DC History 20th century

Since the end of the Civil War more than 50,000 former slaves have moved into the city.

400 people, mostly black, inhabit Goat Alley, bounded by 6,7,L & M


The National Zoo, between 1902 and 1906, releases 18 black squirrels from Canada, which is where those black squirrels came from.

The District Building, 14th & Pennsylvania NW, becomes the official City Hall.

The lunchroom at the Bureau of Printing and Engraving is segregated.


Train wreck near Ft. Totten. 52 are killed.


Works begins on the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, a.k.a.the Washington National Cathedral.


Union station opens

The DC NAACP has over 1,000 members, the largest in the nation

Lorton Penitentiary opens as a model Progressive Era experiment in correctional facilities.

The Howard Theater opens, built with black capital and featuring black performs, about two decades before the Apollo in NYC begins offering black entertainment. It will feature such acts at Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, Billy Eckstine, Sarah Vaughan and Lionel Hampton.

First of 3,020 Japanese cherry trees are planted.

Mrs. Wilson complained to her husband that she has found black men working in government offices with white women and the president signs a law that segregates all federal workplaces. He also dismissed all appointed black in high positions. Elsewhere the city is segregated largely by custom – and illegally at that since it turned out years later than the 19th century civil rights laws had never been repealed. There were a few exceptions to the custom such as the Library of Congress, public libraries, streetcars, and Griffith Stadium.

Wilson writes, “We are handling the force of colored people who are now in the department in just the way they ought to be handled. We are trying – and be degrees succeeding – a plan of concentration and will not in any one bureau mix the two races.”

Booker T. Washington writes, “I have never seen the colored people [of Washington] so discouraged and so bitter.”

8,000 suffragettes march for the vote

The Q Street buffalo are finished by Alexander Phimister Proctor, to whom the great pianist, Ignace Jan Paderewski, said “I interpret; you create.” The seven foot tall beasts cost $30,000.

Alain Locke and T. Montgomery Gregory organized the Stylus Society at Howard University. The society publishes the literary magazine The Stylus, described as a “humble attempt of a number of Howard students to give encouragement to the literary aspirations…of their college associates and to offer them the opportunity of publishing their work.” Zora Neale Hurstonis one of the student contributors.

Carter G. Woodson starts The Journal of Negro History.

Dunbar High School opens.

A. Phillip Randolph and Chandler Owen, start The Messenger, a “magazine of scientific radicalism.” Considered by many the best radical magazine for blacks published during the Black Renaissance.

Singer Kate Smith is born.

DC suffers more casualties in World War I than three states.

Dunbar sent its graduates to the best colleges in America. From 1918 to 1923, for example, 15 students went on to graduate from Ivy League schools. In 1949 Dunbar sent one graduate each to Colby, Columbia, Dartmouth, Georgetown, Harvard, MIT, Smith, and Yale. A total of five went to Bates and NYU. One hundred fifteen went to Howard University. Of the 310 students who graduated from Dunbar that year, 267 went to college, five joined the military, and only 37 went immediately to work. – City Journal

Race riots break out in Washington and 24 other cities. “The white mob – whose actions were triggered in large part by weeks of sensational newspaper accounts of alleged sex crimes by a “negro fiend” – unleashed a wave of violence that swept over the city for four days. Nine people were killed in brutal street fighting, and an estimated 30 more would die eventually from their wounds. More than 150 men, women and children were clubbed, beaten and shot.” – Washington Post

Clark Griffith buys the Washington Senators franchise.

There are 300 black owned businesses in Shaw

Among Dunbar High School teachers are four women Phds.

First bus lines in DC

President Taft opposes home rule, declaring that “The truth is this is a city governed by a popular body, to wit, the Congress of the United States, selected from the people of the United States who own Washington.”


There are 200 miles of streetcar lines (twice as much as Metro today) owned by two companies that extended as far as Laurel, Rockville, and Great Falls.

The Lincoln Theater opens, believed to be the largest black theater in the U.S.

January snowstorm brings 28 inches. On January 28 the roof collapses on the Knickerbocker Theater, occupied by 900 persons. 98 are crushed to death and another 158 are injured.

Jean Toomer’s first book, Cane, is published.

Ernie Pyle joins the staff of the Washington Daily News, owned by Scripps Howard for which he will later be a war correspondent.


Langston Hughes writes, “I arrived in Washington with only a sailor’s pea jacket protecting me from the winter’s winds. All my shirts were ragged and my trousers frayed. I am sure I did not look like a distinguished poet, when I walked up my cousin’s porch in Washington Negro society section, LeDroit Park.”

The Senators win the World Series

Kate Smith, who began singing in local churches at age eight, wins an amateur contest and three years later becomes a radio star.

The Howard Hilltop newspaper is started by Zora Neale Hurston and others.


40,000-60,000 members of the KKK demonstrate in DC.

Langston Hughes writes, “”I have a new job at a hotel. . . . The place I work is quite classy. There are European waiters and it caters largely to ambassadors and base-ball players and ladies who wear diamonds.” The hotel is the Wardman Park.

The Senators win the American League championship.

Izzy Einstein, the famous prohibition agent, keeps a record of how long it takes to get a drink in various cities. DC comes out badly. Not only does it take an hour (as opposed to 11 minutes in Pittsburgh and 17 in Atlanta) but he has to ask directions from a cop.


Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton records with Red Hot Peppers for Victor. Morton will wait tables at the Music Box until rediscovered in the 1930’s thanks to Alan Lomax’ recordings for the Library of Congress. – Washington Area Music Assn

Bohemian Caverns opens


Jimmy Rodgers, the father of country music, moves to DC.

