you’re pitted against one another to destroy ourselves.

Oh, let’s not forget we pray a lot hoping that when we die you will find a place where there is a mansion waiting for you with streets paved with gold somewhere in the sky. We resisted the messages of trouble making Blacks like Washington, Delaney, Garvey, Bethune, Tubman, and Truth for fighting and dying on the battlefield for us. Yet, most have forgotten the names and take no reverence in their sacrifice due to a lack of reciprocity and equities.

Moreover, we went beyond the pale when we allowed our children to be turned over to the American educational system. With what is being taught to them, it’s likely they will continue in a mode similar to the one we have followed for the past 45 years. Remember, Mr. Lynch when he walked the banks of the James River in 1712, he prophetically said that his plan would make African’s slave for 300 years; little did he realize the truth in his prediction because his promise has come to fruition.

Lastly, with two generations of children going through this education system – must we look forward to another 50 years of despair. We can change that if we come to understand that education is the single most important ingredient necessary to neutralize those forces that breed poverty and despair. When you continue to do what you’ve always done; you will get what you always got!

Intelligence is the ability to know things and knowledge is the things you know. We have not woke up, stood up more forcefully, nor did we learned the lessons taught by our ancestors

And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…


The Birth Of Black History Month

007_1000I love Black History Month because we have so much to be proud of during the month-long celebration of the legacy of Black History. However, it should be celebrated all year long! Therefore, it is important and we should be celebrate black history 365 days a year. This is a time for the world to know the tremendous contributions people of color, i.e. black people have made and contributed to mankind and the world. During the month of February, I will be posting an article each day resurrecting the greatness of a history denied, untold, and will feature the ghost of the greats who paved a mighty path.

I am blessed to have lived long enough to witness what no one living or dead ever thought possible. It was and is the most significant historical event since the resurrection of our Lord – the election of the first African American President of these United States and the leader of the free world. In spite of the wretched history of slavery and oppression, this man was elected twice.

This, notwithstanding, all of the storied achievements made by so many, I am proud of the many contributions African Americans have made to this great country and dare I say to the world. I am equally as confident that there is an abundance of history yet to be made. However, most people do not know the origins of Black History Month so that I will share that information.

February is dedicated to this proud annual observance for the remembrance of those important people and events honoring the African America Diaspora. The idea of Black History Month was conceived in Chicago during the summer of 1915. Dr. Woodson, an alumnus of the University of Chicago with many friends in the city hosted a convention to give honor to the untold history of black people and their accomplishments. Dr. Carter G. Woodson, known to be the father of Black History Month, traveled from Washington DC to participate. It was a national celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the so-called emancipation, sponsored by the State of Illinois.

Thousands of African Americans traveled from all across the country that summer to see exhibits highlighting the progress their people had made since the extermination of slavery. Awarded a doctorate at Harvard University three years earlier, Dr. Woodson joined other exhibitors with a black history display. He was so enamored with the idea that he began the process of making this exhibit an annual event. For this reason, we owe the celebration of Black History Month, including the study of black history, to Dr. Woodson.

In 1924, his group responded with the creation of Negro History and Literature Week, which they renamed Negro Achievement Week. Their outreach was significant, but Dr. Woodson desired a greater impact. He told students at the Hampton Institute, “We are going back to that beautiful history, and it is going to inspire us to greater achievements.” In 1925, he decided that the Association had to shoulder the responsibility. He felt going forward with this idea would both create and popularize knowledge about black history.

He sent out a press release announcing Negro History Week in February of 1926. Dr. Woodson chose the second week of February because it marked the birthdays of two Americans who greatly influenced the lives and social condition of African Americans: Abraham Lincoln and abolitionist and former slave, Frederick Douglass. For this reason, the myth, that the month of February was selected because it is the shortest month, is simply not true.

Dr. Woodson also founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, now the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. What you might not know is that black history had barely begun to be studied or even documented when the tradition originated. Further, it is important to remember that blacks had been in America since August of 1619 when a Dutch man-of-war ship rode the tide into Jamestown, Virginia, and the first slaves were dragged onto its shores. However, it was not until the 20th century that African American history gained a respectable presence in the history books.

From the beginning, Dr. Woodson was overwhelmed by the response to his call. Negro History Week appeared across the country in schools and in many public forums. The expanding black middle class became participants in and consumers of black literature and culture. Black history clubs sprang up, teachers demanded materials to instruct their pupils, and progressive whites supported their efforts. They set a theme for the annual celebration providing study materials such as pictures, lessons for teachers, plays for historical performances, and posters of important dates and people.

