Let us take a look back at the District of Columbia over the past century to see how gentrification was put in motion.
There have been changes to this city, ranging from riots after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed to the entrance of the street drug markets. Many parts of the city have flourished, especially for African Americans, one example being U Street NW.
In the first half of the century, the Shaw section of the District of Columbia was home to a flourishing African-American scene. Duke Ellington played in the jazz clubs, Howard University offered a groundbreaking course on civil rights, and Black businesses and professional services supported a growing middle class.
Legal segregation of schools was stopped in the U.S. by federal enforcement of a series of Supreme Court decisions, starting in 1954 with Brown v. Board of Education. So began the “white flight,” when whites began to relocate to the suburbs to avoid desegregated schools. But unexpectedly, many affluent African Americans (middle class), who could afford to leave, also decided to do so.
The riots sparked by the assassination of King in 1968 sent the area into a tailspin. Protesters firebombed and looted shops over several days, and troops were called in to restore order. Shaw emerged from the smoke with its civic and cultural heart hollowed out.
My family now lived only two blocks from 8th and H streets in Northeast near neighborhood stores. We could see people carrying couches, lamps, tables and other furniture as they walked up the sidewalks. There was smoke all along H Street and various parts of the city as well.
After the riots, the city was broken, devastated. Roderick Harrison, a sociology and anthropology professor at Howard University, said “People thought of the inner city now as areas you don’t go into at all, much less live in, unless you were essentially looking for trouble.”
Enter Cornell Jones, a drug kingpin in the D.C. area during the 1970s and 1980s, who created the first “open-air” drug market in the country. But it wasn’t until after dealers started selling crack in the mid-1980s that drug-related violence really escalated.
Families were moving out of D.C., to get away from the open-air drug market, my family included. We moved to a beautiful home in Silver Spring, Maryland.
Come back next week for part three on my experience of gentrification in Washington, D.C.
Lyndia Grant is a speaker/writer living in the D.C. area. Her radio show, “Think on These Things,” airs Fridays at 6 p.m. on 1340 AM (WYCB), a Radio One station. To reach Grant, visit her website, www.lyndiagrantshow.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 240-602-6295. Follow her on Twitter @LyndiaGrant and on Facebook.