Why you should go: The debate is just one of a number of D.C. Emancipation Day activities taking place throughout the week (the actual day is on April 16). The event is a callback to the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, a series of seven debates that took place between then-Republican Senate candidate Abraham Lincoln and incumbent Sen. Stephen Douglas. Slavery loomed large in those debates.
Today marks the 44th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., a day that shook a nation and forever changed D.C.’s landscape. The riots that erupted in the wake of King’s killing devastated many D.C. neighborhoods, which were left economically depressed for decades. That environment set the stage for present day gentrification.
Rioting after King’s assassination lasted for days in D.C., where initially peaceful gatherings turned violent. People looted businesses and more than 1,000 buildings burned to the ground. A curfew was put into place. Ben’s Chili Bowl on U Street was one of the few businesses that remained opened through the riots.
In the video below, Ben’s Chili Bowl cofounder Virginia Ali and others recall D.C. during the riots. They also talk about how Ben’s survived the aftermath of the riots and then weathered gentrification. Ben’s is one of the oldest businesses on U Street and is now a bonafide D.C. landmark.
At the end of the video, Virginia Ali says, “What has been most interesting and most satisfying for me, is to go into the Chili Bowl and see people from all walks of life: the rich, the poor, the intellectuals, those who haven’t gotten very much education.” It runs the gamut, she says, including people of all races, and seeing such diversity has “just been wonderful. I think that’s what the world should look like.”
The debate over whether to continue Black History Month is a provocative one, and the voices calling to end it are coming from some unlikely sources. There are those who have long argued that singling out minority groups perpetuates racial animosity. Others ask “Why is there no white history month?” (A common counter argument to that is “Because every month is white history month.”). But some are raising the question because they think that having a Black History Month “lets us off the hook,” so to speak; with a month set aside to learn about black history, there’s little impetus to incorporate it into U.S. history classes.
Black History Month began in the 1920s as Negro History Week, the brainchild of D.C.’s Carter G. Woodson. The purpose: to learn about the accomplishments of black Americans and their contributions to society. Tilghman appeared on WAMU 88.5′s The Kojo Nnamdi Show earlier this month when he said that as a child, Black History Month gave him a “sense of empowerment, a sense of pride:”
Last week we wrote about the ongoing debate over whether “black” or “African American” is the preferred term among black Americans born in the United States. A 2011 The Wall Street Journal/NBC poll showed that 42 percent of respondents preferred to be called black, compared to 35 percent who went by African American and 13 percent who said it didn’t matter.
We noted some complexities within this debate — what about African immigrants, non-black Africans and second-generation Americans with roots in Africa? A number of you with similar backgrounds chimed in to offer thoughts on what you preferred to be called, and how you’ve navigated racial identity in America.
I prefer not to be called African-American because it doesn’t correctly encompass my history or background. Additionally, there continue to be tensions between “member of the African diaspora, “exotic” blacks and African-Americans “regular” blacks. That often painful and tense history continues to prevent black immigrants from feeling as if African-American can ever be an all-inclusive term and, thus, makes “black” our default.
Some readers were unsure of what to call themselves, such as commenter Cia0912:
The controversy over the quote on the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial isn’t over. National Park Service plans to change the quote on the side of King’s statue is drawing criticism from the monument’s executive architect and others.
The quote on King’s statue currently reads, “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.” It’s a paraphrased version of this longer quote, from the end of his “Drum Major” speech:
If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.
Why you should go: The film festival screens films that take place in the District, showcasing the diversity of D.C. DCentric readers may be interested in seeing: “The Vigil,” which follows a Pakastani classical dancer who returns to her homeland from her adopted home in D.C.; “A Monument for Martin Luther King, Jr.,” a video essay on the King memorial and the role of memorials; and “Fly By Light,” a documentary-in-progress following 15 D.C. students who, for the first time, leave the city for the countryside of West Virginia.
The history of D.C.’s African American community is long and storied. African Americans have been around since the city became the nation’s capital, and most were free by 1830. In recent decades, D.C.’s black community has grown in ethnic diversity due to an influx of immigrants; about 18,000 District immigrants identify as black, with many coming from African and Caribbean nations. The District is also home to one of the largest expatriate Ethiopian communities in the world.
Courtesy of St. Augustine Catholic School
Students singing at St. Augustine, a school founded by free blacks and former slaves in 1858, and continues to thrive to this day.
Relations between the African American community and recent African arrivals have been tense at times. That was on display during a 2005 debate over whether to officially rename a corridor in Shaw, a historically black neighborhood, into “Little Ethiopia.”
But the history of African Americans’ struggles and triumphs also resonate with some of D.C.’s black immigrants. In a WAMU Metro Connection story about St. Augustine Catholic School, which was founded by African Americans before the Civil War ended, reporter Jessica Gould speaks with current student body president Lello Negera: “I’m from Ethiopia. I came here in 2003,” Negera tells Gould. “When I learned the history of the school, it made me realize how special this school is and how hard the people fought for us to go to school.”
About 200 children attend the school. The school is predominately black but a number of students hail from other countries.
Friday’s entire Metro Connection show was devoted to how race and ethnicity affects the D.C. region. You can find all of the stories here.
What: Singer, actor and activist Harry Belafonte book talk.
Where: Busboys and Poets, 14th and V streets, NW.
When: 5 p.m., Sunday.
Why you should go: Belafonte is one of the most prominent celebrities-turned civil rights activists of the 20th century, and he has plenty of stories to share, from his role in the March On Washington to popularizing Calypso music. Belafonte, who appeared on WAMU 88.5.’s Kojo Nnamdi Show last month, will discuss his new book, “My Song: A Memoir.”
Why you should go: Sulu DC aims to provide a space for Asian American and Pacific Islander artists of all stripes to present their works and raise issues relevant to their communities. The anniversary show will feature poet Regie Cabico, beat boxer Chip Han and the J. Pharaoh & the Manhattan Project band.
Other events to consider: The National Mall is sponsoring “African American Life on Pennsylvania Avenue,” a ranger-led walking tour exploring the role of African Americans in the history of the nation’s capital. The free tour begins at 2 p.m., Sunday at Freedom Plaza.