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In the aftermath of the Civil War, the area along the eastern banks of the Anacostia River developed into two distinct communities: a black neighborhood known as Hillsdale and a white neighborhood called Uniontown. Today, after waves of development and desegregation, white flight and urban blight, those old distinctions and histories are mostly forgotten. And the neighborhoods of Anacostia are once again in the midst of transition. We explore the challenge of preserving historical memory and the future of Anacostia.
- Dianne Dale Author, "The Village that Shaped Us: A Look at Washington DC's Anacostia Community"
- Charles Wilson President and Co-Founder, Historic Anacostia Block Association (HABA)
- Jane Freundel Levey Director of Heritage Programs, Cultural Tourism DC
- Gerald B. Boyd, Sr. President, DB Consulting Group; former longtime Anacostia resident
Dianne Dale, an Anacostia resident who was born and raised in the area, talks about what the Frederick Douglass house and the man’s legacy meant to her and others in the neighborhood:
Dale talks about what it was like to grow up in Anacostia decades ago and how there is still a strong sense of community even among former residents:
Map of Historic Anacostia
Barry Farm/Hillsdale and Uniontown were two of the neighborhoods that made up historic Anacostia:
View Old Anacostia in a larger map
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5, at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Before the Civil War, the land along the eastern banks of the Anacostia was mostly farmland. But over the last 150 years, this corner of Southeast Washington has been transformed by waves of economic and cultural change.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAfter the war, the Freedmen's Bureau bought an old 375-acre farm and turned it into a national experiment in housing for freed slaves. It spawned a unique black middle-class community known as Hillsdale, but Anacostia was also home to thriving white community called Uniontown. In the 1950s and '60s, these neighborhoods became a focal point of desegregation and (unintelligible) white flight.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIEach of those waves left their mark on the look and feel of Anacostia, but some worried that collective memory of these communities is being lost, forgotten or paved over. Today, Anacostia is once again in the midst of transition as young professionals, especially young black professionals, move into that community. This hour, we're exploring the challenge of preserving historical memory and the future of Anacostia.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining us in studio for this conversation is Dianne Dale, author of the book "The Village that Shaped Us: A Look at Washington D.C.'s Anacostia Community." Her family lived in the historic Hillsdale neighborhood for four generations. Dianne Dale, thank you for joining us.
MS. DIANNE DALEThank you for having me.
NNAMDIAlso with us in studio is Charles Wilson, president and co-founder of the Historic Anacostia Block Association, HABA. Charles Wilson, thank you for joining us.
MR. CHARLES WILSONKojo, thanks for the invitation.
NNAMDIJane Freundel Levey is director of heritage programs with Cultural Tourism D.C. She revisits us. Jane, good to see you again.
MS. JANE FREUNDEL LEVEYNice to be here.
NNAMDIAnd Gerald Boyd Sr. is a former longtime Anacostia resident and former teacher. He's president of DB Consulting Group. Gerald Boyd, thank you for joining us.
MR. GERALD B. BOYD SR.Thank you for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDIAnd, of course, you are welcome to join the conversation by calling 800-433-8850. Did you grow up in Anacostia? How do you remember the neighborhood? You can also go to our website, kojoshow.org. Send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or email to email@example.com. Dianne, for people outside the corner of the city, Anacostia is a blanket term that covers all the communities on the eastern side of the river.
NNAMDIBut, from a historical perspective at least, we're really talking about two distinct neighborhoods, one black and one white. You've written a very interesting oral history of a black middle-class neighborhood that sprouted up in the aftermath of the Civil War. Tell us about Hillsdale.
DALEHillsdale was -- let me put it this way. There was a Hillsdale civic association that was one of the first, if not the first, black civic associations in the city. It was formed in the late 1800s.
NNAMDIWhoa. Okay. Yes.
DALEYes. Hillsdale was a special place. It was a community of landowners. When the Barry Farm was purchased by the Freedmen's Bureau, it was divided into one-acre lots. So you had homeowners, black homeowners who had a view of the Capitol and who lived in a community next door to Frederick Douglas, who owned one acre of property, who -- and these people raised their families.
DALEThis was kind of a feeder community. Howard University came out of this community. The sale of the land by the Freedmen's Bureau went to establish Howard University in 1867, the same year as the purchase of the land. The land was purchased with $52,000.
NNAMDIYou know, a lot of people would like to say they come -- wherever they come from is a special place. But Hillsdale, indeed, sounds like a unique neighborhood. Jane Freundel Levey, help us set the scene. What makes this neighborhood unique compared to other corners of D.C.?
LEVEYOne of the ways that Hillsdale is and was unique is that it came from African-American labor. It came from African-American affluence, eventually. But it came out of a self-determining group of people. Many of the other neighborhoods of Washington that have been historically African-American were succession neighborhoods. They didn't start out that way.
