Black History

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.

The First Black Girl Scout Troops of the Nation’s Capital

Girl Scouts on Parade in Washington D.C., July 4 2014 (Source: Flickr user Miki Jourdan, via Creative Commons)

If you were to delve into the history of the Girl Scouts of the Nation’s Capital (GSNC), most of what you would find relates to troops’ longstanding history of service. After all, Girl Scout’s mission statement espouses values like “courage, confidence, leadership, and character.” But as historian Miya Carey reveals, the GSNC’s legacy is complicated by its historical exclusion of Black troops.

"Belair at Bowie": Segregated Suburbia

Karl Gregory tries to buy a home in Belair at Bowie

By 1963, “Belair at Bowie” was thriving. Since its opening in 1961, over 2,000 houses were occupied. But its prosperity hid an uncomfortable truth. William Levitt’s vision of the perfect neighborhood included attractive homes, affordable prices, comfort, and community — but only one type of neighbor. From the moment Levitt arrived in Washington, local activists — and even the government — became aware of the developer’s racist policy: none of the homes in Belair could be sold to people of color.  

The 1868 Mayoral Election, African-American Vote, and Riots That Followed

Howard University near Miner Hall in 1867

On January 8, 1867, Congress passed the District of Columbia Suffrage Bill, granting African-American men the right to vote for the first time in U.S. history. D.C.’s black community was ecstatic. But though this was certainly an exciting start, the stakes surrounding the black vote escalated in June 1868, when the two candidates for Washington’s new mayor promised vastly different futures for the city.

Portrait of Josiah Henson, 1876

"Not Fiction, but Fact": Josiah Henson and the Real Uncle Tom's Cabin

Josiah Henson is not a well-known name in American history—or even in the Washington area, where he was enslaved for many years. Born into bondage in Maryland, he lived in Montgomery County before eventually escaping to Canada—there, he served in the army, became a preacher, and established a prosperous settlement for escaped slaves. He was immortalized in Harriet Beecher Stowe's famous novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, serving as the inspiration for the titular character. But though the novel made him a well-known and popular figure in the nineteenth century, Henson was determined to tell his own story. As he says, the truth is stranger than fiction. 

Wishing in a Fountain: The Protest for more D.C. Pools

Children splash in the fountain at Columbus Circle to protest a shortage of pools in Washington, D.C.

In the early 1960s, the Evening Star called the Columbus Circle fountain in front of Union Station “a ready made swimming pool with ledges, platforms, and friendly statues. It is a grand place to wrestle and splash during the heat of the day, to get the shivers, and to finally recapture the heat by stretching full length on the warm bricks of the surrounding walk. Columbus looks on — pleased and noble.” However, as inviting as it was, swimming in the fountain was technically against Park Police regulations ... which made it the perfect place to protest Washington’s shortage of accessible swimming pools.

Honoring Alexandria's Two Lynching Victims

Memorial Corridor at The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. (Credit: Soniakapadia via Wikimedia Commons. Used via Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.)

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, is dedicated to all the victims of racial terror lynching in this country. The memorial is made of hundreds of steel monuments with the names of all known lynching victims inscribed on the front. A monument representing Alexandria, Virginia contains two names: Joseph McCoy and Benjamin Thomas. This is their story, and our community's history. 

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