The Model Inner City Community Organization (MICCO) it appears suggested the path through Shaw the WMATA subway sorta- kinda takes. As we know the Shaw metro station isn’t at 7th and Florida, but rather a block down at 7th and S and 7th and R. The Mt. Vernon Square station, isn’t at 7th and O, but also a couple of blocks off at 7th and M. WMATA at that time, proposed the line (did it even have a color in 1968?) going up 13th Street, with a station just off Logan Circle, and the U St station sort of where the U Street station is now.
Anyway. I tried posting some Shaw history about building and growth in the post-riot, pre-non-stop gentrification period. This was based on countering a poor gentrification think piece that claimed that you could count the building projects in DC between 1968-1998 on one hand. Actually, you can count at least a dozen building projects in Shaw during that period, the Green/Yellow line, just one of many projects in Shaw. According to the wikis U Street, Shaw, and Mount Vernon Square all opened up in 1991, twenty three years after the riots. However, it wasn’t all that great in the 1990s because the Green line stopped at U Street. It would be almost 10 years before the line was as lovely and functional as it is today. I will spare you the stories of having to switch at Gallery Place & Ft. Totten to get to Greenbelt.
I’m sure the 14th Street crowd would have wished for the WMATA plan. However I’m very glad the decision to place the stations a little bit more to the east was chosen. Considering there was a significant amount of damage along 7th Street, I do wonder if the riots helped make 7th Street more attractive (cheaper land, fewer historical buildings to damage) to WMATA?
So when I heard that the former First Lady Barbara Bush had died a couple of days ago, I thought. I have some photos of her, in Shaw.
I have a big stack of photos my aunt took in either 1991 or 1992 (I’ve been too lazy to bother to get the dates) of a funeral. The deceased then was Rev. Henry C. Gregory III, who I gather was the pastor for Shiloh Baptist Church at 9th and P Streets in Shaw. Rev. Gregory was apparently important enough to get the then President, the Mayor, and some other important looking people I cannot identify to come to his funeral. It doesn’t help that the photographer didn’t care to go through the photos to identify people. So below are the pictures. If you can tell me who is in them, beyond the dead guy and the Bushes, that would be helpful.
So when I was doing the Truxton Circle neighborhood history and using the census to track every resident (see TruxtonCircle.org ) I noticed almost every Chinese person, usually guys, who identified as Chinese (so not that one Chinese guy who was white) were listed as being in the laundry business. Almost everyone. I am hoping Chinese residents in the 1950 census do something else besides cleaning clothes.
Anyway. So it was no big surprise to find a Chinese launderer who was a victim of the 1968 riots. Shaw Foo Chin was the owner of Bill’s Laundry and Dry Cleaning at 1718 14th Street NW in Logan Circle or U Street and experienced damage and theft on April 5th and 6th. It was a small business employing just himself and his wife. He owned the building as well.
He experienced extensive damage and theft. He lost a sign, had broken glasss and people stole his customers clothes. About half of his business came from the immediate neighborhood, so it may be a fair guess that rioters were not only taking from Mr. Chin, they were also taking from their neighbors.
Mr. Chin seems fairly resilient, like the past few businessmen I’ve reviewed here. His insurance didn’t change, his business was still open in June, and he wrote: It is not much damage to my property, so I plan to repair it as much as I can. He did however request financial assistance.
The building that is 1618 7th St NW is so nondescript it just blends into the non-cool side of the 1600 block of 7th. Now the cool end is where the Dacha beer garden sits. 1618 has a rolltop gate that I’ve never seen unrolled. It seems shuttered or not open to me.
Anyway, Carl R. Webb was the manager and owner of Personality Studio and Gift Shop at 1618 7th Street NW, near the corner of 7th and Rhode Island Avenue. Mr. Webb was a Black man over the age of 50 who owned the building and the business that had been there prior to the 1940s. He ran it with a family member, possibly his wife.
Despite experiencing extensive glass breakage and theft of merchandise over two days, Mr. Webb seems pretty positive about going forward. He didn’t seem to lose insurance, some like other owners. He did ponder changing the name and enlarging the store. He claimed he could enlarge it because he has “the know how.” I don’t know if he ever did, I’d have to look that up in the 1970 directory. Considering his age, I’m a tiny bit doubtful, but I do applaud his attitude regarding the whole thing.
