Civil Rights Tour: Housing - Church of God and Elder Michaux

2030 Georgia Avenue NW

Church of God's modest appearance and location along a busy commercial corridor belie the grandiose dreams and significant accomplisments of its founder, Elder Soloman Lightfoot Michaux.

Much of Michaux's life work was devoted to advancing black economic independence. Soon after his arrival in DC around 1928, Michaux brokered a deal with the city to house evicted families in a building at Seventh and T streets NW, not far from where he held services under a tent on Sherman Avenue. In 1945, he won a lawsuit brought against his Gospel Spreading Association for purchasing a house in DC's Bloomingdale neighborhood with a racially restrictive covenant in its deed.

More significantly, Michaux negotiated federal financing for the construction of Mayfair Mansions, a nearly 600-unit apartment complex in Kenilworth for black residents, conceived and designed by Howard University architect Albert Cassell. At a time when it was nearly impossible to secure funds to build housing for African Americans, Michaux leveraged his friendship with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to gain support for the project, which was completed in 1946. Michaux later received a $6 million loan from the Federal Housing Administration to build Paradise Manor, a 653-unit project next door to Mayfair completed in 1968.

Born in Virginia, Michaux moved to DC after establishing his ministry to serve the growing number of southern migrants who were settling in the nation's capital. In 1932, four years after Michaux arrived, the Church of God began construction of its first purpose-built church building, designed by African American architect Lewis W. Giles. The Afro-American reported that hundreds had signed onto a fundraising campaign to pay black laborers to build the church and that it was constructed "in record time, every brick and every dab of plaster put down by colored men."

He took over a small restaurant near Seventh and T streets NW for his Happy News Café, where the poor could work in exchange for meals. Michaux also established a free employment agency, but he was better known for the mass baptisms he staged at Griffith Stadium, the present site of Howard University Hospital. His nationally-broadcast "Happy Am I" radio program attracted more than 25 million listeners every Saturday night.

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