Hub, Home, Heart
— Greater H Street NE Heritage Trail —
The handsome church on this corner is the second to occupy this spot. The first was a small brick chapel built by John A. Douglas in 1878 for the new Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church. Soon after, it was renamed Douglas Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church to honor its builder and his wife Sidney, who donated the land. The current building replaced it in 1898 as the block filled with brick houses and stores.
Douglas Memorial served a white congregation. But beginning in the 1940s, its members moved away, and the parish dwindled. In 1958 the governing Baltimore Conference assigned a young African American pastor, Forrest C. Stith, to rebuild the congregation. By knocking on doors and reaching out to youth, Stith increased the church's membership from nearly zero to 200 in three years. On 11th Street between I and K, Holy Name Catholic Church experienced the same racial makover.
As these church histories show, well before "white flight" transformed American cities in the 1950s, the face of H Street was changing. Descendants of European immigrant families, thanks to public school education, moved into better-paying professions and newer neighborhoods. African Americans had become a majority in Greater H Street by 1950. In response the DC School Board switched the white Franklin Pierce Elementary on Maryland Avenue, and other neighborhood schools, to the "colored" division. The Supreme Court's 1954 desegregation of the nation's schools accelerated white flight to exclusive suburbs. For decades, in a very divided city, Greater H Street was almost entirely African American. As the 21st century opened, though, it followed the city's trend towards a more racially diverse population.
Trains and streetcars created the Near Northeast neighborhood around H Street. The B&O Railroad's arrival in 1835 made this a center of energetic, working-class life. Workmen living north of the Capitol staffed the Government Printing Office, ran the trains, stocked the warehouses, and built Union Station. When a streetcar arrived linking H Street to downtown, new construction quickly followed.
H Street bustled with shops and offices run by Jewish, Italian, Lebanese, Greek, Irish, and African American families. During the segregation era, which lasted into the 1950s, African Americans came to H Street for its department stores and sit-down restaurants. Most businesses welcomed all customers.
Then came the civil disturbances in the wake of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination in 1968. Decades of commercial decline followed. Just off H Street, though, the strong residential community endured. The 2005 opening of the Atlas Performing Arts Center signaled a revival, building evocatively on H Street's past. Hub, Home, Heart
is a bridge to carry you from that past to the present.
Hub, Home, Heart: Greater H Street NE Heritage Trail
is an Official Washington, DC Walking Trail. The self-guided, 3.2-mile tour of 18 signs offers about two hours of gentle exercise. Free keepsake guidebooks in English or Spanish are available at businesses and institutions along the way. For more on DC neighborhoods, please visit www.CulturalTourismDC.org.