LEVEYBut Hillsdale started out as a farm divided up for these people who had walked away from slavery, who had -- were emancipated and some who were already free blacks who needed a good places to live. Hillsdale, over time, of course, turned into a neighborhood of great accomplishment as Dianne's book so beautifully captures. Well, there was -- the people there were educated people. They were family people. They were church people.
LEVEYBut, mostly, they were people of great accomplishment under tremendously difficult circumstances. And they prevailed for, well, I will say, like Dianne's family, for four generations, before other factors overcame their ability to thrive there.
NNAMDIToday, that neighborhood is quoted as black. But for most of its history, Anacostia was a patchwork of white and black, not necessarily integrated, but coexisting, wasn't it?
LEVEYWell, we have to be very careful when we talk about Anacostia. As you said at the outset, everybody thinks east of the river, Anacostia, okay. Those of us sitting around the table will say, uh-uh. And it's a patchwork. We have the old Anacostia neighborhood that was a covenanted neighborhood called Uniontown.
LEVEYIt was set up for workers at the Navy Yard, just across the river, white workers at the Navy Yard, white workers who weren't Irish, native-born white workers at the Navy Yard. Okay? Let's be real clear about this. It did not do very well, but that was the intention at the beginning. And, eventually, the white parts of Anacostia did do better.
LEVEYWe had white old Uniontown, which is now Old Anacostia. We had Congress Heights, which was, again, set up as a white-only settlement there. And then we have Hillsdale in the middle, which was more accomplished than the two of them put together.
NNAMDIGerald Boyd, were you aware of that history when you were growing up in Anacostia?
SR.No, I really wasn't.
NNAMDIThat's one of the reasons we're having these broadcasts because preserving this history is of such crucial importance. Charles Wilson, you moved to historic Anacostia five years ago. You also sensed that this was a special place. But you -- did you know that history yourself at the time?
WILSONI didn't, Kojo. But let me first start by saying that I really do believe that Anacostia is the best neighborhood in the city.
WILSONI believe it. My neighbors believe it. Now, it's my goal to get the rest of the city to believe it also and see the potential that we see. You are right. I did move to Anacostia in 2006. Believe it or not, my mom suggested, when I was looking for my first house, to move to Anacostia. And I told my realtor, take me to this place called Anacostia. She was like, I'm not taking you there. It's dangerous. It's dirty. You don't want to go there.
WILSONInstead, she took me to a neighborhood in Northeast called the Trinidad neighborhood. I lived there for three years. And, one day, I just got the gumption to just get up, and I said, I'm going to drive to Anacostia on my own. And I was driving down Good Hope Road, and I fell in love with the community right away. I fell in love with the architecture of the homes, the...
NNAMDINot to mention the stunning vista.
WILSONOh, yeah, yeah, and the Frederick Douglas house and just the character of the neighborhood. And when I told my neighbors in Trinidad that I was moving to Anacostia, they all gave me this weird look as to why in the world do you want to move to Anacostia out of all neighborhoods? When I moved here, you know, it was like night and day. It was like, wow, this is a great neighborhood. Why didn't I move here earlier?
WILSONAnd it's, you know, through -- just living there, you know, I moved there in August 2006, and I met a neighbor who lived across the street from me. And I said, you know what, I don't know anybody on my street, you know, can you help me out? She was like, yeah, you know, here's so and so over here. Here's so and so over here. And I said, wouldn't it be a great idea to start a block association just for the folks on the 1600 block of U Street?
WILSONAnd she said, hey, that's great. We put it out in a email, and other folks said, hey, the issues that you have on U Street are the same issues that we have on V, W and Mount View. Why don't we drop the U Street and call it the Historic Anacostia Block Association? And that was the beginning of HABA, as you know.
NNAMDIThat's one of the ways of preserving historical memories within a neighborhood. You'd simply ask people who've been living here a longer time than you. How do you preserve historical memory within a neighborhood in transition? Call us at 800-433-8850. Gerald Boyd, you grew up in government housing in Anacostia in the Stanton dwellings then Fredrick Douglas dwellings.
NNAMDIYou also had a firsthand student view of what happened when the Supreme Court mandated desegregation in the schools. What are your earliest recollections of the neighborhood?
SR.Well, two things, Kojo. First of all, we were in the first fully mandatory integration class, and that was September '56. Of course, back in those days, there weren't middle schools. They were junior high. So 10th grade, you're an incoming sophomore to the high school. So I didn't really want to go to Anacostia. I wanted to go to Eastern. But because of zoning requirements, I had to go to Anacostia.
SR.And what I quickly learned is there's a difference between sensitive and sensitivity. See, sensitive and polite is innate. We're all born with the ability to be sensitive through our senses, eyes, ears and whatnot. But sensitivity is acquired. It's learned. It's the ability to see feeling in others. And back in those days, we were thrust into that situation. And white teachers weren't prepared to accept us, that our cultural values, our ways -- it was just thrust.
