Tag Archives: Georgetown

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…

Media Kit 


The Mothership Finds A Home

Washington Post reported on the front page in 2010 a story about an article by Staff Writer Chris Richards – “The Mothership, lost in space”. They when on to address the mystery, adding that this is not just a story about a UFO or at least not just any UFO – but “The Mothership”. I am sure many of you, “Funk-a-teers”, are well aware of what I am talking about.

Today, the Washington Post reported that the funkiest UFO in the galaxy is about to land in Chocolate City has been acquired by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture; where it will help anchor a permanent music exhibition when the museum opens its doors in 2015.

The Mothership is the iconic stage prop made famous by legendary funk collective Parliament-Funkadelic. Parliament-Funkadelic front-man George Clinton said over the phone from his home in Tallahassee on Wednesday “I’m about to cry!”… I’m glad it’s going to have a nice home there.”

It is probably the most creative stage prop in the history of American music that belonged to funk legends Parliament-Funkadelic. The famed aluminum flying saucer launched in during the group’s heyday in the 70’s was about 20 feet in diameter and decked out with a fantastical display of dazzling lights.

Here is the back-story: in 2010, it was missing!!! I was perplexed to see this story on the front page about where it was or that no one was trying to find it as if it was a real crime drama. Here are some of the facts: the Mothership was last spotted on stage in Detroit in 1981, belching dry ice fumes and flashing kaleidoscopic lights. Promoters brought it to the DC area “where it vanished in Prince George’s County in 1982, rumors of its whereabouts have mutated into local lore. It burned in a fire. It was disassembled. It was stolen. Scrapped. Kidnapped. Thrown in the woods. Chained to a truck by a drug dealer and dragged to funk-knows-where. The band’s most devoted followers say it flew off into space.” REALLY!!!

The reporter talked to people connected to the mystery, including George Clinton, front man for the group and the promoter, but all that was revealed was “it wasn’t in Detroit. It was in a junkyard in Seat Pleasant and the promoter was the last person to see it because he threw the Mothership away, which Clinton thought that was pretty stupid”. At this point in the story I began to wonder if maybe it’s time for the president to bring in the FBI, CIA, or maybe the military because this was beginning to sound like a national emergency.

Here is what was revealed: “It was the spring of 1982, and Parliament-Funkadelic front-man George Clinton and his band mates were battling debt, drug addiction and each other. Brooks, who ran the group’s Washington-based tour production company, says the only way he could pay the band’s debts was to pawn its gear. With no place to store a spacecraft, he dumped the Mothership in a junkyard behind a Shell station … But 28 years later, its final resting place remains a mystery.” Ok, I know you are making faces with puzzled looks or maybe a few laughs but this was on the front page of the Washington Post.

Here is the backdrop to the story: Throughout the 70’s, Clinton and his bandmates blurred the line between escapism and empowerment with a glut of albums that have been endlessly sampled, imitated and analyzed. Look at the decades of funk, rock, techno, go-go, Prince hits and jam bands that came in P-Funk’s imaginative wake — “influential” doesn’t quite cut it. Maybe without Parliament-Funkadelic, Lady Gaga would not wear ridiculous outfits and hip-hop might not exist.

Onstage, the band was a living, breathing, panting comic book. Clinton in his stringy blond wigs, bassist Bootsy Collins in his star-shaped shades, Garry Shider in nothing but angel wings, combat boots, and Pampers. “They were celebrating the intellectual breadth of the black experience and giving people a grand space to celebrate all that they had become,” says California author and funk historian Rickey Vincent. “Sly Stone said, ‘I Want to Take You Higher.’ George Clinton said, ‘Yeah, and I got the Mothership to take you there.’ In a sense, he was doing what black folks had wanted to do for generations: Take themselves up.”

Before the Mothership was built, it was a concept, says 68-year-old Clinton. Parliament released “Mothership Connection” in 1975, an album with a title track about hitchhiking to cosmic transcendence: “Swing down, sweet chariot. Stop and let me ride.” Clinton started dreaming up a tour to match. After watching the Who’s 1969 rock opera “Tommy,” he asked himself: “How do you do a funk opera? What about [black people] in space?” The Mothership was assembled in Manhattan and made its first descent in New Orleans from the rafters of Municipal Auditorium on Oct. 27, 1976 and minds were blown.

Washingtonians greeted the Mothership with unparalleled fervor. The nation’s capital had long been a stronghold for the band and in 1975, Parliament released the “Chocolate City” album, a supremely funky mash note that popularized the nickname Washington had earned for its majority-black population. Most people, actually nobody, had never seen anything like it. “Here’s a guy coming out of a Mothership with a mink coat and platform shoes,… And a cane? And a fur hat? C’mon, man. Black folks have been down so long. . . It was jubilation… The audience went crazy… the Mothership in all its glory.”

Going down with the ship. In the case of Parliament-Funkadelic, the ship went down with the band. “The volatility of the record industry at that time — the disco crash, they called it — made it really hard to subsidize that big touring group,” says funk historian Vincent of the band’s early-80’s collapse. “They ran out of juice and they ran out of money.”

The band would later reform as the P-Funk All-Stars, and a second, less impressive Mothership would be built in the 90’s, but the group never eclipsed the highs of the late 70’s. Bernie Worrell rattles off the factors that dragged Parliament-Funkadelic down: “Discontent. Tired of all the unfairness. Being owed money. Lack of respect within the group. The management. Learning that money was stolen.”

