The places within the Nation’s Capital went through a myriad of changes over the course of time ranging from the 19th century to the 21st century. Race has significantly impaired the ability of people to live in harmony under values that uphold truth, justice, and equity. There has been a struggle for power before the founding of Washington D.C. and the racial history present has impacted the community relations between government, races, citizens and working classes. There were interracial movements that would influence the push for desegregation and integration, still, that would lead to more issues of covert racism and discriminatory practices. The Nation’s Capital represented the hypocrisy of democracy as citizens continued to fight for self governance after the historic protest of “taxation without representation” and some Washingtonians were denied basic rights as people. The city became referred to as a political colony, where the political leaders at the time had more influence on the trajectory of the city than the locals causing friction for the capital to embody the ideals of freedom, democracy and justice for all.
Chocolate City’s presentation of D.C.’s history, documents Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, which authorized Congress to “exercise exclusive Legislation in all cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States.” Article I, Section 8 is imperative to mention due to its influence on local politics within the city and the citizens inability to exercise their rights and privileges of residents of a state. This entailed Congress mandating residents to abide by the laws of the states that had ceded the land (Chocolate City, p. 35). The White House was established in 1800 during a dismal time of injustice and humane acts of atrocity, the ‘Executive Mansion’ (e.g. White House) was built by the hands of enslaved people. The White House Historical Association states “The D.C. commissioners, charged by Congress with building the new city under the direction of the president, initially planned to import workers from Europe to meet their labor needs. However, response to recruitment was dismal and soon they turned to African American—enslaved and free—to provide the bulk of labor that built the White House, the United States Capitol, and other early government buildings.”
Chocolate City discussed the horrors of slavery and racism throughout the 17th century leading up to the 21st century. The enslaved people were tasked by Stonemason Collen Williamson at Aquia, Virginia to quarry and cut the rough stone that would be used to erect the walls of the White House. The enslaved workers oftentimes had to work alongside white laborers and artisans from Maryland, Virginia, Ireland, Scotland and other European nations. The sanctimony that existed in the city regarding the inhumane treatment and usage of enslaved workers was detailed with names ranging from captains, ‘business’ people, or even politicians- including but not limited to Captain Elisha Williams, Edward Burrows, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Anna Thorton, Notley Young, etc. (Chocolate City, p. 32-33). Many enslaved workers in the city were identified as “hirelings,” which are slaves hired out from their masters for a contracted period that would help assemble the Nation’s Capitol with no provision for being recognized as people. The act of slavery and its effects are revolting and hellish as there were enslaved people who would starve, be killed like cattle, hunted like dogs, or raped shamelessly in the city that would become the capital of a nation that positioned itself on the cornerstone of democracy, equality and justice.
The White House is a major site in the city and was built by the Irish-born architect James Hoban. The mansion design was intended as one of three focal points on Pierre L'Enfant’s DC plan with the Capitol and Washington Monument. The building can represent the struggle of the government, the battle for federalists to advance centralizing federal power and District residents not having the eligibility to vote in national or federal elections. DC residents were described as being “children, over whom it is not our wish to tyrannize, but whom we would foster and nurture,” by Representative James Asheton Bayard of Delaware (Chocolate City, p. 37). The disenfranchisement of District residents was codified into federal law and likened to the status of slaves causing for democracy to be seen more as an ideal than a reality. In May 1836, Congress passed the gag rule insisting that it “ought not to interfere in any way with slavery in the District of Columbia and Congress resolved not to take any action on all petitions, memorials, resolutions, propositions, or papers relating in any way, or to any extent whatever, to the subject of slavery, or the abolition of slavery.’ In truth, injustice and slavery was embedded in the Nation’s Capital from its inception and all of its chaos surrounded the White House- the beacon of the Nation.
