“Frederick Douglass in Washington, D.C.: The Lion of Anacostia” mentioned by The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education
Thank you to The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education for the mention, alongside fellow Douglass scholar Celeste-Marie Bernier, appropriately.
Yesterday news ricocheted throughout the Washington, DC metropolitan area that Chuck Brown, the “Godfather of Go-Go,” had passed away at 75.
In the upcoming issue of Washington History I contribute a review of “The Beat: Go-Go Music from Washington, DC” which gives respect and acknowledgment to the Godfather. I feel that the timing of the review is fortuitous rather than tragic. In my eyes and to my ears, Rare Essence has now had the torch passed their way.
This morning people on the street and Metro were chattering about the Godfather. Taking a page from our friend Lloyd Wolf, (the “Godfather of DC Street Memorials”) and his amazing work at “Washington’s Other Monuments” we caught this street memorial for “Chuck” at 7th & T Street NW.
“They didn’t know we take vacations down here in Barry Farm?” local activist Gregory Baldwin scoffed. A crosstown listener might have assumed he was referring to some out of town jaunt, but in this forgotten locale it is a statement about the neighborhood’s reduced homicide rate.
According to Homicide Watch DC, a website that tracks every murder in the city, Barry Farm had not seen a murder this year until the third week of October. In one of the most historically dangerous neighborhoods of the District this is a palpable sign of progress.
Recent Deaths Mask Progress
In the early morning of October 17, 25-year-old Antonio Headspeth was found unconscious in the rear of the 1100 block of Stevens Road SE. He had been shot and was pronounced dead on the scene. Police have yet to charge anyone with Headspeth’s murder.
On the evening of October 20, Jodie Ward was found unconscious in a child’s bedroom in a home in the 1100 block of Eaton Road. The 30-year-old male had been stabbed and was pronounced dead on the scene. Police arrested 30-year-old Felicia Jones.
“It’s a struggling community that has tried hard to improve itself, and has had some successes. These two new slayings have shattered the peace,” says Lloyd Wolf, an intrepid photographer whose blog documents street memorials throughout the city. “I trust that proper resources will arise from within the neighborhood, and within the city, to properly honor the lives that have been lost,” he adds.
Before the two October murders, the last homicide in Barry Farm occurred in November 2010. Within recent memory annual neighborhood murder statistics tended towards the double digits.
The sweeping reduction in Barry Farm’s murder rate, in part, reflects citywide reductions over the past decade. In the last two years there have been less than 150 homicides recorded citywide.
Since 2004, when Mayor Williams identified Barry Farm as one of 14 “hot spots,” the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) has moved aggressively to police the neighborhood. In 2006, the neighborhood, first inhabited and built by freedmen in the 1860s, was chosen as one of four New Communities, meaning the eventual transformation of its 600 plus public housing units within Barry Farm and Park Chester into more than 1200 mixed-use units. [ED Note: This refers to a previous redevelopment plan. For latest visit here.]
In November 2007, under Mayor Fenty, Barry Farm became a “Focused Improvement Area” which sought to combine community policing with improved social service delivery. Barry Farm has now been designated a “focus area” by MPD according to Joel Maupin, Commander of the Seventh District, which includes Barry Farm.
“Our officers have really bonded with the community,” says Maupin citing a recent meeting in which the police received a standing ovation from residents. “We have a constant level of patrol, 24 hours a day,” Maupin confirms.
Regardless, Baldwin, a repeat survivor of gun violence, is not waiting around.
A Survivor Gives Back
Baldwin, a repeat survivor of gun violence, employs bold tactics to deliver a message of non-violence to the residents of Barry Farm. Speaking to local youth, Baldwin often lifts up his shirt to expose the colostomy bag that filters his excrement.
“There’s a shock value,” says Tendani Mpulubusi, a multi-discipline artist and activist in Barry Farm. “Even those that might be desensitized because of all they’ve seen. Greg’s story hits them. It’s a reality check.”
Through Helping Hands Inc., his own non-profit and with the supported of the United Black Fund, Baldwin backs his words with actions. At a recently organized back-to-school event, he distributed 100 backpacks to area youth. This month, he is preparing for his annual Thanksgiving-themed banquet held on the neighborhood’s basketball courts where talent from the region and National Basketball Association compete in the summer’s Goodman League.
“We need something we can put our hands on,” says Mike Taylor, Director of the Barry Farm Recreation Center on Sumner Road. With the pending re-development of Barry Farm there is “a lot of anxiety in the community,” Taylor points out.
