1940s

Louis Armstrong (New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection, Library of Congress)

It's Raining Bottles at Griffith Stadium: The Music Battle of 1942

On July 23, 1942, Washingtonians packed Griffith Stadium to the gills for a special “Battle of Music” between African American jazz legend Louis Armstrong and white saxophonist Charlie Barnet. In segregated Washington of the 1940s, such an organized interracial competition was a big event and few people — especially in the black community that surrounded the stadium — wanted to miss the “musical fisticuffs.”

We Will Never Die Pageant, 1943

In an age before e-news, social media, and cellphones, one pageant helped bring the truth about the tragedy unfolding in Hitler’s Europe to the nation’s attention.

Seventy years after First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, hundreds of members of Congress, and several Supreme Court Justices convened in Constitution Hall to learn of the atrocities being committed in Europe, the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington marked the anniversary of that pageant, entitled We Will Never Die – a Mass Memorial to the Two Million Dead of Europe.

Jackie Robinson tied a National Negro League record by going 7 for 7 at the plate in a June 24, 1945 doubleheader against the Homestead Grays in Washington. (Photo source: Library of Congress, American Memory)

When Jackie Played Here

When you see the Jackie Robinson film, 42, it’s safe to assume there won’t be any scenes of Robinson’s Dodgers playing the Senators in Washington. That’s because it never happened, aside from maybe an exhibition game. The teams were in different leagues, so only a World Series would have had them square off. And, anyone who knows anything about baseball (or has seen Damn Yankees) knows the Senators were not exactly World Series material in the 1940s and 1950s.

But what you may not know is that Robinson actually did play in D.C. before he became a Dodger and it was a pretty big deal.

Fairlington Villages (Souce: Library of Congress)

Fairlington: Built to Last

The year is 1943. You’re new to the area and looking for a place to live that’s close enough to the city that the commute to your government job won’t be completely terrible. Maybe you’ve got a dog. Maybe you’re starting a family. It’s a busy time. The war is going on, after all, and Washington is buzzing with activity. Where are you going to live?

Well, if you were looking in Arlington, there’s a good chance you might end up in the new Fairlington neighborhood…  That is of course, if you could get a spot -– easier said than done in those days.

Woody Guthrie, 1943 (Library of Congress)

How Washington Saved Folk Music

Sure, it seems a bit counter-intuitive. How could the favorite subject of protest music also be its greatest protector? Well, believe it. If it wasn't for Alan Lomax and the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress there might not be a Woody Guthrie — and thus by extension — a Bob Dylan or a Bruce Springsteen, and well … you get the rest. In March 1940, Lomax arranged for Guthrie to travel to Washington, D.C. to record traditional ballads and his original songs at the Department of the Interior recording lab. What emerged from three days of sessions is one of the purest documents of Americana ever released.

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