The 1960’s had a dramatic effect on the study and celebration of black history. Before the decade was over, Negro History Week would be well on its way to becoming Black History Month. The shift to a month-long celebration began even before Dr. Woodson’s death. As early as the 1940’s, blacks in West Virginia, a state where Dr. Woodson often spoke, began to celebrate February as Negro History Month. By the late 1960’s, as young blacks on college campuses became increasingly conscious of links with Africa, Black History Month replaced Negro History Week.

Within the Association, younger intellectuals, part of the awakening, prodded Woodson’s organization to change with the times. They succeeded and in 1976, fifty years after the first celebration, the Association used its influence to institutionalize the shifts from a week to a month and from Negro history to black history.

Since the mid-1970, every American president, Democrat, and Republican, has issued proclamations endorsing the Association’s annual theme because black history is American history. The profound legacy of our past should never be forgotten and always embraced for we are merely the sum of the whole. Thank you, Dr. Woodson! And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…


Remembering Sojourner Truth

22Throughout our existence in this place, the slaves called “merica”. If you follow this blog you know I love to celebrate the ghosts of the greats, which include many dynamic heroines to which I remember one of the greatest -Sojourner Truth. A woman whose exact date of birth was not recorded. What we do know is in the year 1797, among Dutch immigrants in the region now known as Ulster County, New York, an African child was born on the estate of Colonel Johannes Hardenbergh.

One of 13 children born to Elizabeth and James Baumfree, she was given the name Isabella Baumfree. As the story goes, this name gave her no hint of her mission and, therefore, years later she renamed herself Sojourner Truth. Her life was a testament to this mission as a truth-teller. In 1851, Sojourner Truth gave her famous “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech before the Women’s Rights Convention held in Akron, Ohio. Several ministers were in attendance. Truth rose from her seat and spoke the following words before the audience:

“Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that ‘twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the White men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what’s all this here talking about?

That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman?

Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?

Then they talk about this thing in the head; what’s this they call it? [member of audience whispers, “intellect”] That’s it, honey. What’s that got to do with women’s rights or negroes’ rights? If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn’t you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?

Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.

If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.

Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain’t got nothing more to say.”

In 1864, she worked among freed slaves at a government refugee camp on an island in Virginia and was employed by the National Freedman’s Relief Association in Washington, D.C., according to Women in History: Living vignettes of notable women from U.S. history. In 1863, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s article “The Libyan Sibyl” appeared in the Atlantic Monthly; a romanticized description of Sojourner.

At the end of the Civil War, Truth worked on behalf of the Freedman’s Hospital in Washington through the Freedman’s Relief Association. In 1867, she moved to Battle Creek, Michigan. While unsuccessful in her efforts, for several years she lobbied the U.S. federal government for land in the Western states for former enslaved Africans. Illness began to reduce her speaking tours. In 1879, she spent a year in Kansas City to help to settle African migrants she called “Exodusters”. In addition to racial and gender equality issues, Truth campaigned against capital punishment and called for temperance.

On November 26, 1883, Sojourner Truth was surrounded by her family at her death bed. She was 86 years old when she died surrounded by her family in Battle Creek, Michigan. She was buried in Oak Hill Cemetery, next to her grandson’s gravesite. More than 200 years later, her legacy as a truth-keeper continues to ignite the imagination of the new nation for which she found herself in service. Sojourner Truth lived during times of great change.

First Lady Michelle Obama said of her at the April 28, 2009 commemorative ceremony unveiling the Sojourner Truth bronze bust in the US Capitol – “I hope that Sojourner Truth would be proud to see me, a descendant of slaves, serving as the first lady of the United States of America. Now many young boys and girls, like my own daughters, will come to Emancipation Hall and see the face of a woman who looks like them.”

In the spirit of one of the greatest women to live, your concrete place in history is greatly appreciated. And that is my Thought Provoking Perspective…


Two Views Of America

(3)Today if you look at the election process you will clearly see White Supremacy on full display. The Donald exhibits all of the characteristics. His main claim is that “the system if rigged” when in fact he has gotten and taken advantage of privilege at every step and stage of his life. I was talking to a white friend a few days ago, and trying to impress upon me how fortunate “your people” are to live free in America, which is now a post-racial society and the usual proof bigots give is that we have a black president. Another old standby came from her lips; “we have problems, but it’s not as bad as it was”. She has no sense that it was her people who made it bad in the first place. To say that I was shocked in an understatement!

I sat back and enjoyed the foolishness of her thoughts, which was rooted in what they hold so dear – “privilege”! Then, of course, she tried to play the race card using Ben Carson to show as some kind of proof. I continued to hear the usual; you people should be proud to be an American. I guess she thought I was buying this nonsense, so she brought up the Donald. OMG!

