Tag Archives: wisdom

Brownsville: Georgetown In Washington DC

2As you travel with me on this journey exploring the rich history of those African American communities that have become little more than footnotes in the annals of time. These segregated communities were the result of an unholy system imposed upon people of color commonly referred to as “Jim Crow” and every city or town in America had such a place.

This leads me to the next examination of a “Brownsville” – Georgetown in Washington DC. The entire world knows that DC is 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 an 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 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 at that time a sleepy southern town not much different from any town in South Carolina or Mississippi as far as African Americans were concern. 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 representing in Congress making the capital of the free world, which is 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, 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 many notable African American figures resided in 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 all 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 a 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 was the workforce 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, when 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 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 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. 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.

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. In other words gentrification!!! And that’s my thought provoking perspective…


The Mis-Educated Negro


I once taught a college course where “The Mis-Education of the Negro,” the most profound novel ever written in my opinion, was the required class text. It was an amazing experience because of powerful messages revealed within the pages. Especially when you consider this great work was originally published in 1933 by Dr. Carter G. Woodson, who is known as the father of Black History Month; this book should be mandatory reading for all African Americans – young and old.

As the class progressed and the assigned chapters were read, I was 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, or 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 nearly 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 have 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, and social networking, we are in the best position to succeed than at any time in our history. So the question is “why are we not?” Every other ethnic community takes advantage of these options to strengthen and empower their communities while robbing our communities in the process. We will let anybody set up shop in our communities and take our money.

My point is: We 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.” It is time to build upon what was left for us or more importantly “know where you came from to know where you’re going, if we are ever going to get there.”

Black History everyday all month.
To be continued…


Bring The Troops Home


We often hear our leaders and politicians, particularly Republicans, talk about freedom of speech. My question is when are they going to make sense and begin to talk about this thing called reason. This article is one that I hope will cause you to consider such reason and logic as it relates to the quagmire of these WARS that, frankly, we cannot win and let your voice be heard. Say LOUDLY, if you support the troops – BRING THEM HOME – all of them.

I am extremely passionate about this topic because I speak from the perspective of someone who has carried an M-16 and have experienced war. In addition, my patriotism is validated by the Veterans Administration via compensation as a victim of war though a classification called disability. So I am not one who sat on a beach, did not serve honorably or one who watched it on the news from the sidelines talking about protecting America.

I can recall back in the day there was a popular song, “War”, recorded by Edwin Starr that had a poignant line that asked, “What is it good for? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.” I concur with that sentiment wholeheartedly as someone who went to the land of the little people, as we use to call it – Vietnam. One of the fallacies then was “we were winning the war”. I never came to that conclusion being a live witness to that debacle, as history tells us it was. The reason for that war was suppose to stop Communism. Today, the reason, if it remains the same for more than a week, is to stop extremists. Sound familiar?

I don’t profess to be as smart as those charged with administering the war in Iraq or Afghanistan but what I do know is this: “you cannot conquer a people who are unwilling to be conquered”. For thousands of years many mighty nations have tried and all have failed, which is why Afghanistan is called the “Graveyard of Empires”. Our army is no doubt the mightiest army the world had ever known, yet these ragtag groups of guerrillas are beating us with slingshots. By that I mean, they have nothing but what they can carry to use against us.

I concluded that we are strangers in a place in which we do not understand the lay of the land or the people, and like Vietnam it is an untenable situation. We have lost too many lives and it is time to bring our troops home – NOW.

Over the years, there have been policies that have proclaimed wars on this or that. For example, in the 1960’s President Johnson proclaimed a “War on Poverty” and today there is more poverty than it was then. Nixon proclaimed a war on “Cancer” and today there are more forms of cancer than ever before. Ragan declared a “War on Drugs” and today there is a larger drug problem than ever before. Bush declared a “War on Terror” and today, eight years later, no end in sight. So I say, when they declare a “War on something” little success is achieved. I suppose its good propaganda but in these cases there has been no victory.

Let me close with this thought. The money that is spent on these wars in one week could solve the staggering unemployment crisis, which is near 10% and for African American’s it’s more than 15%. If we look closer, more than 50% of African American youth and nearly 50% of African American men are unemployed. The number of people in American without health insurance is near 50 million and growing. The infant mortality rate is off the charts and America’s percentage of people infected with HIV compares too many Third World countries. Then there is homelessness, healthcare, crime, and hunger right here in the US of A.

We need to end stop wars and use those tax dollars being spent on it here at home. So if you support the troops like I do, then bring them home.

THE JOHN T. WILLS CHRONICLES


Welcome to Today!!!

I have lived long enough to know that everyday above ground is a good day and as each day passes there are wonders yet to be hold. We are now at the dawn of a new millennium and much like the journey of a thousand miles it begins with the first step. Now, the question we face is “what steps will we take?” As the decade unfolds, and the journey begins, will we seek solutions to life’s situations? Have you charted a course for your life, your community, or for that manner mankind?

These are powerful and profound questions that each of us face because the stakes are so high. Basically, it is simply the honesty of humanity that we must find in order to survive. We are a people who have been defined, most often, by others as the result of the ratchet inhumanity of man. I have lived though segregation, witnessed racism, and known despair.

The affect of having been identified as Colored, Negro, Afro-American, Black, African-American, or being identified as something other than human, when in fact all were used to demean our humanity. Designed with the intent to make sure the pieces never add up to the whole. This, I argue, is the religion of our struggle and the deference to our past. Yes, it is a new year and a time for a new beginning – but is it really. As much as things change often they remain the same.

Regardless of what the issues may be it is incumbent to understand that knowledge and wisdom remain at the forefront of the steps you take into the continuation of life’s journey. To that end, I believe education is the single most important ingredient necessary to neutralize those forces that breed poverty and despair. It is important to be mindful that everything that ever was began with a single thought. Be not fearful of tomorrow because you have been given a present, which is today. The fearful may not enter, nor fools remain without your consent. Trust in your faith and know that fear is stronger than love but love is greater than evil. Something to think about…

Lastly, know this “you only have a minute, sixty seconds in it, you didn’t choose it, can’t refuse but it is up to you to use it. Its just a tiny little minute but and enturnity in it”. Time is an illusion with purpose and that purpose is reality. You can change the world but first you must change yourself. Keep your head to the sky…

JUST A SEASON


%d bloggers like this: