1940s

Savior or Slumlord?

Row of rundown homes on 7th St SW

In 1933, eleven words made Minnie Keyes a wealthy woman. They were scrawled on a blank telegram slip, tied to a pencil with an elastic band, and stuffed under a mattress. “Minnie Keyes: You have been good to me. All is yours.” These sentences were the final will and testament of Leonard A. Hamilton, who had lived as a boarder at Keyes’ home for 30 years. Once a court accepted the scrap as legitimate, Keyes inherited Hamilton’s $100,000 estate, about $2.1 million in today’s money. Most of its value lay in real estate: dozens of homes scattered across Washington. The properties Minnie Keyes came to own, however, were not the city’s best. And what should happen to them became the source of great debate.

Death Over the Potomac

National Airport Tower and Landing Strip, circa 1950

In 1949, a shocking mid-air crash near National Airport killed more people than any previous air disaster in U.S. history. It did not take long for investigators to place the blame on one unlucky pilot. But was Capt. Erick Rios Bridoux really at fault?

Local Activists, Backed by District’s Black Churches, Led the Fight for DC School Desegregation

Integrated classroom at Anacostia High School

The history of school desegregation in the District is rooted in civil disobedience. The story is one of a grassroots organization of parents that challenged the institution of legalized segregation to guarantee better schools for their children. Throughout the seven-year struggle, the activists were supported by the District's Black churches, and their mission was grounded in the principles of faith and social justice.

Razing the Mother Church: The Sale and Destruction of Saint Augustine Catholic Church

Photo of St. Augustine Catholic Church circa 1899.

For seventy years, St. Augustine Catholic Church, at 15th and L St., NW, was the place where Washington's Black Catholics were baptized, married, and laid to rest. Known as "The Mother Church" of Black Catholics, the property was sold to The Washington Post in 1946. The transaction caught many parishioners by surprise and caused a rift with the white leadership of the Archdiocese.

Intent to Kill: A Real-Life Noir

Collage of Bricker shooting headlines (Source: created by Charlotte Muth)

While sifting through the virtual archives of some local publications, I came across an incident from 1947 that stood apart. Unlike most news, the event read like a Film Noir. This real-life tale was juicy enough to make headlines for days, suspenseful enough to make me wonder about motives, and hard-boiled enough to speak volumes to the disenchantment of the people involved. So, this article will look a little different from what we usually do at Boundary Stones. Rather than presenting the facts in a linear, scholarly manner, we have decided that this story shines best as a piece of narrative nonfiction. While every sentence is grounded in research, we held off on footnotes to let the story breathe, and took a few creative liberties to bring the characters to life. For variety, my dear reader, is the spice of life…

The C&O Canal Owes a Lot to Black Workers of the CCC

CCC Workers at Camp NP-2 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. (Source: National Archives Catalog)

Today, you may know the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal best as a destination for outdoor activities, roaring waterfalls and historic lockhouses (which can be rented, thanks to the Canal Quarters Lockhouse Program!)  But, the C&O Canal has a history with more twists and turns than the route of the canal itself. One of the most interesting chapters in C&O history was from 1938-1942, when two all-Black Civilian Conservation Corps companies worked to refurbish the decaying canal.

Fired for Being Gay, Frank Kameny Spent the Rest of His Life Fighting Back

Frank Kameny protests outside Independence Hall in 1965

You might be familiar with the Red Scare, Senator Joseph McCarthy's efforts to remove suspected communists from the U.S. State Department. But what about the Lavender Scare? Starting in the 1940s, government officials began firing thousands of employees based on their sexual orientation. Frank Kameny, a Harvard-educated astronomer was one of them. He lost his job in 1957 and challenged the dismissal all the way to the Supreme Court. 

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