Washington in the 70s: Hits and Misses

Jacques A. Benovil | 2/24/2010, 10:07 p.m.

WETA€s Washington in the 70s is a chronological look at a post 60s Washington D.C. and opens with a post- civil rights era Washington with Nixon taking office and the city being visibly divided along racial lines. Narrated by CNN anchor Bernard Shaw, Washington in the 70s features a very select group of commentaries by local and nationally known Washingtonians, mostly political and media personalities like Connie Chung, Charlene Drew Jarvis, Donnie Simpson and native musician Chuck Brown. Each provide personal accounts of events which shaped the District during the 70s.

Washington in the 70s revisits Walter Fauntroy€s election to the House of Representatives after President Nixon signs the D.C. Delegate Bill, allowing the city a non-voting representative in Congress. Fauntroy uses this position to unseat opponents of Home Rule. This opens the door for D.C.€s first Elected Mayor, Walter Washington followed by the launching of the D.C. Statehood Party. On March 1, 1971 the United States Capitol building was bombed by the anti-government organization Weather Underground. Followed by many staged protests against the government, including the Watergate Break-in and President Nixon€s Resignation.

Besides Marion Barry and a few other Black political figures, the documentary portrays the majority of the city€s Black residents as poor and disenfranchised. The sizeable middle- and upper- class Black communities in the city, negate their place and sphere of influence throughout the District and the events that shaped it. In many regards the documentary fails in its depiction and assessments of the city by side-stepping the voice of long time residents, including educators and business owners.

Their experiences would surely contextualize themes and events. The closest WETA comes to an average every day resident is someone on the video listed as architect. As a viewer it would be nice to know who this architect is and why he€s in the documentary.

Most disappointing is that Washington in the 70s fails to show the true diversity of D.C. and the many races of people who decided to call D.C. home. There were very large Asian, Latin, Middle Eastern and Indian communities not represented in the documentary. These people were homeowners, teachers, policeman, parents and entire areas of the city not depicted like Mount Pleasant, Adams Morgan and China Town, which would have, again, shown D.C.€s melting pot appeal.

Dupont Circle Metro construction. Courtesy WMATA
Not mentioned in the documentary was The Washington Diplomats Soccer team, the fifth major sports franchise in the city during the 70s. They were established in 1974 and played their home games at RFK Stadium in Northeast. The Diplomats folded in 1980. And most noticeably absent from the documentary was the establishment of the University of the District of Columbia. Although UDC was the culmination of several older colleges in the city, its location and status as an affordable €state€ university, was a magnet for international students traveling under diplomacy and seeking an affordable undergraduate education.

This documentary gives an overall tourist look at what Washington D.C., was in the 1970s. It talks about the attractions, four of the major sports teams and a few of the political upheavals, trials and tribulations of this small metropolis, but it never talks about its citizens. The missing voice of the everyday District resident takes away from what it may have meant to be a Washingtonian in the 70s.

Washington in the 70s premiered Feb 22 and will air again Feb 26 at 10 p.m. Check local listings for additional air dates.