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“What And Why We Celebrate Today”: In Washington, D.C., Reminders Of America’s Dark History Of Segregation

We are in the waning hours of African American History month — the time set aside each year to reflect on black struggles and sacrifices to achieve America’s promise.

My recognition of African American contributions began in the 1940s with annual celebrations of Negro History Week at Stevens Elementary School in my West End/Foggy Bottom community. Our nation’s capital is also where I experienced first-hand America’s shame.

Liberty Baptist Sunday school taught me the Ten Commandments. Civil authority in the city taught me the others.

Among them: Thou shalt not attend Grant Elementary School on G Street NW, which was for white children only. Thou shalt not attempt to enter the Circle Theater at 21st and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, where only whites were allowed. Thou shalt never think about dining downtown.

Thou can purchase sodas and sandwiches at the drugstore at the corner of 25th and Pennsylvania Avenue NW. But thou shalt not sit and eat. Thou must stand at the end of the counter and wait patiently to be recognized.

Ah, Washington of my youth — a place and time when skin color determined where you lived, attended school, worshiped and worked, and how much you got paid.

I learned that lesson as a teenager looking for part-time work. Pick up the Jan. 3, 1960, edition of The Post and what do you see?:

“BOYS-WHITE Age 14 to 18. To assist Route manager full or part-time. Must be neat in appearance. Apply 1346 Conn. Ave. NW.”

“DRIVERS (TRUCK) Colored, for trash routes, over 25 years of age; paid vacation, year-around work; must have excellent driving record. Apply . . . 1601 W St., N.E.”

“STUDENTS Boys, white, 14 yrs. and over, jobs immediately available. Apply . . . 724 9th St., N.W.”

Simply stated: If you’re black, git back.

In our anger and humiliation we turned to Negro History Week to celebrate black achievers such as Mary McLeod Bethune, George Washington Carver, Frederick Douglass, Charles R. Drew, Matthew Henson, Ralph Bunche and Joe Louis.

Even as we annually paid homage to our black champions and their victories, we remained in the vise grip of segregation.

From a 1948 “Segregation in Washington” report: “Only 30 percent of the residents of the District of Columbia are Negroes,” the report said. “But Negroes have 70 per cent of the slum residents.”

It was no accident, said Wendell E. Pritchett of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, who explained in a 2005 paper how the system functioned.

“This system of segregation was imposed by powerful interests, particularly those in the real estate sector,” he wrote. “The 1948 Washington Real Estate Board Code of Ethics stated that ‘no property in a white section should ever be sold, rented, advertised or offered to colored people.’ ”

“Segregation was maintained by residents’ associations, which had organized into the powerful Federation of Citizens’ Associations that policed the city’s racial borders,” Pritchett noted, adding: “The result was that blacks were forced to pay higher rents in the limited areas to which they had access, and in these areas housing was significantly inferior.”

Pritchett continued: “The damage caused by segregation was exacerbated, the [1948] report concluded, by the on-going urban renewal program that was clearing many formerly poor black areas for middle-class housing restricted to whites. Of the 30,000 new units built during the 1940s, just 200 were available to blacks.”

Today’s millennials are not pioneers. Gentrification of the District got underway decades ago.

Why do some of us celebrate African American History Month with moist eyes?

Return in time to the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 3rd Street NW in the 1830s. See that brick federal building with its hipped roof, dormer windows and stone keystones? It’s called the St. Charles Hotel.

It has a special feature.

In the basement are six 30-foot-long arched cells, with heavy iron doors and iron rings embedded on the walls. It’s a slave pen.

Look down at the sidewalk. See the recessed grills to provide light and ventilation for the confined slaves.

St. Charles is where the Southern planters stayed when they came to Washington to sell their slave property.

A few blocks away, at the southwestern corner of 4th and G streets NW, stands the Washington jail. That’s where runaway slaves were confined. Until emancipation, all slaves were required to obey the curfew law. Getting found on the streets of Washington after sundown without written permission from the master was a one-way ticket to jail. The owner had to be notified to appear before the warden to identify their slaves and pay a fine to reclaim them.

From being chained in the basement to abolition, marches, legal assaults against injustice, the White House, the mayor’s suite, the halls of Congress, the faculty lounge, the judge’s chambers, the corporate boardroom, the pulpit, the Officers Club and the editor’s desk.

That’s what and why we celebrate today.

 

By: Colbert I. King, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, February 26, 2016

February 28, 2016 Posted by | Black History Month, Segregation, Slavery, Ten Commandments | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Liz Cheney Goes Home To Washington”: At Least Now She Can Stop Pretending She Lives In Wyoming

Liz Cheney, who was trailing in polls by somewhere between 30 and 50 points, announced today that she is ending her Senate primary campaign against Republican Mike Enzi, a campaign that had been launched on the premise that Enzi, a man with a 93 percent lifetime American Conservative Union score, was a bleeding-heart liberal whose efforts in the upper chamber were not nearly filibustery enough. Cheney cited “serious health issues” in her family, implying that it has to do with one of her children, though she couldn’t help wrapping it some gag-inducing baloney: ” My children and their futures were the motivation for our campaign and their health and well being will always be my overriding priority.” In any case, if one of Cheney’s children is ill, everyone certainly wishes him or her a speedy recovery. But what can we make of the failure of Cheney’s campaign?

