Following the Civil War, the rapidly expanding black population of Washington looked for housing and for educational opportunities. A significant number of the newly freed blacks had to settle in the alley dwellings, Washington's version of slum housing, but the Freedmen's Bureau proposed a different solution, one which would address housing and education at the same time.
Public schools, which were established separately for whites and for blacks in 1862, were funded by separate tax assessments on white and black property throughout the city. Despite laws like the 1865 School Act, the municipal government continued to withhold funds for black schools; during this time, the government built only one school for blacks in the whole city. The Freedmen's Bureau threatened a lawsuit over the inequitable division of funds, and finally got some money turned over to a panel of colored trustees for administration of the colored schools. White residents, in turn, refused to sell or lease land for colored school construction.
The Freedmen's Bureau developed a program to construct black housing and to fund education at the same time. With much secrecy, it began buying up land from the Barry family, just north of the federal insane asylum in Anacostia. By 1867, the Bureau had assembled $25,000 worth of land there, which it sold, rented, and leased to blacks, to raise money for higher education (Howard University was among the recipients). For between $125 and $300, black families were able to purchase a one acre lot and enough lumber to build a house. Buyers paid in installments of $10/month, roughly the rent of a shanty in one of the city's alley dwellings. The Bureau converted former military barracks in the area to low-cost temporary housing for the families during construction. An 1868 Freedmen's Bureau report linked the development of the Barry's Farm community with the relocation of black families from alley dwellings: the barracks were converted with "the design of removing the families of freed people from some of the worst quarters of this city and Georgetown, where they were occupying miserable huts, in a condition to generate disease and crime...moderate rent was charged for these rooms, about one-third of the amount paid for the shanties the people had left." (1) Members of the Bureau inspected the converted barracks daily and strictly enforced housing codes in the growing community. By the end of the first two years, a settlement of 500 black families lived in the neighborhood. Families worked in the city by day and built their homes across the river by night. Visitors described "the hills and valleys dotted with lights...the sound of hoe, pick, rake, shovel, saw, and hammer rang through the late hours of the night.". (2) Within three months of the community's founding, enough money had been generated through an escrow fund to purchase a lot for Anacostia's first public school for black children.
Frederick Douglass and his grandson Joseph in the 1890s
Douglass, who broke the restrictive covenant in all-white Uniontown in the 1870s, had more extensive contact with whites in Anacostia than did most black residents living there at the time. He was a member of the predominantly white Uniontown Literary Society and was familiar with many of the white professional men in the area; at the same time he also involved himself extensively in the life of the black neighborhoods and churches in Anacostia.
Lawyer John Moss, around 1900
In the 1870s a brief period of home rule gave a popularly elected City Council the chance to pass ordinances guaranteeing equal service to all residents regardless of race; home rule ended after a few years due to insolvency, and when the Commissioners revised the D.C. Code in 1901, they eliminated these public accomodation laws. At the turn of the century, Washington had the largest black population of any city in the United States; this population was subject to increasing segregation during the first decades of the twentieth century. In 1913, Woodrow Wilson signed a law which formally segregated formerly integrated federal workplaces; in a study of Washington segregation, Howard Gillette and Fredric Miller note that the 1913 law is evidence that segregation "thus followed federal rather than strictly local practice. In fact, we become increasingly aware that the federal government as much as local residents determined the evolution of Washington's race relations." (3) Although Washington posted no signs and passed no laws regulating interaction between blacks and whites outside the federal workplace, blacks and whites rode in different parts of the bus, rooted for different baseball teams, relaxed at separate public parks, and watched movies in separate theaters.
The colored schools suffered enormously during the decades of segregation. A 1950 National Capital Parks and Planning Commission report showed that enrollment in colored junior high schools exceeded capacity by 3,452 students; white junior high schools were 717 students under capacity. Figures for senior high schools and vocational schools showed similar disparities. (4)
White residents of Anacostia marching to protest the desegregation of schools
The Changing Face: Urban Renewal and Public Housing
1 Washington D.C. Department of Urban Renewal, _Washington's Far Southeast '70 Report_, xi. 2 Louise Hutchinson, _The Anacostia Story: 1608-1930_, 83. 3 Fredric Miller and Howard Gillette, "Race Relations in Washington, D.C., 1878-1955: A Photographic Essay," _Journal of Urban History_ Nov. 1994: 61. 4 National Capital Park and Planning Commission, _Open Spaces and Community Services_, 1950: 41. 5 National Capital Park and Planning Commission, _Washington: Present and Future_, 1950: 39, 5, 34. 6 Miller and Gillette 81, Washington D.C. Dept. of Urban Renewal 3.