At the request of the Barry Farm Tenants and Allies Association, the DC Historic Preservation Review Board heard arguments Thursday to declare portions of the Barry Farm Dwellings in southeast DC an historic landmark.
BFTAA, which represents the 34-acre public housing complex’s displaced tenants, filed the nomination for landmark status with the support of historian Sarah Jane Shoenfeld of Prologue DC, who presented the application along with Alcione Amos, curator at the Smithsonian Anacostia Museum and Amber Wiley, an historic preservation expert and Rutgers University professor.
“We have always considered Barry Farm historic,” said Detrice Belt, President of the BFTAA. “Now, in the face of displacement and pending demolition, we hope to declare Barry Farm a historic landmark so that our history will be preserved and made part of future development on the site.”
The Barry Farm Dwellings were constructed in 1941 on the original 375-acre Barry Farm settlement created by the Freedmen’s Bureau in 1862, as DC’s first homeownership community for African Americans after the Civil War. The street grid in the dwellings is the last remaining remnant of that early post-emancipation community.
“While the early history of Barry Farm is significant, the history of the Dwellings is equally important,” said Shoenfeld. “For instance, it was home to Etta Mae Horn, who led the Barry Farm Band of Angels and became a national leader on welfare rights issues,” she continued. “It was also home to several key plaintiffs in Bolling v. Sharpe, which ended the legal segregation of DC’s public schools when it was heard as a companion case to Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. We know that it was not just the people, but also the intentional design, structure, and location of the Barry Farm community that fostered this spirit of activism.”
Parisa Norouzi, director of Empower DC — a citywide organization which has worked with Barry Farm residents to protect their rights throughout the redevelopment process – talked about what happens to DC, as a city, when places like Barry Farm are wiped away.
“Our history, our identity and our social conscious,” Norouzi said “We are a city known for monuments and memorials – but it’s the humble places like Barry Farm that speak to the stories of Washingtonians who shaped this city. Their contributions deserve the recognition that landmark status confers.”
The landmark nomination for Barry Farm is also supported by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Historic Anacostia Preservation Society and the Committee of 100 on the Federal City.