Civil Rights Tour: Housing - Equitable Realty, Opening Neighborhoods

1011 U Street NW

"Believing…that everyone has a right to good and decent housing, a right of choice to live where one can afford to buy and desires to live—our firm dedicated itself to finding such homes….We knocked on doors and were insulted—we moved further up the street and continued our efforts—day in and night out—we received [rebuffs] graciously….We trained our salesmen to…introduce purchasers into a block as quietly as possible."
(Geneva Valentine, Equitable Realty Co.)

When entrepreneur and former law student Geneva Valentine (1923-1971) opened Equitable Realty Co. on U Street in the early 1930s, she immediately went to work on "breaking" all-white blocks in Park View, where racially restrictive covenants barred African Americans from settling.

In the 1940s, Valentine worked with black clients in Brookland and in Bloomingdale and other areas of the city to secure houses for those looking to buy. A 1950 Negro Digest article credited her with refusing "white clients' requests that [home prices] be raised for colored buyers," as was common among real estate brokers who knew that African Americans would pay more, due to the scarcity of houses available to them. Valentine’s assistance in finding a house for Clara Mays, on First Street NW in Bloomingdale, led to one of DC's most significant legal challenges to racial deed covenants, in Mays v. Burgess.

Around 1949, Valentine purchased a building at 2008 Sixteenth Street NW with the intention of establishing what she called the "first non discriminating cooperative apartment" in the city. By June 1950, the co-op was said to house "several Negro families who live there harmoniously with white families." Valentine's Futurers Cooperative, Inc., formed in 1941 to enable its ten women members to become homeowners, purchased investment properties in the District and a 56-acre farm in Prince Georges County, Maryland. "We plan to build our 'Dream City,'" wrote Valentine in a 1946 report, to provide "gracious living, financial security, and independence for us all, and a better life for the people of the community." A cofounder of the Emergency Committee on Housing, established to address the increasing use of eminent domain and restrictive deed covenants to displace black Washingtonians, Valentine recalled being the only black real estate investor to attend a 1944 national meeting on housing in Chicago. There she expounded on her group's unsuccessful effort, in partnership with the Washington Urban League, to keep "a sizeable tract of land in Arlington County" from being taken by the federal government and sold for whites-only development (The George Pickett Homes.

In 1960, Valentine advocated for the inclusion, in redevelopment plans for Adams Morgan, of the area where most white residents lived. Otherwise, she testified, "the process of urban renewal would again become restricted to an area occupied predominantly by non-whites," and "the certainty of many that this urban renewal program is a means to an end, to uproot the minority, will be substantiated. "

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