Lillian Evanti, Washington born soprano, became the first black American opera singer to perform abroad (with Nice opera)


Howard Theatre holds amateur nights. Among the winners: Ella Fitzgerald, Billy Eckstein, and Bill Kenny, later of the Ink Spots.

Photographer Addison Scurlock produces newsreels on African American activities for the Lichtman chain of theaters.


National Symphony is founded.

Chinatown is forced to move to make way for the Federal Triangle.

After stint as Evangelical revival house, Howard Theater is reopened by theater manager Shep Allen with Duke Ellington as first performer. Named for nearby Howard University, venue features Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, Billy Eckstine, others. The Howard rivals New York’s Apollo Theater for level of top name performers. – Washington Area Music Assn


2,000 marchers from Father Cox’s Shantytown (another “Hooverville”) in Pittsburg arrive in Washington, D.C. Herbert Hoover forcibly evicts bonus marchers from their encampment. Two killed when U.S. Army attacks encampment of 20,000 World War I veterans gathered in Washington D.C. to demand their bonus benefit payments. As the flames destroy the shantytown, people stream into Maryland.


The Senators win the American League championship.

Pearl Baily debuts at the Jungle Inn on U Street. She is 15.


Arthur Godfrey launches his morning show on WJSV (later WTOP) Radio.


Ahmet Ertegun moves to DC at age 12. He will later found Atlantic Records

Washington Baritone Todd Duncan becomes the first person to play the part of “Porgy” in the Gershwin Opera “Porgy and Bess.” Duncan broke the color barrier in American Opera by insisting on integrated audiences during his performances. – Washington Area Music Assn


There are approximately 800 residents of Chinatown


Homestead Grays move to Washington, play at Griffith Stadium.


Blue Plains waste water treatment plant is completed, with a capacity of 130 million gallons per day


Alan Lomax records Jelly Roll Morton for Library of Congress.

Marvin Gaye is born. He will attend Cardozo High and sing with the Moonglows before leaving for Motown.

Work begins on the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle

Rev. Patsy Allen leads a group of Marshall Heights (then called ‘Shanty Town’) residents to petition Congress not to include their community in slum clearance or urban renewal. Congress agrees.

Marion Anderson performs to a crowd of 75,000 at the Lincoln Memorial after being refused permission by the DAR to perform at Constitution Hall



Jorma Kaukonen is born. He will later be an original member of Jefferson Airplane and help to form Hot Tuna with the help of another Washingtonia, Jack Casady

Homestead Grays come to DC. Under deal with Clark Griffith, blacks were welcomed in the right field stands. He got 20% of the gross, plus concession revenues and a special charge for night games.

St. Peter’s Church on Capitol Hill burns in a five alarm blaze that brings 40 fire vehicles to the scene.


Civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph threatens to hold a mass march on Washington, leading to a presidential order requiring federal agencies and government contractors to observe anti-discrimination regulations. Roosevelt also appoints 40 blacks to high positions and integrates new federal buildings while leaving the old ones segregated.

National Airport opens


Satchel Paige plays at Griffth Stadium for the Homestead Grays against a white team.

Pearl Baily makes her first appearance at the Howard with the Sunset Royal Orchestra


Three Howard University students are arrested after refusing to pay a surcharge for hot chocolate at a United Cigar Store on Pennsylvania Ave.

Howard students conduct a sit-in at the Little Palace Cafeteria, 14th & U. Three days later is begins serving blacks.

The Washington Bears win the World Professional Basketball Tournament by beating the Oshkosh All Stars. Ammong the players for the Bears was William “Pop” Gates, who also played for the Harlem Renaisance and who is in the Hall of Fame.

Earliest reported pizza on a DC restaurant menu: Ciro’s and the Italian Village Restaurant, owned by Ciro Gallotti at 1304 G St. NW


Howard students stage a sit-in at the Thompson’s cafeteria at 11th & Pennsylvania Ave. Later that day they are served.

Jack Casady is born. He will later co-found Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna.

Roy Clarks moves to DC at age 11. He will later play as house guitarist at the Famous Restaurant.

Peter Torkelson is born. As Peter Tork, he will become one of the original Monkees.


Capital Transit has the 3rd largest fleet of streetcars in the country including nearly 600 streamliners.

At her peak in the 1940s, local mob boss Odessa Madre is earning about $100,000 a year, and has at least six bawdy houses, bookmaking operations, and a headquarters at 2204 14th Street known as the Club Madre. Among the performers there were Moms Mabley, Count Basie and Nat King Cole.  MORE

DC suffers more casualties in World War II than four states.

By the end of the Second World War, the District contained a higher proportion of black college graduates than any other place in America, more than twice that of most cities. A survey conducted in 1950 found 92 black dentists, 181 black lawyers, and 211 black physicians practicing in Washington. – City Journal

The Homestead Grays win their ninth consecutive pennant. The team has also won three Negro World Series since 1937. By 1950, however, with major league baseball finally integrated, the team will be no more.


Ahmet Ertegun, son of Turkish ambassador to Washington, cofounds Atlantic Records with Herb Abramson. In 1948, Ertegun and Abramson hear 20 years-old Ruth Brown singing at Crystal Caverns club in Washington. Pivotal R&B label eventually records Brown, Big Joe Turner, Ray Charles, Solomon Burke, Led Zeppelin, many others. – Washington Area Music Assn


The Orioles’ first single, ‘It’s Too Soon to Know’ goes to the top of the R&B charts hits 13 on the pop charts.