SR.The second thing I learned was that there's a distinct difference between desegregation and integration. Desegregation is a physical term. It suggests that -- a behavior change. The law requires it so people's behavior changes to adjust to it. But integration is psychological. It suggests an attitudinal change. And some people's attitudes never change.
SR.They still haven't changed to the day. But that's what we were confronted with when we went to Anacostia High School in 1956.
NNAMDIWhat was Anacostia High like in those days?
SR.Well, it was second-ranked high school in the city, behind Wilson. We had an outstanding athletic program. But when we attended to football games, the white students sat on one side of the stadium. The black students sat on the other. When we read books in the library, the black students were in one section, just unofficially designated. In the cafeteria, we ate at one place. They ate at one place. So that's why I suggested we weren't integrated.
NNAMDIThere was desegregation.
SR.So we were desegregated, but not integrated.
NNAMDIYou all worry that we're losing some of these memories and neighborhood histories. And I raised the question earlier about, how do we begin to preserve historical memory in a place like Anacostia? Dianne, is that why you wrote this book?
DALEYes. Because Anacostia really represents communities across the country that disappeared the same way Anacostia has disappeared. The community that we grew up in has disappeared -- highways and freeways and bridges and the 1954 desegregation ruling, white flight, black flight. All of these things happened. And our history is primarily oral. We don't have a lot of written history.
DALEAnd we are the last generation to know our history to -- we -- because we straddled segregated and desegregated circumstances. And if we don't tell it, it's gone forever. We will have somebody else writing our history, and they won't get it right. So it was imperative -- it was necessary for me to do this because all of these heroes that we emulated in the community -- Frederick Douglas, of course, was one but he wasn't -- he moved to Anacostia 10 years after the Hillsdale, the Barry Farm's purchase took place.
NNAMDIBut there's an interesting aspect of his moving to Anacostia because he moved into a large mansion with stunning views in 1877. But his mansion was actually located in a white neighborhood.
NNAMDIAnd Uniontown had racial covenants that prevented blacks from owning there. I read one story that indicated that Frederick Douglas used a straw buyer to purchase that property. Is that correct?
DALEYes. Yes. Yes.
NNAMDIOkay. But he liked the idea of living in the...
DALEWell, his sons lived in Hillsdale. His sons and their families lived in Hillsdale. And they prevailed upon him to move to -- and he bought the mansion that was owned by the developer of Uniontown, who went bankrupt.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we will continue this conversation on preserving neighborhood history, focus: Anacostia. We're still taking your calls at 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Send us a tweet, @kojoshow. Or simply go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there.
NNAMDIHave you recently moved into a local neighborhood in D.C. or, oh, in Maryland or Virginia? Have you tried to learn about the local history of your community? What's worked for you and what hasn't? Call us at 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation on preserving neighborhood history, where we're focusing on the Anacostia community with Dianne Dale. She's an author -- the -- her book is called "The Village that Shaped Us: A Look at Washington, DC's Anacostia Community." Her family lived in the historic Hillsdale neighborhood for four generations. Also with us is Gerald Boyd Sr. He's a former longtime Anacostia resident and former teacher.
NNAMDIHe's president of DB Consulting Group. Charles Wilson is president and co-founder of the Historic Anacostia Block Association, HABA, and Jane Freundel Levey is director of heritage programs with Cultural Tourism DC. And, Jane, speaking of preserving historical memory, one of the ways you do that at Cultural Tourism DC is with heritage trails.
LEVEYYes. In fact, that's right.
NNAMDITell us about the Anacostia heritage trail.
LEVEYWell, the Anacostia heritage trail is in process right now. And I'm very pleased to report that we're going to have a terrific story to tell, not in small measure, because of Dianne Dale's participation in our meetings and Charles Wilson's work as the co-chair of our working group.
LEVEYThe Old Anacostia heritage trail is going to take visitors from the Anacostia Metro station down to Frederick Douglass' house and a little bit up the hill towards St. Elizabeth's. But the point of this is that we do take oral history and refine that into what we put on our signs. We're very pleased that we spend about six months in the community, and when we develop a heritage trail, asking people what their stories are.
LEVEYAnd we get the first cut at what we call the recent memory, the history that's not written down. But as Dianne has pointed out, and as she has captured in her book, the history of Anacostia going back to Hillsdale, going back to the 1860s is very sparsely recorded. So we build, of course, on the work of the people who come before us.
NNAMDIAnd you mentioned the Frederick Douglass house, Diane. It's my understanding that residents in Hillsdale were keenly aware of the legacy of Frederick Douglass. Now, the National Park Service is taking over the house, but their civic pride and their, I guess, attention to legacy -- who took care of it before that, before the National Park Service?
DALEThe community. Frederick Douglass was our hero. We owned him. His family thinks they owned him, but we owned him.
