The Campaign Against Covenants in Bloomingdale

This tour features key sites in the history of black homeseekers’ efforts to rent or buy whites-only housing. Discover why Bloomingdale’s premier architectural corridor was also a racial barrier, and how civil rights attorneys chipped away at this dividing line in the 1920s-1940s.

During the first half of the 20th century, Bloomingdale’s white developers and residents used racially restrictive deed covenants to prohibit the sale or rental of property to African Americans. When Bloomingdale was first developed beginning around 1900, black families already lived on the blocks immediately north, south, and west of here. Many lived in overcrowded and substandard housing downtown. The Bloomingdale neighborhood's new housing stock and prime location attracted middle-class families seeking more space and home ownership. As a result, it became a national epicenter of legal challenges to racial covenants; around half of the cases in DC originated here.

In 2018, Bloomingdale was designated a Historic District based, in part, on its role in the national battle for fair housing.

This tour was created for Mapping Segregation in Washington DC, a digital public history project that reveals the profound impact of racially restricted housing on the nation’s capital. The project was conceived by historians Mara Cherkasky and Sarah Jane Shoenfeld, of Prologue DC, and GIS specialist Brian Kraft. It has received grant support from the African American Civil Rights Grant Program of the National Park Service, Humanities DC, and the DC Preservation League.

First Street and Florida Avenue

Florida Avenue was Washington City’s northern boundary until 1871, and the area beyond it was mostly rural until the last decade of the 19th century. Development began shortly after the arrival of a streetcar line along North Capitol Street in 1888.…

1700 First Street

After the 1885 death of Emily Beale, owner of an estate named Bloomingdale, her children subdivided it and began building on some lots and selling off others. The rowhouses at 1700-1712 First Street, built by Emily’s son George N. Beale in 1891, are…

40 Randolph Place

In 1924, a government clerk named Sereno Ivy attempted to buy this house. However, the developers Middaugh & Shannon had included a racial covenant in the property’s original 1902 deed. Despite the fact that African Americans already lived within…

1730 First Street

In the late 1920s, young Edward Brooke moved with his family to 1730 First Street, on the west (African American) side of the First Street racial barrier. He graduated from Dunbar High School in 1936, then earned a B.S. in sociology at nearby Howard…

1747 First Street

In 1937 the six remaining white homeowners on this block, at 1737-1747 First Street, asked the court to nullify the covenant in their deeds and in those for 80-82 S Street, around the corner. The eight houses were part of a contiguous, L-shaped “row”…

37 T Street

John S. Melton blanketed the unit block of T Street with racial covenants when he built rowhouses here in the early 1900s, but middle-class black families filled the 100 block of T and other nearby streets by the 1930s. First Street remained the…

75 Rhode Island Avenue

Mount Bethel Baptist Church is among several congregations in Bloomingdale that moved into buildings originally constructed by white congregations. Mount Bethel bought this church in 1958, after outgrowing its original home at Second and V streets in…

107 Rhode Island Avenue

In 1965, Marion Barry moved to DC to open a branch of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) here. Soon after his arrival, Barry helped launch a successful city bus boycott to protest a fare increase; initiated a boycott of businesses…

101 U Street

In 1943, the well-known religious leader Solomon Michaux purchased 101 U Street for his church and was sued for violating a racial covenant. However, in this case, the covenant prevented only black occupancy, not ownership, and Michaux was allowed to…

122 V Street

Although some builders used racial covenants west of First Street when they began developing these houses in the 1900s, numerous black households occupied the 100 block of V Street by the 1930s, including John R. Pinkett’s family. In 1932, Pinkett…

2206 First Street

The houses along this block were among the first to be built in Bloomingdale, and defined First Street as the neighborhood’s premier architectural corridor. Deed covenants restricted the block to white residents, but in 1907 black civil engineer…

2213 First Street

Clara Mays bought 2213 First Street in February 1944, after the house she had been renting was sold. Mays defied a racial covenant because she couldn’t find another place for her large household. Especially for black families, housing was in…

116 Adams Street

African Americans began moving to the 100 block of Adams Street around 1925, despite covenants on some properties. At least nine houses on the block were the subject of lawsuits brought by white homeowners, who argued that the presence of black…

116 Bryant Street

When James and Mary Hurd bought 116 Bryant Street in 1944, neighbors sued. Neighbors also sued the Hurds’ real estate agent, Raphael Urciolo, who had subsequently sold three more houses on the block to African Americans. All four properties had…