The Supreme Court rules against restrictive covenants, widely used in DC.

The Dupont Theater integrates but the National Theater closed rather than accept black patrons.


A trolley tunnel is built under Dupont Circle. It is meant to be the beginning of putting streetcars underground in downtown but it never catches on.

The Recreation Department opens two integrated playgrounds.


By most descriptions, the 1950s Senators are a loose and entertaining bunch, which probably helps take the sting out of their .416 winning percentage for the decade. About the only positive on-field accomplishment anyone seems to recall is an all-Cuban triple play (Ramos to Bécquer to José Valdivieslo) turned against Whitey Herzog of the Kansas City A’s. Though he still had to suffer through the mindless indignity of segregation at spring training in Florida, Julio Bécquer says life in Washington, D.C. was perfectly comfortable for dark-skinned ballplayers with Spanish accents. “We had no problems whatsoever,” he remembered. “None. Zero. I’d go anywhere. I’d do anything. I was well-liked.” layers who liked music could walk one block from Griffith Stadium and see some of the best jazz musicians and touring Cuban acts the 1950s had to offer. “I’d see everybody who was everybody at that time in jazz and big-band: Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and all that sort of thing. Every week was some big name coming to Washington,” he said. . . ESPN


Thirty percent of the city’s blacks owned their own home, close to the white home ownership of 33%

Mary Church Terrell files suit against Thompson’s after being refused service at the 14th Street branch.

Famous black surgeon and blood plasma pioneer Dr. Charles Drew dies in an automobile accident. Thus began one of the city’s own urban legends – that Drew had been denied treatment at a hospital because of racial prejudice and bled to death. Write Urban Legends: “An excellent reference to refute the story is Charles Wynes’ biography, ‘Charles Richard Drew.’ He quotes the other doctors who were in the automobile accident with Drew, as well as a former student who happened to be at the hospital that night — all of whom are black, if that matters — as saying that the ‘turned away, bled to death’ story is completely false. They said that the treatment Drew received was perfectly adequate.’ Wynes quotes one of the doctors who was with Drew:

“Doctor Drew’s cause of death was that of a broken neck and complete blockage of the blood flow back to the heart. Immediately following the accident in which he was half thrown out of the car, and actually crushed to death by the car as it turned over the second time. The doctors who were were able to, got out of the car quickly and came to Doctor Drew’s rescue, but it was of no avail because even at that time, it was quite obvious that his chances of surviving were nil.”

Wynes also speculates that it may be a mutation of a myth concerning Bessie Smith’s death in 1937. She also died in a car crash in the South, and the myth circulated that she had died outside a “white’s only” hospital after being refused admittance. In fact, she was taken directly to a “black” hospital by the black ambulance driver – half a mile from the nearby “white” hospital – where she died from internal injuries.

And now the twist; “In her compelling chronicle of Drew’s life and death, Spencie Love shows that in a generic sense, the Drew legend is true: throughout the segregated era, African Americans were turned away at hospital doors, either because the hospitals were whites-only or because the “black beds” were full. Love describes the fate of a young black World War II veteran who died after being turned away from Duke Hospital following an auto accident that occurred in the same year and the same county as Drew’s.”

Arena Stage begins operations. It was called a stage rather than a theater to avoid a building code requirement of a fireproof curtain, which wouldn’t have worked in the round. It is one of the first regional theaters to produce its own plays. It will also be the first theater outside of New York to win a Tony and the first theater in DC to be integrated.

Last Homestead Grays game in DC. The integration of major league baseball a few years earlier had cut into the teams’ profits.

Washington census peaks at 802,178


The Clovers, a group formed at Armstrong High School, have the number one single on the R&B charts. They will later record ‘Love Potion Number Nine.’

Hecht’s opens its lunch counters to all customers after seven months of protests.

A 14-year-old boy by the name of Bob King gets a job at black formatted radio station WOOK. He will grow up and change his radio name to Wolfman Jack, one of the progenitors of rock ‘n’ roll.

The Kefauver committee, targeting organized crime in DC, finds a pattern of payoffs by local mobsters to the cops, funneled, it appeared, largely through local mob queen, Odessa Madre. In a 1980 Washington Post story, Courtland Milloy notes that “Two sergeants testified they had been demoted and assigned to school-crossing duty because they had refused a payoff from Madre and had participated in the arrest of know gampblers – including her. The superior officer who demoted them was John Murphy, they testified. ‘Yeah, I knew him,’ Mandre said. ‘Grew up with him in Cowtown.’ There was also testimony from other policemen that Madre had paid police superintendent James Barrett $2,000 a month in ‘ice’ payments for nearly a year. ‘Somebody had to give ’em the money.'”

President Harry Truman declares: “I strongly believe that the citizens of the District of Columbia are entitled to self-government . . . the right and the responsibility of free men. The denial of self-government does not befit the National Capital of the world’s largest and most powerful democracy. . . . [T]he structure of the District government has become so complicated, confused, and obsolete that a thorough reorganization cannot be further delayed.”


Mike Seeger persuades the 60-year-old family maid, Elizabeth Cotton, to record her song, “Freight Train,” which she wrote when she was 12. It becomes the number five hit in the UK.

Supreme Court rules that the city’s “lost” civil rights laws of the late 19th century are still valid and apply to public eating places.

Keter Betts moves to DC and becomes the city’s most ubiquitous and loved bassist. He wll play 25 years with Ella Fitzgerald.

