City of Magnificent Intentions

I can see why children hate history. I’m returning the textbook on the history of the District of Columbia to my library since it is ILL (inter library loan) and it is just depressing. Really, I can see why school children can hate history. I love history. It is like learning about another country, where you can’t get a visa.
The textbook, City of Magnificent Intentions: A History of Washington, District of Columbia is useful in that it is crammed, crammed I say, with dates and facts. What I learned from what little I read and skimmed through has been fascinating. However, I read very little because I could not read this like I have been able to do with other books. Reading, I felt like tons and tons of facts were being shoved at me and the story, the narrative was secondary. It was like reading the encyclopedia…. for those of you who remember encyclopedias when they were in book form.
I understand why the book was written the way it was written. Gotta shove those dates and facts at the kids. You can test for that. But it does not make for leisure reading and I can see how a reader can get resentful.
It is most enjoyable when you flip through it. The photographs of people and locations around the District are interesting and the maps showing growth in the region has been helpful. Reading subsections of chapters is do-able, and pausing to think about what was written, and applying it to the present, allows for ah-ha moments. For example there is a section on neighborhood history and white flight to the suburbs and an organization “Neighbors, Inc”. A caption in the chapter reads:

By fostering communication and cooperation, Neighbors, Inc. helped halt “white flight” in the part of Northwest roughly east of 16th Street and north of Kennedy Street.

It ends on a sad note as it was published in 1997. It leaves with a Control Board overseeing the District government, Marion ‘the bitch set me up’ Barry was re-elected, and downtown DC decaying. Sitting here 10 years in the book’s future with no control board, a young bald mayor named Adrian and a vibrant downtown, I feel good.

4 thoughts on “City of Magnificent Intentions”

  1. i must see this book. east of 16 and north of kennedy? ok, that’s a traditional stable ward 4 territory of primarily african-americans and has been for generations.

  2. I had that book in DC History class in high school..we always giggled at the title then made some stupid swamp joke. Then felt a little sad. Things are much better now.

  3. RR 446 is Shepard Park, Manor Park and Takoma Park area which my minimal ProQuest search on Neighbor’s Inc., revealed that was their area. According to “Fighting For Their Character” by Keith Harriston 12/8/90 p. E1 Shepard Park was built up in the 20s and 30s and had covenants to exclude Jews and Blacks. Jews began to integrate the neighborhood, then AfAm followed and then white residents began to leave. Neighbors Inc tried to halt the white flight. In 1990 the area was 1/3 white and 2/3 black.
    Glancing at what I found, it seemed the concern for both middle class blacks and whites was the area becoming overrun with low income AfAm.
    Definitions of integrated or mixed neighborhoods depend on who you ask. Apparently, or so I’ve heard, whites consider an area 10% non-white as integrated, blacks 50%. 66% close enough to me, I proclaim it mixed. Someone white may consider it solidly black.

  4. oh, i was strictly starting at kennedy street nw and included brightwood as well as others you didnt mentioned. i thought i said primarily not solidly.

    east of 16 St. was integrated generally and the divide in the segregated city for african americans but for the gold coast.

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