Morton’s Thrift Store was located at 1330-1332 7th Street NW. There are apartments there now, formerly the Immaculate Conception Apartments. The survey says the shop just got glass and smoke damage. However, a Washington Post image has a burned out building on the corner, so it must have been more towards the center of the block, in the current parking lot.
Anyway, in this survey conducted several months after the April 1968 riots, the business was still running and repairs had been made. But by then sales were down 60%. Knowing in general what happened to Shaw I don’t think business got any better.
The owner of Morton’s Thrift Store was Matthew Morton 1721 Jones Bridge Road in Chevy Chase, MD, and he was an African American. At least according to the survey.
Looking at the survey, it was a black church, still is, and very active. It was 50% white collar at the time of the survey, with the next biggest group being skilled labor. When asked about relocating, the respondent wrote that they believed African Americans were still moving to the area, but if they had to relocate it would be to NE DC where the majority of their congregants lived. Yeah, this was a commuter church in 1957, and I guess it remains so in the current year.
Anyway, John Delaney owned a pool room at 1720 7th Street NW, where a post riot building currently sits. He did not suffer any fire damage. Instead he got a lot of broken glass and some things were stolen. It is unknown if he put “Soul Brother” on his shop to keep it from getting torched.
I don’t know if I’ll make this a series, like the 1957 Church Surveys, but who knows. My reason for posting this is to show that history is messy. The present is messy. There is no clean narrative where you can say, there were no black businesses in the Shaw ghetto. There were. There were plenty of black owned businesses, and some of them got hit by rioters. Some closed shop, and some, like Delaney thought Shaw was a perfectly fine neighborhood to do business.
I know I haven’t posted one of these in a while. But for those of you joining us, this is from a survey of the Northwest Urban Renewal Area, which later got broken up into Downtown and Shaw, from 1957. It is like an awesome census of the churches in the area, from the steeple churches that one thinks of when thinking about what a church looks like, to storefront and house churches. There hasn’t been another survey like this since.
Anyway. This time up it is Grace Reformed Church, at 1405 15th St NW. It was a white church in 1957, and the current occupants Christ Reformed Church appears to be a predominately white congregation. In 1957, very few of the members lived in the NW Urban Renewal Area, a majority lived in other parts of NW DC and another chunk lived in the burbs. They were mainly white collar, dare I guess, middle class worshipers.
I mentioned this one earlier this month, well its school, as it is one of 3 private schools in Shaw. Anywho, St. Augustine is at 1717 15th St NW, on the upper end of the neighborhood.
It was a big church with a chunk of the parishioners (50%) in the urban renewal survey area. I’m a convert to the church, but the sense I get is back then, when this survey was conducted, there were parish districts and you were supposed to go to the church for the district you lived in. Another interesting thing about the demographics is that it had a tiny white population, 3%, while the rest was Black. It is still a predominately African American Catholic Church.
I should sneak a Shaw church in this run of random churches. Vermont Avenue Baptist is at 1630 Vermont Avenue NW.
In 1957 Vt Av was a HUGE church claiming 3,600 members. They had 3 Sunday services with over two thousand congregants showing up on any given Sunday. It was a predominately white collar Black church with 41% living in the urban renewal area. About half the membership lived in the rest of DC. So about 1000 people coming in on Sunday, where did they park?
So I’m bopping to Rick Springfield’s Jessie’s Girl in my head as I type this. The Springfield Baptist Church has nothing to do with the 80s crooner.
Springfield Baptist at the corner of P and 6th Street NW, was a steeple church of unknown vintage in 1957, according to its survey entry. I’m not exactly sure what would qualify as a mega-church circa 1957, but Springfield had a large congregation of around 1700 members, 900 of whom showed up on the average Sunday.
So let’s get into the demographic nitty gritty. It is and was a predominately African American church. The occupation spectrum seemed fairly even, a small percentage of professionals, a nice chunk of white-collar workers, some skilled manual and some entrepreneurs. The largest group were unskilled laborers at 45%, not half but a large percentage.