Mickey Mantle hits the world’s longest home run off of the Senators’ Chuck Stobbs. The ball travels 565 feet

Langston Hughes is called to testify before Senator Joseph McCarthy. His testimony begins, “Poets who write mostly about love, roses, and moonlight, sunsets and snow must lead a very quiet life. Seldom, does their poetry get them into difficulties.”

A gay club opens at 1101 Kenyon St NW It will become the oldest continuously operating gay club in DC and one of the oldest black gay clubs in the US. It began as a private social club, probably at least as early as 1953 (some say perhaps as early as 1948). In 1957, it will open to the public and later become a center for gays and lesbians at Howard.

The DC Medical Association agrees to accept black doctors and the National Theater decides to accept black patrons, as do the leading hotels.


Justice William O.Douglas leads a group on a march along the C&O Canal to save the waterway from destruction.

Bolling v. Sharpe invalidates the use of racially separated educational facilities in DC. Because of DC’s colonial status, Browen V. Boad of Education does not apply here.

Senators play Philadelphia at Griffith Stadium. Attendance: 460.

Supreme Court upholds Southwest urban renewal, the largest such project at the time, which opens the way to much greater use of eminent domain across the nation. Five years later some 550 acres would be cleared. Only 300 families remained to be relocated. More than 20,000 people and 800 businesses had been kicked out to make way for the plan. Some 80% of the latter never went back into operation.



Bo Diddley hits the charts.

Florence Cornell, principal of the all white Adams elementary school suggests that her school and the all black Morgan school form the Adams-Morgan Better Neighbrhood Conference. The name stuck.

O. Roy Chalk buys the transit system and, finding that streetcars were more efficient than buses, tries to resist city pressure (pressed by the auto lobby) to convert the system. He even air conditions one streetcar, but city officials, the Senate District Committee and the Washington Post are adamant. By 1962 the era of streetcars has come to an end.


The Board of Education begins the track system, or ability grouping.

Formerly all white McKinley, Roosevelt, and Eastern High schools are already 50% black.


Marvin Gaye joins the Moonglows, who record such hits as “Sincerely” and “Most of All.”

Elizabeth Cotton records ‘Freight Train,’ a tune she wrote at 12, for her first LP.

Jimmy Dean starts the country’s first televised country TV show on WMAL-TV

Bo Diddley moves to DC


A federal court decides that since Ezra Pound is incurably, permanently insane, he can no longer be held for treason and can be set free. As he leaves St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, 13 years after being taken into custody, he reflects, “How did it go in the madhouse? Rather badly. But what other place could one live in America?”

Up to 17″ of snow falls in the Washington region.



Jimmy McPhail’s Bladensburg Road NE, “Melody Inn” becomes “Gold Room,” featuring Redd Foxx, Irene Reed, and many others. Other popular jazz venues of the era include Abart’s and Bohemian Caverns Washington Area Music Assn


Glen Echo, Friendship Heights & Georgia Avenue street car lines are abandoned

Guitaris Charlie Byrd moves to Washington after studying with Andre Segovia.

Georgetown University receives broadcast license for FM frequency 90.1; it is one of the first on the FM signal granted by the Federal Communications Commission in the D.C. area. SEE WGTB


The 23rd Amendment gives city residents the right to vote for president.

Charlie Byrd and Stan Getz record their “Jazz Samba” album in DC.

The Mattachine Society of Washington is founded The first DC gay activist group, Mattachine fights for civil rights on security clearances, job discrimination, and developed considerable legal expertise in fighting discrimination. Founders include Franklin E Kameny, Paul Kuntzler, Jack Nichols, Eva Freund, Lilli Vincenz and others.

Just after the 1961 season, new president Fidel Castro pulls the plug on Cuba’s 83-year-old professional baseball league, and announces that all revolutionary sports would be amateur. Two dozen of the island’s best current and future major-league players – some of whom play for the Washington Senators – are blocked temporarily by Castro’s government from flying off to spring training in the United States, and end up in Mexico scrambling after U.S. visas. Soon after they finally arrive, President John F. Kennedy launched the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. [ESPN]

The Senators of Washington – “first in war, first in peace, last in the American League” – pull up stakes after 60 inglorious years and relocate to Minnesota, where they became the Twins.


A new expansion baseball team takes the departed Senators’ name and stadium in 1962, and maintainthe city’s traditional position in the AL cellar. But the new team doesn’t replace the odd spectacle of the old Sens, who was a team full of mixed-race Cuban ballplayers laughing through the 1950s smack dab in the U.S. capital, while their mother country experienced coups, revolutions [ESPN]

The Country Gentlemen begin a seven year weekly stint at DC’s last country bar, the Shamrock in Georgetown.

Last street car pulls into Navy Yard carhouse ending 99 1/2 years of street railway service in DC


WWDC disc jockey named Carroll James starts playing a British recording of “I Want to Hold Your Hand,”brought to him by a Briitsh girlfriend. It gets a good reaction. Someone at WWDC sends tape to Chicago and the song is played there. Capitol decides to press a million copies of the record immediately, and to promote the group peforming the song: the Beatles.

Mississippi John Hurt moves to DC. He will become a regular at Ontario Place.

The Cellar Door opens at 34th and M Streets, NW


The Beatles first U.S. concert is held at Washington Colliseum.

DC residents cast their first vote for president.


We’ve got the finest public buildings in the world here in Washington; but our school buildings are shameful. We have the world’s greatest books in our archives; but the books in our schools are fourth-rate. It’s easy to get action here when there’s an explosion in Saigon or Caracas, but you can have an explosive situation a few hundred yards from the Capitol and key officials look the other way.