DALEAnd we -- there were certain groups in the community who the Anacostia Coordinating Committee -- I think it is -- and the Anacostia Business and Professionals Association, all of these groups had raffles and those kinds of things to raise money so that they could paint the house. There were -- right after Frederick Douglass died, and his second wife understood his legacy, there was a group that was formed called The Frederick Douglass Historical and Memorial Association.
DALEIt was chartered by Congress in 1900, and it was chartered for the express purpose of keeping the house and its contents much in the way as when Frederick Douglass lives there.
NNAMDIHis family only thought that he belonged to them, but he...
NNAMDI...belonged to the entire community. We got an email from Perry, who said, "My grandfather had a German-descent uncle who owned a dairy farm in Anacostia, and my mom, as a little girl in the late 40s and early to mid-50s, remembers going over there and helping to milk cows, obviously way before my time." This came from Wendy, as a matter of fact.
NNAMDIBut, Charles, from the past to the present and maybe the future, it was only a matter of time before this came up, the G word, gentrification. Anacostia is, today, in the middle of another transition. These middle class neighborhoods were severely damaged by decades of bad planning, the flight of white people and black professionals and physical deterioration. But, today, there's an influx of professionals, black and white, back into the area.
WILSONThat is very true. It's funny, Kojo. Someone asked me to participate on a panel discussion on gentrification in Anacostia about six months ago, and I said, you know, sure. I -- like, Anacostia is not gentrifying. And then I -- a couple of days before the panel discussion, I said let me look this word up and figure out exactly what it means. And when I open the dictionary, I was floored.
NNAMDIDoesn't say anything about race at all.
WILSONNothing about race. It has everything -- more about income. And it was at that time that I said, wow, you know, Anacostia is changing. When a house goes for sale -- the person who typically buys it is a young black professional moving in. And the reality is that we all appreciate that.
WILSONWhen you sit down and you talk to some of the older neighbors and you talk with some of the new folks who moved in, you begin to realize that if you have individual conversations with them, that we all want the same thing. And that is we all want to be able to live in a nice, clean, safe neighborhood. We all want to be able to sit on our porch when we want.
WILSONWe all want to be able to walk down the street to a local restaurant, even just to get a simple ice cream cone. And I think everybody in the neighborhood is looking forward to those changes.
DALEAnd those were all the things that we could do when we grew up there. All those things were there. We were sandwiched between two white communities. But we had everything we needed, and we felt safe.
NNAMDIPart of what made these neighborhoods unique, from a historical perspective, is the way they look, the way they feel. Traditionally, this has been a part of the city with beautiful views of the city with very old, historically noteworthy houses and buildings. But both you and Charles worry that the physical look of Anacostia is being lost. Why?
DALEYes. It -- you felt the village -- you felt like you were in a village when you crossed that bridge and you crossed Good Hope Road. You -- it looked -- the scale of the buildings, they were only two or three, at the most, stories on a building. You just felt like you were in the village. People walk down the street and speak to you. They do that even today.
DALEBut -- and you -- just walk down the street and see the Capitol, walk down the street and see the monument, sit on your front porch and see the fireworks, those kinds of things. And, now, there's a soaring bridge that obscures the view. There's a transportation building at the Navy Yard that has obscured the Capitol from Fairlawn Park. All of these things are happening, and they're incremental. They're little things.
DALEAnd, eventually, it's like, I guess, pouring sand in a glass -- eventually gets to the top, and its slops over. But you don't really pay attention to the accumulation until it does that, so...
NNAMDICharles, is that a concern of yours also?
WILSONYeah, Kojo, you know, I firmly believe that when we talk about the revitalization of downtown Anacostia, it begins with the idea of historic preservation. When you look at some of the other neighborhoods in the city that have gone to those changes, like Capitol Hill, you think of the local tavern. When you look at 8th Street, it's the revitalization of music. When you look at -- I mean, sorry, that was U Street, revitalization of music.
WILSONWhen you look at what's going on 8th Street, it's about performing arts. What should -- what the theme in -- when we talk about revitalization of Anacostia, it should be focused around the Frederick Douglass home. New buildings -- no one's against new buildings coming to being built in the neighborhood. But they should be built in a way to complement the character of the Frederick Douglass home.
WILSONInstead, what we're getting are, you know, developers coming in, saying, I own a piece of land. I have money. I'm just going to build what -- you know, based upon my idea with blinders looking at the neighborhood. And, you know, one of the biggest issues right now that we're facing is that the District government even owns a pot of land known as the Big K property that they've owned for two years.
WILSONThis is a blighted property that sits right on -- in the heart of Martin Luther King Avenue, and they have yet to do anything about it. So it's like, if the District government is not making this a priority, why should all the other blighted property owners have any incentive to fix up their property?
NNAMDIGerald, when you were living in Anacostia, did you fully appreciate the kind of vistas and village look and feel that Anacostia had then?