You might be wondering, was this a commuter church? Yes, no, maybe. Twenty percent lived in the Northwest Urban Renewal Area, which was later shrunk to the Shaw School Urban Renewal Area. There is a mention that about 15% of the membership moved out of the renewal area in the last two years. Seventy percent lived in other parts of the District, in NE and far parts of NW. The far part may have been closer to their former education center at Kansas Avenue and 8th St NW in Petworth. The E.L. Haynes Charter School sits around there now.
So unlike the survey pages I really like, this one is fairly sparse. Anyway, today’s feature is Salem Baptist Church at 917 N Street NW in Shaw. It’s a church building on lot 0809, and a residential structure. Looking at PropertyQuest, there’s another lot the church owns on the other side of the main building. The survey does not tell the racial make up. I’m not 100% sure about the major racial make upof it now, but I’ll guess, African American.
This is going to be a quick one, and I don’t have a picture.
First Rising Mt. Zion, just looking at the 1957 survey answers appears to have been a more working-class Black church, where many of the members lived in the urban renewal area. With the previous surveys for other Black churches in Shaw, I was seeing a more middle-class group and began forming a theory behind it, and then this shows up in the rotation and blows that theory to heck.
Well, this survey and the church’s own history. The 1957 survey has Rev. Ernest Gibson as the head pastor, and when we drop down to his tenure as the shepherd of the flock their history has this to say.
Rev. Ernest R. Gibson, Sr. was called as the second pastor of First Rising on January 14, 1952 and began his tenure of service on February 3, 1952. He came to First Rising with his wife, Mrs. Etta C. Gibson, and three children, Ernest, Jr., Delores and Mark. During Rev. Gibson’s tenure, payments on the property at 1215 8th Street, NW were completed in 1952. In December 1954, the red brick church on the corner of 6th and N Streets, NW was purchased; the second trust of the church was paid off on October 22, 1966, and the mortgage burning ceremony was held on Sunday, May 21, 1967.
So in 1957, they were kinda new to the block. Their previous location of 1215 8th Street NW is currently somewhere inside the Convention Center. They moved around a little bit since their founding in 1939.
Okay, back to the demographics of the church. It was an African American church with a large unskilled manual labor workforce membership (62%). The professionals (5%) and white collar (15%) parishioners were a smaller percentage. Considering the economics of the neighborhood in 1957, it would make sense that the church would draw its working class membership from the surrounding area.
So there was that story about the Go-Go music being blasted at 7th and Florida. And more stories about Go-Go and the changing neighborhood, as if neighborhoods don’t change. Neighborhoods, cities, cultures change. There used to be jazz in Shaw. Good jazz, as in the kind you can dance to. But that kind of jazz is not something you’ll find listed at the Howard Theater, the only reason to go to the Dunbar Theater is to bank with Wells Fargo, and Bohemian Caverns is dark.
The jazz I like is gone and it probably won’t come back to Shaw.
I can’t blame gentrification. I can’t even blame the riots. What is to blame is what comes to all forms of popular and even niche genres, tastes and audiences change. What has befallen the jazz I like (I’m ignoring that other stuff that calls itself jazz) could easily fall upon Go-Go. The audience that grew up with it gets older, younger audiences are more into something else. The artists change, they may want to pursue or try new things. The market changes, as people stop buying CDs and CD players and Spotify/Pandora-rify their music. Also, I’ve been told Go-Go is best experienced live. For me, the artists changed and started creating undancable, unsingable jazz that decoupled itself from popular music, and younger audiences were getting into Rock-n-Roll.
So, for now, there is a phone store that sells Go-Go CDs on the side and blasts Go-Go music outside. Considering record stores do more closing than opening, I’m going to guess the money is in being a phone store. It’s unreasonable to expect the neighborhood to support one genre of music. If the neighborhood’s history of musical support is anything to go by, the best one can hope for is having a few buildings, maybe a street named after artists, and half-aszed attempts by city bureaucrats at music appreciation. Businesses are going to do what they need to do to stay in business. Customers are going to buy what they want to buy, in the format they want to purchase. And all of that will bring the end of Go-Go, not a neighbor who wants the music turned down.