The year also witnessed controversy within the city’s Black school system. Some years earlier the very able Anna J. Cooper had been ousted as principal of M Street High School after leading the effort to maintain the school’s strong academic curriculum in the face of the Booker T. Washington-influenced attempt to focus the school’s courses primarily upon industrial and manual arts. Despite her departure, the school continued as an outstanding example of the best in Black public education. Along with Cardozo and Armstrong, it would continue to play a major role in the years prior to the desegregation of schools. In 1919 a Parents’ League had been formed to protest the treatment of Blacks in the public schools. It demanded the dismissal of Roscoe Conkling Bruce as the Assistant Superintendent for Colored Schools. Although Bruce was eventually absolved and retained, the Parents’ League was an important development in the city’s race relations. It contributed to a climate of increased militance among Blacks, yet played an effective, calming role during the civil disturbance. A decade later, the Community Chest was an important interracial effort to improve relations and provide much needed cooperation among the races in tackling community problems.

     In 1920 efforts were made to improve race relations through the establishment of Community Services, Inc., an organization of civic volunteers, and the Council of Social Workers. Neither effort lasted; segregation persisted. The dedication ceremony in 1922 of a memorial to the great emancipator, Abraham Lincoln, was held under segregated conditions. Washington’s Black community played a significant role in the Negro Renaissance of the 1920s and 1930s,  which is commonly identified with Harlem. Alain Locke and Sterling A. Brown of Howard University were important teachers and writers contributing to the period’s flowering of Black culture. Duke Ellington and Jean Toomer were among those who sought the more enlightened atmosphere that New York provided. The poet Georgia Douglas Johnson for many years held gatherings known as "Saturday Nighters" which attracted a large group of writers and intellectuals as participants.

     When the Depression struck, Washington was affected like other areas. During this period Elder Lightfoot Michaux established his Church of God and provided significant relief to the community’s needy Black citizens. However, it was hardly enough to stem the effects of the Depression, which weighed particularly heavy on the city’s Black population. The New Negro Alliance began in 1933 to fight against the city’s rampant discrimination. Under the banner "Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work," the Alliance was instrumental in opposing many of the more overt expressions of racism and discrimination through the use of pickets and boycotts. 


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November 2000