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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
Scout Joe Cambria of the Washington Senators was in Florida in the summer of 1938, seeking out new recruits for D.C.’s major league baseball team. When he watched Forrest “Lefty” Brewer pitch for the St. Augustine Saints that summer, the scout had no doubt that this was a player who could help turn around the struggling D.C. club. On June 6, 1938, Brewer threw a no hitter in the minor leagues. Exactly six years later he jumped out of a plane over Normandy, France on D-Day.
By mid 1944, Washingtonians had known for some time that a major invasion of Europe was in store. But when news of D-Day came on June 6, 1944, it was still a sobering event. The city reacted with a combination of pause and activity.
On the evening of October 30, 1944, hundreds of people filled the seats of the Coolidge Auditorium in the Library of Congress for the 10th annual festival of chamber music. In the last performance of the night, the audience was transported to rural, 1800’s Pennsylvania through Aaron Copland’s musical masterpiece, Appalachian Spring. The ballet, featuring choreography by renowned American dancer, Martha Graham, enjoyed an overwhelmingly positive premiere that night, and became the most well-known piece of music commissioned by the Coolidge Foundation and Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge—the “patron saint of American music.”
Early in the 20th century, a modern, accessible, airport became a necessity for any major city, and Washington was no exception. However, while there was general agreement on the need for an air hub to serve the nation’s capital, the road – literally – to achieving that goal was fraught with delays and obstacles. It would take 12 years of debate and a president stepping in for the city to finally get the airport it so desperately needed.
East Arlington and Queen City were two tight-knit African American communities that forged a strong and independent existence despite the perils of Jim Crow. Yet the rapid expansion of federal government and the pressing demands of World War II endangered all that these Arlington residents had built together and, quite literally, wiped it off the map.