There are 2,100 elementary school children in Washington who attend school for only half a day for lack of space…. Public school enrollment is 90 per cent Negro. In 1954 the schools integrated, there was a noticeable migration of white families from the District to the suburbs…. Today the physical plant is decrepit. A third of all Washington school buildings are over 50 years old; the school-administration building is 97 years old. Only half of the elementary schools have room for libraries because children are crowded into every available bit of space, including basements. Two years ago there was one elementary school librarian in the entire system of more than 140,000 children. In 1941 Congress was asked to replace a junior high school known as ‘Horrible Hine,’ now 78 years old. The new building was completed this year. In 1948 Congress was asked to replace another junior high known as ‘Shameful Shaw.’ Congress still refuses funds, though there are 1,434 students in the 63-year old school, which has 1,167 capacity. Over the last 10 years Congress has granted millions of dollars to school systems all over the country for the education of children of Federal employees stationed in their areas…. It refused until this year, to provide any such funds for Washington, though Washington public schools carry about 30,000 children of Federal families stationed in the city.”


“Their (DC citizens) school system is at the mercy of people who may never spend a night in Washington. …[T]hose who are well-to-do and have influence outside the colony live well. The public schools are decaying. Public housing is inadequate. The municipal orphanage is a local scandal and the welfare program is designed to destroy the family that is destitute. By contrast, the police force is good…. In effect then, government in the District works for the benefit of the minority in the Northwest and the middle-class suburban commuters, whose Congressmen are usually entrenched in the ruling communities.”


The Ramsey Lewis Trio records ‘The In Crowd’ at the Bohemian Caverns.

Marion Barry moves to DC to head the local SNCC chapter.

Blues Alley opens and will soon become a favorite of jazz musicians around the country. Says Dizzy Gillsepie, “Now this is a jazz club.” It is the oldest continuing jazz supper club in the contry.

Julius Hobson successfully sues Superintendent Carl Hansen, the Board, and DC judges for unconstitutionally depriving the poor and black school children of equal education opportunities.Hansen resigns, appeals on his own behalf, loses appeal.

Lyndon Johnson supports DC home rule in his State of the Union address.

More than 100,000 Washingtonians stay off the buses to protest a fare hike in a boycott led by Student Non-Violence Coordinating Committee head Marion Barry.


Ralph Rinzler founds the Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife.

Ramsey Lewis’ hit album ‘The In Crowd’ is recorded live at the Bohemian Caverns.

Lyndon Johnson submitts a plan to Congress to reorganize the DC government with an appointed mayor and council. Congress approves. Lyndon Johnson names a mayor-commissioner and city council, telling them to act as thought they were elected.

Yippies, Diggers, anarchists & other high priests meet in Washington DC, Oct. 21-23, for “Exorcism of the Pentagon” to rid the world of the global evil spirit virus infecting all who work there. Psychedelic face paint and flowers stuck in barrels of guns result in 647 arrested. 50,000 people demonstrate against the war in Washington, D.C. – Daily Bleed


Bohemian Caverns closes

The worst riot in the nation broke out in DC, with 20,000 participants setting 30 new fires per hour. Mayor Walter Washington imposed a curfew and banned the sale of liquor and guns; Johnson sent 14,000 Army, Marine, and National Guard troops into DC to join DC’s 2,800-member police force. Twelve hundred building were burned and 7,600 were arrested. By Saturday, there were riots and looting in over one hundred cities. Later in 1968, Congress granted DC its first locally elected body in nearly a century, a Board of Education. – Mark David Richards

During the riots, Mayor Walter Washington was called to the office of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, where he was told to start shooting looters. Washington refused, saying that “you can replace material goods, but you can’t replace human beings.” Hoover then said, “Well, this conversation is over.” Replied Washington, “That all right, I was leaving anyway.”


Despite the riots, King’s Poor Peoples’ March begins led by successor Ralph Abernathy. 3,000 protestors erect a tented Resurrection City on the Mall.

Capital Beltway is completed.


DC gets to elect an 11-member Board of Education. 70% of registered voters go to polls in the first local election since the 1870s. 53 candidates run. Only Julius Hobson gets enough votes to win without a runoff. Marion Barry becomes president of the new board.

Roberta Flack is signed by Atlantic Records. She performs regularly at Mr. Henry’s on Capitol Hill.

President Nixon says, “The District’s citizens should not be expected to pay taxes for a government which they have no part in choosing — or to bear the full burdens of citizenship without the full rights of citizens.”

The first issue of the Washington Blade, then called the Gay Blade, is published. It is a one-page newsletter copied on a mimeograph machine .


The Daughters of the American Revolution impose a ban against rock concerts at Constitution Hall after Sly & the Family Stone arrive five hours late and the crowd inflicts $1,000 worth of damage on the building.

Sam Smith writes the first article explaining how DC statehood could be achieved without a constitutional amendment.

Julius Hobson for delegate campaign launched. Beginning of the DC statehood movement.

New Year’s Eve: Ad hoc committee applies for status as a pro-statehood political party

First election for non-voting delegate

Prisoners at the DC Jail riot

The police riot of May 1971

During three days of May 1971 the DC police department literally ran amuck. In a searing report on the police department’s reaction to the anti-war Mayday protest, the American Civil Liberties wrote:

Between May 3 and May 5, more than 13,OOO people were arrested in Washington, D.C.– the largest mass arrest in our country’s history. The action was the government’s response to anti-war demonstrations, an important component of which was the announced intention of the Mayday Coalition,organizer of the demonstrations, to block Washington rush-hour traffic.

