1960s

Roberta Flack in 1971. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Arlington's Roberta Flack Gets Her Start at Mr. Henry's

Born in Asheville, North Carolina, Roberta Flack started playing the piano at an early age. When she was five, her family moved to the Nauck community in Arlington and she took up the organ, lending her musical talents to Macedonia Baptist Church. At 15, she entered Howard University with a full music scholarship and, by 19, she was a college graduate seeking.

She accepted a position in a segregated school district in Farmville, North Carolina and wound up being the only music teacher for 1300 students, kindergarten through 12th grade. “I lost 40 pounds and almost had a nervous breakdown but we did some beautiful things that year.”

Flack returned to Washington and taught at Rabaut Junior High School and Brown Junior High School. In the evenings, she started performing – first at the Tivoli Theatre in Columbia Heights and then at Mr. Henry’s, a Capitol Hill nightclub at 6th and Pennsylvania Ave, SE, which was owned by Henry Yaffe.

Freedom Summer volunteers and locals canvassing. (Credit: Courtesy of Ted Polumbaum provided courtesy of Newseum)

D.C.'s Ties to Freedom Summer

In 1964, SNCC focused efforts on black voter registration and education in Mississippi, which had the lowest percentage of African-Americans registered to vote in the country (a startling 6.7% as of 1962). The group recruited hundreds of volunteers from college campuses across the nation to come to the state to canvass.

The 1964 Freedom Summer movement in Mississippi does not generally conjure up images of the nation’s capital. But a few of the organizers had strong ties to the District.

Photograph of Petey Greene

Petey Greene Talks Down the Riots, 1968

“God gave me a talent, and that talent was verbal skills." Critically acclaimed as America’s first “shock jock,” Petey Greene had the mouth and charisma to roar in the ears of people in the streets of Washington, D.C. His impact was no more apparent than in April of 1968 during the aftermath of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination.

Running down the streets outraged, a group of about thirty young people burst into a drug store. “Martin Luther King is dead,” they shouted. “Close the store down!” 26-year old Stokely Carmichael, former chairman of the SNNC and the initiator of the what became the “Black Power Movement” in 1967, led Washington, D.C. civilians down the streets demanding that all businesses close out of respect of the death of King.

Although the initial goal was to maintain peace, things quickly went out of Carmichael’s hands. Emotions boiled and violence broke out.  

Muhammad Ali in 1967 (World Journal Tribune photo by Ira Rosenberg, Library of Congress)

Muhammad Ali's Speech at Howard University, 1967

The PBS documentary The Trials of Muhammad Ali, covers the boxing champ's struggles outside the ring during the tumultuous mid-1960s, and his emergence as a symbol of protest and dissent for young people of that time. Ali's duality as a firebrand activist and a revolutionary icon is examplified, in some ways, by his controversial appearance at Howard University in April 22, 1967, where he gave a speech to African-American students just days before he refused induction in the armed forces, which led to his indictment and conviction for draft evasion. 

Host to History: 1966 NCAA Final Four at Cole Field House

Texas Western's NCAA Championship victory over all-white Kentucky at Cole Field House in 1966 went way beyond sports. (Photo source: El Paso Times)

Nowadays the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four is played in huge football stadiums that can seat 50,000 or more fans. But that wasn’t always the case. Back in the day, the games took place in much smaller, on-campus arenas and the media coverage was paltry compared to what we see now. Such was the case in 1966, when the University of Maryland’s Cole Field House hosted college basketball’s final weekend.

That might not sound like a big deal, but with the way the tournament unfolded, the 1966 championship game proved to be a major event in the civil rights movement.

The Beatles' Awkward Embassy Soiree

The cold weather wasn't the only thing that was uncomfortable when the Beatles visited the British Embassy on February 11, 1964. (Photo by Flickr user UKinUSA. Used under Creative Commons attribution license.)

In previous posts, we described the arrival of the Beatles in Washington on the afternoon of February 11, 1964 — two days after their famous nationwide TV appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in New York and their performance that evening at the Washington Coliseum, which was the first live public concert by the group in the U.S.

But even after the Beatles finished their 12-song set to the screaming approval of a teenaged crowd that included future U.S. Senator and Vice-President Al Gore, the evening was still young. In those days, Washington, not known for its nightlife, didn't have an equivalent to New York's swinging Peppermint Lounge, where the Beatles had spent a wild evening prior to their Ed Sullivan appearance. And since President Johnson didn't invite them to the dance he was hosting that night in the White House's East Ballroom, the group had to accept the next best offer. They rushed off in limousines to the British Embassy on Massachusetts Avenue NW, for a charity ball.

The Beatles Storm Washington

The Beatles at Washington Coliseum, Feb. 11, 1964 (Photo credit: Mike Mitchell)

In a previous post, we looked at the prelude to the Beatles' first-ever concert in the U.S. on February 11, 1964 at the Washington Coliseum. Now, facing their first live U.S concert audience on an awkward stage with balky equipment, the Beatles opening chords were met with a deafening roar of 8,000 high-pitched screams, a barrage of jelly beans and the unleashed excitement of a new generation of fans. Here's more of what happened on that historic evening that changed Rock 'n' Roll forever.

Beatlemania Begins in DC

Paul McCartney and John Lennon are ushered through the crowd at Union Station on February 11, 1964. (Photo credit: Mike Mitchell)

It's hard to imagine that anyone would think the Beatles might not be a big enough concert draw. But when Harry G. Lynn, owner of the old Washington Coliseum at 3rd and M streets NE, was approached by local radio station WWDC in late 1963 about the possibility of booking the then-nascent British pop music sensations for their debut U.S. concert on Feb. 11, 1964,  he wasn't convinced that he would be able to sell the 8,000-plus tickets that it would take to fill his arena. That's why Lynn reportedly insisted upon hedging his bet by booking several other acts — the Caravelles, Tommy Roe and the Chiffons.

The Demise of DC's Streetcars

For those of us who are nostalgic or liked to play with model trains when we were kids, today marks a rather inauspicious anniversary. Fifty-two years ago, on January 28, 1962, Washington's original streetcar system road the rails for the final time. That last run ended 99 and a half years of service to the nation's capital as buses replaced the trolleys as the primary means of mass transit in the District. So, how did we get to that point?

After going electric in the last decade of the 19th century, the streetcars quickly became a crucial part of transportation in the nation's capital, just as they were in other cities across the country. But Washington's system — which gradually coalesced from a hodgepodge of small companies into a single entity, the sprawling Capital Transit Co. in 1933 — faced special problems.

Adas Israel Synagogue building on moving truck, December 18, 1969. (Photo source: Wikipedia)

A Synagogue on Wheels

As many realtors will tell you, the first three rules of real estate are, “location, location, location.” Well, in the late 1960s, location presented a very serious problem for transit planners and the congregation of the Adas Israel synagogue. Construction of Metro’s Red Line was getting underway and WMATA had acquired the block bounded by 5th,  6th,  F and G Streets, NW to serve as a staging area and, eventually, the home of Metro’s headquarters.

There was only one problem. The block was also the home of Washington’s first synagogue building, which had been standing on the site since 1876.

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