To allay resident’s fears, community activists like Baldwin need to be given greater access to city officials to relay popular concerns. “He can get the people involved,” Taylor says.
Baldwin’s efforts have drawn the attention of city officials. Mayor Vince Gray recently filmed a Public Service Announcement with Baldwin, who walked him through the neighborhood making recommendations on how the city can improve services.
“The coffin [Baldwin] carries in his truck helps send a message that resonates,” Maupin says.
To those familiar and unfamiliar with the everyday struggles of Historic Anacostia, news that the proprietor of Uniontown Bar & Grill has been charged in a federal drug trafficking case in Maryland and Texas couldn’t hit harder. The thunderclap of attention is a calamitous development for a neighborhood still on the periphery of a revitalized city.
“Uniontown,” says Charles Wilson, President of the Historic Anacostia Block Association, “is a glimmer of hope. Even though this had nothing to with Anacostia people are going to wonder.”
From within the ranks of Historic Anacostia’s working class community and emerging group of young professionals, Uniontown’s opening earlier this year and subsequent success was solid evidence the neighborhood could support commerce. Unlike crosstown areas where craft brew abundantly flows from the taps of multiple watering holes, Uniontown thrived because of its exclusivity as the only traditional sit-down restaurant in the neighborhood. Senior officials from the Department of Homeland Security rubbed elbows with community activists, both cheerful to toast a symbol of progress in the neighborhood. Cognizant of Anacostia’s unrealized retail potential, many hoped Uniontown’s success would attract new investment.
Multiple sources in the neighborhood said they feel baffled, confused, and betrayed. Apparently, Natasha Dasher, the owner, had been seen as recently as Friday at the restaurant. Two separate Facebook pages have been active within the past week, and their Twitter was last updated Friday.
“I don’t know anything about that,” said the Saturday night bar tender when asked about the staff reaction to the news of Dasher’s drug trafficking arrest. Speaking over a packed house, he said a reporter from The Post had been in the restaurant waiting for Dasher earlier that afternoon, but left after she hadn’t shown. The bar tender did not know the reason for the reporter’s presence.
Over the past year there was no indication of any insidious activity at Uniontown, at the corner of Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue and W Streets SE. Officers from the Seventh District were a regular presence. During a visit earlier this year a patron took his beer outside, drinking illegally on the street. He was kindly asked to leave.
Further down Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue, towards the intersection with Good Hope Road, one of the area’s many vacant buildings speaks softly, yet presciently. “WE CAN JUST PRETEND” is etched on a glass panel, since broken, of a former furniture store. Similar phrases adorn buildings throughout the area’s commercial district.
When the facts emerge and circumstances are more fully explained, the worst could be confirmed against the better hopes of the community. Let’s hope not.
Jessica Adair has come a long from battling her twin sister, Jazmine, one-on-one everyday at the asphalt basketball courts behind Charles Hart Middle School on Mississippi Avenue SE. Last month, Adair was instrumental in helping the Minnesota Lynx defeat the Atlanta Dream to win their first WNBA Championship before a national broadcast audience.
Before her freshmen year at Anacostia Senior High School, Adair, already 6 feet tall, was playing a summer league game at Jelleff Boys & Girls Club off Wisconsin Avenue. “She grabbed a rebound above the rim and I saw the potential,” says Coach Frank Briscoe, who has been a surrogate father for Adair and her twin sister.
Under Briscoe, the Adair twins, Jessica with her finesse and Jazmine with her aggressiveness, became a dominating inside presence at Anacostia. Although, a DCIAA championship evaded them twice, they were recruited by the top women’s college basketball programs in the country. Committed to staying together, they decided to attend George Washington University.
While at GWU, Jessica was a three-time All-Atlantic Ten First Team Selection and made two NCAA tournament appearances. After graduating in 2009, she was drafted by the Phoenix Mercury in the 3rd round of the WNBA Draft. Less than two months later, four days before training camp began, Jessica was waived.
Out of basketball, she stayed in DC and worked for a non-profit while working out and playing pick-up games on the side. Unexpectedly, she received a call from Joe McKeown, her coach for her first three years at GWU, with an offer to help her get a second chance at the WNBA. McKeown had given the coach of the Minnesota Lynx her first professional coaching job and asked her to giver Adair a shot.