SR.I absolutely did, Kojo. And like the person who emailed in, talked about the dairy farm -- well, actually, you know, Anacostia, in Garfield section that I grew up in, basically, it was farm land. Most of the people had outhouses and whatnot, cattle, pigs, horses. And we had running water living in the project, and so that was great living.
SR.But I know a lot of people outside of D.C., their view is that they're from New York, so they think D.C. is a bit Harlem. But the only part of D.C. -- that was U Street, but Southeast Washington, was like being in Mississippi or Georgia, somewhere, in terms of land. But it was just great. It was one concept, each one, teach one.
SR.You know, we grew up in that community concept where parents managed you, teachers managed you, your own parents. It was just awesome. That was the best experience of my life.
NNAMDIJane Freundel Levey, how would you characterize the look and feel of Anacostia then and how it's changing now?
LEVEYI think what we have to remember is that Anacostia went through some really, really traumatic changes. Beginning with the end of World War II, there were a couple of decisions that were made that really changed things. When you talk about the Hillsdale community, which was rolling kind of hills with small houses that had lots of land around them, and the pigs and the chickens were being raised and all of that.
LEVEYBut they were neighbors. They were people who are communicating with each other. And then we got the Suitland Parkway, and the Suitland Parkway just tore that neighborhood into two pieces and created this massive barrier. The other thing that happened right around the 1950s was a zoning change. And all of a sudden, Anacostia was zoned for high-density housing and for more public housing.
LEVEYThe important thing to remember about the public housing projects were, especially where Dr. Boyd was raised, was that when they were originally put up, they were welcomed by the community. They were, in some cases, an improvement on living conditions for people, and they were very strictly regulated as to who could live there in terms of their ability to keep the places up. And, over time, that began to deteriorate.
LEVEYAnd it began to deteriorate, in part, because we had another major decision, which was to redevelop Southwest Washington and to absolutely flatten that whole area. And people had to go and find some place else to live, which created overcrowded conditions. So you went from these rolling hills with these nice framed houses and porches and this friendliness -- and I'm making this -- I'm simplifying this. I'm sure Dianne can make it more sophisticated.
LEVEYBut you went from that look to buildings that were shapely built, apartments that were, you know -- I don't know -- five, six, seven stories, and they were kind of higgledy-piggledy. The zoning wasn't very carefully organized, took out a lot of that community feeling.
NNAMDIJane Freundel Levey is director of heritage programs with the Cultural Tourism DC. She joins us in studio along with Gerald Boyd Sr. He's a former longtime Anacostia resident, former teacher. He is now president of DB Consulting Group. Charles Wilson is president and co-founder of Historic Anacostia Block Association.
NNAMDIAnd Dianne Dale is the author of the book "The Village That Shaped Us: A look at Washington, DC's Anacostia Community." Her family lived in the historic Hillsdale neighborhood for four generations. Claire in D.C. ask Jane Freundel Levey, "Will there be stuff about Anacostia on Walking Town DC?"
LEVEYHi, Claire. Yes, absolutely. And thank you for raising that. Walking Town DC is going to be from Sept. 23 to Oct. 2 this year. And it is a series of free walking and biking tours of Washington's historic neighborhood. I have to say, WAMU is our media partner on this, and we're grateful to you. But I also want to take the moment just to say we're trying to help you visualize this neighborhood.
LEVEYWe're talking -- I'm talking about what it used to look like based on photographs that I've seen because I didn't grow up there. But you can come out and come to our Walking Town tours or our Biking Town tours and see for yourself.
NNAMDIAnd on our website, kojoshow.org, you can see a map of historic Anacostia and a series of videos with Dianne Dale about Anacostia, Frederick Douglass' house and more. Dianne, as we noted at the top, your family called Anacostia home for four generations. Tell us a little bit about the Dale family.
DALEMy great-great grandfather, John Henry Dale Sr., came to Washington, D.C. They lived with his family in Mississippi and was threatened with his father. His father was a Civil War veteran. He -- Marcus Dale -- and Marcus was a preacher, and my great grandfather was teacher. John Henry Sr. was a teacher. And they were teaching and preaching in Mississippi. They were threatened by the Klan.
DALESo my grandfather -- great grandfather took a civil service exam and passed it, was called to D.C. And when he got here and they saw he was black, they gave him the title -- he was supposed to have the -- be employed as a clerk. But they gave him title as messenger, but he was doing clerical, the clerical duties. He came to Washington and eventually moved to Anacostia in 1892. He worked at the -- oh, dear -- pension bureau.
DALEHe walked there from Anacostia and back. And my grandfather, his son, John Henry Jr., met my grandmother in Anacostia because my grandmother's folks had come up the same way. My great grandfather Patterson took an exam and came to D.C. and was given the job as a messenger. He was a university professor. He started schools in Texas. And he got here, and they gave him a job as a messenger.
