Protests in the nation’s capitol highlight the history of DC natives, fight against gentrification | Photo Story

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Since the eruption of anti-Black violence rallies, Washington DC is a significant site for protesters demonstrating on issues of police violence.

From dances in front of the mayor’s home to defunding the police to Sunday prayers, Washington DC has increased demonstrations for the third week in a row. While thousands rally for Black lives, many Washington DC residents and those who were forced to live on its outskirts, ask if Black lives are valuable enough to share space and power.

As the nation’s capital, and geographically located in the South, Washington DC served as one of the few major cities that hosted a Black middle class for generations. With the ongoing gentrification and erosion of Black wealth, DC became a battleground long before protests. This photo story focuses on the native Black Washington DC, a group that once dominated the metropolis, but now struggles to hold on to the last remaining pockets of neighborhoods they still have.

Words by Kaia Shivers, photos by Clay Banks.

Black hands built Washington DC. Moreover, a genius with photographic memory named Benjamin Banneker, saved the layout of the city. Banner was a free Black man who authored almanacs, farmed, and was a surveyor due to his high mathematical acumen. His mastery of mathematics and astronomy were so respected and well known that he worked side-by-side with Andrew Ellicott, the cousin of Presiden George Washington, to map out what would become the nation’s capital.

Much of what he did and his work on the project to build Washington DC has been erased in the white narrative, plus his home mysteriously burned down during his funeral. However, the history about Banneker that survived is that be was not Ellicott’s first or even third choice, but he was the first person in America to build a clock that told the exact time made from wood. So Ellicott used Banneker’s accurate mapping, which he did through his knowledge of reading the celestial bodies. Through this, Banneker placed markings, which were stones, to lay the initial configuration of the 10-mile-capital. Photo credit Clay Banks.

To date, Washington DC is the most gentrified city in the US. Governing report shows that out of the 102 neighborhoods eligible for gentrification, 54 have completely gentrified since 2000. until today, gentrification in the city. Photo credit Clay Banks.

Since the early 1900s, the Black presence and in particular, advocacy around African Americans was salient in Washington DC. While Howard University became a critical site to grow some of the most powerful thinkers of the Black conscious movement, such as Kwame Toure, Thurgood Marshall, Kamala Harris, and a number of mayors and culture purveyors, there is a group often overlooked who moved the politics forward: the working black class. Photo credit Clay Banks.

From butlers to sanitation workers, they fueled the local economy and built a strong middle-class. One group, black women domestics who migrated from the deep south to work in the homes of wealthy white families in the early twentieth century, organized so that they did not have to live in white homes, but be paid as day workers. Most Black women worked as domestics or in the service of whites. This historical mobilization allowed Black women, and in particular, those with their own families to procure a home life. Photo credit Clay Banks.

African American veterans have always been embedded in protests after every US war starting with the Civil War. In particular, a group of freed Blacks in Massachusetts who fought in the American Revolution. This same community is where Crispus Attucks, the first known casualty in the American Revolution. It was Crispus Attacks who initiated the American Revolution during the civil unrest against the British in Massachusetts known as the Boston Massacre. Photo credit Clay Banks.

Attucks, a skilled sailor and cattle rancher whose father was African and mother from the indigenous Natick or Nantucket nation, was in a group who taunted British soldiers or Redcoats on the Boston docks. In turn, they open-fired on the crowd killing Attucks first. John Adams, the second president of the US defended the soldiers. In the trial, he described Attucks as part of a a motley rabble of saucy boys, negroes and molattoes, Irish teagues and outlandish jack tarrs. In particular, Adams said Attucks “whose very looks was enough to terrify any person,” stood 6 foot 2 stature, brown skin and hair. Photo credit Clay Banks.

Black men built the Capitol. Point blank period. Archival documents show that highly-skilled craftsmen built the complex architecture in the city that spans from the white house to the Capitol buildings. For example, the Statue of Freedom that sits atop the Capitol Dome was cast by Philip Reid, a 39-year-old enslaved Black man brought from South Carolina because of his ironwork abilities and metal smithing. Photo credit Clay Banks.

Outside of New York, Washington DC was the hub of Black intelligentsia influence in the 19th and 20th centuries. Home to a host of Civil Rights advocates and organizations, and educational institutions, it also situated what W.E.B. DuBois called the “Talented Tenth,” a small number of highly educated and well-positioned Blacks who took on the commitment of the liberation of the people. Photo credit Clay Banks.

Through the years, it evolved into elite groups such as Black Greek organizations and Masonic orders that have kept resources and information within their circles, some of the most prominent African Americans, and now Black immigrants are a part of these circles. At the same time, members of these organizations have been active in Black Lives Matters protest in challenging white nationalist and racist social order. Photo credit Clay Banks.

