In April 1862, slaves in the District of Columbia were the first in the nation to be emancipated. In the turbulent years that followed the end of the Civil War, the early struggles, like those over civil rights in the use of Washington, D.C. street cars, were the first of many jousts that placed Washington, D.C. squarely in the forefront of civil rights struggles. From the 1860's to the 1920's, the city underwent dramatic changes; however, the legalized forms of political, economic, and social segregation expanded the enormous chasm separating the African American and white communities. The national capital was completely transformed by the nation's largest internal migration and became a textbook case for the impact of institutionalized segregation. By the end of World War I, the race-based imperatives of the District of Columbia prepared African Americans to expect little sympathy or support for programs to end discriminatory policies like restrictive housing covenants.2

     In the first fifty years of the twentieth century, the death grip of segregation continued its hold on the burgeoning city. By the late 1940's, the southern national capital on the Potomac slowly accepted the city's most comprehensive social and economic reforms.3 The African American community -- denied the full rights of citizenship granted to all in the white community -- used business acumen, local organizations, and military opportunities to forge ahead to the triumphs that would finally come with the civil rights victories of the 1950's and 1960's.



     1Constance McLaughlin Green, The Secret City: A History of Race Relations in the Nation's Capital, (Princeton: 1967), 60-74; Williston H. Lofton, "The Development of Education for Negroes in Washington, D.C., " (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, American University, 1944),  66 - 93; Walter C. Clephane, "The Local Aspect of Slavery in the District of Columbia," Columbia Historical Society Records, III (1900), 229.

     2New York Times, August 20, 1883, 4; Thomas Johnson, "The City on the Hill: Race Relations in Washington, DC," (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Maryland, 1975), 1 - 127.

     3Paul Phillips Cooke, American Veterans Committee Meeting, Washington, DC, 17 November 1999; Pittsburgh Courier, 18 December 1948.


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November 2000