On April 22, 2010 Adair joined the Minnesota Lynx’s training camp roster. Less than three weeks later she was, again, waived. Cheryl Reeve, the Lynx’s coach, had a message, “You never know when the call is going to come so stay on top of it,” remembers Adair. “The call came and I was ready.”
While at GWU, Adair, who stands 6’4, was susceptible to chicken tenders and fries from the popular Wingos. As a senior her playing weight was 270. To contend in the WNBA she would have to lose weight. With a change in diet and strenuous training sessions, Adair dropped nearly 40 pounds.
Three days after signing a contract with the Lynx, on August 22, 2010, she made her WNBA debut against the Indiana Fever with 5 points and 8 rebounds. The Lynx did not make the playoffs, but Adair received an opportunity to play overseas where many WNBA players go during the offseason.
Last winter, Adair played for Samsun in the Women’s Turkish League. In 25 games, she averaged 14.4 points and 10.3 rebounds. She plans to return to Turkey this winter where she enjoys “learning about new cultures.”
After flourishing abroad, Adair was again invited to the Lynx’s training camp. Now just over 200 pounds, Adair competed for a roster spot and made the team as the back-up center. Throughout the season she did the dirty work – boxing out on defense, grabbing offensive rebounds, blocking shots – and slowly moved up the depth chart. Coach Reeve told The Star Tribune, “And the reason that happened is she plays so hard and plays with so much energy. Teammates love playing with her.”
On August 18, Adair made her homecoming as the Lynx defeated the Mystics at the Verizon Center. She grabbed 2 offensive rebounds and had 6 points in twelve minutes. “We talked after the game,” says Coach Briscoe. “It was like watching your child play at the highest level. There’s no greater feeling.”
“Growing up in DC and playing for Coach Briscoe impacted my game,” says Adair, “by making me tough with a bit of elegance. I like to call it aggression in its most elegant form.”
The Lynx finished the season as the best team in the Western Conference and made the playoffs for the first time in seven years. In 31 regular season games, Adair averaged more than 4 points and nearly 3 rebounds.
In the playoffs she stepped up as the Lynx coasted into the Finals. In game 2 of the Finals, Adair had her best game with 13 points, 2 rebounds, and 3 blocks. The Lynx won in a three game sweep.
“Winning a championship is a dream come true,” Adair said. “I’ve been working so hard to get it for years. The feeling is indescribable,”
“Washington, DC has innateness,” says Coach Briscoe. “Once someone goes to the next level they become the pride of Washington, DC. Jessica persevered and did it the right way.”
Tonight at the Goethe Institut the 38th DC Historical Studies Conference kicks off with a lecture on “Lincoln’s Citadel: The Civil War in Washington, DC” by Professor Winkle of University of Nebraska-Lincoln. MLK Library will host events Friday and Saturday. Tours will take place Saturday and Sunday.
Coming from long distances and nearby a robust and diverse group of presenters will touch on the city’s political, social, and culture throughout all periods of Washington’s history. A number of sessions touch on some aspect of the Civil War. A networking event Friday lunchtime offers an opportunity to meet authors, members of community groups, and leaders of some of the leading institutions that preserve city history such as the Jewish Historical Society of Washington.
Some unique presentations this year cover archaeology, the Sesquicentennial of the Metropolitan Police Department, escaped slaves in the DC during the Civil War, neighborhoods, and online resources, including H-DC, to dive into the city’s history.
A once in a century book sale will be hosted by the Friends of the Washingtoniana Division on Friday and Saturday. Separate tours on Saturday will explore Lafayette Square and prohibition. A Sunday tour will visit the Civil War defenses of Washington.
All are welcome to participate, engage, and discuss Washington’s history. Registration is $20. Events will continue through Sunday.
If you don’t know the name Dwayne Betts, you should.
Betts is a native of Suitland, Md. and author of A Question of Freedom and a recent collection of poems. He is currently at Harvard on fellowship working on a non-fiction work about the criminal justice system. Betts has been featured in the pages of national newspapers and magazines and featured on national television. The young family man is an emerging voice in American letters.
Tomorrow evening, Friday, October 14th, he will speak along with The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisa Coates at the Folger Elizabeth Library at 201 East Capitol Street SE. E. Ethelbert Miller will moderate. Tickets are only $15 (if you call on the phone — 202.544.7707).
See you there.