During this three-day period, normal police procedures were abandoned. Most of the 13,000 people arrested — including law-breakers caught while attempting to impede traffic, possible potential law-breakers, war protestors engaged in entirely legal demonstrations, uninvolved passers-by and spectators — were illegally detained, illegally charged, and deprived of their constitutional rights of due process, fair trial and assistance of counsel. The court system, unable to cope with this grandscale emergency caused by the police, was thrown into chaos.

During the Mayday police riot, people were beaten and arrested illegally, locked up by the thousands in makeshift holding pens with inadequate toilet facilities and food, or stuffed into drastically overcrowded cells. People on their way to work, patients going to see their doctor, students attending classes, reporters and lawyers were all caught up in the sweep arrests. Most of those stashed in the DC Jail exercise yard were without blankets throughout a night in which the temperatures fell below forty. And in the most symbolic display of contempt for the law, more than a thousand persons were arrested in front of the Capitol where they had assembled to hear speeches,including several from members of Congress. When Rep. Ronald Dellums tried to keep a policeman from arresting a member of his staff, saying, “Hey, that’s a member of my staff. Get your hands off of him. I’m a United States Congressman,” the policeman replied, “I don’t give a fuck who you are,” then hit Del1ums in the side with his nightstick and pushed him down some stairs.

It was the grimmest display of mass police power — not just selective brutality against a few — this city had seen. And it was a clear warning of the fearful danger inherent in Washington’s acceptance of police power as a form of government. The fact that neither the black chief executive, Walter Washington, nor the white liberal newspaper, the Washington Post, could summon up either the wisdom or the courage to denounce what Wilson and his men, acting under orders of the Justice Department, had done made the aftair all the more dismal. More and more the city was listening to sirens luring liberty onto the rocks of safety. — Sam Smith


A decade of litigation followed, focusing on arrests of 1,200 demonstrators on the east steps of the Capitol. In 1975, a federal jury concluded that the arrests violated the Constitution’s guarantee of free speech and assembly. In 1978, the Supreme Court let stand a lower court ruling that federal and city governments could be ordered to pay damages to those arrested. In August, 1981, the demonstrations received checks of $750 for the denial of free speech, and various payments for the amount of time spent in jail under false arrest, plus 6 percent interest.

WASHINGTON POST – On September 30, 1971, 14,460 fans shuffled into Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium to bear witness to the end of the pastime in the nation’s capital. “The Star Spangled Banner never before sounded so much like a dirge,” wrote sports columnist Shirley Povich. He had nearly 50 years on the beat by that point and could deliver such a line with authority. . .By the top of the ninth, the home team actually led, 7-5, and was just two outs away from dying with surprising dignity. But the fans had a different mojo working that night.. . . Some of the fans had shown up with homemade banners they had draped from the upper deck, cursing [owner Bob] Short in sharp four-letter verbiage. When the stadium cops tore those down, the fans unfurled new ones. Eventually, the crowd began chanting: “We want Bob Short! We want Bob Short!” Povich was reminded of “the baying-fury sound of a lynch mob.”. . . Hundreds of people swarmed over the diamond and into the outfield, pulling up bases and stealing light bulbs from the scoreboards. The stadium announcer warned that the game would be forfeited if the melee continued . . . and no one seemed to care. So the teams left the dugouts and click-clacked away in their spikes toward the locker rooms, as the official scorer changed his book from 7-5 Senators to 9-0 Yankees — the traditional forfeit score.


The District government is currently employing 40.679 people, give or take a few hundred. That means one DC employee for every eighteen people, adult or child — or a considerably better ratio than that between student and teacher in the city’s public schools. Put another way, if Washington were a town of 10,000, and hired city workers at the same rate, it would have more than 500 people on the local payroll. Some 12,800 of these District workers are filling jobs that weren’t even in existence ten years ago. The District workforce has grown 46% since 1962. No other statistic can make that claim — except for the crime rate. — DC Gazette

Emmylou Harris begins regular gigs at Childe Harold in Dupont Circle and other Washington clubs including the Cellar Door where she had debuted at age 12.

Democrat Ronald Dellums and Republican Fred Schwengel introduce a DC statehood bill in the House of Representatives

Congress grants the District limited home rule including an elected mayor and city council

DC suffers more casualties in Vietnam War than ten states.

Bernice Johnson Reagn moves to DC and forms Sweet Honey in the Rock.


Western High School becomes the Duke Ellington School for the Performing Arts.

In May, voters approve a home rule charter and creation of advisory neighborhood commissions. In November, the first election under the home rule act of a mayor and city council takes place. The city approves home rule by 83%. Mostly white Ward 3 gives the measure 58%.

Lamba Rising, the city’s first gay book store, opens at 1724 20th Street NW in Dupont Circle. It later moved to 1625 Connecticut Avenue NW.

Police stop the car of Representative Wilbur Mills, chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee, at the Tidal Basin, finding him “intoxicated, scratched, and bleeding.” While questioning him, Annabel Battistella, a stripper who known as “Fanne Fox, the Argentine Firecracker,” jumps out of his car and leaps into the water. [DAILY BLEED]

Julius Hobson is elected to the Council-at-Large seat running on the Statehood Party ticket.


The Washington Post pressman’s strike begins

If you’re going to complain about the budget, you can just haul out the same complaints you made last year. Nothing much has changed. One of the things we’ve complained about in the past has been the enormous size of the DC government. . . DC spends $122 per capita on its local police force. The figures for [seven other comparable] cities run between $38 per head in Atlanta to $79 in Boston. If we spent the seven city average we would save $48 million . . . We would save $8 million if we spent only the seven city average [for fire protection] Spending at the seven city average would also produce saving of $20 million on highways, $24 million on sewage and sanitation and $4 million on recreation. The per capita expense to DC of these five city functions is $287, placing it first. If we spent the seven city average we would save ten percent of the city’s budget. — DC Gazette


First election of advisory neighborhood commissioners.

