Civil Rights Tour: Civic and Social Life - James Reese Europe Post 5

2027 North Capitol Street NE

In mid-June 1919, a group of Navy Yard employees, all veterans of World War I, gathered during their lunch break and formed an all-Black unit of a newly established organization, the American Legion, which, like the US military, was segregated. 

Later that month the group received its charter as Post 5 of the DC Department of the American Legion and named itself for renowned musician, composer, and band leader James Reese Europe (1881-1919), who grew up in Washington. During World War I, Lt. Europe served in France with the 369th Infantry—aka the Harlem Hellfighters—and organized that unit’s celebrated band, introducing early syncopated American Jazz to French audiences. About the time the American Legion was forming, Lt. Europe died in New York from injuries inflicted in an assault by a disgruntled band member. 

Along with serving as a gathering place and service provider for veterans, the Post has spoken out on various civil rights issues. For example, it joined a nationwide campaign against police brutality by adopting a resolution condemning the 1938 DC police shooting of an unarmed, shell-shocked veteran. It also petitioned the US Congress to find a suitable venue for Marian Anderson to perform in 1939; demanded the abolition of the poll tax in 1942; demanded an end to the mistreatment by the U.S. military of African American servicemen in 1943; and, that same year, demanded that the DC Department of the American Legion remove the discrimination clause from its articles of incorporation.

Post 5 bought its headquarters, the rowhouse at 2027 North Capitol Street NE, in 1954 where it remains active today.