History

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1608-1648

American Indians
1608-1648

The population of American Indians was only one-quarter of those that lived in the Washington, DC region prior to 1608. Many of the American Indians died from diseases introduced by the Europeans and in wars.

1791

Nation's Capital
1791

The District of Columbia became the nation’s capital. The District of Columbia Organic Act of 1801 placed the District under the jurisdiction of Congress.

1808

Racial Segregation
1808

The mayor and the Board of Aldermen, the precursor to the Council of the District of Columbia, legislated the first set of Black Codes, which sought to solidify slavery as an institution and to strengthen the concept of racial segregation in the city. They also restricted the meaning and practice of legal freedom for free Black people. Free African Americans contested the codes in court. The judge ruled that while the codes were legal they could not be imposed upon free Black people who had been residents before the code was enacted.

1848

Escape from Slavery
1848

On the evening of April 15, 1848, at least 75 enslaved adults and children from Washington, Georgetown and Alexandria sought freedom on the Pearl, a 64-foot cargo schooner waiting for them in the Potomac River at a wharf in Southwest DC. The escape was facilitated by two white men: Daniel Drayton, who chartered the ship for $100, and Edward Sayres, the captain of the Pearl. Historians believe that it was the nation’s largest single escape attempt. The Pearl incident also increased national attention to the existence of slavery and the slave trade in the nation’s capital.

1850

Underground Railroad
1850

Washington, DC served as an important stop on what was popularly called the “underground Railroad.” By 1864, when fugitive slave laws were repealed and slavery was abolished in Maryland, Washington, DC was safe for refugees.

1862

Emancipation Act
1862

The DC Compensated Emancipation Act freed the 3,100 women, men and children who were still enslaved.

1867

Right to Vote
1867

Through the passage of Congress’s Reconstruction Act of 1867, the city’s first African American men gained the right to vote three years before the passage of the 15th amendment that gave all men the right to vote.

1867

Education
1867

Howard University was founded in 1867 to allow for the education of black students.

1867

Housing
1867

The U.S. Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands established Barry Farm for formerly enslaved and free Blacks.

1870-1954

Education
1870-1954

DC maintained racially segregated schools despite the fact that Congress, which controlled the city’s government and school system until 1973, never required racial segregation, making the policy unauthorized.

1870

Education
1870

The Preparatory High School for Colored Youth opened its doors as the first Black secondary preparatory school in the nation. Renamed in 1916, after African-American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, Dunbar High School became the center of black excellence for many African-American families in D.C. and surrounding areas.

1872

Racial Desegregation
1872

Lewis H. Douglass introduced the 1872 law making segregation in public accommodations illegal.

1900

African Americans
1900

Washington had the largest percentage of African Americans of any city in the nation.

1913

Education
1913

Since the city was run by the U.S. federal government, Black and white school teachers were paid at an equal scale as workers for the federal government. It was not until the administration of Woodrow Wilson, a southern Democrat who had numerous southerners in his cabinet, that the federal offices and workplaces were segregated.

1930s

Community Organizing
1930s

During the 1930s, D.C. was a leader in the “Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work” movement, and Blacks picketed many businesses that denied them jobs and services. One example celebrated by many was the dismantling of the segregated cafeteria system in the Interior Department by two of its Black professionals, William Hastie and Robert Weaver.

1933-1943

Housing
1933-1943

The Alley Dwelling Authority, which later became the National Capital Housing Authority, built housing for defense workers and military personnel during World War II.

1938

Housing
1938

D.C.’s first public housing project, Langston Terrace Dwellings, was completed by a mostly African American labor force in the city’s northeast Kingman Park neighborhood in Anacostia. Named in honor of the abolitionist, attorney, founder of Howard University Law School, John Mercer Langston, the development comprised 274 units and were available to rent for $6 per month including utilities.

1941

Housing
1941

Race-restrictive covenants forbid the property to “ever be used or occupied or sold, conveyed, leased, rented or given to Negroes or any person or persons of the Negro race or blood.” In Columbia Heights, the result was an unofficial dividing line between Blacks and whites that started at 13th Street.

1946

Racial Segregation

The National Committee on Segregation in the Nation’s Capital reported that the system of segregation was imposed by powerful interests, particularly those in the real estate sector. 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.” Seeking to provide “exclusiveness,” realtors had created a system that incorporated racism into the property values of D.C. neighborhoods. Segregation was maintained by residents’ associations, which had organized into the powerful Federation of Citizens’ Associations that policed the city’s racial borders. Employment opportunities were just as restricted as public accommodations and housing. Segregation was enforced throughout all aspects of the public school system.

1948

Housing
1948

The Supreme Court banned the enforcement of race-restrictive covenants.

