Named for John Mercer Langston (1829-1897), the Langston Terrace Dwellings was the first of eight housing projects designed by Hilyard R. Robinson (1899-1986), a noted Black Bauhaus-trained architect and pioneer in government housing for the poor. The International-style garden apartment buildings around the central commons made up the first federally-sponsored public housing complex in DC, a prime example of the early New Deal’s Public Works Administration (PWA) housing projects that were built between 1933 and 1937.
A prominent feature of the apartments is the terracotta frieze which adorns the arcade entrance, entitled “The Progress of the Negro Race.” The frieze portrays Black labor and migration from rural fields to urban industrialization. The first vignette shows downcast figures against leafy crops. Further along in the sequence are healthy and proud characters holding tools and books. An industrial smokestack and a schoolhouse loom in the background. Finally, at the end of the work is a three-dimensional mother with two small children at her feet. Perched on a shelf, the madonna appears to reinforce the themes of the PWA housing program that placed much emphasis on family unity and progress.
DC Inventory: September 16, 1987
National Register: November 12, 1987