NNAMDISo it's just interesting that the two of them came kind of on the same circumstances. And my grandparents met and married in Campbell Church, which is one of the oldest churches in the community. Can I say something about the churches in the community?
DALEThere are about eight churches, give or take, eight, maybe 10 churches that were established between 1850 and 1921 that are still in existence in the community and have persons in the congregation who are among the original families. That's kind of -- that will give you some context when the churches...
NNAMDIWillie Wilson will get upset if I don't mention Union Temple. When was that church in Anacostia?
NNAMDIThat was not one of the original churches?
DALENo, no, no.
NNAMDIHey, Willie, I mentioned your church.
DALENo. I can list them if you like, but...
NNAMDINo, that was much later.
DALESo -- yes.
DALESo they came here and raised their families -- both the Pattersons and Dales raised their families in the community. And my father was born there, and he lived there all his life until he died.
NNAMDIAnd that, of course, is where you were born also?
NNAMDIYou were not born in Hillsdale?
NNAMDIWhere were you born?
DALEI was born in Greensboro, N.C.
NNAMDIAnd then came here to D.C.?
DALEOkay, there's a story there, too.
NNAMDITell that tale.
DALEAll right. My great uncle was president of Tuskegee, and my father went to Tuskegee when Uncle Fred became the president in 1935. He took my father there, and my father started -- enrolled to Tuskegee. He met my mother in -- at Tuskegee Institute then. It's now Tuskegee University. And they -- my mother finished in '37. My father finished in '39. They married in 1940, I think.
DALEAnd he -- my father got a job as a businessman -- as the business manager at Bennett College, so that's where I was born. Then in -- my grandfather sent him a message saying the Jews who own the store next door, the grocery store next door, are leaving the community, and we need a grocery store for our people.
DALESo I have mortgaged the house, and you need to come home and run the store. So that's how we came back to D.C. My family was living at that time in Greensboro.
NNAMDIFascinating stories preserving neighborhood history in Anacostia, how the Dale family got there in general and how Dianne Dale got there in particular.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, we will continue this conversation, taking your calls at 800-433-8850. You can send us a tweet, @kojoshow. Did you grow up in Anacostia? How do you remember the neighborhood? Have you recently moved into a local neighborhood in D.C. or Maryland?
NNAMDIHave you tried to learn about the local history of your community? Tell us what's worked for you and what hasn't, 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation, Preserving Neighborhood History in Anacostia. I'm taking your calls at 800-433-8850. We're talking with Gerald Boyd Sr. He's a former longtime Anacostia resident and former teacher. He's president of DB Consulting Group. Jane Freundel Levey is director of heritage programs with Cultural Tourism DC. Charles Wilson is co-founder of the Historic Anacostia Block Association.
NNAMDIAnd Dianne Dale is author of the book "The Village that Shaped Us: A Look at Washington DC's Anacostia Community." Her family lived in the historic Hillsdale neighborhood for four generations. Gerald, we talked about how Dianne came to live in Anacostia. You, after you graduated as a teacher, moved back to Anacostia. Why did you move there? Why did you leave? Why did you move back?
SR.Well, all of my schooling -- during all of my schooling years, I was in Anacostia all the way through D.C. Teachers College. When I graduated from D.C. Teachers College, I went to live with my older brother in an apartment in the parkland section, Southeast Washington, still in Garfield. And then after that, I married, and we moved to a complex on Mississippi Avenue called Trenton Park.
SR.And my wife and I were the first to integrate -- a (sounds like) corps backed the case, so they moved us in there because that development -- Trenton Park had been previously all white.
NNAMDIAnd this was a time of white flight that you're talking about?
SR.Yeah. And then what happened was the owner of that property owned property in Eastover, Md., so he shift his white population there. So the initial flight was right at South Capitol Street in Southern Avenue to Eastover, Md. I'd like to -- just to add this, Kojo.
SR.Ballou High School in Southeast Washington, (word?) in Mississippi, (word?) in Alabama, was really built for white students. See, a lot of white students came to Anacostia. They came by bus because their parents were military, whatever, from Livingston, Bellevue, Fort Drum. So they were bused to Anacostia.
SR.So by the time Ballou was completed to open in September of '60, white flight had occurred, so the school opened as a predominantly black high school.
NNAMDIJane Freundel Levey -- and we'll get to the telephones in a second. Hang on. For much of its history, Washington was basically a Southern city, especially when it came to race relations. We've just heard Gerald describing that. But its development pattern here actually closely followed the pattern of development of other cities on the Eastern Seaboard effectively, like, moving to the Northwest away from Anacostia.
LEVEYYou know, there -- if you look at this historically, there is a trend that happened in almost all of the cities on the Eastern Seaboard where Northwest was where you went if you had money, and that was because of geography. The northwestern sides of the cities were always at a higher elevation.
