August 15, 2016 - 4:56 pm

Two free history walking tours of LeDroit Park next month

U Street in 1908U Street in 2009

Come on out for a free history walking tour of LeDroit Park next month.  I conduct this tour annually as part of WalkingTown DC.

We will explore the unique architecture and the historical figures who transformed the neighborhood into the home of Washington’s black intelligentsia at the start of the 20th century. Neighborhood notables included Dr. Anna J. Cooper, Mayor Walter Washington, Sen. Edward Brooke, Rep. Oscar De Priest, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Mary Church Terrell, Duke Ellington, and Rev. Jesse Jackson. We will also admire the unique 19th-century houses and the 12 distinct architectural styles present in the neighborhood.

The tours will be on Sunday, September 18 at 2 pm and Sunday, September 25 at 2 pm. Meet me at the arch at 6th Street and Florida Avenue NW.  The tours are free and open to the public.

Alternatively, for $15 you can attend Sarah Shoenfeld’s tour on September 11 to explore the history of housing segregation in LeDroit Park and Bloomingdale.

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September 15, 2015 - 3:30 pm

Free history walking tours of LeDroit Park this month

U Street in 1908U Street in 2009

Come on out for a free history walking tour of LeDroit Park.  I conduct this tour annually as part of WalkingTown DC.

We will explore the unique architecture and the historical figures who transformed the neighborhood into the home of Washington’s black intelligentsia at the start of the 20th century. Neighborhood notables included Dr. Anna J. Cooper, Mayor Walter Washington, Sen. Edward Brooke, Rep. Oscar De Priest, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Mary Church Terrell, Duke Ellington, and Rev. Jesse Jackson. We will also admire the unique 19th-century houses and the 12 distinct architectural styles present in the neighborhood.

The tours will be on Saturday, September 19 at 1 pm and Sunday, September 27 at 1pm. Meet me at the arch at 6th Street and Florida Avenue NW.  The tours are free and open to the public.

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June 03, 2015 - 9:38 am

Heritage Trail signs finally installed

IMG_4813.JPG

This week, after years of work, the LeDroit Park-Bloomingdale Heritage Trail is finally being installed. The signs scattered throughout both neighborhoods mark important historical sites and form a linear path history buffs can follow for a full tour of both neighborhoods.

This heritage trail is titled Worthy Ambition, a line from a Paul Laurence Dunbar poem about black achievement in spite of slavery.

Cultural Tourism DC, which researches and sponsors these trails, is partnering with the civic associations in both neighborhoods for an official unveiling. Stay tuned for details.

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September 23, 2011 - 9:18 am

LeDroit Park is the home of poets

Dolores Kendrick. Photo by dbking on Flickr.

Paul Laurence Dunbar isn’t the only poet to have graced our neighborhood.  Dolores Kendrick is DC’s poet laureate and, as the Post reports, grew up in LeDroit Park in the 1930s.

Kedrick has authored four books, including “Why the Woman is Singing on the Corner: A Verse Narrative”, a 2001 work that takes place here in DC. Kendrick has an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and National Endowment for the Arts fellowship under her belt.

In the Post article Kendrick reflects on the changes she has seen in Washington:

I suppose the Washington that exists today had to come. The old Washington was segregationist and racist to the point where we couldn’t go downtown to get a hot dog. Our parents would fix us meals before we left so we would not have to endure that indignity. . . . But integration also brought its own problems. The black community somewhat disintegrated, and the seasons changed. It is a very different time, now.

Kendrick will speak at 1 pm on Sunday at the National Book Festival.

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May 03, 2011 - 9:32 am

A Dunbar poem that LeDroit Park inspired

One of LeDroit Park’s notable residents was famed poet Paul Laurence Dunbar.  Mr. Dubar lived at 1934 4th St NW with his wife Alice.

After Mr. Dunbar’s death, his widow, Alice, published an article analyzing his poetry.  In it she noted that Spruce Street (now LeDroit Park’s segment of U Street NW) inspired the poem “Lover’s Lane”:

The white arc light of the corner lamp, filtering through the arches of the maples on Spruce street, make for the tender suggestion in “Lover’s Lane,” where the lovers walk side by side under the “shadder-mekin’ ”

Below we have reprinted “Lover’s Lane” followed by an old audio recording of Paul Robeson singing a hearty bass-barritone version of the Dunbar poem.

Lover’s Lane

SUMMAH night an’ sighin’ breeze,
’Long de lovah’s lane;
Frien’ly, shadder-mekin’ trees,
’Long de lovah’s lane.
White folks’ wo’k all done up gran’—
Me an’ ’Mandy han’-in-han’
Struttin’ lak we owned de lan’,
’Long de lovah’s lane.

