The stories that came before us influence what comes next.


Rare Photos Capture 1968 D.C. Riots

The D.C. riots that erupted in the wake of the 1968 Martin Luther King, Jr. assassination resulted in more than 1,000 burned down buildings, dramatically changing the District’s landscape. Such damage altered the course of the city’s development, and the riots are still brought up in current discussions over gentrification and revitalization.

But exactly how did the city look during the four days of rioting? Yale University has released a collection of rare negatives documenting the riots and the government response. They were taken by part-time Associated Press photographer Alexander Lmanian, and the images he captured show soldiers mobilizing in D.C. streets, people looting and damaged storefronts. See our gallery below:

Ben’s Chili Bowl Owners Buy Longtime H Street Shop

Adam Gerard / Flickr

H Street clothing shop George’s Place, Ltd. will soon be replaced after 43 years of business. Nizam and Kamal Ali of Ben’s Chili Bowl reportedly bought the property at 10th and H Streets, NE for $900,000. The Alis aren’t set on opening another Ben’s, though; they’re conducting market research to see “what concept might best fit the neighborhood,” Washington City Paper reports.

Back in September, we profiled George’s Place owner George Butler as he was readying to sell his property after decades on H Street. He reflected upon his time on the now gentrifying corridor, and he said he felt there was little impetus to keep longtime, black-owned businesses afloat.

Ben’s is a rarity in D.C.; it’s been on U Street since before the 1968 riots, and has not only survived but thrived as that corridor experienced revitalization. Ben’s has expanded its half-smoke empire in recent years with the opening of a location at Nationals Park and Ben’s Next Door on U Street. The Alis have strong roots in the District; so if they’re the ones to buy up a longtime H Street shop to open a restaurant, should it be called gentrification? If not, then what is it?


Cupcakes and Bulletproof Glass

lamantin / Flickr

Nothing says neighborhood change and gentrification like a cupcake shop. But what if such a shop has bulletproof glass inside? The Washington City Paper reports that the first cupcake shop east of the Anacostia River, Olivia’s Cupcakes, has a “thick sheet” of bullet-resistant glass behind the counter:

“It broke my heart to do that, but it’s a deterrent,” says proprietor Cindy Bullock, who runs the cupcake shop alongside her husband, Bob Bullock, and their daughters, Kristina, 20, and Alexis, 18.

“Several people asked (about the glass) and said, ‘It’s a beautiful shop, its unfortunate that you have it up,’ but we had to have it,” Bullock says.

“I have owned several business in this area and we have been robbed several times,” she explains. “We wanted to make [the shop] elegant and beautiful, but because of the teenagers and having my children here we wanted to protect them.”

D.C.’s bullet resistant glass initially appeared in stores in the wake of the 1968 riots, and became much more widespread at the height of the crack epidemic. Like the Bullocks, many store owners have installed glass after bad experiences.

In gentrifying neighborhoods, the glass barricade coming down is a turning point. It’s also sometimes necessary to appeal to a wealthier clientele. Take Logan Circle, where most liquor and convenience stores had the glass for decades. Then Whole Foods opened on P Street, NW in 2000. Property values rose, and Amare Lucas, owner of Best-In Liquors on P and 15th streets NW decided to take down his glass. The more inviting atmosphere, along with new stock he brought in, attracted more customers, new and longtime residents alike. “Some [customers] told me they had been in the neighborhood for 15 years, kind of passing the store by because of the glass,” Lucas told Washington City Paper‘s Dave Jamieson in 2005. “They’re in my store now. It really gives you a satisfaction.”

MLK Memorial: A Complex D.C. Legacy

PBS NewsHour / Flickr

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, dedicated on Sunday as a tribute and reminder that King’s vision of equality isn’t yet fully realized, evokes an additional memory for those living in D.C. The statue is a reminder of the pain and frustration felt after King’s assassination, which gave birth to the 1968 riots that forever changed D.C.’s landscape, setting the stage for the gentrification the city is undergoing today.

One of Sunday’s speakers, president of the Children’s Defense Fund Marian Wright Edelman, shared this moving recollection from that moment in time:

The day after Dr. King was shot, I went into riot-torn Washington, D.C. neighborhoods and schools, urging children not to loot, get arrested and ruin their futures. A 12-year-old black boy looked at me straight in the eye and said, “Lady, what future? I ain’t got no future. I ain’t got nothing to lose.”

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A Look Back: Lincoln Theatre and Black Broadway

By Mary-Alice Farina

The Lincoln Theatre is approaching its 90th anniversary as a cultural beacon of the U Street district. But impending closure threatens to break an important chain in D.C. history.

The theater opened in 1922 at 12th and U Streets, at the height of the racial ghettoization of D.C. Although the District outlawed Jim Crow laws in 1917, segregation became a reality in D.C. Racially restrictive housing covenants and Depression-era laws ended up restricting housing and services to non-whites in certain neighborhoods.

In the face of this, U Street evolved into Black Broadway, an inimitable nexus of businesses, civil institutions, entertainment venues and homes. The area first experienced a boom after the Civil War, as thousands of new residents moved from the south. Between 1900 and 1948, U Street proved a vital epicenter for those suffering under the legacy of slavery.

