Black History

Meeting the Community's Needs: Arlington’s Friendly Cab Company

In the 1940s, Jim Crow held strong in Arlington, Virginia. African-Americans encountered discrimination at segregated eating establishments, businesses and recreation facilities. Even access to medical care was divided along racial lines.

African American mothers were barred from the maternity ward at Arlington Hospital and were expected to travel to hospitals in Washington, D.C. or Alexandria to give birth. For many black Arlingtonians, getting to D.C. was difficult – especially in a medical emergency – as many could not afford cars of their own.

In 1947, three men with bright ideas and business ingenuity stepped up to fill the void.

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.

First Statue Representing D.C. Unveiled in U.S. Capitol

It was a long wait for sculptors and local politicians.

Since 2008, a seven-foot tall, 1,700 pound bronze statue of abolitionist Frederick Douglass stood in the lobby of a building called One Judiciary Square. It remained there for five years while Washington officials fought to move it to another building less than a mile down the road: the U.S. Capitol. 

 

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the unveiling of Douglass’ statue in the Capitol Visitor Center’s Emancipation Hall. The ceremony was the culmination of a fight spanning over a decade. 

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. 

Marian Anderson in 1940. (Credit: Library of Congress)

Marian Anderson Actually Did Get to Sing at Constitution Hall

In 1939, in what became one of the most painful moments in Washington music history, celebrated African-American singer Marian Anderson was denied an opportunity to perform for an integrated audience at Constitution Hall because of her race. Then-First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt resigned her membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution, which owned and operated the concert hall. Anderson's manager, Sol Hurok, capitalized on the First Lady's support to seek federal government approval for the singer give an open-air performance instead.

On April 9 of that year, a crowd of 75,000 people, which included Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes and Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial and listened to Anderson sing "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" on the memorial's steps. According to the New York Times' account, six microphones carried Anderson's voice to millions of radio listeners throughout the country.

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.

Oscar-Winner "12 Years a Slave" is a Reminder of the Local Slave Trade

Director Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave, serves to highlight a horrific and shameful part of local history — the area's role as a transit depot and resale market for humans held in involuntary servitude.

The acclaimed film tells the true story of Solomon Northup, a free African-American violinist who in 1841 traveled from his home in New York to Washington, DC, with the promise of a high-paying job as a circus musician. He didn't know that his prospective employers actually were slave traders. 

"The thing that we were most afraid of was the March would be a bust."

On the days leading up to the March on Washington, buses from every direction poured into the District of Columbia. Culie Vick Kilimanjaro and her husband John Marshall Kilimanjaro came from Greensboro, North Carolina. No one knew exactly what to expect prior to the March. Many feared violence. Many feared that no one would show up and the March would be a bust. Thankfully neither of those things came to pass. The March was a great success thanks to the bravery of people like the Kilimanjaros. Read their recollections after the jump.

Pages