Howard Hall is the oldest extant building on the Howard University campus, built in 1867. Originally it was the home of Oliver Otis Howard, a union general that headed the freedmen's bureau that would end up stealing from its ‘Afrakan’ (e.g. black) members. In 1867, Howard used Freedmen’s Bureau funds to purchase 375 acres from a deceased slave owner, James Barry (Chocolate City. Pg. 138-9). The building is a three-story, empire-style brick on granite foundations with a corner tower. Both the hall and the university are named after General O.O. Howard, who served as the commissioner of the Freedmen’s Bureau and the university’s third president from 1869-74. Howard University was founded in 1866. The university admitted students regardless of sex or race yet had a particular commitment to Afrakan American students, thus symbolizing a dedication to establish higher education as a priority. Howard became a center of higher education and preparing Afrakan American professionals in law, education, medicine, engineering, and many other fields. By the late nineteenth century, Howard would produce the most prestigious leaders in law, social justice, law, and human rights such as Charles Hamilton Hudson, Charlotte E. Ray, Thurgood Marshall, Mary Ann Shadd, Anne Elise Thompson, Robert L. Carter, and many more.
Howard University was recognized as a facility for Afrakan people to educate themselves and elevate their status, however, some would view it as a place for the ‘black’ middle class or compare it to a plantation overseen by ‘negroes’. This was mainly due to the fact of “America’s Leading Negro University” had board of trustees being occupied by whites that had a separate agenda from the interests of its students. It has produced significant numbers of the nation’s Afrakan doctors, lawyers, educators, dentists, and professionals but has failed to find solutions for the Afrakan problems in their communities. Notable organization were established at Howard University such as the National Negro Congress (NNC) in 1935 (Chocolate City. Pg. 266). Howard University was originally envisioned as a seminary for training ministers and later as a teacher’s college that would be dependent upon the aid of government or white philanthropists. In 1928 Congress authorized annual appropriation to the university for $580,000, in the first year.
Howard University symbolized an opportunity for Afrakan people to counter the racist inhumane and unjust policies that masked itself as democratic tyranny. The founding of Howard University in 1867 was a logical development for freedmen to gain an education. The Civil Rights Bill was approved in April 1866, which, acknowledged the “freedom of the Negroes” by prohibiting slavery and involuntary servitude except in punishment for crime. Howard University represented a gateway for people to protect and enforce their rights while building community. The city, oftentimes, was referred to as the “promised land” for freed people because of the access to resources during difficult times of enslavement and unjust like the Compromise of 1850. The Compromise of 1850 admitted California into the Union as a free state and banned the slave trade in Washington, however, “antislavery” members of Congress would accept the revolting Fugitive Slave Law (Chocolate City. Pg. 93). The Fugitive Slave Law stated that Northerners would be held criminally liable if they were found to be aiding enslaved people labeled as “runaways”. In many cases, Howard gave Afrakan people an economic, legal and political opportunity to counter a barbaric and deranged system rooted in evil or racial capitalism. On April 9th, 1868 Howard University enlarged its campus and later in 1870 Howard University would obtain possession of LeDroit Park (Chocolate City. Pg. 136-7).
Howard Theater named after General O. O. Howard is located on 620 T Street Northwest Washington, DC, near Howard University, and was constructed in 1910. The renowned theater hosted many accomplished entertainers such as Chuck Brown, Duke Ellington, James Brown, Ray Charles, Sammy Davis, etc. The theater closed in 1970 and was registered as a national historic landmark, yet, later revitalized to become a theater for more modern social events. The aid from federal government bureau officials shared a commitment to reshape the behaviors of Afrakan people to conform to the standards or status quo of white society, inhibiting the ability for communities of color to reach full autonomy.