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DCentric Picks: MLK Memorial Dedication, ‘Dream City’ Discussion

Mladen Antonov / AFP/Getty Images

What: The Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial dedication ceremony.

Where: West Potomac Park.

When: 9 a.m., Sunday.

Cost: Free.

Why you should go: The dedication of the memorial, the first on the National Mall to honor an African American, was initially scheduled for Aug. 28. But it was canceled due to Hurricane Irene. Although the memorial has been open to the public for more than a month now, the ceremony will feature remarks by members of King’s family and President Barack Obama.

Other events to consider: Greater Greater Washington is hosting a discussion between the authors of “Dream City: Race, Power, and the Decline of Washington, D.C.” In the 1990s, Harry Jaffe and Tom Sherwood wrote about the rise and fall of former Mayor Marion Barry in the context of D.C.’s political and racial struggles. D.C. is now going through a new round of changes. Washington Post reporter Mike DeBonis will moderate the talk, which takes place at 7 p.m., Monday, at the Shaw Library. (Disclosure: Sherwood is a resident analyst on WAMU 88.5′s Kojo Nnamdi show).

Columbus Day: Your Take

Yesterday, we asked whether Columbus Day should remain a federal holiday. And the majority of you responded “no,” in our admittedly unscientific poll. Alternatively, about 27 percent said it should remain a federal holiday, mostly because “we can’t vilify historical figures based on today’s moral standards.” The majority disagreed, voting that we shouldn’t have the day off to honor Columbus either because it’s offensive or because he didn’t discover anything:

A number of you offered additional thoughts on the issue. Some groups have been lobbying for the day to be commemorated as Indigenous People’s Day instead of Columbus Day. Reader Guest had a different suggestion:

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Columbus Day: Should It Remain a Federal Holiday?

This is how some opponents view Columbus Day.

A number of folks in D.C. have the day off due to Columbus Day. But what exactly are we observing today?

Columbus Day became an official holiday after Italian immigrants lobbied for the recognition of Christopher Columbus, an Italian. In 1937, Franklin Roosevelt instituted the first federal-level recognition of the day. But in recent decades, Native American groups have pushed for the abolition of the holiday and for the creation of Indigenous People’s Day. Some say Columbus deserves little recognition as he “discovered” a land already inhabited by people. Others view the holiday as honoring a man who ushered in a mass genocide.

So, what’s your take on the issue? Cast your vote in our poll below:

D.C. May Lose One of the Last Remnants of Black Broadway

Elahe Izadi / DCentric

Cynthia Robbins, Lincoln Theatre board member, makes an appeal for funding to save the theater.

When the Lincoln Theatre opened in 1922 on U Street, it was one of the jewels of “Black Broadway.” But with money running out, the historical landmark is at risk of closing.

“They say, ‘Before Harlem, there was U Street,’” said Rahim Muhammad, who grew up in the area. “So to me, the Lincoln is more important than the Apollo.”

During a Thursday afternoon press conference in front of Lincoln Theatre, board members blasted Mayor Vincent Gray for not answering their calls to hold a meeting to discuss saving the theater. Gray has said the theater’s business model is “not sustainable” and that the city couldn’t “pour money” in it.

Without a $500,000 boost, board members said the theater could close by the end of the year.

The possible closure of the Lincoln Theatre may be a sign of bad economic times. But some say the theater, on a now totally-gentrified corridor, holds a special place in D.C.’s black history and it should be preserved.

Rick Lee, a Lincoln Theatre Board member, criticized the city for giving money to other theaters such as Ford and Arena Stage, and yet failing to allocate anything to the Lincoln Theatre in Fiscal 2012, which begins Oct. 1. They have received $250,000 in past years.

“Even though the mayor is black, I almost feel like it’s a racial thing because I don’t see why you would have this theater, as beautiful as it is with all of this potential, and nickel and dime it,” Lee said. “I’m offended.”

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Lincoln Theatre, Fixture of Black Broadway, To Close

Wally Gobetz / Flickr

We have an update on this story here.

Lincoln Theatre, which was a U Street landmark since the corridor was known as “Black Broadway,” may close next week because it’s run out of money, DCist is reporting:

Earlier this year, Councilmember Vincent Orange (D-At-Large) and [Councilmember Jim] Graham, who sits on the theater’s Board of Directors, were able to secure $500,000 in funding for the Lincoln during budget negotiations. However, that money will not be allocated until the next fiscal year. [Mayor] Gray responded to Graham’s news by stating that the city couldn’t “pour money in” to the theater, which he described as having a business model that was “not sustainable.”

In its heyday, Lincoln Theatre regularly featured Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong. It eventually added movie screens, offering entertainment options to African Americans at a time of segregation. The theater fell into disrepair after the 1968 riots, but reopened in the 1990s with federal, local and private financial support. Since then, the theater has hosted a diversity of performances while U Street experienced gentrification and rapidly increasing property values. But in recent years, the Lincoln Theatre has struggled to keep its doors open as money dwindled.