She went on to quote Dr. Woodson saying that “Regardless of what we are taught history shows that it does not matter who is in power… those who have not learned to do for themselves and have to depend solely on others never obtain any more rights or privileges in the end than they did in the beginning.” I could not see how this proved her point, but it was entertaining. My sense was that this meant they are taking their country back!

It amazed me that someone who smiled in my face would present me with this conclusion, particularly, when you look at the state of race relations in America today on every level. Black people and people of color are at the top of every negative category across the board; be it unemployment, healthcare, housing, education, you name it. She is trying to educate me, say things have changed, and that I should support Trump.

As she rambled, she must have begun to realize she sounded more and more like someone from “Masters Time.” She started to realize that I was not buying her argument at all. So she reached deep and went Martin Luther King saying he would support Trump. Now the militant in me came forward. I remained her that Dr. King’s legacy her been reduced and sanitized down to four words – “I have a dream”. She seemed to know nothing about COINTELPRO, the lynchings, murders, slavery or that her people done for centuries.

I know she thought, like most, that her evidence that there is no longer any racism sounded good, but the reality is not much has changed. Yes, we do have a “Black Face” in the White House, and I am glad to have lived long enough to have witnessed this phenomenal event. Especially when no one living or dead would have ever thought that a black president would ever live in the White House as president. Nonetheless, I took the opportunity to remind her of what Carter G. Woodson said in 1933 in his still relevant novel “The Mis-Education of the Negro:

“History shows that it does not matter who is in power… those who have not learned to do for themselves and have to depend solely on others never obtain any more rights or privileges in the end than they did in the beginning.” In the same novel, he also reminded us that “if you control what a man is thinking you don’t have to worry about what he thinks”.

So it was time for the smackdown and let her know that she make as about much sense as the Donald – nothing has changed. I can recall in my lifetime where the “N-Word” was the last thing a black man or woman, heard before being lynched. I remember vividly the KKK terrorizing black communities burning down houses and bombings churches under the protection of law; this is also to include murder with no justice for the crime. These cowards held down and raped black women for amusement.

They, society, white people, the Republican and Tea Party is not that much different than the old Citizens Counsels. Today, the police still act in many ways under a similar code; they can “Stop and Frisk” you at their pleasure, beat and brutalize, and kill with no repercussions. The Prison Industrial Complex where you find “Just Us” is big business filled with 21st Century Slaves trade on the Stock Market; just like slaves were back in the day. Yet, Stand Your Ground is nothing more than vigilante justice for people who reflect her image.

African Americans have been here since August of the year 1619, and they are still debating whether or not we can vote. Just for clarity, every so many years that portion of the Voting Rights Act must be reauthorized and signed into law, and in the span of time between re-authorization they try every trick imaginable to suppress the vote. Then she stopped me to say that the Constitution protects all Americans, which I suppose was her trump card. So I quickly reminded her that it still says people of color are you viewed as – 3/5 human.

I suggested to her that she might want to be rational and return to earth and stop using the meaningless and false impressions because we know better! There’s no such thing as “post-racial” it is just racism. Just before she stormed off; I reminded her that I knew Jim Crow and his son, James Crow Jr. Esq. continues the mission of his father in ways more clever and wicked than his namesake. And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…


The History Of Georgetown In Washington DC

e361da2724400e3a212a7f1a90b19fc9Let me take you on a journey exploring the rich history of Georgetown, once a black community that has become little more than a footnote in the annals of time with respect to its origin. Georgetown, just down the street from the White House, was part of the unholy system imposed upon people of color commonly referred to as “Jim Crow” and every city or town in America had such a place during segregation.

The entire world knows DC is the capital and symbol of the free world with its avenues of grand marble structures that are more or less a crystallization of magnificence for tourist to admire. These magnificent architectural marvels are symbols of the power associated with America’s wealth built on the backs of slaves. This area downtown is known as the Federal Triangle because it is an area established for federal government entities.

However, there is a hidden Washington that some call a tale of two cities. Just blocks for these symbols of opulence live the disenfranchised, downtrodden, and neighborhoods of the forgotten. Before 1967, the city was run by and under federal control, which is why it is called a District – i.e., the District of Columbia. It was President Johnson who appointed Walter Washington, an African American, as the city’s first-ever Mayor-Commissioner in an effort that came to be known as home rule.

The city has always been predominately African American with no real authority over its direction. The “District” as many locals call it was nothing more than a sleepy southern town not much different from any town in South Carolina or Mississippi as far as blacks were concerned. It was run by Dixiecrats to this point, and the Dixiecrats were worst than what we know today a Conservatives or Republicans. What you may not know, even today Washington has no voting representation in Congress making the capital of the free world basically a plantation.

