Friday, March 16, 2012

Our Block's Second History Party

Last Friday, 20-25 residents from our block met at a neighbor's house to have our second history party. Basically, this is an excuse to have a party and to learn about the history of our block from each other. It is so interesting how the experiences of individuals on the block reflect the broader historical and social trends in Washington, DC and other cities in the United States. I would highly recommend organizing your own block party. In this post, I provide some details about how to do this and some analysis of the block discussion.

First, we milled around socializing and eating. While last time we had a potluck, this time our neighbor organized a delicious dinner of pasta, sandwiches, and other items, and other residents brought drinks and appetizers. After about 45-60 minutes, we sat down in a large circle with our two neighbors who had lived longest on the block together at the top of the circle. In contrast to the long-time resident highlighted last time, who had arrived in DC with the Great Migration from the South, our two long-term residents this time were professionals who moved to DC in the 1960s. Both were part of the 1960s and early 1970s movement of professionals with few or no children to Capitol Hill, discussed in a previous post. At the party, there were also two residents who had grown up on Capitol Hill but on other blocks. Several residents who had moved to the block in the early 1980s remembered a small baby boom. Yet, households on Capitol Hill were still smaller than they had been in the 1940s and 1950s.

Interestingly, these two residents -- one African American and one white -- remembered their friends telling them not to move to our neighborhood because there were so many African Americans. These residents did not listen to their friends and found the block quite comfortable. They said that they did not remember any block parties, except when reminded of one in the 1980s. In general, the residents worked and, when they came home, they parked in the back of their houses. Thus, they kept to themselves, but they did know some people on the block. I think that many at the party had expected more neighborhood community in the past, when, at least for some, residents had more connections elsewhere in the city.

The two residents also recalled that many African Americans moved away from the block but only later learned that they had been renters who likely had been forced to leave the block. On our block, there were at least a couple of rooming houses with laborers as renters. Several houses were also rented out. Some of the owners of the houses with renters had been African Americans who lived elsewhere. Our host brought up that by the 1950s many of the first owners of the houses were passing away. Many of the houses on our block were sold to investors or developers, who then moved out the renters and renovated the houses for sale to the new professionals.

The kids were great during this whole discussion. After about 30-45 minutes of discussion, everyone fell into excited small group discussion. All in all, a fabulously interesting and enjoyable event. We're looking forward to the next one!