Owl a-settin’ ’side de road,
’Long de lovah’s lane,
Lookin’ at us lak he knowed
Dis uz lovah’s lane.
Go on, hoot yo’ Mou’nful tune,
You ain’ nevah loved in June,
An’ come hidin’ f’om de moon
Down in lovah’s lane.

Bush it ben’ an’ nod an’ sway,
Down in lovah’s lane,
Try’n’ to hyeah me whut I say
’Long de lovah’s lane.
But I whispahs low lak dis,
An’ my ’Mandy smile huh bliss—
Mistah Bush he shek his fis’,
Down in lovah’s lane.

Whut I keer ef day is long,
Down in lovah’s lane.
I kin allus sing a song
’Long de lovah’s lane.
An’ de wo’ds I hyeah an’ say
Meks up fu’ de weary day
Wen I’s strollin’ by de way,
Down in lovah’s lane.

An’ dis t’ought will allus rise
Down in lovah’s lane;
Wondah whethah in de skies
Dey’s a lovah’s lane.
Ef dey ain’t, I tell you true,
’Ligion do look mighty blue,
’Cause I do’ know whut I’d do
’Dout a lovah’s lane.

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April 30, 2011 - 1:56 pm

“Worthy Ambition”

“Look to the heights that are worth your attaining
Keep your feet firm in the path to the goal.
Toward noble deeds every effort be straining.
Worthy ambition is food for the soul!” 

— Paul Laurence Dunbar

The LeDroit Park-Bloomingdale Heritage Trail Working Group is devising a tagline for our trail. The trail, as we reported, is currently in the planning stages and should be completed in the coming months.

LeDroit Park was established in 1873 as an exclusive suburb of Washington City. When the demographics changed from exclusively white to majority black a century ago, the neighborhood gained the reputation as the home of Washington’s black intelligentsia.

The word ‘intelligentsia’ is a tad too elitist for a tagline, so we need other suggestions that politely, yet honestly, honor the neighborhood’s history.

One resident suggested a tagline we really like: “Worthy ambition”.

The phrase is aptly pulled from “Emancipation“, an 1890 poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar, who resided for several years in LeDroit Park.

Fling out your banners, your honors be bringing,
Raise to the ether your paeans of praise.
Strike every chord and let music be ringing!
Celebrate freely this day of all days.

Few are the years since that notable blessing,
Raised you from slaves to the powers of men.
Each year has seen you my brothers progressing,
Never to sink to that level again.

Perched on your shoulders sits Liberty smiling,
Perched where the eyes of the nations can see.
Keep from her pinions all contact defiling;
Show by your deeds what you’re destined to be.

Press boldly forward nor waver, nor falter.
Blood has been freely poured out in your cause,
Lives sacrificed upon Liberty’s altar.
Press to the front, it were craven to pause.

Look to the heights that are worth your attaining
Keep your feet firm in the path to the goal.
Toward noble deeds every effort be straining.
Worthy ambition is food for the soul!

Up! Men and brothers, be noble, be earnest!
Ripe is the time and success is assured;
Know that your fate was the hardest and sternest
When through those lash-ringing days you endured.

Never again shall the manacles gall you
Never again shall the whip stroke defame!
Nobles and Freemen, your destinies call you
Onward to honor, to glory and fame.

It’s a fine work and an excellent way to capture the neighborhood’s ambitious history.

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November 17, 2010 - 8:52 am

Name the New Park

Park construction is underway, but when the park is ready in the coming months, what should we call it? The ultimate decision is up to the DC Council, but Councilmember Jim Graham (D – Ward 1) has assured us that the Council will strongly consider any three names that neighbors finally settle on.

You can submit your suggestions online. Anyone may submit names and you may submit as many as you like. The LeDroit Park Civic Association will gather the names and allow the public to vote for the names. The top three winners will be forwarded to the Council.

What would you like to call the park?

If we want to honor notable residents, here are a few famous figures from the neighborhood’s history:

  • Walter Washington – 408 T Street – First elected mayor of DC.
  • Paul Laurence Dunbar – 321 U Street – Notable poet.
  • Mary Church Terrell – 326 T Street – Notable civil rights activist.
  • Oscar De Priest – 419 U Street – First black Congressman elected since Reconstruction.

We have excluded Duke Ellington since he lived here for only one year and since he already has several civic works dedicated to him.  We also excluded living people since their histories are still being written.  We also left out Anna J. Cooper since she already has the circle park named after her.

One other deceased person who might merit distinction is Theresa Brown, who died in 2009.  Ms. Brown was instrumental in establishing the LeDroit Park Historic District and protecting the neighborhood’s unique architecture from the wrecking ball.  Without her, the neighborhood we know today may have been turned into parking lots.

Most parks operated by the Department of Parks and Recreation end their names with “Recreation Center”,  a suffix with as much charm as the tax code.  Perhaps Playground, Gardens, Park, or Field would set off our park from other projects.

What would you like to name the park?

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