LEVEYSo when you start off building a city in the 19th century, before you have air conditioning and before you have electricity, and you build it down by the river because you need that, and you get crowded and the summers are hot and terrible like they were here in Washington, you start thinking about where can you move where things are cooler and higher.
LEVEYSo, in Washington, people did the same thing. They went to the Northwest up on the ridge. But the irony of this, when we're talking about Anacostia, is that Anacostia is a ridge, too, and it's part of the same ridge. It's just the other side of that ridge. But why did we go to the Northwest? Well, it had to do with a little conflict of interest for a fellow named Boss Shepherd.
LEVEYOur -- he was our territorial governor and before that, head of the Board of Public Works. And the short version of the story is that our friend, Mr. Shepherd, bought a whole bunch of property in that area, and that's where he first laid the gas lines and brought in the good streets.
NNAMDICleveland Park, we're talking about.
LEVEYWell, Cleveland Park-ish, but he wasn't even there. I mean, Dupont Circle area, really.
LEVEYSo you -- when he got started working, people -- the density of population was what we consider Penn Quarter in downtown today. So the Dupont Circle area was right for development, and that's where our friend, Mr. Shepherd, bought land and put in the amenities, Logan Circle area, that kind of -- that part of town.
LEVEYWhy did he choose those? I don't know. I guess he got a good deal. But he didn't think about Anacostia very -- when it came to fixing -- to modernizing the city.
NNAMDIThis is fascinating stuff. I could listen to it all day, but callers also want to join the conversation. So here is Keith in Washington, D.C. Keith, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KEITHHey, Kojo. Hello, guests. Kojo, I've been a resident of Anacostia now for seven years. And it is incredible. The view I have from my home, which was built in 1912, I can see the Capitol, the monument and now, National stadium as well as Frederick Douglass' home. Johnny-come-lately, the neighborhood at night -- I'd say by nine o'clock, all of the car traffic is gone.
KEITHYou can hear all the way to 295 around that time. We have a church there, St. Teresa. St. Teresa is where we go to church.
NNAMDIThe Avila, yep. Mm hmm.
KEITHEverything is perfect in that neighborhood. It's just waiting for people to come there and make it happen. However, there are a couple of things, such as Marion Barry, the schools over there, they're just horrible. And I really think it's going to be an issue. I'd say at least 20 families in my neighborhood that has been there in the seven I've been there that have come in, only three, including mine, have kids, and their kids don't go to school in Ward 8.
KEITHSo, you know, here, you're bringing in this dual-income, no kids, high-tax bracket. There is no demand for better schools, and until those things happen, not, you know, what they do with the Big K Liquor store, et cetera, et cetera, and the rest of the development on MLK, I don't think that's, you know, should be at the front of the line when we up and come with Anacostia because if you don't have the families there, it's going to be...
NNAMDILet me talk to Charles Wilson about that. How do you attract families, people with children who want to go to school in -- to Anacostia?
WILSONWell, first, I think we need to start with the perception. I -- there's a saying at work that perception is reality. It doesn't -- that doesn't mean it's true, but it's reality, how people see it. And a lot of times when you hear people talk about Anacostia or Southeast in general, they typically get their news from the media or just word of mouth, just like my realtor. You know, she said I'm not taking you over there just because it's dangerous.
WILSONAnd, you know, like Keith said, Anacostia is a great neighborhood. We need our public officials to believe that also and to actually start paying attention. We need the mayor to have press conferences in Anacostia, saying it is time. It is past time that we start paying attention to this neighborhood and work to preserve the history, the character and improve the quality of life for every resident in Southeast D.C.
NNAMDIThank you for your call, Keith. Here is Habiba (sp?) in Washington. Habiba, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MS. HABIBA MOHAMMEDHi. Yes, hi. Hi, Kojo. Hi, everybody. How are you doing?
NNAMDIWe're doing well.
MOHAMMEDI just wanted to chime in a little bit and congratulate Dianne on her book. It's Habiba Mohammed.
MOHAMMEDI was born and raised in Anacostia, went away and came back. And now I live in the same home that I was born and raised in. And I also work at the Anacostia Museum. So Anacostia is my home. I remember when I was growing up, the milk being delivered to the front porch. So it wasn't that long ago.
NNAMDIDianne, tell us the story about the original Anacostia Museum and Muhammad Ali.
DALEMuhammad Ali was at the dedication of the museum, but the Anacostia -- the -- S. Dillon Ripley was the secretary of the Smithsonian, and he recognized that there weren't many blacks, comparatively speaking, who visited the museums on the mall. And so he said, well, if they won't come to us, we'll go to them. So they had this great experiment of a neighborhood museum.
DALESo several people in the community -- Stanley Anderson, my father, Marion Hope and Alton Jones -- formed the Greater Anacostia People's Committee -- I think that's the name of it -- and prevailed upon Smithsonian to locate the Anacostia Museum in southeast, and they put it in the old Carver Theatre. Of course, after desegregation, all of the black movie theaters lost their patrons 'cause now we can go downtown and go other places.