Protesters have called for Washington DC’s mayor, Muriel Bowser to reallocate funds for the police department to other agencies in the city. In May, Bowser announced plans to increase the budget of local police, and says she is keeping her plans. In an interview with NPR, she was asked if she would reconsider her proposal. “Not at all,” said Mayor Bowser. 

What our budget proposal, and I can’t speak for other departments, but they fund the people that we need. And certainly we wouldn’t want the people on our forces not to have the proper training or equipment that makes for better community policing.

This call comes on the heels of the violent clash coming a day after President Donald Trump issued a warning at a press conference

“I am mobilizing all available federal resources — civilian and military — to stop the rioting and looting, to end the destruction and arson, and to protect the rights of law-abiding Americans, including your Second Amendment rights,” said Trump. Photo credit Clay Banks.

Where some of the nation’s most prominent protests occur is also where the most prolific and tragic incidents in slavery. Like the National Mall, it sits on the former site of the city’s most bustling slave market. In fact holding cells for enslaved blacks, called slave pens, lined the area until around 1850. Slavery was abolished in Washington DC in 1862. Photo credit Clay Banks.

A popular slave pen was Robey’s slave pen, located at 8th Street and B Street. The slave markets in Washington DC also had the notorious reputation for selling and shipping off free Blacks in the north, or in and around the area then selling them in the deep south. Photo credit Clay Banks.

The irony or perhaps the hypocrisy in the protest is that in 2019, a white gentrifier complained about a black-owned store in Washington DC playing the local go-go music outside their shop. The incident sparked outrage with longtime Washingtonians on how white migrants moved to the area and immediately attempted to change the cultural mapping of the city. In one of the efforts pushing back, a Native DC movement was created along with a Native DC day. Photo credit Clay Banks.

Now as days of protests flood the city with bodies, noise, music and chants. Not a word of complaint. Photo credit Clay Banks.

All power to the people. Photo credit Clay Banks.

Black Power movements thrived in Washington DC, taking many forms over the years. People note the 1963 march on Washington DC’s mall as a critical turning point. Actually, it was co-opted and highly controlled by white money and white “progressives” who controlled the gathering. Revisionist history and the white narrative signified this demonstration as significant. 

However,  a march that never happened, put the fear in the white power structure. That was the threat of a demonstration by A. Phillip Randolph. In 1941, he alongside Bayard Rustin and A. J. Muste planned to organize the thousands of Black union workers across the US for a protest in Washington DC. The rally would be against  racial discrimination in the military and  war industries during World War II. This forced Franklin D. Roosevelt to pass an executive order that banned discrimination in the armed forces and federal bureaus. Photo credit Clay Banks.

Did you know that the grounds now called the Arlington National Cemetery were, from 1863 to 1888, a self-sustaining village for former enslaved Blacks called the Freedman’s Village. Photo credit Clay Banks.

Many do not know about the lives of women who lived in the seat of power. Enslaved servants of the White House were often cordoned off from the outside world. According to researcher William Seale, rooms now used in the White House as the library, the China room, and to host delegates is where female house servants were sequestered: often birthing their children there, and losing them to death or to be sold off at the nearby auction.

These first inhabitants of the nation’s capitol have been largely invisible in the history of Washington DC. As gentrification whitens the space, the future of DC threatens to erase the African American contributions. Photo credit Clay Banks.

Washington DC has served as a haven for Black internationals for decades. Now an integral part of the city, those of Caribbean and African descent are intertwined in local life and politics. According to the Urban Institute, most Caribe migrants are from Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, and Haiti and the US Virgin Islands. As well, they are longtime residents with “On average, over 60 percent of DC’s Caribbean population has been in the country for 21 years or more.” Photo credit Clay Banks.

Howard University is the number one school to produce medical school applicants. As well, the university’s medical school enrolled 300 African American students in 2018, more than any predominantly white institution in the country. HBCUs matter. Photo credit Clay Banks.

More than 400 people were arrested during the third weekend of protests in Washington DC due to curfew violations. Nonetheless, protesters remain resilient. Photo credit Clay Banks.

Women have stood at the forefront of Washington DC’s different waves of Black advocacy. Sojourner Truth, Mary Church Terrell, Nannie Helen Buroughs and the number of organizational leaders including elected officials. To date, there have been two congresswomen who ran for office: Shirley Chisholm in 1972 and Cynthia McKinney in 2008. Photo credit Clay Banks.

The O/G, Congressmen John Lewis (D-GA) with DC protesters. Rep. Lewis was a freedom fighter in the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. His activism evolved into political representation. Now he passes on the baton as he stands on the Black Lives Matter words commissioned to be painted in Washington DC as a protest by Mayor Bowser against President Donald Trump. Photo credit Clay Banks.

We hope the protesting is not in vain, signed, all the Black lives. Photo credit Clay Banks.

We thank Clay Banks who posts his photos on Unsplash to bring visibility to the anti-Black violence protests across the world.

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