Community

Timeline for Barry Farm

* In early 1868, the federal Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands purchased 375 acres from the heirs of Washington merchant James Barry for the purpose of establishing a model community for Blacks.

* By 1871, the community had a school, a Baptist church and purchased a lot for a Methodist church. Prominent residents of Barry Farm included civil rights leader Frederick Douglass’ sons, Charles, Lewis and Frederick Jr., as well as John Moss, the first Black judicial in the District of Columbia, Garnet Wilkerson, assistant superintendent for Black schools in the District, Georgiana Simpson, the first Black woman to receive a doctorate, Emily Edmondson of the famous Pearl incident in 1848 and Solomon Brown, the Smithsonian Institution’s lone Black professional employee who also served in the D.C. House of Delegates.

* From 1895-1918, D.C.’s first Black-owned amusement park maintained operations on what is now Barry Farm’s playground.

* In November 1942, families started coming to Barry Farm Dwellings as tenants of public housing. The Barry Farm Dwellings public housing space eventually had 442 units of permanent housing for low-income Black residents.

* In 1950, Barry Farm residents initiate Bolling vs. Sharpe, a companion case to the Brown vs. Board of Education case that outlawed racial segregation in public schools. Bolling came about when Barry Farm residents couldn’t enroll their children in the then-newly built John Philip Sousa Junior High School based on their race. The Supreme Court ruled in Bolling that Black exclusion from Sousa violated the 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, noting that the District lacked statehood and thereby couldn’t fall under the 14th Amendment like the Brown decision. In September 1954, Sousa opened its doors to all races.

* In the 1960s, Barry Farm Dwellings began to show signs of decay, with rodent infestation, leaky faucets and broken-down housing units. The advocacy of Lillian Wright and Etta Horn, who would found the National Welfare Rights Organization, would start an ad hoc group called the Band of Angels and push for the District government to repair and improve living conditions at Barry Farm Dwellings. The Band of Angels and other residents also demanded better police protection.

* In 1967, actress Eartha Kitt testifies on behalf of Barry Farm Dwellings residents at a hearing of the House of Representatives’ education subcommittee.

* In 1975, the Barry Farm Community Basketball League, now known as the Goodman League named after Barry Farm activist George Goodman, began operations. The league presently features leading pro and street basketball players such as NBA star Kevin Durant.

* In 1980, a group of Barry Farm Dwelling youngsters made a name for themselves creating music out of soda bottles, tin cans and picnic benches. The group eventually became known as The Junkyard Band and performs gigs not only throughout the city but nationally also.

* In 2013, the District government announced plans to demolish most of the housing at Barry Farm Dwelling and put in mixed-used, higher density community consisting of 1,600 units for sale. Empower DC, a progressive activist organization, helps tenants form the Barry Farm Tenant and Allies Association to make sure that original Barry Farm Dwelling tenants aren’t evicted from their homes and are able to stay at the renovated complex.

* In 2019, many families have been relocated and the demolition of Barry Farm Dwellings begins. Empower DC and the Barry Farm Tenant and Allies Association launch effort to have Barry Farm declared a historic site by the District government.

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