—Columbia Heights Heritage Trail —
"A Black world in which a wonderful democracy of conditions prevailed — waitresses, doctors, preachers, winos, teachers, numbers runners and funeral directors, prostitutes and housewives, cabdrivers and laborers all lived as neighbors."
—Marita Golden, describing Columbia Heights of the 1960s in Long Distance Life
The house to your right
at 1422 was built in 1893 for P.B.S. Pinchback, a Reconstruction era politician and lawyer from Louisiana. Pinchback briefly served as Louisiana's governor, the only African American governor in the country until Virginia elected Douglas Wilder in 1990. Pinchback also won seats in the U.S. House and Senate, but white politicians prevented him from claiming them.
Here on Harvard Street, Pinchback raised his grandson, future author Jean Toomer. Toomer's time where provided material for his 1923 masterpiece, Cane.
"Dan Moore walks southward on Thirteenth Street," Toomer wrote. "The low limbs of budding chestnut trees recede above his head....The eyes of houses faintly touch him as he passes them. Soft girl-eyes, they set him singing."
Almost four decades later novelist Marita Golden also found a rich setting in Columbia Heights.
The great Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes, son of a diplomat assigned to the Mexican Embassy on
16th Street, relished life here in the 1930s. Washington had "one of the best public school systems in the world," he recalled, "and I profited from it."
The Drum and Spear, Washington's first Afrocentric bookstore, operated three blocks from here, at 1371 Fairmont St., from 1969 until the mid 1970s.
As you turn left on 14th Street to reach Sign 19, note the formerly private residences at 2901-2907 14th Street. From 1917 until 1972 the Hines Funeral Home operated there before the buildings became home to the Greater Washington Urban League.
Back of marker:
More than 200 years ago, city planner Pierre Charles L'Enfant designed a new capital city on the low coastal plain at the confluence of the Potomac and Anacostia rivers, bordered on the north by a steep hill. Today the hill defines Columbia Heights.
Cultural Convergence: Columbia Heights Heritage Trail
takes you on a tour of the lively neighborhood that began as a remote suburb of Washington City. Over time, transportation innovations, starting with streetcars, made Columbia Heights accessible and desirable. Soon, men and women of every background populated the neighborhood, people who changed the world with new technology, revolutionary ideas, literature, laws, and leadership. From the low point of the civil disturbances of 1968, Columbia Heights turned to resident
leaders and rose again. Metrorail's arrival in 1999 provided a boost, reviving the historically important 14th Street commercial corridor. Experience both the new and old Columbia Heights, with all its cultural and economic diversity, as you talk this walk.
[A Description of the Cultural Convergence: Columbia Heights Heritage Trail tour and acknowledgment of its creators follows.]