So there isn’t anything at 703 R St NW now. You plug it into Google maps and you get the intersection of R and 7th Streets NW. I’m guessing that 703 is over where the CaBi bikeshare sits. Before that it was a parking lot.
Apparently, Ellis Transfer, a moving company owned by Henry Ellis was the business at 703 R St NW prior to the riots. Mr. Ellis was a local African American man who lived around the corner on the 1600 block of 6th St NW. His post-riot conclusion could be summed up as ‘not that bad’.
Well what he actually wrote was: “Business as I have done pretty good here, but business is slow now and I have had to go to work elsewhere, my wife is keeping things going here.” Including himself and his wife he went from 8 employees to six due to business slowing down. The damage he experienced was extensive glass breakage and some minor fire damage on the roof. Unlike say a retail store, a moving business isn’t that dependent on foot traffic, so I won’t say the riot had a major impact on his business. But the building isn’t there, so something happened between 1968 and whenever the Shaw metro station got put in.
Mr. Ellis had no plans of shutting down his business or relocating. Was he a victim of the riots? Yes, as broken glass and a slightly damaged roof is unpleasant. But he was resilient and his business was the kind that could weather that kind of storm.
It has been 50 years since the riots that destroyed several DC commercial corridors. And it has taken about 50 years for life and vibrancy to return to those corridors. However at the time, several of those places were already in a downward spiral. The heyday had passed. When the community is strong and disaster strikes, you rebuild. When it is weak, you leave.
Jessie McCain had a barbershop at 643 P St NW. During the riots it was completely destroyed. So what is there now? A parking lot. Next to it is a vacant lot, where Clark Construction has a couple of mobile office trailers that have been there for years. So in 50 years the only improvement has been clearing off the rubble.
Just after the riots officials sent out surveys to business owners to figure out the level of damage. The image above is from the survey Mr. McCain returned in September 1968. He was a 50 year old African American, and back in the 60s, 50 was old. Fifty year olds are a whole lot healthier and active these days, but back then they were well over the hill, probably not going to see 65. The destruction the riot brought Mr. McCain was the final straw. He wrote: “I am too old to be worryed [sic] any more. I just don’t want any more business.”
There were plenty more victims in Shaw for whom the riots were the final straw, and I’ll introduce you to them in the month of April.
Though I moved to Shaw in 2000, I have some memories of the neighborhood prior to that because my aunts attend Shiloh Baptist at 9th and P. As a teen and a twenty-something visiting from Florida, I would get dragged to the neighborhood.
The scars from the ’68 riots were unavoidable and looming 20 and 30 years after the fires. The boarded up vacant buildings that outnumbered the occupied spaces was the character of 7th and 9th Street. Depressing, sketchy and dirty were other characteristics of the area before it shifted into full gentrification mode. It has taken 50 years to heal, mostly. There are still vacant buildings and nothingness at the corner of 7th & Q, the Shiloh side of 9th St, and other spots, so not completely.
Ray Milefsky (RIP) before he passed was working on tracing what was damaged on the block where he lived during the riots. I found this and shared it with him.
From what I can tell 0 meant no damage and 3 meant severe damage. Anyway, Ray had a theory that the riots were like a kristallnacht, since a number of white businesses damaged were Jewish owned. So the Jews in Shaw were removed.
Recent events with the Ward 8 councilman making an off hand remark about Jews controlling the weather, is a fair reminder that the African-American/Jewish relationship hasn’t been perfect. There were complaints about these white owned businesses and post riot reports of damaged properties revealed that the business owners weren’t too keen on the neighborhood either. For many the riot was the last straw and for others not being able to get or renew their insurance prevented them from coming back.
The riot transformed the neighborhood. Spots that once held stores or commercial properties later became apartments. There were other transformations, but I’m unsure to whom or what to give credit. The city and urban planners scaled back their grand plans to bulldoze the neighborhood, but earlier efforts by local leaders probably should receive credit for that, but the riot added something to that dynamic. It also weakened the neighborhood leaving it ripe for the redevelopment/ gentrification that came 30 years later after the neighborhood failed to rebuild and recover.
