African American Civil Rights

The 20th Century Civil Rights Tour consists of historic sites in the District of Columbia that tell the stories of individuals, groups, and institutions associated with the struggle for African American civil rights. As the nation’s capital, Washington was the site of seminal civil rights events and was home to people who played pivotal roles in both the national civil rights movement and in local campaigns for racial equality.

The 20th Century African American Civil Rights Tour is currently populated with 100 historic sites, but will be updated and enhanced as new information and resources become available. The majority of these sites still stand, but for those no longer extant, the name is followed by (site).

The Tour has been developed by the DC Office of Planning Historic Preservation Office (HPO) with grant funds provided by the Department of the Interior, National Park Service. The views and conclusions contained in this document are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as representing the opinions or policies of the Department of the Interior or U.S. Government. Mention of trade names or commercial products does not constitute endorsement by the U.S. Government.

Research and writing by Prologue, DC.



Civil Rights Tour: Business
Drum and Spear Bookstore

The Drum and Spear Bookstore, which operated from 1968 to 1974, specialized in books by and about black people. The bookstore, founded by Charlie Cobb, Courtland Cox, Judy Richardson and Curtis Hayes (later Curtis Muhammed), all veterans of the…

Civil Rights Tour: Education
"
Kelly Miller Says"

Born in South Carolina, Kelly Miller (1863-1939) graduated from Howard University in 1880. He was appointed to the Howard faculty in 1890, teaching mathematics and, after 1895, sociology. While teaching, he earned two more degrees from Howard, in…

Civil Rights Tour: Education
Mary McLeod Bethune

Mary McLeod Bethune began traveling to D.C. from her native Florida after her election as president of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) in 1924. After creating a school for African American girls in Daytona Beach, Florida in 1905 and…

Civil Rights Tour: Education
Daniel P. Murray, Librarian

As assistant librarian at the Library of Congress, Daniel Alexander Payne Murray (1852-1925), created the authors and literature exhibit for W.E.B. Du Bois’s seminal exhibition on African Americans at the 1900 Paris Exposition. In combination with…

Civil Rights Tour: Education
Nannie Helen Burroughs

Uncompromising feminist Nannie Helen Burroughs (1879-1961) devoted her life to improving the career prospects for women and girls. She often went up against men who could not imagine women in leadership positions and, throughout her career,…

Civil Rights Tour: Education
Howard University Law School

Pauli Murray, who wrote these words, was the highest scoring student in the Howard University School of Law class of 1944. Although she faced discrimination as the only woman, she later recalled how important it felt to be part of what was happening…

Civil Rights Tour: Education
"Central for Cardozo"

When the building that houses Cardozo High School was first constructed in 1914-1916, it was called Central High School and for the next thirty-five years was open to white students only. Then in 1950 with crowded conditions in the city’s African…

Civil Rights Tour: Education
Ralph Bunche

Hired in 1926 by Mordecai Johnson, the university’s first black president, Ralph Bunche (1904-1971) established and chaired Howard’s Department of Political Science. He also advised a student group that went on to work with local churches and…

Civil Rights Tour: Employment
Pride, Inc., Youth Empowerment

As uniformed, teenage workers for Pride, Inc. completed cleanup projects in the fall of 1967 and moved on to the next job, they slapped stickers with these words all over the Cardozo-Shaw neighborhood. Organized by future D.C. Mayor Marion Barry,…

Civil Rights Tour: Employment
John Lankford, Architect

John Anderson Lankford (1874-1946) broke barriers when he put his stamp on Washington’s built environment begining in the early 20th century. At the same time, he promoted racial progress through various efforts including founding the Washington,…

Civil Rights Tour: Employment
Rosina Tucker, Labor Organizer

In a 1982 interview with a Washington Post reporter when she was 100 years old, longtime labor activist Rosina Corrothers Tucker recalled how her house at 1128 7th Street had been the center of operations for meetings and other events as she helped…

Civil Rights Tour: Housing
Industrial Bank of Washington

In 1913 laborer and entrepreneur John Whitelaw Lewis founded the Industrial Savings Bank at 11th and U streets NW, opening up financial opportunities for blacks.  When it opened, Industrial Bank (designed by black architect Isaah T. Hatton) was the…