Metro opens with a 4.6 mile segment

Former Allende aide Orlando Letelier along with Ronni and Michael Moffitt – all with the Institute for Policy Studies – are killed as a bomb destroys their car at Sheridan Circle on Massachusetts Avenue. Letelier had been targeted as part of Operation Condor, aimed at enemies of Chilean dictator Pinochet.


Citizens pass a Charter Amendment – proposed by Julius Hobson and pressed by the DC Statehood Party – establishing the right of initiative and referendum.

WPFW begins broadcasting

Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington is founded.

12 gunmen burst into city hall, then known as the District Building, and two other buildings. They shoott and kill [WHUR reporter Maurice Williams] and injure several dozen others as they took 149 hostages, whom they held for 39 hours until surrendering to police. Among those injured was then-council member Marion Barry, – Washington Post


First leg of the Metro opens.
Congress approves a voting rights amendment, which fails after too few states approve it in the required sevent years.

Marion Barry is elected mayor.


Georgetown University’s hip radio station WGTB is closed by the university and sold to UDC for $1.


Citizens approve making DC the 51st state and the creation of a statehood constitutional convention. Only west of the park Ward 3 rejects the initiative.

Citizens approve a city-run lottery and daily numbers game.

The DC Gazette reports that the city was facing a real budget deficit of $246 million. It also reports that Arthur Anderson & Co. had found the city had accumulated a $284 million hidden deficit over the previous ten years. Sixty percent of this sum was incurred before home rule. The story continued: The auditors finally caught up with the game of fiscal musical chairs that Walter Washington and [budget director] Comer Coppie played so well: changing the dates when taxes were due, throwing accounts payable into the next fiscal year, not paying back bridge loans from the Treasury, switching from the accrual to the cash method of accounting for a one-time gain and so forth. As the city’s financial advisors, Lazard Frere & Co. put it in the genteel language of its trade, the city got in trouble, in part, by carrying over “prior year liabilities into subsequent years without adequate provisions of their payment.” To put it more bluntly, the city has, for a decade or more, been engaged in a sophisticated version of check-kiting and saying “the check’s in the mail.” That it has done so with impunity merely points to another way in which politicians and bureaucrats are different from the rest of us. The combined current and past deficit at this time added up to $530 million. Correcting for inflation that would be a deficit of over $900 million in 1995 dollars.

DC mob queen Odessa Madre has now been picked up 30 times on 57 charges over a 48 year span, seven of them spent in a federal prison. She bought a Lincoln Continental when she got out and purchased a Cadillac Seville after serving a later three year sentence. ODESSA MADRE

9:30 Club opens

Irish band U2’s first gig in U.S. at The Bayou. Legend differs as to whether U2 opens for Slickee Boys, or the other way around. – – Washington Area Music Assn


Death penalty is outlawed in the city.


The statehood constitutional convention approves a constitution for the state of New Columbia. The constitution is later ratified by DC voters.

The Vietnam War Memorial is dedicated.

An Air Florida plane crashes into the 14th Street Bridge shortly after takeoff


Citizens pass an initiative guarantee the right of the homeless to adequate overnight shelter.

Your taxes are about to go up again, thanks in part to the failure of the mayor and the council to deal with chronic budgetary problems in other than the most short-sighted way. It is, in the end, easier to squeeze more money out of the public and business than it is to look long and hard at these problems and do something about them . . . To be sure, in the early years of the Barry administration, there were serious and partially successful efforts to trim the bloated city government and improve efficiency, but in time Barry seems to have adopted the standard view of credit-card liberals: let my successor worry about it. Thus various deficits have mounted significantly even as the mayor was claiming to balance the books. . . [City Council finance chair] John Wilson has been attempting to introduce an element of rationality into budgetary planning but he is receiving precious little support. A recent article he wrote for the Washington Post sums up the matter well: “The District must begin to live within its means and to finance its future budgets with existing resources. I believe that this can be done but only if the city acts now to create a 3 to 5 year tax and spending plan that establishes firm budget priorities divorced from political expediency; reorganize city agencies along service-delivery lines that provide more workers in the field and fewer highly paid consultants, executives, deputy and special assistants; and commit the city to a policy of tax-competitiveness aimed at increasing rather than eroding the tax base.” — DC Gazette

Rhodes Tavern is demolished.


Proposed constitutional amendment granting DC a single vote in Congress fails.

Citizens pass a referendum approving the maintaining of rent control.


An initiative to require a refundable deposit on bottles is rejected after bottling companies make major contributions to local churches.