Wells to the street to protest closing of MLK Library (but Mayor Gray finally found his Mayoral-ness)
Not everyone is taking the Sunday closing of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library sitting down. This Sunday, the first that MLK will be closed, Councilmember Tommy Wells (D-6) will speak at a rally outside the downtown library at 901 G Street NW at 1 PM.
While local media has cited the empathy deficit and inconsistency by the Mayor and City Council to the plight of the libraries, Wells, is nonetheless optimistic. “I find that most of my colleagues are sympathetic to the need, and I’ll continue to push to find the funds needed.”
In a vacuum of organized opposition to the library’s closing the rally is being convened by the DC Library Renaissance Project. “Budget hearing testimony from every ward was not enough to make clear to this particular government that residents want their libraries open more hours, not fewer—especially in difficult economic times,” says Robin Deiner, Executive Director of the Renaissance Project. “Sunday’s rally has become necessary to achieve that understanding with our officials.”
Though supporting funding for libraries might seem as wholesome as apple pie, some library advocates point to reasons why it’s not a top priority for city leaders. At a campaign forum last fall, former Washington City Paper and Washington Post reporter Elissa Silverman asked candidates if they supported restoring money for Sunday hours at MLK as well as to show the audience their DC library cards. Not one candidate—including now At-Large Councilmember Vincent Orange—had a borrower’s card in their wallet
Library hours back and forth
Under Mayor Fenty, in the fall of 2009 Sunday hours at all 24 branch libraries were eliminated while MLK Library would stay open on Sunday, because of its accessibility to metro.
According to internal figures from the library, costs of keeping MLK open on Sundays and branch libraries during the school year are manageable. The cost of keeping MLK open Sunday, from 1pm to 5pm, all year is $316,000. To keep 11 of the 24 branch libraries open on Sunday, May to September, would cost $365,853. Included in the 11 libraries are one in each ward plus one additional library in wards 7 and 3.
All neighborhood libraries were open Sunday, September through May from October 2007 to October 2009. The city’s fiscal year begins October 1st. To keep all neighborhood libraries open Sundays, from September to May would cost $713,215 and to keep 11 neighborhood libraries open Sundays all year would cost an estimated $487,804.
Furthermore, the capital budget has provided for not only brand new or renovated libraries across the city to open – that are then not open on Sundays – but for a RFP to“complete the Interior Improvements to the Business Science and Technology Reading Room and the Great Hall” to hit the street. The renovation of MLK is historic and laudable, but at the apparent cost of public access is legitimately questionable and ineffectual.
Sunday’s Last Hour
Last Sunday’s fateful final hour passed slowly. Many of the people I spoke with had only just learned the library would be closed on Sundays.
“It’s terrible we have to go through this,” Iman Shabazz said as she used a public computer on the first floor. “What are we supposed to do? Go over the bridge into Virginia?
In the Washingtoniana division two UDC nursing students, Gallen Rodes and Demetria Byrd, were reviewing for an upcoming test. “We came here originally for the free internet access.” UDC, the city’s public university, does not maintain Sunday library hours. “It’s hard schedule-wise. Working, kids, full-time student,” said Byrd. “They don’t care.”
The second floor’s teen space was active with students studying, chatting, and digging through their friends newly uploaded photos on Facebook. Coolly leaning against a wall just outside the door was 17 year-old “D.” Although he frequents MLK with his friends, he hadn’t heard the library would be closing on Sundays. “I’m like jah mad,” D said to his friend nearby. “The Mayor, son, he’s gonna have to see me.”
“In five minutes the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library will be closing. Please have all books and materials checked out,” announced a DC Library Police officer over the building’s loud speaker.
“This is a really great and progressive place to go just for pleasure sake,” said David McCullough, a high school student aware he shares a name with a Pulitzer Prize winning author. Along with his girlfriend, McCullough self-checked out seven graphic and manga novels a couple minutes after 5pm. With Love Sick by Jake Coburn the last book checked out, the commodious lobby of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Library was abandoned.
According the press release announcing that Sunday hours at MLK have now been restored, it appears Gray will make a ceremonial appearance at the opening of the library. I wonder if Gray has a library card?
Who do we give credit too for hours being restored? Does it matter? Maybe Gray or his people realized, they really shouldn’t close the one library open in the entire city. Gray might not be as tone deaf as we thought, but he still needs to deal with the Bellevue situation and other matters of running a big city. We give credit where it’s due, but credit for something that you should already be doing is not deserved.