Civil Rights Tour: Housing
Langston Terrace Dwellings

Langston Terrace Dwellings opened in 1938 as one of the nation’s earliest federally funded public housing projects for lower income residents and only the second one to be built for African Americans. Planned during the Depression, with its housing…

Civil Rights Tour: Housing
Church of God and Elder Michaux

Much of Michaux's life work was devoted to advancing black economic independence. Soon after his arrival in D.C. 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…

Civil Rights Tour: Housing
Barry Farm Dwellings

Barry Farm Dwellings was just over 20 years old in 1966, and already falling apart when a Washington Post reporter interviewed residents for her article, "Hope Ebbs and Tempers Rise: Underground Poor Fight Funds Cuts." Driven by poor living…

Civil Rights Tour: Legal
Belford and Marjorie Lawson

Washington attorney Belford V. Lawson (1909-1985) spoke these words at a 1947 forum at Lincoln University that followed the release of a much-anticipated report by the President’s Committee on Civil Rights. He urged Lincoln students to study the…

Civil Rights Tour: Legal
Lemuel Penn, Civil Rights Martyr

Lemuel Penn was shot and killed by Ku Klux Klan night riders on July 11, 1964, just nine days after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The new federal law, which prohibited racial discrimination in employment and by businesses and other…

Civil Rights Tour: Legal
Frank D. Reeves,
Leveraging the Law

Attorney and educator Frank D. Reeves (1916-1973) was a critical player in seminal civil rights victories, namely the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court school-segregation case. Born in Montreal, Reeves arrived in Washington as a child.…

Civil Rights Tour: Legal
Clara Mays, Racial Covenants Defied

In February 1944 a federal employee named Clara Mays purchased the house at 2213 First Street NW in the Bloomingdale neighborhood. Despite warnings she’d be taking a risk in buying the house because a racial covenant barred its sale to African…

Civil Rights Tour: Legal
George Hayes, Lawyer and Leader

George E.C. Hayes (1894-1968) graduated from the Howard University Law School in 1918 and spent much of the rest of his life working to dismantle racial segregation. Hayes taught law at Howard and served as the university’s general counsel for more…

Civil Rights Tour: Politics
Oscar De Priest, Lone Legislator

Oscar Stanton De Priest (1871-1951) represented Chicago’s South Side in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1929 to 1935. He was the first African American Congressman in the 20th century and the first in 28 years. He was also the first-ever black…

Civil Rights Tour: Politics
Billy Simpson and the Ebony Table

So chronicled newspaper columnist William Raspberry upon the death of Billy Simpson (1914-1975), owner of Billy Simpson’s House of Seafood and Steaks. Indeed, between 1958 and his death, Billy Simpson and his restaurant played a central role in the…

Civil Rights Tour: Politics
John A. Wilson/District Building

In 1874, as D.C.'s African American population and political clout grew during Reconstruction (1865-1877), Congress stripped D.C. residents of the ability to elect their own mayor and city council, denying them the right of self-governance. For the…

Civil Rights Tour: Politics
National Council of Negro Women

Founded in 1935 by Mary McLeod Bethune as a national voice for black women's organizations, NCNW signed onto the Civil Rights Movement in the early 1960s, under the leadership of Dorothy Height from Mississippi. As a woman, Height was excluded as a…

Civil Rights Tour: Politics
DC Statehood Party

This manifesto, proclaimed at a March 1969 news conference, announced the formation of the D.C. Statehood Party Committee. With a multiracial membership that included Rev. Doug Moore of the Black United Front, Rev. Jesse Anderson of St. Patrick's…

Civil Rights Tour: Protests
James Reese Europe Post 5

Later that month the group received its charter as Post 5 of the D.C. 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,…

Civil Rights Tour: Protests
14th and U

Arthur Ashe, who wrote this passage, was among the many luminaries who headed to this area—a center for black business, activism and entertainment since the turn of the 20th century—when he came to town for tennis tournaments in the early 1960s. U…