For starters, it’s a reminder that celebrity comes in many forms, and guarantees almost nothing in electoral politics apart from some initial attention. Sure, the occasional coke-snorting TV anchor can parlay his time in front of the camera into an election win, but having a familiar name isn’t enough. If you look at all the sons, daughters, and wives (not too many husbands) of politicians who went on to get elected, the successful ones chose their races carefully, not challenging a strong incumbent in a state they hadn’t lived in since they were little kids.

As my friend Cliff Schecter tweeted, next on Liz Cheney’s agenda is moving back to Virginia next week, then getting on Meet the Press. After all, Wyoming is a nice place to run for office from, but you wouldn’t want to live there. Or at least, you can’t live there if you want to be part of the action in Washington, and it sure seemed that Wyoming Republican voters sensed that Cheney was just a tourist in their fine state.

This is something I’ve been going on about for a long time, that so many conservatives wax rhapsodic about small towns and The Heartland, yet they live in big cities on the East Coast, one in particular. Now of course, it’s difficult to have a career as a pundit if you live in Buford, WY (population: 1, seriously). But that’s kind of the point. Liz Cheney grew up in Virginia because her dad was an important guy doing important things in government. It would have been ridiculous for him to keep his family back in Wyoming, all the fine opportunities for fly-fishing not withstanding, so for the Cheneys it became the place they’re from, not the place they live.

Your average conservative Republican congressman spends his time in office railing against the Gomorrah on the Potomac and extolling the virtues of the common folk back in Burgsville, but what happens when he retires or loses an election? He buys a nice townhouse in the Virginia suburbs and becomes a lobbyist, electing to live out his days in the very place he told his constituents was a hellhole he couldn’t wait to get out of.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, January 6, 2013

January 8, 2014 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Congratulate Yourself: Celebrate National Act Like Congress Day

If you’re disgusted with Washington, don’t bother complaining. Instead, do what they do.

The next time your boss assigns you some work, make a big show of trying really hard, then earnestly explain that despite months of effort and intense deliberations, you just couldn’t get it done. Despite your failure, express your sincere belief that the unfinished work cannot be left to the next generation to solve, along with your profound hope that somebody else will find a way to tackle the job. Then congratulate yourself for thinking about blazing a trail that somebody else may actually blaze someday.

Eventually, we’ll have an official holiday called National Act Like Congress Day, when everybody in America will show up for work and have a jolly good time doing nothing important. Maybe it will be truly authentic, and last an entire month, or quarter, or year.

But getting there will take dozens of committee hearings, a required minimum of 25 Face the Nation panel discussions, and the approval of Grover Norquist. So until then, it will have to be a citizens’ movement, kind of like Occupy Wall Street with a water cooler.

Until it catches on, there may be some opposition from the obsessively productive and the miserably accountable. So if your boss complains about the congressional pace of your work, question his patriotism and call him a socialist. Or a fascist, if that seems to fit his personality better. Send off-the-record E-mails to Politico describing how your boss’s inflexibility assured from the outset that you’d be unable to complete your assignment. Go on TV in a nice suit so that people know you looked good while you were failing.

If you are the boss, and you run the company, stop worrying so much about meeting revenue and profitability targets. Call your customers. Explain that, in the national spirit, you’ll still be showing up for work regularly (except for the January retreat, the January recess, President’s Week, the March recess, the Passover/Easter fortnight, the week of Memorial Day, the week of July 4, the whole month of August, the early fall recess, the mid-fall recess, the mid-late fall recess, Thanksgiving week, and most of December) but your output will be limited to official golf outings, commentary on other people’s official golf outings, and directing staff to attend meetings. Encourage them to golf with you and have their staff meet with your staff, under careful direction, of course.

Parents, your moment has arrived. When the kids pester you about making dinner or playing with them, make pained expressions while explaining that you understand how important those things are. It’s just that, right here, right now, isn’t the right time for you to be meeting their needs. Reassure them that you’ll establish a study group to explore other ways for their needs to be met, and get back to them in five or 10 years.

Kids, follow in the sizeable footsteps of your parents and your elected leaders. You don’t really have to perform well at school and get along with other kids. Those are just empty slogans. All you really need to do is establish a tactical advantage over your adversaries, and everything else will fall into place. So don’t worry about math or biology or geography or climatology or economics. That’s all bogus science that doesn’t matter in real life anyway. But read Ayn Rand and make sure you run for student council, and remember that it’s never too early to go negative against your opponent.

If you hear people complaining about how we can’t afford to “waste” time by putting off needed action, have the courage to disregard them. The world is full of hysterical people who don’t understand how special America is. We have tremendous natural advantages and if anybody can afford to waste time, it’s us. In fact, we practically have a moral obligation to the rest of the world to give them a chance to catch up with us. A level playing field is in everybody’s interest, so enlarging our debt, handicapping our productivity, and dumbing down our kids is the right thing to do.

But don’t let anybody call you lazy. That’s an insult! Our descendants worked incredibly hard to build this country, decades ago. We are now resting on their behalf. The media is always getting lathered up over some crisis, so above all, remember this: It’s only a crisis if it affects you. Somebody, somewhere, always has a problem, and it’s un-American to go around trying to solve all of them. People need to learn to stand on their own two feet, and until they do, the rest of us should stop working so hard.

After all, it’s time to prepare for the winter recess.

 

By: Rick Newman, U. S. News and World Report, November 23, 2011

November 25, 2011 Posted by | Democracy | , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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