Black History in Your Neighborhood
Explore black history in your own backyard this Black History Month.
We will share one black history fact per day about a neighborhood library, covering all 25 branches and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Learn more about the rich history of DC Public Library and the African American men and women who helped to shape the libraries and surrounding communities.
The Morehouse College Glee Club & Quartet is one of the longest-standing, all-male collegiate choral groups. For over 40 years, these exceptional students have been performing at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, inviting Morehouse alumni and the Washington, D.C. community to attend.
Librarian Theresa Hurd at Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library encourages DC residents to vote in the very first mayoral election, May 1974. D.C. gained basic home rule in 1973 with the enacting of the DC Home Rule Act, allowing residents to elect a mayor and a thirteen-member city council.
Philip Reid was an enslaved man when he began working on the statue of Freedom that graces the top of the Capitol Building at the Mills Foundry in Woodridge. By the time Freedom was placed atop the Capitol Dome, he was a free man and in business for himself. While there are no known images of him you can see his original pay voucher signed by the Architect of the Capitol.
Duke Ellington was born in West End in 1899 in the home of his maternal grandparents. He would spend many years in the District before finding his way to New York City where he became one of the most celebrated composers, performers and band leaders of the 20th Century.
The Tenley-Friendship Library was designed by The Freelon Group, headed by the late Phil Freelon. His architecture can be seen throughout the District. He is also known for the Anacostia Library and his work on the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
The author of Nappy Hair, Carolivia Herron, was inspired to become a writer after visiting the Takoma Park Library on her way home from Coolidge High School. You can check out her book at your neighborhood library.
Amateur photographer and historian Joseph Owen Curtis was born in 1915 and lived in Southwest for most of his life. The Joseph Owen Curtis Photograph Collection in DigDC documents the culture, social life, and architecture of Southwest Washington, D.C. from the 1920s through the 1980s.
Capitol Hill is home to the Frederick Douglass' first home in D.C. He moved from Rocherster, NY to be the corresponding editor of the New (National) Era Newspaper. The block of rowhouses, which is located near the Supreme Court building was for many years the "Frederick Douglass Museum and Hall of Fame for Caring Americans."
"Books not Burgers" was the rallying cry of Juanita E. Thornton, a retired DC public school teacher who led the fight against building a Wendy's restaurant, proposing a needed library instead. Her work is remembered each day as her portrait gazes out over the library.
Watha T. Daniel was the first chairman of the DC Model Cities Commission and long time civic activist in the Shaw Neighborhood of Washington, D.C. He was a master plumber by profession, and he served as chairman of the D.C. Plumbing Board.
The Kingman Park Neighborhood was the first D.C. neighborhood of single-family houses to be developed specifically for black families with the first homes sold in July 1928. In 2018, the neighborhood was given a historic designation making it the Kingman Park Historic District.
The library is partially named after the Turner School, which was named in honor of a longtime D.C. Public Schools employee, Anita J. Turner. Turner served as director of physical education in the D.C. school system for 38 years, retiring in 1940.
A historic African American burial ground is located on Chain Bridge Road in the Palisades Neighborhood where in the 1800s there was a large black community. The cemetery was started by the Union Burial Society of Georgetown and is maintained by descendants of the original association members.
Cathy Hughes, the founder of Radio One, purchased her first radio station in 1979, WOL-AM and moved it to 4th and H Streets NE in 1985 and remained at that location for 10 years. In 2015 the intersection was named in her honor.
Local architects Bryant and Bryant designed the current Lamond-Riggs Library in 1979. The $2M library opened in 1983. Both Bryant brothers, Charles and Robert are now deceased and their legacy lives on through Charles Bryant II, also an architect.
The Peabody Room at Georgetown Library is home to a portrait of Yarrow Mamout, a muslim slave, freed in 1796 who became a landowner and celebrity in Georgetown. The portrait, painted by James Alexander Simpson was on display the National Portrait Gallery from 2016-2019.
Francis A .Gregory, was a local public servant and the first black president of the DC Public Library Board of Trustees lived in the Fort Davis, southeast neighborhood. A new library was built to honor Francis A. Gregory Library and opened in June 2012 which continues to celebrate his legacy from its initial dedication in 1986.
Activist Nannie Helen Burroughs was a resident of the Deanwood community and founder of the National Training School for Women and Girls established in 1909.
Captain George Pointer was a slave born in 1773. He bought his freedom at the age of 17 and worked for the Potomac Company rising to Superintendent Engineer. His descendants have been displaced many times, including Mary Moten, who lived on property that was taken by eminent domain to create the Alice Deal Junior High and Woodrow Wilson Senior High Schools.
In 1961, Maria Trotter, a 10-year-old resident of the Capitol View neighborhood, read a letter before the Senate Appropriations Committee asking for the money to build the much-needed library. "If we read more," she wrote, "we might become teachers, doctors, chemists or other useful men and women...Sincerely, Children of Capitol View Area."
Benning Library officially opened as Dorothy I Height/Benning Library on April 5, 2010, in honor of the civil rights icon who was a leader in addressing the rights of both women and African Americans as The president of the National Council of Negro Women, Inc.
William O. Lockridge was an education and community activist dedicated to improving the lives of Distrcit residents. Lockridge served on the DC Board of Education where he advocated for the children of Ward 8. The library was named in his honor in June 2012.
Marilyn Bryant volunteers with I Vote. Founded in 1976, I Vote was an organization focused on get-out-the-vote efforts. An article on the organization appears in the Evening Star, September 6, 1978, page 65.
The Walker Jones School, collocated with the Northwest One Library, is partially named for James Edward Walker who was a teacher and principal for DC Public Schools in the late 1800s and early 1900s. He was also a member of the D.C. National Guard during WWI.
Artist Allen Uzikee Nelson has lived in the Petworth and Columbia Heights neighborhoods for more than five decades. His works, both large and small, dot the city, including pieces that honor Thurgood Marshall, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X and the multi-hyphen great Paul Robeson. The Petworth neighborhood is home to "Here I Stand In the Spirit of Paul Robeson."
In 1854, the Anacostia neighborhood prohibited the sale, rental or lease of property to anyone of African or Irish descent. The population of the neighborhood was drastically different by 1970s, becoming majority black. The Anacostia Library changed to accomodate the community, including the initiation of Minority Enterprise Week in 1972.
Artist and community activist Lou Stovall is a Cleveland Park resident and several of his paintings can be found hanging near the entrance of Cleveland Park Library.
The groundbreaking of the central library later named in honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., commenced two months after Dr. King's assassination in July 1968. The dedication of the library did not occur until one month after the library's opening in August 1972.
Martin Luther King Jr. saw singer Marian Anderson perform at the Lincoln Memorial as a 10-year-old boy. Twenty-four years later he would stand in her spot and give the "I have a dream" speech. As a child he said in a speaking contest “She sang as never before, with tears in her eyes. When the words of ‘America’ and ‘Nobody Knows de Trouble I Seen’ rang out over that great gathering, there was a hush on the sea of uplifted faces, Black and white, and a new baptism of liberty, equality, and fraternity.” See an exhibition exploring her life and work as a civil rights activist at The National Portrait Gallery near the Martin Luther King Jr. Library.