Neighborhood Heritage Trail Celebrates History of Georgia Avenue

John Muller | 10/19/2011, 12:24 p.m.

"So much of what holds this neighborhood together is its history," said Sylvia Robinson, Executive Director of the Emergence Community Arts Collective and chair of the neighborhood working group that organized the trail. "As a community we took ownership of Georgia Avenue in a way that was unique. This is still true today."

"We knew there was a lot of history here in our neighborhood," said Darren Jones, President of the Pleasant Plains Civic Association since 1995, recalling the four year process of organizing the trail.

Initially indentifying three dozen sites of importance along a nearly two mile stretch of 7th Street and Georgia Avenue, the trail recognizes the influence of the Howard Theatre (now being restored), the "Nile Valley" stretch of Caribbean and West Indian restaurants, the neighborhood's organized resistance to the 1919 race riots, the area's past identity as "cow town" and the route President Abraham Lincoln took to his summer retreat. As one of the city's oldest thoroughfares, once known as the Seventh Street Turnpike, Georgia Avenue was built deep into Maryland, serving farmers who supplied the city.

"Howard University defines the neighborhood," Jones said of the country's first African American liberal arts college.

As Georgia Avenue is on the brink of changes consistent with new development it becomes imperative to safeguard the community's cultural and social legacy to guide the "collective vision" moving forward, said Robinson.

"Everyone should know their history, their heritage," said Shawn Baylor, 19, of Trinidad. "You can't move if you don't know what you're standing on."

Neighborhood Heritage Trails are funded by the D.C. Department of Transportation, U.S. Department of Transportation, and events D.C. The launch of the Georgia Ave./Pleasant Plains Neighborhood Trail was supported by Howard University Hospital and Progression Place, the new mixed -use residential development at the NE corner of 7th & S Street NW.

To compile the text, photographs, and maps for the trail multiple resources were gathered from oral history interviews, story-sharing sessions (to capture recent, undocumented history), plus family photo albums and public archives: Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University; Archives Center, National Museum of American History; Library of Congress; National Archives; Martin Luther King Public Library; and the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum.

The 1.9 mile trail begins with a marker outside of the 7th & S Street exit of the Shaw-Howard University Metrorail station. Eighteen mores sign expand northward with the last sign at the southbound exit of the Georgia-Ave-Petworth Metrorail station.

The trail's name, Lift Every Voice, is borrowed from James Weldon Johnson's poem, later set to music and known as the "Negro National Anthem" according to Cultural Tourism D.C.