During this era in the 19th century, the District was recognized as a crop of human flesh that later would turn into war of races and riots for equality or the maintenance of white supremacy. The animosity against races would lead to a more strategic psychological bondage technique coined as “Jim Crow”. Jim Crow was during the time of mass disenfranchisement and segregation, where, Afrakan neighborhoods and businesses thrived along U street between Seventh and Fourteenth Street NW (Chocolate City. Pg. 211). A prominent entrepreneur and self-starter impacted by Jim Crow was Nannie Helen Burroughs, a woman, who started her own school after being denied an opportunity to work in the DC school system due to racism or colorism (Chocolate City. Pg. 212). The National Training School for Women and Girls in Northeast Washington was founded by Nannie Helen Burroughs in 1909. Burroughs was an intellectual self-starter that developed educational and employment opportunities for low-income 'black' women. She created an in-depth and challenging curriculum of academic and vocational courses. She offered courses such as dressmaking, handicrafts, power machine operation, public speaking, music, and physical education. Unfortunately, it is documented that Burroughs suffered from discrimination but she did not allow for it to define her or her ambitions and opened up a school. The National Training School for Women and Girls uniquely offered training equivalent to the upper grades of high school and community college and was the first American institution to offer a variety of these opportunities in one educational space.
The school first opened with thirty-five students on a sex acre site on Fiftieth and Grant Streets NW with the motto: “Work, Support Thyself, to Thine Own Powers Appeal”(Chocolate City. Pg. 215). This school exemplifies the creative collective organizing that became a catalyst for change within Afrakan communities in the District. School systems were seen as a means to channel energy for Afrakan Washingtons to continue growing and progressing their communities and societies. This would spark the fight for the Afrakan school system and concept of “separate but equal”. There was influence of Afrakans on the school system, however, that changed as Jim Crow started to have more of a sway in white society permitting white officials to encourage Congress to assume control over the “black schools” (Chocolate City. Pg. 214).
The Supreme Court building was dated to have been designed and constructed between the years of 1925-1935. Chief Justice Howard Taft authorized the construction of a permanent home for the Supreme Court of the United States. The Supreme Court was the cornerstone for legal decisions within the Nation and the nation's capital and had great influence on the social relationships amongst races. The Supreme Court influenced the segregation era with the legalization of Jim Crow laws across the Nation and in federal buildings. The Guinn V. United States 1915 case involved legal barriers such as the grandfather clause to circumvent the Fifteenth Amendment and prohibit voting by 'blacks'. The Supreme Court became a necessity for indigenous (Afrakan) citizens to protect their rights against white supremacist philosophies. The Supreme Court would see cases concerning the status of ‘black’ people in the United States that was defined by a clerk, Eliad B. Caldwell as a “monument of reproach to those sacred principles of civil liberty, which constitute the foundation of all our constitutions'' (Chocolate City. Pg. 55). Caldwell was the same individual that would write a bill calling on the national government to buy land either on the pacific or coast of Afraka to relocate the enslaved Afrakans within the new found nation. The bill passed in December 1816 and was the first legislation that was recognized as “colonization”.
The colonization bill was controversial as it was viewed as a scheme to perpetuate efforts of slavery in recolonizing parts of Afraka and represented the fear of free Afrakans undermining “white democracy” (Chocolate City. pg. 58). The Supreme Court had significant contributions to upholding racist legal codes, racism, and white supremacy historically and argubally in contemporary times. Language would be used to reframe, reconstruct and revise the conception of reality within and without the court system. Chocolate City ensured to include court cases that were monumental to the changes of racist culture that pervaded the nation, nevertheless, it is imperative to note that Supreme Court opinion failed to acknowledge the Court’s complicity in creating and endorsing racist structures. For example, the Racial Dictatorship Era was marked by white dominance and especially for the case regarding the Brown V. Board of Education (Chocolate City. Pg. 287). The Civil Rights Act of 1963, the Voting Rights Act, and other legislation designed to rectify racist and inhumane laws against people of color were efforts to perpetuate the white supremacy by developing a narrative of white innocence. This was done throughout the book of Chocolate City as well, with the emphasis of white abolitionists that accepted cruel acts such as the Fugitive Slave Law or the aid of government to fund school systems that would never liberate the prior enslaved people. The Supreme Court would use the phrase “white supremacy” in 1928 in the case of New York ex rel. Bryant v. Zimmerman and the word “racism” in 1944 in a dissent in Korematsu V. United States- this further portrays the complicit behavior of the supposed justice system of the United States of America.
