The Washington Syndicate

“Washington’s U Street: A Biography” reception Thursday, March 24th @ National Trust For Historic Preservation

Posted in Uncategorized by jmullerwashingtonsyndicate on March 21, 2011

Blair Ruble, author of Washington’s U Street: A Biography, will be at the National Trust For Historic Preservation (1785 Massachusetts. Avenue, NW – Dupont Circle Metro) on Thursday, March 24th for a 5:00 p.m. reception and book Signing and 6:00 p.m. reading.

R.S.V.P.  here or at 410.516.7943.

“U Street Biography Examines History of City’s Famous ‘Contact Zone’”

On May 1, 1991 the U Street metro station opened. In the ensuing two decades the corridor extending eastward from 16th Street to Florida Avenue has physically healed from the deep scars of the 1968 riots, but a longstanding and discernible anxiety is still palpable as U Street’s transformation continues.

Blair A. Ruble’s Washington’s U Street: A Biography (Johns Hopkins University Press / Woodrow Wilson Center Press) arrives at an apt time when U Street and the greater city’s historical and cultural integrity is being closely examined in the context of development and neighborhood change, known as the omnipresent encroachment of gentrification. Ruble’s book, with exhaustive detail, goes where some seem afraid to go at times — U Street’s vibrant past.

Previously known for writing about Russia’s urban history, Ruble says, “This book was different, because on the one hand, interest in Washington is greater than in Russia these days yet, oddly enough, the cannon of letters around the city is more scattered and less developed. I found myself having to develop an image of the field of DC history in order to relate my work to it rather than adding a new work to a well developed field.”

Complete with personal profiles of past and present DC luminaries, known locally and nationally, in more than 300 pages of text and historical and contemporary photographs, Ruble takes the reader on a journey of U Street’s history from its initial development following the arrival of runaway slaves to the city during the Civil War to President Obama’s visit to the landmark Ben’s Chili Bowl. 

Sifting through public collections at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library, Historical Society of Washington, Howard University’s Moorland-Spingarn Library, and the Library of Congress to gather material for his book, Ruble discovered an untapped wealth of DC based scholarship by graduate students and faculty of local universities. It would appear no stone is left unturned as Ruble cites sources as various as city life blog DCist to the New Deal era Federal Writers’ Project to the fiction of Edward P. Jones in his written opus to U Street’s past and present.

The Dupont Circle resident and long time city jazz patron’s genuine affection for U Street comes alive through the pages. The area’s creativity, which earned it the colloquialism “Black Broadway” in the early decades of the twentieth century, is thoroughly explored. Without jazz, the unique creation of African Americans, the book might not have been put together. 

“The idea of U Street came to me after talking with the folks at Twins Jazz one night about how the neighborhood was changing,” admits Ruble. “The book took several years to write and seemed to become more important for me as U Street caught more and more attention. The street has become a symbol of profound changes in DC, which is one reason why I think this is the right moment for the book.”

Throughout the years U Street has remained a distinctive “contact zone” where people of all different walks of life, ethnicity, and class converge and interact to create a cultural experience not found anywhere else in the city, contends Ruble. His book is proof positive that the ongoing renaissance of U Street as a cultural “contact zone” and epicenter will be, in fact, soulless if the past is haphazardly forgotten and not celebrated. This important work, the first full history of the U Street neighborhood, shows that the area’s re-birth has just begun, again.

Washington’s U Street: A Biography is available at DC area chain and independent bookstores and online.

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Answer Man reveals location of Tally’s Corner – 11th & M NW

Posted in Uncategorized by jmullerwashingtonsyndicate on February 27, 2011

Wash Syndicate

A couple of years ago while working the front desk of the Historical Society of Washington I came upon Tally’s Corner. Having previously read Hard Living on Clay Street , an ethnographic field study of white working class families in far NE (East Washington, although nearly monolithic in 2011, was ethnically diverse with large concentrations of whites up until the late 1960’s.), I picked up Tally’s Corner.  

(The book was in HSW’s collection but I was lucky enough just a couple of weeks ago to find my own copy for $1 at the SE Library used book sale.)

The book focuses on a couple of characters whose common thread is the poverty they all live with, often self-imposed because of an inability to find a job and then once a job is secured the readers sees the character’s inability to maintain that job by not showing up on time or at all. Having taken place before the city was destroyed in April of 1968, the book, chronicling street life a short walk from Congress and the White House, provides insights into the conditions that led to soul brothers rioting in the city.


