WETA Examines the Triumphs of Washington in the 1960s

Shantella Y. Sherman - WI Staff Writer | 11/11/2009, 10:53 p.m.

The District has historically been a city of contradictions. A sleepy Southern town, just inches below the Mason-Dixon Line, Washington was comprised of conservative middle-class Whites and poor and working-class Blacks. Both relied solely on Congress to manage the city€s affairs, yet there emerged a contingency among them starkly opposing views about who and how the city should be governed.

Those stark contrasts are examined in the WETA €" TV 26 documentary, €Washington in the €60s,€ which premiered Mon., Nov. 2. The hour-long documentary explores the triumphs and tragedies of the federal city and airs throughout the month.

The retrospective examines some of the collective political, social and cultural events that occurred during the 1960s that included residents gaining the right to vote for president of the United States, the election of Marion Barry as mayor, the opening of Dulles Airport and the riots that gripped the city following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The documentary includes first-hand accounts of events from such Washington notables as musician Chuck Brown, talk show host Maury Povich, former D.C. City Council member Charlene Drew Jarvis and Washington Post columnist Colbert King.

King describes the peculiar state of racial politics in the city that was magnified by the election of Marion Barry.

€He [Barry] was received well by people who felt dispossessed, who felt they had no voice in the city, who felt they were on the outside. He was not received well by the Black middle class, but was received very well by the White middle class who felt that the Black middle class wasn€t representative of Black people. But that Marion, because he wore a dashiki, was authentic,€ King said.

Of particular interest is Povich€s historical analysis of a city totally dependent on Congress. The District€s White residents couldn€t have cared less about voting. On the other hand, Black residents €" primarily those who had migrated from the Deep South €" demanded the right to vote.

€You have to understand that basically I think that at best, D.C. residents felt that they were sharecroppers. The government decided everything. The government decided how much money it would give the District in every single line item when it came to schools, when it came to transportation, when it came to taxation,€ Povich said.

Class distinctions among African Americans are examined by Jarvis. Her assessment of the rebellion following the assassination of Dr. King, for instance, is one of disbelief at rioters, and was shared by middle-class Blacks.

€I could not fathom the celebratory nature of what was going on in the street with some of the looting, with the tragedy of the loss of this leader who would have decried this action if he had an opportunity to do that. The conflagration was not downtown; it was in the communities of African Americans, their business corridors. That was not going to be repaired for 30 years,€ Jarvis said.

WETA will air Washington in the €60s throughout the month of November. Check local listings for air times.