1948

Racial Desegregation
1948

President Harry Truman ended de jure racial discrimination in the Armed Forces and federal workplaces in 1948. Parks and recreation facilities in Washington remained segregated until 1954. Public schools were desegregated soon after.

1950s

Immigrant Communities
1950s

Political turmoil and economic hardship brought Puerto Ricans and Cubans to Mount Pleasant and Columbia Heights, followed later by South and Central Americans – particularly Salvadorans and Nicaraguans. Latinos established businesses and cultural spaces. (In 1976, the city established the Office of Latino Affairs.)

1954

Education
1954

In the landmark Supreme Court ruling Bolling v. Sharpe and 1954 Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of the Education, the Eisenhower administration decided to make D.C. schools the first to integrate, as an example to the rest of the nation.

1960s

Housing
1960s

Adams Morgan’s affordable housing attracted a younger, more mixed population, giving the area a reputation as an organized community and hub of anti-establishment politics. The Adams and Morgan elementary schools became “community schools” with their curricula and policies controlled by locally elected residents with the cooperation of the DC School Board. The schools also provided important social services.

1960s

Housing
1960s

Federal policies and funds imposed the car-centered freeway on a largely reluctant population, mostly for the benefit of white suburbanites who wanted access to the downtown business district. New public housing appeared on the periphery of the nation’s most ambitious urban renewal effort in Southwest Washington. Thousands of residents were displaced and the black population left for Anacostia.

1963

Right to Vote
1963

The passage of the 23rd amendment of the Constitution gave District residents the electoral vote for President and Vice-President of the United States. In 1968, DC got the right to elect its own school board. In 1970, it gained a nonvoting delegate to the House of Representatives.

Mid-1960s

Immigrant Communities

Federal legislation in 1965 changed the nation’s immigration laws. Congress abolished the national origins formula dating from 1921, which favored northern European immigration. It was replaced with a preference system that focused on employment skills and family relationships with U.S. citizens. The changes led to a much larger flow from nations in Asia and Central and Latin America that had not been major sources of immigration. The DC metro area became a destination for newcomers from Central and South America, the Caribbean, the Philippines, Vietnam, and China. Later, immigrants from Ethiopia and Eritrea came to DC.

Mid-1960s

Community Organizing
Mid-1960s

Southeast Neighborhood House began organizing tenants and youth in Barry Farm. With a grant from the United Planning Organization, the Southeast Neighborhood House hired anti-poverty workers to organize mothers receiving welfare benefits and public housing tenants. After organizing women in Barry Farm, they went on to organize the city-wide Welfare Rights Organization, and later oversaw national welfare rights efforts.

1967

Community Organizing
1967

Youth Pride, Inc. was established to engage youths from low-income families in a federally funded cleanup program. The success of that effort led the organization to expand its activities to include job training, with greatly increased federal funding.

1968

Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
1968

The riots following the April 4 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. devastated neighborhoods. In 1967, there were more than 200 businesses along roughly a mile of 14th Street; in 1980, there were 35.

1969

Health

DC had one of the worst public health systems in the nation. The high rates of sexually transmitted infections, tuberculosis, and infant mortality were near epidemic proportions. The infant mortality rate among African-Americans remained the highest in the nation. In a 1971 analysis there were 347 doctors’ offices for the 86,000 affluent, mostly white residents west of Rock Creek while there were only 67 doctors’ offices serving the primarily low-income and Black neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River with a population of over 217,000.

1970s

Community Organizing
1970s

The grassroots Adams Morgan Organization, a precursor of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission, adopted the motto “Unity in Diversity” recognizing some 40 ethnic groups.

1970s-1990s

Immigrant Communities

Immigrants from El Salvador moved to Washington, DC due to the civil war in that country.

1970

Community Organizing
1970

The Chinese American community has been a presence in DC long before the 1960s and 1970s. Centered on H and F Streets NW and 5th and 8th Streets NW, Chinese workers and families have made this the area known as Chinatown, their home since the 1930s. After the 1968 riots, however, many Chinese families moved to suburbs in Virginia and Maryland.

1970

Community Organizing

The Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) community “came out” during the 1960s and 1970s. In 1971, DC’s Gay and Lesbian Activist Alliance (GLAA) organized to secure “full rights and privileges” for gay people. In 1972 the DC School Board banned discrimination based on sexual orientation – the first U.S. city to do so.

1970s

Housing

Black residents, many first time home buyers empowered by the Fair Housing Act and D.C.’s own Human Rights Act of 1977, fell victim to predatory investors who bought homes at low rates and turned them over for sale just weeks later for exorbitant prices.