The New Deal Carry-out shop is on  corner in downtown Washington, DC. It would be within walking distance of the White House, the Smithsonian Institution, and other major public buildings of the nation’s capital, if anyone cared to walk there, but no one ever does. Across the street from the Carry-out is a liquor store. The other two corners of the intersection are occupied by a dry cleaning and shoe repair store and a wholesale plumbing supplies showroom and warehouse. (pg 17-18)

Wash Syndicate

To any liberal, libertarian, or conservative who cares about our city and the 2011 Tally’s Corners (16th & Good Hope Rd. SE, MLK Ave & Malcolm X Ave SE, etc.) the book is a must read.

I have since mentioned Tally’s Corner to many folks, many who have no idea what I am talking about. The couple times I have found someone who is familiar with the book the discussion often leads to the location of where was Tally’s Corner? I had always claimed, or rather thought, it was 7th Street NW as south as possibly L Street. Others said it was 9th & P Street NW.

Today Answer Man aka John Kelly gives us the answer; Tally’s Corner was 11th & M Street NW.

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New Yorker; “Publish or Perish” – The future of books in a world with iPads, Kindles, Google Edition

Posted in Uncategorized by jmullerwashingtonsyndicate on May 6, 2010

Wasn Syndicate


The Syndicate passes along this thorough article in The New Yorker about the developing trench wars  being waged between the “big” 6 publishing houses and Apple and Amazon who have developed successful E-book devices in the iPad and Kindle.  The article touches on Google Editions which has scanned more than 12 million books and will be launched in the middle to late summer. The Kindle is pushing a half million and the iPad will most likely have 100,000 titles by the middle to end of the summer. 

Their is a lot of discussion going on in the publishing world including Robert S. Miller, President and Publisher of HarperStudio who looks back on 2009 as a watershed year and predicts the dominant group of six publishing titans (Random House, Hachette, Pearson, HarperCollins, Macmillan and Simon & Schuster) could shrink to three in the next five years

In the meantime you can visit the DC Public Library’s website and browse its ebooks collection HERE

You can access e-books on your laptop or PDA, iPhone, but you have to your library card number handy. 

The article is a great read (upwards of 6k word count) for anyone who cares about reading and its evolving future. 

Publish or Perish; Can the iPad topple the Kindle, and save the book business? 

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DC Book of the Day_”Dream City: Race, Power, and the Decline of Washington, DC, 1994″

Posted in Uncategorized by jmullerwashingtonsyndicate on February 4, 2010

Wash Syndicate

If you were to take a class in DC Political history 101, 1994’s Dream City: Race, Power, and the Decline of Washington, D.C by NBC4’s long-time investigative reporter and local print contributor Tom Sherwood and the Washington Examiner and Washingtonian Magazine’s Harry Jaffee, is REQUIRED reading.

This is a timeless classic of city non-fiction documenting Marion Barry’s come up from a countrified ‘bama’ in mid 1960’s Washington to his current throne as the undisputed Mayor 4 Life. Sherwood and Jaffee weave a can’t put down narrative that takes you from the days of the 1967 Anacostia riots / 1968 citywide (and nationwide) riots and “Soul Brother” to the raw 80’s and early 90’s when the “1992 murder of Tom Barnes, a young intern for Alabama senator Richard Shelby, a few blocks from the Capitol and the racial turmoil that arose when the senator questioned the ability of the largely African American government to run the city,” according to Library Journal.

At times the stories and exploits of the Mayor 4 Life are unbelievable, but this extensively researched and thoroughly perceptive read reveals a hidden history that we must know and understand to synthesize contemporary city life.

From Publishers Weekly, “Elected mayor of Washington, D.C., in 1978, sharecropper’s son Marion Barry Jr., a leading civil rights activist, began a descent into cocaine and alcohol addiction and demagoguery that mirrored the racially polarized city’s decline. Jaffe, an editor of Washingtonian magazine, and WRC-TV political reporter Sherwood suggest that nearly two centuries of congressional domination of the capital, disenfranchisement and white racism have stunted local political traditions in Washington, creating a vacuum filled by power broker Barry. They blame the former mayor (sentenced in 1990 to six months in jail after a drug bust) for whipping up racial animosity, setting whites against blacks and scuttling a prime opportunity for advancing racial harmony. Their chronicle of the dream city turned urban nightmare sweeps from the riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., in 1968, and the real estate boom and crack epidemic of the 1980s to the beleaguered administration of Barry’s successor, Sharon Pratt Kelly.

Good luck finding a copy at the DC Public Library, Montgomery County Library, or PG County System. MLK Library’s Black Studies has reference copies as of last summer, but years of experience within DCPL have shown me a book like this might be in the “system” but hasn’t seen the inside of a DC library in years when the last copy grew legs and walked off and away into someone’s person library.

I managed to get my copy years ago at MLK Library’s sifting through the used books in the 1st floor lobby by the circulation desk. I paid $2. On, a new copy goes for $115, on the cheap.


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