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Funkstown – Representing Black Foggy Bottom - the Lincoln Civic Association

By Frank Leone

From 1937 to 1954, the Lincoln Civic Association (LCA) fought for African Americans in Foggy Bottom. It demanded new housing for residents displaced by the government’s destruction of their homes in the neighborhood. Foggy Bottom was also represented by the West End Citizen’s Association (est. 1910) and the First Ward Citizen’s Association, both of which did not admit Black members at the time, and later by the integrated Foggy Bottom Association (est. 1955). As development continued in Foggy Bottom, African American residents were displaced and the LCA ceased operations.

D.C. neighborhood groups organized after 1874 when Congress eliminated local elected officials and imposed rule by an appointed Commission. The white Citizens Associations were dedicated to preserving property values (often a code word for enforcing segregation), keeping taxes low, and lobbying for city services. In 1910, 20 such groups organized the Federation of Citizens Associations. The group invited ten Black neighborhood groups to attend a meeting, but then voted to exclude those groups. In 1921 the presidents of nine Black civic associations formed the D.C. Federation of Civic Associations. The whites-only language was removed from the Citizens Federation constitution in 1972, and the group changed its name to Federation of Community Organizations of the District of Columbia in 2023, but the two separate groups still exist.

The LCA covered Foggy Bottom and the West End – 17th Street to Rock Creek and P Street to the Potomac. Dr. Edward F. Harris, a pharmacist, was its long term President, and it often met at Liberty Baptist Church (now GW’s SEH bldg. on 23rd St.) and other no-longer existing neighborhood black churches.

The 1952 opening of the Snows Court playground – from left D.C. Commissioner Renah F. Camalier, LCA President E.F. Harris, and children of Snows Court (Evening Star, June 26, 1952).

The 1934 Alley Dwelling Act called for demolition of D.C.’s “slums” and was supposed to assure availability of adequate housing for their residents. In 1935, the Alley Dwelling Authority (ADA) demolished 56 houses in O’Brien’s Court (between 20th and 21st and E and F Streets) and replaced them with a parking lot (subsequently the Red Cross D.C. Chapter, now State Dept.). Soon after, the ADA demolished 20 houses at Bissel’s Court (23rd and G St., later sold to George Washington University). The LCA also claimed that 700 black families were displaced for the construction of the War and Navy buildings (currently the State Dept.) on 23rd St. In 1944, the LCA opposed the government’s exercise of eminent domain to acquire Square 54, the site of GW’s new hospital (since demolished), pointing out that the Black residents would be displaced for a hospital that refused to admit them for treatment. The LCA criticized the ADA, which it called a “de-housing agency,” for failing to re-house the residents of these and other cleared alleys.

The ADA demolished alley houses in St. Mary’s Court and replaced them with 24-unit public housing in 1937. Its plan to provide the housing to African Americans came under attack, but the LCA successfully fought to keep the plan. The LCA also lobbied for more African American housing throughout the city for people displaced by alley clearing, and for rent control.

The LCA also advocated on other issues including complaints of police brutality, removal of objectionable public signs, obtaining a recreation center near Francis Jr. High School, increasing enrollment in the night school, reducing truancy, and securing playground space. Playgrounds included one in Snows Court, which operated from 1940-1950 with D.C. support. When the D.C. recreation agency terminated support for alley playgrounds, the LCA stepped in to operate the playground for the next few years. By the mid-1950s, Snows Court alley housing was being demolished or renovated and the playground no longer existed.

Sources:  Chris Myers Asch and George Derek Musgrove, Chocolate City:  A History of Race and Democracy in the Nation’s Capital, UNC Press, 2017 (at 192-193); LCA, “Statement of Facts in re Administration of Alley Dwelling Authority Law,” Dec. 31, 1939 (DC History Center); Mike DeBonis, “In ‘One City,’ two D.C. civic federations,” Washington Post, March 3, 2013; “Plan to Exclude Colored in Area Meets Protest,” Washington Post, July 22, 1937; “D.C. Federation Honors Lincoln Association,” Washington Post, Jan. 29, 1939; “U.S. Fights Plea to Halt Seizure of for New Hospital,” Evening Star, Oct. 12, 1944; “Move to Restore Aid Pledged as Alley Playground Reopens,” Evening Star, June 28, 1952; Foggy Bottom History Project.




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