1971

Community Organizing
1971

Women’s Liberation March in DC. Women faculty and students from George Washington University marched downtown for the feminist cause. GWU was the second university in the nation to establish a women’s studies center.

1973

Home Rule Act
1973

Congress passed the District of Columbia Home Rule Act of 1973, which gave District residents the right to elect their own mayor and city council. Walter E. Washington became the city’s first elected Black mayor.

1973

Gay Rights

Mayor Washington signed DC legislation against gay discrimination in housing, public accommodation, bank credit, and employment.

1978

Urban Displacement

A study by the National Urban Coalition found that D.C. was one of the worst cities in its displacement of poor Black residents due to revitalization.

1980s

Urban Displacement

A property development boom started. Leading the charge were a series of deals between private developers and the Redevelopment Land Agency to sell District-owned lands.

1980s

Immigrant Communities

Immigrants from Ethiopia emigrated to the US, including Washington, DC, with most of them arriving around 2000. The largest Ethiopian community outside the country itself can be found in the DC region.

1980s

Cooperatives
1980s

Mayor Marion Barry established the Commission on Cooperative Economic Development to examine the feasibility and best methods for establishing and supporting co-ops within Washington, DC.

1980s

Health
1980s

The crack epidemic reached Washington, DC and drug abuse played out largely along racial lines. Crack and cocaine use was most dominant among young, Black males. The city implemented a drug policy which prohibited drug offenders from pleading to lesser charges.

1984

Housing
1984

Homeless advocate Mitch Snyder and the Community for Creative Non-Violence led a campaign that resulted in Initiative 17, which gave any homeless person the right to shelter overnight. In 1990, the City Council voted to repeal the legislation.

1987

Housing

DC began a “homestead program” that, through a lottery, awarded abandoned and tax-delinquent properties, many in Columbia Heights, to first-time homeowners for $250. Buyers were required to bring their houses up to code and live in them for at least five years.

1989

Health

DC overlooked creating a centralized rehabilitation and recovery program in favor of asking the federal government for $102 million in aid for more police and prison space.

1990s

Urban Displacement

Business Improvement Districts were created which encompassed a total area that includes 70% of DC’s employment base and 40% of its tax base. While the BIDs met the city’s goal of enticing economic investment, more Black residents were forced to move out of communities they could no longer afford.

1991

Government
1991

Sharon Pratt Kelly became the first Black woman to lead a major U.S. city.

1991

Community Organizing
1991

In May, an uprising broke out when a police officer shot and wounded a Salvadoran man during an arrest. For three days, residents protested which led to a government investigation and police reform.

1992

Housing

The HOPE VI program was implemented with the goal of addressing the challenges in large scale public housing, such as poverty, crime, violence, and low opportunity. The program resulted in the permanent displacement of public housing residents who were forced to move to government owned homes but were unable to return after the HOPE VI project was completed.

1995

DC Financial Control Board
1995

Congress created the District of Columbia Financial Control Board to oversee all municipal spending and rehabilitate the city government.

1995

DC School Reform Act
1995

Congress passed the District of Columbia School Reform Act which included support for the formation of charter schools.

1997

DC Revitalization Act

President Bill Clinton signed the D.C. Revitalization Act. Under the new legislation, the federal government would take over D.C.’s jails and inmates, pension liabilities while increasing funding for Medicaid and the District’s courts. In return for these benefits, D.C. would give up the annual federal payment that it had received since 1974 as part of the Home Rule Act.

2001

DC Financial Control Board

The District regained control over its finances and the oversight board’s operations were suspended in September of that year.

2001

Health
2001

The D.C. General Hospital closed its doors. A year later, it became a temporary shelter for homeless families, which soon became overcrowded. In 2016, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced her plan to close DC General and open smaller temporary housing in all wards.

2001

Health
2001

The DC Healthcare Alliance provided health insurance coverage to low-income residents. By the numbers the program was a success. However, health outcomes, especially for Black men, remained poor.

2003

Education
2003

Congress passed the District of Columbia School Choice Incentive Act which created the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program, the only federally funded school voucher program that supports low-income students to attend alternatives to public schools.

2005

Juvenile Justice
2005

A hearing before a congressional subcommittee cited a lack of accountability and rehabilitations for the over 100,000 youth under custody of the D.C. Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services.

2005

Housing
2005

The New Communities Initiative was a place-based strategy focused on four specific communities: Barry Farm in Ward 8, Lincoln Heights/Richardson Dwellings in Ward 7, Northwest One in Ward 6 and Park Morton in Ward 1. Despite the failures of the federal HOPE VI program, the New Communities Initiative was largely modeled after the federal program, and much like HOPE VI, New Communities resulted in the displacement of very low-income residents. A city commissioned report found that NCI was responsible for a net loss of 100 deeply subsidized units.

