Community

East End or East of the River? The Debate Rages

D.C. residents who live east of the Anacostia River are in a passionate debate over what the area should be called: East End or East of the River?

“I like East of the River,” said Ward 7 resident Sirraya Gant. “That is the term that I am used to and that’s how it should stay.”

However, Council member Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7), has pushed for using East End from as early as 2013 during his time as the District’s mayor.

“I don’t say ‘East of the River’ anymore,” Gray said in a published report. “When you say ‘East of the River’, people unfortunately think of the other side of the tracks. We have a West End and now we should have an East End.”

Gant respectfully disagrees with Gray.

“There are some fine neighborhoods here such as Penn Branch, Hillcrest, Fairlawn and Congress Park,” she said.

The debate prompted the Rev. Anthony Motley, a longtime community activist, to manage a process where the eastern neighborhoods will be officially recognized by District officials in 2020 by one of the terms. Motley said the changing demographics of the District justifies the public conversation.

“We are having this discussion because a lot of new people want to change the names of places that we have long known,” Motley said at a Sept. 19 meeting on the subject at the Covenant Baptist Church United Church of Christ in Southwest. “The new people want to say something different.”

Longtime residents throughout the city echo Motley’s concerns. In 2009, efforts to rename a major portion of Columbia Heights as “Tivoli North” stalled due to the outcry from residents and business owners in the area.
The emergence of NoMa (North of Massachusetts Avenue NE), a moniker for neighborhoods that include Truxton Circle, Sursum Corda, Eckington and Near Northeast, bothers some residents who would prefer to be identified with their neighborhood.

Dr. George Derek Musgrove, a District historian who spoke at the Sept. 19 meeting, said the term “East of the River” wasn’t prominent until the 1970s, when those neighborhoods became predominantly Black.

“At the end of World War II, the areas east of the river were 80 percent Black,” he said. “As Blacks were pushed out of Southwest as a part of Urban Renewal and developers making it clear to the District and federal governments that public housing projects was best for neighborhoods east of the Anacostia, that is when Blacks started coming in and Whites starting leaving.”

Musgrove said “East of the River” apparently started out as a geographical reference but by the 1980s, the term had taken a life of its own and become a part of everyday vernacular.

Motley said the process of rebranding those neighborhoods began in January, with meetings bimonthly to address the issue. He said Gray and fellow Council member Trayon White (D-Ward 8) attended a May meeting on the matter.

Motley said the next meeting in November will produce a branding survey asking people their choice, with the results of the survey to be revealed in January. He said based on the survey, he and his supporters, will approach Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) for a proclamation and the D.C. Council for a resolution ratified the survey’s results.

Jacque Patterson, a politically active Ward 8 resident, would prefer the term “Southeast,” but between the two labels, he has his pick.

“If the choice is between East of the River and East End, I would pick East of the River,” Patterson said. “East End sounds a bit elitist to me.”

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