319 R St NW, 20001

Lessons Learned from Black Home Owners of Truxton Circle- Don’t leave property to a bunch of people

Okay, I have a pet peeve and I want to get it off my chest. So I have been documenting the property transactions of African American home owners from the 1920 census who lived in this Washington, DC neighborhood of Truxton Circle. Do I understand the records I’m looking at? Not 100% but I can tell there is some problem when the home owner I am tracking leaves their home to more than one person.

I have a sense of what the owner might have been thinking if they left a will. Maybe they wanted to treat all their children equally. Maybe they wanted to leave something to all the people in their lives who meant something and the only thing of great value they had was their home. That’s sweet. But the problem is all their adult children don’t want to live together in the same house they grew up in.

What I see in the land records are papers where all the heirs have to sign off to let one family member have the property. Or all the heirs, and their spouses, sell the property.

Now let me dig and find something useful from my graduate education. I learned why pre-industrial and industrial England was more prosperous than France and it was because of primogeniture. Primogeniture was when the first born (usually male heir) get the main land, properties, and business interest of the deceased. Second plus sons and daughters were lucky to get an allowance, small plots of land or what have you, but not the main prize. This meant the farm was not broken up. Whereas in France, they broke up the farms and the lands into smaller portions, which meant they were less productive.

So back to Truxton Circle. One could theoretically divide a house if it were a two unit structure. So far I have not seen that.

What I have seen with other property owners of Truxton Circle, are requests to allow wives/widows to remain in the home until their death while the named heir holds the title.

In conclusion, the inheriting parties sell the property or transfer it to one of the heirs, who later sells the property.  So one may as well direct the sale of the property and have the proceeds divvied up equally by the heirs and save everyone the headache.

Because of another TC related side project the generational wealth that TC property gives is not in the property itself. It may be more the idea of having property and being a homeowner. My parents are still alive so I’m not getting their old ramshackle house any time soon. But they provided an example of the idea of owning one’s own home.

Examples of several heirs- Black Home Owners of Truxton Circle: Annie Brown 69 N St NW

Black Home Owners of Truxton Circle: Wallace J. Broadas- 1607 New Jersey Ave NW

Black Home Owners of Truxton Circle: Malinda Powell- 71 N St NW

4 thoughts on “Lessons Learned from Black Home Owners of Truxton Circle- Don’t leave property to a bunch of people”

  1. MY family has been doing the same thing to my grandfather’s house. Ridiculous amount of paperwork.

    Honestly you should go send in a resume to a DC based title company, because this is the stuff they deal with in providing title. Lots of the same complaints. They might even know more about what actually was happening with the documents.

    You may remember the very bad Derek Hyra book (cappuccino city) where his original thesis is shaw didn’t gentrify because of strong family ownership. I’d say what you are seeing is strong evidence to the contrary.

    Likewise, I agree that a family model for ownership helps — but the biggest driver from 1980 to 2000 has been education. Also to be having renters clearly makes living in a house more possible. renters that close do lead to some compromising situations.

    I met a fedex guy who lived in his grandmother’s house in Shaw — he said family had owned it since the 1930s. Clearly he could sell out but he enjoyed his work.

    1. Good for the FedEx guy. May his family have many more years!

      I’m a little less confused about documents after 1970, when fair housing and other laws and structures and institutions resemble what we have now. I’ll send a resume when I retire from the Federal government, which is not too far off, but my TSP needs more $$$$.

      So much wrong with the Hyra book.

      But it is a general problem where there are assumptions taken from big picture/ bird’s eye views where they look for evidence to prove those assumptions. Finding the evidence of one or more families who manage to last through the decades works as proof to the assumption. What I’m doing… What am I doing? Well, what I think I’m doing is researching the bejeezus out of one corner of the world and letting what I find drive the story. I don’t have a dissertation to write, no fickle committee of faculty to appease, no ‘publish or perish’ sword hanging over my head, so I have the patience to mesh various stories, that on their own aren’t all that remarkable, but are pieces of a whole.

      I like researching, hate writing.

  2. Well, I looked up a few of those titles from 1920s on the Recorder of Deeds website — and it’s pretty sparse. I can’t figure it out either.

    The story that I’ve been telling myself from your posts is the pre 1932 financial system was working pretty well for TC.

    From 1933 to 1960, honestly can’t tell.

    Post 1960s, the rise of Greek slumlords really changed everything. One of your very old posts was on the rise of door guards. The usual explanation is crime exploded in 64 because of drugs/vietnam/etc but on a highly localized level how much was the slumlords responsible or using it as a way to acquire more.

    But that’s just me, and again thank you for putting this all together. I’m probably as wrong as Hyra we all struggle to put together false narratives.

    1. Oh. There was someone besides George Basiliko gobbling up Shaw properties? Some one should write an informative paper about Shaw slumlords…. not me though. I thought about going deeper with the George Basiliko story, but I have a feeling that I am not in the right mental space to do it. There were things I did come across, and I’m like, “Nope, I don’t wanna deal with this.”

      When I was in grad school post modernism was the rage. You have your own truth, which to a different person could be a false narrative. But the problem with Hyra’s book was there were at least 1 or 2 glaring incorrect facts (as would be known by involved residents) and sloppiness with data.
      I can deal with a difference of opinion. I can deal with a different interpretation of facts. Can’t deal with lies held up as facts.

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