“I’m not a Ford man, but I’ll sure sell ‘em,” said Dale Richardson, owner of the recently re-opened Astro Motors at 2226 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue SE. With a hunter green model 1996 Corvette Coupe on his desk, Richardson confirms he’s a Chevy man. “That’s what I was raised up on. My dad had Chevys.”
Standing outside his small hut of an office, motorists passing up and down Maple View Place frequently wave their hands. Back in business, back in his element, any speculation on the death of Astro Motors has been greatly exaggerated; Richardson is back in Historic Anacostia.
A native of Smithfield, North Carolina, Richardson came to Anacostia when he was 21, an apprentice to his older brother, Gerald. “He was right out of the country and made it up here,” remembers Richardson, one of thousands of expatriated North Carolinians in the city. “Everything I learned in the business I learned from him.” In May of 1988, Gerald passed away in a car accident in his native state.
“When a person can’t afford to go through a new dealer, because their credit is as bad as all-out doors, they come see me,” Richard said understating his unique role in the community’s working class economy. With cars selling from $500 to $5000, Richardson requires a down payment of half the amount and then finances in-house. Avoiding auctions or personal sales, Richardson’s acquisitions are primarily from trade-ins at regionally known dealerships such as Rosenthal Chevrolet or Koons Fords. He estimates he sells about 300 cars a year.
“He’s a born negotiator,” divulges Cynthia Speed. “Some people have that skill to sell, Bubba’s got that.” To Speed and others that know Richardson, he’s affectionately called “Bubba” due to his country roots. Over their years of friendship, Speed, who knew Richardson’s late brother, says she’s bought no less than five cars from him. “They were good cars. They ran just fine till I dogged ‘em out.”
Fenty Crackdown on Used Car Dealers
For years, Astro Motors operated at 2001 MLK until the Fenty administration’s crackdown on used car lots had ricocheting restrictive consequences for shops like Richardson’s.
“They said the dealers were eyesores,” Richardson said while confirming the real intent was directed at unscrupulous dealerships. “But in the process they made it so you can only have 4 cars in the front of your lot.” No matter the size of your space, unless there is a garage or warehouse on-site, DCRA strictly enforces the 4 car rule. (A recent ride up Georgia Avenue NW revealed this rule tightly followed by most dealers.)
Fenty’s well-intentioned, but some say overzealous, assault on used car lots included raising bond regulations. In a DCRA press release they admitted new regulations “may be making it impossible for many legitimate dealers to obtain the licenses they need to continue operating their used car lots.” The bond requirement was lowered to $25,000, in addition to the $25,000 bond required for a dealer license.
2226 MLK’s Used Car Historicity
According to conversations on the street and old City Directories, the lot at 2226 MLK has long supported car dealerships. Classified sections from mid-1950’s newspapers advertise a ’51 Mercury, ’51 Studebaker, ’53 Pontiac Chieftan De Luxe among others for sale at Colonial Oldsmobile Co., “open till 9” at 2226 Nichols Ave. SE.”
In the early 1970s, Alco Auto Sales was here; from the mid 1970s to early 1990s it was Columbia Motor Sales, followed by B&L Auto Sales in the late 1990s. An association with this lot and used car dealerships precedes an Anacostia that is near monolithically black. When Anacostia was majority white, this lot was a used car dealership.
Newcomers to old city neighborhoods tend to make value judgments about what businesses belong and do not, based on their own values, often adversarial to history. Richardson and Astro Motors have been integral parts of the community for the past three decades. With Anacostia seeking new development and investment, Astro Motors will continue to build anew on its decades of goodwill.
*Print version to be published in September East of the River. *
The National Press Club’s History and Heritage Committee cordially invites members of the National League of American Pen Women, Inc. to a panel discussion.
“Women Report The Civil War,” at the National Press Club Headquarters
14th and F Streets NW, Washington, DC
6:30 p.m. Monday, September 19, 2011
The History & Heritage Committee presents this event not only to mark the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, but also to note the fortieth anniversary of the admission of women into the National Press Club.
Four distinguished scholars and journalists will cover the topic “Women Report The Civil War” from an unusual variety of perspectives: the war coverage and careers of two of its most prominent women journalists, Jane Swisshelm and Laura Redden (a.k.a. Howard Glyndon); the contrast between the coverage of the war in women’s publications of
the period and that of the daily and weekly press; and the unique perspectives of bereaved mothers and wives on the impact of the war on their lives, as revealed in narratives supporting their petitions for pensions.