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Looking Back - Aug. 12 2012

Each week Albany Herald researcher Mary Braswell looks for interesting events, places and people from the past. You can contact her at (229) 888-9371 or mary.braswell@albanyherald.com.

When people talk about “Washington” these days, it is usually in reference to the government. On July 16, 1790, a compromise between Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison—known as the Residence Act—was passed, declaring George Washington’s selection of a site on the Potomac River as the nation’s new permanent capital. As part of the agreement, the federal government assumed the states’ debts. Here is a look back at just a small taste of history from our nation’s capital.

At that time

• From the end of the Civil War to the year 1900, more than 50,000 former slaves moved into the city.

• Beginning in 1904, the lunchroom at the Bureau of Printing and Engraving was segregated.

• It took 83 years to complete construction on Washington National Cathedral. Although originally conceived in 1791 by Major Pierre L’Enfant, the cathedral’s creation did not commence until September 29, 1907, when a stone from a field in Bethlehem was set into a larger slab of American granite and laid in ceremony as the foundation stone. In 1990, the National Cathedral was finally completed.

• By 1909 the NAACP had over 1,000 members in D.C., the largest in the nation.

• The Howard Theater opened in 1910, built with black capital and featuring black performers. It featured such acts as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway and Ella Fitzgerald.

• First Lady Edith Wilson complained to her husband that she had found black men working in government offices with white women and the president signed a law that segregated all federal workplaces. He also dismissed all appointed blacks in high positions. Elsewhere the city was segregated largely by custom. There were a few exceptions to the custom such as the Library of Congress, public libraries, streetcars, and Griffith Stadium.

• Originally named Preparatory High School for Colored Youth and later known as M Street High School, Dunbar High School opened. It was America’s first high school for black students.The year was 1916.

• Of the 310 students who graduated from Dunbar High in 1918, 267 went to college, five joined the military, and only 37 went immediately to work.

• The Shaw neighborhood of D.C. grew out of freed slave encampments in the rural outskirts of the city. Originally called “Uptown”, there were 300 black owned businesses in the neighborhood during the 1920s.

• A January storm brought 28 inches of snow to the city. On January 28 the roof collapsed on the Knickerbocker Theater, occupied by 900 people. Ninety-eight occupants were crushed to death and another 158 were injured.

• It was 1924 when DC native Kate Smith won an amateur talent contest and three years later became a radio star. By that time she was 10 years old.

• Izzy Einstein, the famous prohibition agent, kept a record of how long it took to get a drink in various cities. It took him an hour in D.C. (as opposed to 11 minutes in Pittsburgh and 17 in Atlanta). He finally secured a drink after asking directions from a cop.

• In 1930, photographer Addison Scurlock began producing newsreels on African American activities for the Lichtman chain of theaters.

• Two people were killed when the U.S. Army attacked an encampment of 20,000 World War I veterans gathered in Washington D.C. to demand their bonus benefit payments. The year was 1932.

• It was 1935 when baritone Todd Duncan became the first person to play the part of “Porgy” in the Gershwin Opera “Porgy and Bess.” Duncan broke the color barrier in American Opera by insisting on integrated audiences during his performances.

• President Franklin Delano Roosevelt appointed 40 blacks to high positions and integrated new federal buildings while leaving the old ones segregated. It was 1941.

• The year 1944 saw Jack Casady born. He will later co-found Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna. Peter Torkelson was also born. As Peter Tork, he would become one of the original Monkees.

• By the end of World War II, the District contained a higher proportion of black college graduates than any other place in America,. A survey conducted in 1950 found 92 black dentists, 181 black lawyers, and 211 black physicians practicing in Washington.

• A 14-year-old boy by the name of Bob King got a job at radio station WOOK in 1952. He grew up and changed his radio name to Wolfman Jack, one of the progenitors of rock ‘n’ roll.

• In 1955, O. Roy Chalk bought the transit system and, finding that streetcars were more efficient than buses, tried to resist city pressure to convert the system. He even air conditioned one streetcar, but city officials and the Senate District Committee were adamant that buses be used. In 1962 the era of streetcars came to an end after 991/2 years.

• The Senators of Washington - “first in war, first in peace, last in the American League” - pulled up stakes in 1961 after 60 inglorious years and relocate to Minnesota, where they became the Twins.

• For the first time in the history of Washington D.c., residents were allowed to vote in the (1964) presidential election.

• In 1967, Lyndon Johnson submitted a plan to Congress to reorganize the DC government with an appointed mayor and council. Congress approved. LBJ named a mayor-commissioner and city council, telling them to act as though they were elected.

• Two years passed and DC got to elect an 11-member Board of Education. Seventy percent of registered voters went to the polls in the first local election since the 1870s.

• Between May 3 and May 5, 1971 more than 13,000 people were arrested in Washington, D.C.-- the largest mass arrest in America’s history. The action was the government’s response to anti-war demonstrations.

• In May 1974, voters approved a home rule charter and creation of advisory neighborhood commissions. In November, the first election under the home rule act of a mayor and city council took place. The city approved home rule by 83%.

• Citizens passed an initiative in 1984 guaranteeing the right of the homeless to adequate overnight shelter. The initiative would be repealed in 1990.

• In 1998 the D.C Police Department procured 183 mountain bikes for use on patrol.

• Having opened in 1910 as a model Progressive Era experiment in correctional facilities, Lorton Penitentiary closed in 2001.