This map displays all DC public housing that was historically segregated by race. Starting in 1935, DC's Alley Dwelling Authority began condemning and demolishing much of the housing that was available and affordable to low-income people, with the intention of replacing "slums" with modern units. ADA’s successor, the National Capital Housing Authority (NCHA), then built new, segregated public housing. Developments for African Americans went up only in neighborhoods that were already largely black, and separate developments for white and black families were built in areas that had been racially mixed. The whites-only Ellen Wilson Dwellings on Capitol Hill, for example, replaced blocks with black-occupied alley housing behind street-facing houses occupied by whites. (Some of the latter were preserved.) In a mostly black area of Northeast DC, Langston Terrace Dwellings provided high-quality, affordable apartments for African American families who met the development's rigorous application criteria.
During World War II, the Defense Homes Corporation and NCHA built dormitories and family housing for DC’s rapidly expanding federal workforce, especially people with war-related jobs. In some cases, African Americans displaced by war-related construction projects were given priority along with black war workers. Barry Farm Dwellings and James Creek Dwellings, for example, housed families displaced by the expansion of the Navy Yard and by the construction of Suitland Parkway.
Combined with federal support for white out-migration and disinvestment in areas where African Americans lived, the racial segregation of public housing served to entrench residential segregation. By the time the Housing Authority began gradually desegregating these developments in 1953 (30 percent of units remained segregated until 1956), DC's white population, especially east of Rock Creek Park, was rapidly declining. Over the next decade, the city's public housing became almost entirely black-occupied, as it remains today.
Photo credit: Frederick Douglass Dwellings, 1942, by Gordon Parks, courtesy Library of Congress.
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