Some of Worrell’s keyboards were sold to a young Trouble Funk, cementing P-Funk’s role in go-go’s creation myth. Too bad go-go didn’t need a spaceship. Today, the group’s feelings are mixed citing massive expenses racked up from touring with an extensive entourage, elaborate costumes, and a gigantic metal spacecraft. “I was glad it was gone,” he says. “With the Mothership came no money.”

Thomas Stanley, an assistant professor at George Mason University, claims that he’s recently seen the wreckage of the Mothership — touched it. Stanley is a true funk scholar and author of the book “George Clinton and P-Funk: An Oral History.” He also penned articles for Uncut Funk, Mills’s Parliament-Funkadelic fanzine. But he doesn’t want to give up the location.

I find it much more satisfying to imagine this sacred artifact bound firmly in the bosom of the strong black communities that straddle the D.C. line. This was always the heart of P-Funk’s base of support in Chocolate City,” he writes. “It is very important, I think, that we not seek truth at the expense of myth. Music and Myth are, after all, P-Funk’s most enduring legacy.” So is it really out there? Does it really matter? Perhaps there’s no grand cosmic truth to be found in the wilds of Prince George’s County. Just myth. But Stanley swears the Mothership is still out there — rusted, rotted out and funkier than ever.

I found the 2010 article very interesting in that – for all the problems we face this was one of only six stories to make the front page – WOW!!! It was, however, an entertaining way to start the day. In light of today’s news – finding the Mothership was a very good thing! Let me thank and give credit to the reporter, Chris Richards, because his 2010 article and detective work was the reason it is now headed for the Smithsonian. And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…

 


Georgetown and the Ghost of Jim Crow

This is the second article in a series of what I’m calling “Brownsville” where I explore the rich history of those African American communities that have become little more than footnotes in the annals of time. There were communities like this in every city or town and if you are not familiar with the term Brownsville, I am sure you’ve heard “across the tracks”. These segregated communities were the result of an unholy system imposed upon people of color commonly referred to as “Jim Crow”.

In an earlier article someone commented asking a question that, frankly, surprised me. The question was; what do you mean when you say “Jim Crow”? My first thought was, how can history so recent and one that I’ve witnessed, and know to be true, be removed from the consciousness of anyone living in America. I suppose it speaks to the indifference of what is learned today through the education system.

So before I continue, let me provide a brief history of its origin. Jim Crow was named after a cruelly belittling blackface minstrel act designed to shame and humiliate people of color – Negroes. The name was used to identify with laws and ordinances that forced racial segregation and subservience under the guise of separate but equal treatment of America’s “colored citizens”. Its inception entered the lexicon of racial bigotry after the landmark U.S Supreme Court decision Plessy verses Ferguson in 1896 resulting from a suit brought by the New Orleans Committee of Citizens.

This concept was developed as many southern states tried to thwart the efforts and gains made during the reconstruction era following the Civil War. They, the Committee of Citizens, arranged for Homer Plessy’s arrest in order to challenge Louisiana’s segregation laws. Their argument was, “We, as freemen, still believe that we were right and our cause is sacred” referring to the confederacy. The Supreme Court agreed and a policy of segregation became the law of the land lasting more than sixty years as a result of that fateful decision.

This system was little more than apartheid, dividing virtually all public life into white and colored only environments. This leads me to the next examination of a “Brownsville”, which is in Washington DC – Georgetown. The capital 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. This area downtown is known as the Federal Triangle because it is the area established for federal government entities.

However, there is a hidden Washington that some have called a tale of two cities. Just blocks for these symbols of opulence live the disenfranchised, downtrodden, and neighborhoods of the forgotten. Prior to 1967, the city was run by and under federal control, which is why it is 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. This action was 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 at that time a sleepy southern town not much different than a town in South Carolina or Mississippi as far as African Americans were concern. It was run by Dixiecrats to this point. Even today, Washington has no voting representing in Congress.

Washington has many African American enclaves that have long storied histories but did you know Georgetown, one of Washington’s most famous 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 or the many luminous 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 prior to moving into the White House.

It is also worth mentioning that other notable figures resided in other communities around town such as the great orator Fredrick 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 politicians, artists, entrepreneurs, scholars, athletes and socialites were relegated to live in a town divided by the harsh Jim Crow separate but equal laws of the day.

Georgetown has a history that has been reduced to a footnote or at least not commonly known to most people. 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 remained 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 was the force that built the White House, Capital, and most of the grand marble structures of opulence.

Georgetown was also a major slave trading deport that dates back as early as 1760, when John Beattie established his business on O Street and conducted business at other locations called “pens” around Wisconsin Avenue and M Street. 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 a thriving community.

When African American’s 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. Prior to establishing the church, free blacks and slaves went to the Dumbarton Methodist Church where they were restricted to a hot, overcrowded balcony.

I’m sure a reinforced a sense of extreme prided was evident as Washington became the home of a preeminent university established for Blacks. Howard University, although not in Georgetown, was founded 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 it is most widely recognized achievement was its accomplishments in the field of education. Prior to 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.

As the twentieth century began 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 the 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 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. The Districts old refuse incinerator and smokestack preserved for years as an abandoned but historic landmark was redeveloped in 2003 to become part of the most pronounced feature of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel (see photo).

I will conclude with the concept of what happened in simple terms according to the thinking of the day; someone decided to trade a penny for a pound and very effectively.

Just a Season


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