Washington has many African American enclaves that have long storied histories, but did you know Georgetown, one of Washington’s most renowned upscale communities, was once one of them. It is probably best known today as the home of Georgetown University and its championship basketball teams; coached by the legendary John Thompson, and now by his son. There were many luminous NBA sports figures produced by the institution. You may also know Georgetown because of its world-renowned nightlife, shopping or maybe a place home to famous people. One of its most famous residents was a young John Kennedy and his new bride Jackie, who called Georgetown home before moving into the White House.

It is also worth mentioning that many notable African American figures resided in communities around town such as the great orator Frederick Douglass, who owned a home in Anacostia. Carter G. Woodson the creator of the concept “Black History Month” also owned a home in the city. These great men and many prominent African American politicians, artists, entrepreneurs, scholars, athletes and socialites were relegated to live in a town divided by the harsh separate but equal laws of the day.

Georgetown began as a Maryland tobacco port on the banks of the Potomac River in 1751. When Congress created the District of Columbia to be the nation’s capital in 1791, its 10-mile square boundaries were drawn to include this port town, as well as the very similar Virginia tobacco port of Alexandria just across the river. Alexandria was given back to Virginia in 1846, but Georgetown remains as one of Washington’s most lively urban neighborhoods.

Georgetown historically had a large African American population, including both slaves and free blacks. Slave labor was widely used in the construction of new buildings in Washington just as they were used to provide labor on tobacco plantations in Maryland and Virginia. Let me be very clear, slaves and their labor were the workforces that built the White House, Capital, and most of the grand marble structures of opulence.

Georgetown was also a major slave-trading depot that dates back as early as 1760. John Beattie established his business on O Street and conducted business at other locations called “pens” around Wisconsin Avenue and M Street with both locations being just a short distance from the White House. Slave trading continued until the mid-19th century, when it was ended on April 16, 1862. Many former slaves moved to Georgetown following their freedom establishing this thriving community.

When African Americans settled in Georgetown, the free men established the Mount Zion United Methodist Church that remains today, which is the oldest African American congregation in Washington. This feat due to their strong religious convictions was a testament to their fortitude after experiencing the horrors of slavery. Mount Zion also provided a cemetery for free burials to Washington’s earlier African American population. Before establishing the church, free blacks and slaves went to the Dumbarton Methodist Church where they were restricted to hot, overcrowded balcony.

I’m sure a sense of extreme prided was evident in Washington at the time because it became the home of Howard University. Although not in Georgetown, this preeminent university was established for Blacks in 1867 with the aid of the Freedmen’s Bureau. It was named for the commissioner of the Freedmen’s Bureau, General Oliver Otis Howard. The Freedmen’s Bureau was intended to help solve everyday problems of the newly freed slaves, but its most widely recognized achievement was its accomplishments in the area of education. Before the Civil War, no southern state had a system of universal, state-supported public education for “Coloreds” but Washington now had an advanced school of learning.

In the early twentieth century, new construction of large apartment buildings began on the edge of Georgetown. The eyes of the elite became trained on the area. John Ihlder led efforts to take advantage of new zoning laws to get restrictions enacted on construction in Georgetown. However, legislators largely ignored concerns about the historic preservation of Georgetown until 1950, when Public Law 808 was passed establishing the historic district of “Old Georgetown.” The law required the United States Commission of Fine Arts to be consulted on any alteration, demolition, or building construction within the historic district. As you can imagine, this proper and official sounding solution was not designed to benefit the African American citizens living in Georgetown.

Georgetown began to emerge as a fashion and cultural center of the newly identified community. While many “old families” stayed in Georgetown, the neighborhood’s population became poorer and more racially diverse. Its demographics started to shift as a wave of new post-war residents arrived, many politically savvy, well-educated, and people from elite backgrounds took a keen interest in the neighborhood’s historic nature for their own benefit. It was during this time that the Citizens Association of Georgetown was formed. It is my understanding that the Old Georgetown Act was really a polite, or maybe not so polite, way of saying gentrification.

I am not implying nor suggesting that the Act was designed to remove African American’s and poor residences from the community (wink). But it did create an environment where people of low to moderate income could no longer afford to live there. High-end developments and gentrification have revitalized the formally African American neighborhood and what was viewed as a blighted industrial waterfront.

Some say, what happened in simple terms according to the thinking of the day; someone decided to trade a penny for a pound, and very effectively. And that’s my thought provoking perspective…

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