Robert C Weaver Building, headquarters of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) was established as an executive department by Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965. The Housing Act of 1949 policy provided assistance in slum clearance and urban redevelopment throughout the 1950s and 1960s. The HUD was established to rectify urban decay, the HUD received their new headquarters in the Southwest renewal area, starting the era of brutalist federal architecture. HUD efforts catalyzed tension in urban environments when it came to the placement of physical buildings in Southwest that internally displaced thousands of people. After, many HUD projects accepted would allegedly seek to strengthen at-risk communities in cities, evident in their grant to the MICCO and the Shaw neighborhood in DC. Urban renewal is a detriment to the low socioeconomic, even so, federal policy during the "War on Poverty" seemingly wanted to find alternatives.
The 1950 Comprehensive Plan stated that any redevelopments should offer displaced residents “substitute housing of a decent, safe, and sanitary character at prices they can afford, unfortunately, this became a strategy for developers to acquire land and property at the expense of families. Projects like the Justement-Smith plan would be used to displace residents for the rehabilitation where they oftentimes would never be able to return (Chocolate City. Pg. 323). In December 1954, the court ruled unanimously in Berman v. Parker that city officials had the right to take land which had a devastating impact on low income and Afrakan communities (Chocolate City. Pg. 323). The cases of Hurd v. Hodge, D.C. v. Thompson, and Bolling v. Sharpe regarding segregation in housing, businesses and schools proved inconsequential in the decision to wholesale the demolition of predominantly Afrakan communities in the district.
The era of Marion Barry from 1979 to 1999 are the decades by which, “Chocolate City,” became known as a sovereign city after being granted home rule-local power over its local government for the first time in a century. Marion Barry was a pivotal figure in DC politics as it became a time that more Afrakan people were able to acquire good salary jobs and opportunities that would change their lives forever. Marion Barry had orchestrated an organization identified as Pride Inc. to clean up the city and create jobs before becoming mayor. Later, he would decide to enter the 1978 mayoral election after the home rule era elections and cultivate the first housing and food cooperatives that existed in the nation. Nevertheless, Marion Barry would be characterized as a drug addict rather than a political revolutionary after being targeted by federal officials. President Regan allowed several federal investigations focusing disproportionately on elected officials of color and minority contractors they brought into government which was not unusual for the history of race and democracy in the United States of America (Chocolate City. Pg. 408). The District would be swooned with drugs and violence and the next comprehensive plan would be underway for the district to diminish the population of Afrakan people and increase the population of whites. The fight for justice, equity, and democracy lingered on after the 1960s. The perils of race, democracy and justice are still ongoing struggles that have to be fought tirelessly by the people for the people.
Asch Myers Chris & Musgrove Derek George. Chocolate City: A History of Race and Democracy in the Nation’s Capital. The University of North Carolina Press. Chapel Hill. Pg. 16-424. 2017
“Did Enslaved People Build the White House?” WHHA (En-US), https://www.whitehousehistory.org/questions/did-slaves-build-the-white-house.
Overbeck, Ruth. D.C. Blacks in the Arts Project the Hoard Theater Historical Context Report. Washington Perspectives Inc, 12AD, dchistory.org/uploads/fa/DCSHPO_BIA-Doc.pdf. Here are on-site and archival forms for Bia-Shaw survey properties. Cover sheets to be generated out on the computer by Dustry/RAO during data entry.
Stanchi, Kathryn. “The Rhetoric of Racism in the United States Supreme Court.” Https://Scholars.Law.Unlv.Edu/ 2021, scholars.law.unlv.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2359&context=facpub.