Civil Rights Tour: Protests
Washington Urban League

The Washington Urban League (WUL) was established in 1938 as the local arm of the National Urban League with Black economic empowerment as its focus. From its establishment through the height of the Civil Rights Movement, in the 1960's, WUL fought…

Civil Rights Tour: Protests
The Lincoln Memorial

Since the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in 1922, the larger than life-size seated statue of the “Great Emancipator” has witnessed many milestones in the fight for civil rights. The dedication day was, itself, a demonstration of racism in…

Civil Rights Tour: Protests
The Grimkés, An Activist Family

These words, written by the prominent sociologist and journalist Kelly Miller, described Civil Rights leader Archibald Grimké (1849-1930). Born to an enslaved mother and her white owner in South Carolina, Grimké earned a law degree from Harvard,…

Civil Rights Tour: Protests
Vermont Avenue Baptist Church

Over the course of four transformative decades, Vermont Avenue Baptist Church was a hub for civil rights organizing in the District of Columbia. Under the 40-year leadership of Reverend C.T. Murray beginning in 1929, the church also expanded its…

Civil Rights Tour: Protests
Rosedale Playground

In 1948, a local chapter of the Young Progressives of America—an anti-segregationist organization—and black neighborhood residents joined together to demand entry to Rosedale’s pool and recreation center. The racially mixed group picketed the…

Civil Rights Tour: Protests
Freedom Riders

The trip, one of the first “Freedom Rides” organized by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) was planned to test individual states’ compliance with the 1960 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Boynton v. Virginia that prohibited segregation in…

Civil Rights Tour: Protests
All Souls Unitarian

All Souls Church, originally an all-white congregation, was founded at Judiciary Square in 1821; it moved to 16th Street in 1924.  During the 1940s and 50s under the leadership of Rev. A. Powell Davies (1944-1957), the church came to embrace a social…

Civil Rights Tour: Protests
Julius Hobson, Iconoclast

Julius Hobson, quoted above, was famous for creating friction. An Alabama native who came to D.C. to pursue a masters in economics at Howard University, Hobson forayed into activism in 1953 when he demanded more funds for his son's segregated…

Civil Rights Tour: Protests
National Theatre Goes Dark

In 1946, thirteen years after The Green Pastures played to a whites-only audience at the National Theatre, segregation was still the norm. But when a New York play starring Ingrid Bergman was booked at the Lisner Auditorium and Bergman and the…

Civil Rights Tour: Recreation
Langston Golf Course

In the decades before World War II, African Americans were denied access to most municipal golf courses and private clubs in the United States. Fewer than twenty out of more than 5,000 courses nationwide were open to blacks and most of these were…

Civil Rights Tour: Recreation
Park View Playground

Park View, located north of McMillan Reservoir and Howard University, started out as an all-white neighborhood in 1908. During the 1930s, despite the inclusion of racially restrictive covenants in deeds and other attempts by white residents to…

Civil Rights Tour: Recreation
Seafarers' Yacht Club

Lewis T. Green, Sr., a gifted wood carver, lover of waterways, and vocational arts teacher in the D.C. Public Schools, built boats as a hobby. In his search for a place to dock one of his vessels—a 49-foot cruiser named Valeria—Green contacted the…

Civil Rights Tour: Recreation
Anacostia Pool, Swimming for All

The federal entity, National Capital Parks (NCP), that operated six of the city’s eight public pools, had announced it would de-segregate Anacostia Pool on June 23. But when African American children showed up to swim that day, they were met with…

Civil Rights Tour: Recreation
Rose Park Playground

Originally established in 1918 by the Ancient Order of the Sons and Daughters of Moses to serve African American children, Rose Park was known variously as Patterson’s Park, Jacob’s Park, or Winship’s Lot. The city acquired it in 1922 and designated…

Civil Rights Tour: Voting Rights
Rayford Logan, Historian

Although best known for his achievements as a historian and public intellectual, Rayford Logan (1897-1982) was, at heart, an activist devoted to the advancement of Africans and their descendants all over the world. After being exposed to racist…