DALESo the Carver Theatre was just sitting there, and they decided to put it -- put this museum in the Carver Theatre. And I have a picture in my book, as a matter of fact, of Muhammad Ali signing autographs in front of the Anacostia Museum in 1967.
WILSONYeah, Kojo, I want to touch again on what Keith mentioned. Another thing that has to change, the neighbors -- we're very proud of our neighborhood, take great pride. But a lot of us are still very frustrated. We're frustrated because we all -- whether you just moved there two days ago or you've been there for 30 years, we all want the neighborhood to move forward.
WILSONAnd it's frustrating when we feel like the city is not really paying attention to our needs. Instead, they're saying, we're going to put another social service on your street. We're going to put it next door to you. And we're not even going to ask you what you think. We're not even going to come to your community meetings.
WILSONIn fact, it feels almost so disrespectful that they're saying right now that they want to put a women's shelter on Good Hope Road. We reach out to them there. We reach out to all our public officials, and we get no response.
NNAMDIWell, I have to say, full disclosure, you did run for the Ward 8 council seat against the incumbent, did you not?
WILSONYes, I did. It was a great experience in 2008. We'll do it all over again.
NNAMDIThat was the last time he was in this studio. Habiba, thank you very much for your call. We go on to Akili, (sp?) who is in Anacostia. Akili, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
AKILIThank you very much, Kojo. And to your esteemed guests I say hello and good day. I'm a longtime resident of Anacostia. I'm 36 year old -- years old now, and I grew up in Anacostia, historic Anacostia on U Street Southeast. And we moved to Anacostia -- my family moved to Anacostia when I was five years old, and there were a lot of -- we experienced a lot of the challenges of the neighborhood, drugs and crime.
AKILIAnd, of course, the realtor told my father that the neighborhood was on the up and up. And that was well over 30 years ago now, and it's still on the up and up.
NNAMDIClearly, that wasn't the realtor to Charles got, but go ahead.
AKILII just want to say that I've been to college. I left D.C. to take college at Morehouse, and now I came back to D.C. And I ended up buying my first house at Cheverly, Md. And it was a lot different than Anacostia, very beautiful place, very nice homes and what have you. But it was too quiet for me. You know, I had grown up with a neighborhood national anthem, is what I'd like to call it -- the fire trucks and the sirens.
AKILISo, you know -- and it was just too quiet.
NNAMDIYou missed city living, didn't you?
AKILICity living, I missed it. But, more importantly, I felt like I was becoming part of the black flight that I had always complained about in our community. If there were other families like mine who are in Anacostia, growing up, who -- parents got other jobs, or they, you know, reached another income bracket and they left Anacostia. And so I ended up actually selling my house in Cheverly and moving back to Anacostia to the house I grew up in.
DALEGood for you.
AKILIAnd I have a business, which I run out of Anacostia, called Reclamation Energy. And, also, I'm the founder of the Ward 8 Renewable Energy Co-op. But what I want to say is that I see a transition going on between the new residents and the old residents of Southeast, and -- oh, I'm sorry, Anacostia. And I don't see a lot of interaction with certain constituencies, and as homeland security...
NNAMDIWe're running out of time very fast, Akili. So I'm going to have to end the conversation right there because there are a couple of emails that I want to get in. This is an email we got from a listener who didn't identify himself, who says, "I'm a white guy who lives in Northwest Washington. One of my favorite day trips in D.C. for guests is a quick loop to the Anacostia Museum and the Frederick Douglass house.
NNAMDI"These are two fascinating cultural and historical institutions that everyone should visit to get a rounded view of this great city." And we got this from Kiki, who says, "I can't call in because, well, I'm at work. But I just wanted to write and say that my grandparents moved to Anacostia in the '30s, and my mom grew up there and met my dad there. My two older siblings lived there until the early 1970s.
NNAMDI"I have just returned there and bought a house right there -- bought a house there right next to the Frederick Douglass house. And I have to say it's a great neighborhood, one of the most friendly I have ever experienced. I've always had a deep love for the neighborhood, and now I'm happy to be a part of it again. For years, I was apprehensive about buying there. Now, I'm really happy I finally did.
NNAMDI"I also have four diaries of my mom's from growing up there in the 1950s, a piece of neighborhood history right there. There used to be a place on Good Hope Road called Anacostia Lunch, where she would hang out with her friends after school." I'm afraid that's all the time we have. You have to look and investigate Anacostia for yourselves. Jane Freundel Levey is director of heritage programs at Cultural Tourism DC, which can help.
NNAMDIGerald Boyd Sr. is a former longtime Anacostia resident and former teacher. He's president of DB Consulting Group. Dianne Dale is author of "The Village that Shaped Us: A Look at Washington DC's Anacostia Community." And Charles Wilson is president and co-founder of the Historic Anacostia Block Association. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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