2006

Living Wage
2006

The 2006 Living Wage Act required District contractors and entities that receive government funding to provide a living wage to their workers.

2006

Housing
2006

DC adopted the Inclusionary Zoning policy, which required that any new development reserves a certain percentage of its housing units as affordable.

2008

Education
2008

DC passed the Pre-Kindergarten Enhancement and Expansion Amendment Act in which every child is guaranteed a quality education taught by certified teachers in accredited and licensed schools.

2008

Economic Inequity

The District’s poorest households, which are mostly people of color, were left out of the Great Recession economic recovery.

2011

Workforce
2011

The District of Columbia Workforce Intermediary Establishment and Reform of First Source Amendment Act required contractors that receive government funds to employ DC residents for at least 51% of new positions.

2014

Health

Residents in D.C.’s poorest community, Ward 8, have the shortest life expectancy of the total population while Wards 2 and 3, which comprise some of the District’s wealthiest residents maintain the highest life expectancy.

2014

Ban the Box

The District’s Fair Criminal Record Screening Amendment Act (Ban the Box) of 2014 prohibited employers from obtaining the applicant’s criminal records until an intent to hire is offered.

2014

Wage Theft
2014

The Wage Theft Prevention Act of 2014 authorizes the Office of Wage Hour (OWH) to assess damages against businesses that are responsible for wage theft, raises the maximum amount of damages to three times the amount of unpaid wages, and requires OWH to consult with the worker throughout the process.

2014

Hunger and Food Insecurity

The DC Food Stamp Extension Amendment Act of 2014 ensured that Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients receive no less than $30 per month (the federal minimum is $16).

2015

Minimum Wage
2015

DC’s minimum wage increased from $10.50 in 2015 to $15 by 2020.

2015

Workforce

The Nursing Assistive Personnel regulations for the home health aide core training program will expand the skills of approximately 12,000 registered home health aides in DC.

2015

Workforce

The funding to create a “Career Pathways Innovation Fund” will expand combined programs for adult literacy and occupational training.

2015

Workforce
2015

Pregnant workers will be protected with DC employers providing reasonable workplace accommodations for employees whose ability to perform their work is limited because of pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, or other related medical conditions.

2015

Hunger and Food Insecurity
2015

The DC Healthy Schools Act was expanded to cover children in child development centers and family day care homes.

2015

Hunger and Food Insecurity
2015

Low-income students will have access to meals if school is cancelled due to snow emergencies.

2015

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
2015

There was a one-year delay in the implementation of a time limit for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families clients which would affect more than 6,000 families, including 13,000 children.

2015

Housing
2015

The Housing Trust Fund was funded at $100 million each year, which would create or preserve about 1,000 affordable homes per year.

2015

Earned Income Tax Credit and Taxes

The Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income, working residents without children was expanded. Tax deductions for low-income residents were increased.

2016

Unemployment Benefits
2016

The maximum weekly unemployment benefits were increased from $379 to $425. Workers will be able to keep more of their benefits if they take a part-time job while looking for full-time work. All workers will be guaranteed 26 weeks of benefits if needed, and there will be a yearly inflation adjustment.

 

Sources

  • 1963-1975: Twelve Years that Shook and Shaped Washington, Anacostia Community Museum, Smithsonian Institution.
  • A National Issue: Segregation in the District of Columbia and the Civil Rights Movement at Mid-Century (2005), Wendell E. Pritchett, University of Pennsylvania Law School, Faculty Scholarship Paper. Paper 1226.
  • African American Heritage Trail, Cultural Tourism DC, The National Trust for Historic Preservation, and Shaw Main Streets.
  • Civil War to Civil Rights, Downtown Heritage Trail, Cultural Tourism DC, and Downtown DC Business Improvement District.
  • District of Columbia Community Health Needs Assessment Volume 1 (2014), District of Columbia Department of Health.
  • Ending Slavery in the District of Columbia, Emancipation DC, District of Columbia Government.
  • Great Places to Live, Washingtonian, April 2016.
  • Halfway to Freedom: A History of the African American People in Washington, DC, Prof. Maurice Jackson.
  • Making Connections: Best Practices and Big Ideas for Policy Development and Delivering Community Benefits East of the Anacostia River (2016), Report of the Policy Innovation Lab, McCourt School of Public Policy, Georgetown University.
  • Native Peoples of Washington, DC, National Park Service.
  • Roads to Diversity Adams Morgan Heritage Trail, Cultural Tourism DC and Columbia Heights Heritage Trail Working Group.
  • Segregation and Concentrated Poverty in the Nation’s Capital (2015), Brookings, Social Mobility Memos.