Civil Rights Tour: Civic Activism - Greater Washington Urban League

3501 14th Street NW

The Washington Urban League was established in 1939 as the DC branch of the National Urban League, a national, non-profit organization whose main objective was the development of job opportunities for African Americans.

Upon its opening, the Washington Urban League (WUL) was one of more than 40 branches of the National Urban League in as many cities across the country. The inter-racial Washington chapter, now known as the Greater Washington Urban League, devoted itself to the improvement of employment, health and housing of African Americans. In 1940, the WUL joined the NAACP in demanding an end to the requirement that federal government job applications include photographs. This photo provision, along with the civil service rule requiring that at least three qualified applicants be considered for any position, effectively barred African Americans from being hired when an apparently white candidate was available.

In 1943, the WUL joined other organizations in demanding that federally financed war housing for whites, just across the Potomac River in Arlington, Virginia, be converted for use by Black households displaced two years earlier for the Pentagon's construction. Six months later, the WUL argued that the city’s zoning regulation that restricted development in a section of Southeast DC to detached, single-family housing, was "tantamount to zoning by race." Despite a legal appeal by the local white citizens association, the Board of Zoning agreed and opened the area up to multi-family housing that could more readily accommodate African American residents.

In June 1969, the WUL staged a rally at Vermont Avenue Baptist Church for Black employees of the General Services Administration (GSA), where the vast majority were concentrated in low-paying jobs with little hope of being promoted. And when Pepco—the city’s power provider—sought a rate increase in the 1960's, WUL asked the District's Public Service Commission to defer approval of the increase until Pepco was investigated for racial discrimination.

The Greater Washington Urban League is still active and is headquartered at 3501 14th Street NW.