Adjacent to Howard University, the U Street District is a Washington, D.C. neighborhood that became a well known “Great Migration” destination between the 1920s and 1950s. What became known as the Great Migration began with a poem “Bound for the Promised Land” being published by the Chicago Defender in 1916. The poem was written by Matthew Ward, who resided in Jacksonville’s Historic Eastside neighborhood. Largely as a result of Ward’s poem, from 1916 to 1970, it is estimated that more than six million Black Southerners relocated to urban areas in the North and West.
Nicknamed “Black Broadway,” U Street was the economic epicenter of Washington, D.C.’s Black community during Jim Crow, featuring as many as 200 Black-owned businesses, cultural and entertainment venues prior to desegregation. Like many segregation-era Black communities across the nation, the U Street District declined economically after desegregation and a riot following the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968.
Over the last twenty years, an influx of new residents has resulted in gentrification and displacement on many long time residents. Despite the challenges, the Greater U Street area still strives to maintain its cultural heritage and unique story amongst Washington, D.C.’s neighborhoods.
U Street Photo Tour
1. Located at 1215 U Street NW, the Lincoln Theatre opened in 1922. Prior to its closure after the 1968 race-related riots, the theatre hosted jazz performers such as Duke Ellington.
2. The famed Ben’s Chili Bowl is a U Street institution that was opened in 1958 by Ben and Virginia Ali.
3. Dedicated in 1903, the True Reformer Building at 1200 U Street was the first building in the United States to be designed, financed, built, and owned by Washington, D.C.’s Black community after Reconstruction. The building was designed by the city’s first Black architect, John Anderson Lankford. Lankford was a prominent architect in Jacksonville between 1908 and 1912. In Jacksonville, Lankford was responsible for several buildings on the campus of Edward Waters University and churches with the African Methodist Episcopal denomination. He also served as the supervising architect for LaVilla’s Masonic Temple.
4. Established in 1913 by John Whitelaw Lewis, the Industrial Bank is one of the oldest African American-owned banks in the country.
5. The Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia building was completed in 1930. The organization became the first African American Masonic order south of the Mason-Dixon line when it was established in 1825.
6. Anchoring the African American Civil War Memorial, the Spirit of Freedom is a statue honoring African American servicemen in the Civil War.
7. Erected in 1887 and named in honor of Archibald Grimke, an American lawyer, journalist, and diplomat, the Grimke School is currently being renovated into a mix of uses, including a new permanent home for the African American Civil War Museum.
8. Located at 1816 12th Street NW, the Thurgood Marshall Center for Service and Heritage’s mission is to educate, encourage & empower children, youth, & families to pursue equality, social & economic justice through provocative dialogue & collective action.
9. The intersection of S Street NW and 12th Street NW.
10. The Shaw Community Center at 1701 11th Street NW.