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, African American Civil Rights Grant program. 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: Civic Activism - All Souls Unitarian

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

Civil Rights Tour: Civic Activism - IPS, Home for Radicals

Shortly after it was first established in 1963 as a left-leaning think tank directed by two former Kennedy administration staffers, Marcus Raskin and Richard Barnet, the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) became a hub for civil rights activists,…

Civil Rights Tour: Civic Activism - Washington Urban League

In 1940, 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…

Civil Rights Site: Civic and Social Life - The Clubhouse

The ClubHouse (also known as the Clubhouse and the Club House), constructed in phases between 1930 and 1945, served as an automobile garage and showroom before becoming DC’s top African American dance club from 1975 to 1990. As AIDS became an…

Civil Rights Tour: Education - Afro-American Institute

Vincent DeForest, quoted above, and his brother Robert DeForrest (they spelled their last names differently) worked for at least a decade out of the large rowhouse at 1236 Euclid Street to document African American historic sites across the United…

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 - Daniel A. 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 - 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 city residents mobilized to demand that…

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 - MLK Library, A Living Memorial

Upon its dedication in August 1972, the DC Public Library’s new central branch—designed by famed modernist architect Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe—became one of the first public buildings in the country to be named in honor of the Reverend Dr. Martin…

Civil Rights Tour: Education - Morgan Community School

Morgan School, which stood at 18th and California streets until 1977 (now occupied by the soccer field at Marie Reed Recreation Center), stood as a symbol of the success that this mostly black community achieved in its fight to manage its own affairs…

Civil Rights Tour: Education - 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…

Civil Rights Tour: Employment - 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: Employment - Non-Partisan Council

In 1938, the National Non-partisan Council on Public Affairs (NPC), an outgrowth of the Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA) sorority, became the first organization devoted to lobbying the federal government to advance African American civil rights. The group…

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, DC…

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 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…

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 Campaigns - NAACP, DC Branch

Established in 1912, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's (NAACP) DC branch was the largest and most influential of some 50 branches across the United States. The group devoted itself to protesting racial discrimination…

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: Protest - 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: Protest - Howard University

These first two lines of a song sung to the tune of “Down by the Riverside” by Howard University student protestors during a 1968 campus uprising capture the spirit of civic activism that has consistently defined a segment of the university’s student…

Civil Rights Tour: Protest - 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: Protest - 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. Beginning in 1929 with the leadership of Reverend C.T. Murray, the church expanded its rolls to nearly…

Civil Rights Tour: Protest - 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 bus…

Civil Rights Tour: Protest - Julius Hobson, Iconoclast

Julius Hobson, quoted above, was famous for creating friction. An Alabama native who came to DC 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: Protest - 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 attempts by white residents to enforce…

Civil Rights Tour: Recreation - Rosedale Playground

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

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: Recreation - Seafarers Yacht Club

Lewis T. Green, Sr., a gifted wood carver, lover of waterways, and vocational arts teacher in the DC 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 US…