Let beer be for those who are perishing,wine for those who are in anguish!Let them drink and forget their povertyand remember their misery no more.--- Proverbs 31:6-7
So I was allowed to escape my darling baby son to run some errands and noticed a new liquor store where an old liquor store sat at S and 7th St NW. It is a different liquor store in that the corner doesn’t reek of fake pot and there isn’t a crowd of purposeless Black men hanging out in front. The inside probably is different too. I wouldn’t know as the old store “Log Cabin Liquors” was impossible to see into. The new store. Looks very nice from the outside.
Unfortunately in the history of the neighborhood, liquor stores were bad news. For those who didn’t know, for about 2/3rds of the 20th Century chunks of Shaw was a slum or downtrodden neighborhood. In the map above liquor stores were in the brown and they dotted the neighborhood. You will find a lot of liquor stores in downtrodden neighborhoods, with unsavory characters hanging about. When I moved into my neck of Shaw, it was natural to fight the renewal license of liquor stores because they were problems. They didn’t reflect where some neighbors hoped to progress. Those places sold wino liquors (Mad Dog, 40 ozs, etc) and sometimes other things adding to the drug trade. They catered to the poor who were trying to drown their sorrows in cheap booze.
Alcoholism isn’t helpful, and doesn’t raise anyone up. I would go all Carrie Nation, if I didn’t enjoy the stuff, as I’ve experienced the destruction of alcoholism in my family. When residents and church representatives challenged the ABRA license, the destructive nature of alcoholism was brought forth because we saw the evidence of it littered in our treeboxes and passed out in our parks.
Yes, the new ‘good’ shiny liquor stores are a reflection of gentrification, but they aren’t making money off of panhandlers and seniors cashing in their social security checks to self-medicate themselves into a stupor. The bars and liquor stores are not like some college town places helping patrons to get drunk fast and cheap. Drinks are stupid expensive, and at some places carefully crafted so you don’t gulp them down, but rather savor the notes and whatever. As a resident I like these bars and liquor stores that cater to a more responsible (and yes moneyed) crowd. Parks are more fun when there aren’t smashed liquor bottle glass sticking out every few feet.
Somewhere in this town is a drink that uses spruce, like in the tree, where can I find that?
The thing I like about primary sources in history is that it occasionally reminds us of the things forgotten. We know of Emmet Till, the Birmingham Sunday school children, Medgar Evers, and Malcolm X, however those other people require Googling. Yet, the people who this flyer/poster was aimed at knew who was Col. Lemuel Penn.
I don’t want to add too much to this, except to say that neighborhoods like Shaw were in real danger of being destroyed by freeways/ highways. Read the poster and tell me what you think in the comments.
I watched the most recent Jane Jacobs documentary ‘Citizen Jane’, which then led to listening to podcasts about Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses. If you are not familiar with the story, Robert Moses was a very powerful man in the early 20th century who was very good at tearing down structures (slum clearance it was called) to build parks and parkways. However, another word for parkway could be highway. Jane Jacobs was the journalist/ author/ activist who stopped him from building a road or highway through her Greenwich Village neighborhood in the 1960s.
Highways, were the big thing after World War II. Prior to the war cities were big on slum clearance. Slums, according to one definition, were places where there wasn’t a lot of indoor plumbing. But most seem to define it as where poor people live in poor conditions. You mix the slum clearance with the highway funds and you have lots of plans to destroy neighborhoods.
There was a plan to extend I-395 past New York Avenue NW, where it currently terminates. The above map from 1957 shows this. There are a few landmarks to help you figure out where Truxton Circle is in all this, such as the Capitol, Union Station, Logan Circle and Mt. Vernon Square. Where you see the #10 is a white mass of something, that is a proposed expressway that was to connect I-395 to an inner loop. To create this roadway tons of housing in what is now Truxton Circle would have to be destroyed. Actually, if this were to have gone through there would not have been a Truxton Circle neighborhood.
So what happened to keep this from happening? The sixties. There was a change in the 1960s where people pushed back against the government, and this was a government plan. The culture of the Civil Rights movement played a major part in this, and that is another post for another time.