As usual, Barry plans to spend almost every dime he gets . . . And as usual, the budget assumes the perfection of nearly every that has happened before. Any budgetary changes that the council makes, and they will be minor, will concentrate on the $180 million in new spending rather than on the sacrosanct “budget base.” The concept of a budget base may seem a curious one to those in ordinary commerce but what it roughly translates into is “what you’ve got, you keep.” This makes the unions happy and tends to keep down the council’s curiosity about existing programs. It also leaves us with an ever more expensive government without any particular concern for questions of efficiency . . . Someone might want to ask how come the city can afford to spend nearly 25% of its snow removal budget on a consulting report on snow removal — and then lose the report. And what will a 25% increase in economic development funds do when previous expenditures have left us with fewer jobs for DC citizens than before we became a “city on the move?” . . . And if we are going to add 33% to the housing and community development budget what guarantees do we have that it won’t continue to produce more scandals than housing? And if the council authorizes $15 million for housing assistance how can we be sure that it gets spent — and for housing — and not have half of it show up paying off the corrections department’s over-spending as happened this year? There are lots of equally good questions to ask at budget time but most of them won’t be asked. The papers in the next few weeks will be full of stories about fights between the mayor and councilmembers over a few million here and a few million there. And when it is all over, only a few million will have changed places and another budget charade will have happily run its course. — DC Gazette

Washington National Cathedral completed 83 years after groundbreaking


Washington has worst summer on record for ozone pollution


Mitch Snyder, homeless advocate, commits suicide at 46 by hanging.

City Council repeals citizen initiative guarantee shelter for trhe homeless.

The Eva Cassidy Band starts playing local clubs including Blues Alley. Cassidy will release her album ‘Live at Blues Alley’ five months before her death at age 33.

Shirley Horn records with Miles Davis and the Marsalis brothers.

Jesse Jackson is elected shadow senator. He will move to Chicago before his term is over.

Mayor Marion Barry, about to run for reelection, is arrested in a drug bust and sent to prison. Barry runs as an independent for the city council but is beaten in the first time in his life by DC Statehooder Hilda Mason whose informal campaign slogan is, “Everyone’s grandmother against everyone’s boyfriend.”


Three days of rioting breaks out in latino Mt. Pleasant set off by a rookie police officer of a Salvadoran man who some witnesses say was staggering toward the officer with his hand raised holding a knife, yet he had just been arrested and handcuffed for drinking in public. A crowd of curious onlookers turn into a bottle- and rock-throwing mob. Police vehicles are set on fire, stores are looted, the police use tear gas. [Olivia Cadaval]

Sharon Pratt Dixon becomes mayor. She will oversee major deficits for which Marion Barry will be later blamed, along with his own.


Citizens pass an initiative to limit campaign contributions to $100 for major elections.

Initiative -ordered by Congress – to authorize the death penalty fails.


House rejects statehood for DC by a vote of 277 to 153


Citizens pass an initiative establishing term limit for elected officials.

Upon completion of his prison term, Marion Barry is reelected mayor for a fourth term.


Mary Chapin Carpenter picks up three Grammies for “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her,” inspired by energy-suppliment ad, and country album Come On Come On.

In January, Marion Barry takes office for a fourth term as Mayor following incarceration for drug charges. In April, President Clinton signs the law creating a presidentially appointed Financial Control Board and a mayor-appointed Chief Financial Officer who effectively strip Barry of his power. Home rule is eviscerated by Clinton and his congresional allies.

Woodward & Lothrop closes

Cellar Door Productions becomes top concert promotor in country


City Council repeals citizen initiative limiting campaign contribution. A federal judge rules the initiative unconstitutional.

Placido Domingo becomes artistic director of the Washington Opera.


DC permanently loses its public radio station as the city sells it to C-SPAN to cover a short-term deficit.


Citizens approve an initiative permiting use of marijuana by seriously ill persons on a physician’s approval. Congress refused to permit the law to be implemented.

The police department gets 183 muntain bikes

Anthony Williams elected mayor.


The city council becomes majority white

Shirley Horn wins a Grammy


Lorton Correctional Complex is closed.

The Pentagon is attacked. The attack, along with rumors of an attempted air attack on Capitol and explosions elsewhere in the city leads to widespread evacuation of downtown.

Sholl’s Cafeteria is closed after 74 years of providing inexpensive meals to residents and tourists.

D.C. General Hospital shuts down inpatient services.

City Council repeals initiative calling for term limits. This is the third time the council has repealed a citizen initiative.

Control board goes out of business.

Compiled by Mark Richards

1804: Council establishes 13-member School Board: 7 picked by the City Council, 6 by financial contributors.

1845: Council establishes 4 school districts, with 1 Board of Trustees with representatives from each District.

1858: Council redefines districts, provides for appointment of School Board with enlarged duties by Mayor.

1878: Congress sets up 19-member Board of Trustees of Public Schools, appointed by Commissioners.

1900: Congress sets up 7-member Board of Education appointed by Commissioners. Power to appoint 1 superintendent and 2 assistant superintendents.

1906: Congress sets up 9-member Board of Education, composed of DC residents appointed by the Supreme Court of DC. Appointees changed in 1936 to District Court of U.S. for DC, and again in 1948 to U.S. District Court for DC.

1954: Bolling v. Sharpe invalidated the use of racially separated educational facilities in DC.

1956: Board of Education embarks on the Track System (“ability grouping”).

1966-1967: Hobson v. Hansen — Julius Hobson sues Superintendent Carl Hansen, the Board, and DC judges for unconstitutionally depriving the poor and black school children of equal education opportunities. Board did not appeal on advice of Corporation Council. Hansen resigns, appeals on his own behalf, loses appeal. DC appointed Board of Education releases report on DC schools by Teachers College, Columbia University (“Passow Report”).

1968: Congress sets up 11-member elected Board of Education — 3 At-large, 1 per Ward. 70% registered voters go to polls for first election in which 53 candidates run. Power to appoint superintendent.

1976: DC Law 1-35, DC Public Postsecondary Education Reorganization Act amendments includes compensation of Board members; contracting and reprogramming powers.


Adrian Fenty is elected mayor


Major fires severely damage Eastern Market and the Georgetown Library within 12 hours of each other.

One response

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