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Bloomingdale in Washington, District of Columbia — The American Northeast (Mid-Atlantic)
 

Dividing Line

Worthy Ambition

 

—LeDroit Park/Bloomingdale Heritage Trail —

 
Dividing Line Marker image. Click for full size.
By Devry Becker Jones, November 23, 2017
1. Dividing Line Marker
Inscription.  This busy stretch of Rhode Island Avenue was a racial dividing line even as DC became majority African American in 1957. "African Americans were not welcome on [the north] side of the street," commented Reverend Bobby Livingston years later, "unless you had a mop and a bucket in your hands." In 1958 Mount Bethel Baptist Church, a 1,500-member black congregation, purchased its church from a white Methodist congregation. Reverend Leamon White oversaw Mount Bethel's move from Second and V Streets. The civil rights activist had worked for desegregation in the early 1950s and in 1963 helped plan the March on Washington. Signs for the march were assembled in Mount Bethel Church.

Memories of discrimination during the 1940s and '50s remain for many neighbors. Across First Street, Rhode Island Pharmacy operated a whites-only soda fountain. Discrimination meant, however, that black-owned businesses thrived, including Johnson's pharmacy and Harrison's Café on Florida Avenue. Some white businesses welcomed all to sit and eat, including B. Ambrogi's at Third and Rhode Island, later B & J's Barbecue.

Like many DC neighborhoods, Bloomingdale
Dividing Line Marker image. Click for full size.
By Devry Becker Jones, November 23, 2017
2. Dividing Line Marker
experienced the civil disturbances following the 1968 assassination of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The Safeway near this corner was looted. In addition, "Rioters ... destroyed the inside of" Reservoir Market, recalled Barry Cohen of his family's store just north at First and U Streets. "It was like a bomb had gone off." The building survived only because the upstairs tenant held her baby as she yelled out the window, "Please don't burn us out! I have nowhere to go!"

Back:
LeDroit Park and its younger sibling Bloomingdale share a rich history here. Boundary Street (today's Florida Avenue) was the City of Washington's northern border until 1871. Beyond lay farms, a few sprawling country estates, and undeveloped land where suburban communities would rise. Nearby Civil War hospitals and temporary housing for the formerly enslaved brought African Americans to this area in the 1860s. Howard University opened just north of here in 1867. Boundary Street (today's Florida Avenue) was the City of Washington's northern edge until 1871.

Around this time, a Howard University professor and trustee and his brother-in-law, a real estate speculator, began purchasing land from Howard University to create LeDroit Park, a suburban retreat close to streetcar lines and downtown. It took its name from the first name of both Barber's son and father-in-law.
Dividing Line Marker image. Click for full size.
By Devry Becker Jones, November 23, 2017
3. Dividing Line Marker
Bloomingdale was developed shortly thereafter.

For its first two decades, wealthy whites set up housekeeping in LeDroit Park. By 1893, African Americans began moving in. Soon LeDroit Park became the city's premier black neighborhood. Bloomingdale remained a middle- and upper-class white neighborhood until the 1920s, when affluent African Americans began buying houses in the area south of Rhode Island Avenue.

Among the intellectual elites drawn here was poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. The trail's title, Worthy Ambition, comes from his poem, "Emancipation": Toward noble deeds every effort be straining./Worthy ambition is food for the soul!

Although this area declined in the mid-20th century as affluent homeowners sought newer housing elsewhere, revitalization began in the 1970s. The stories you find on Worthy Ambition: LeDroit Park/Bloomingdale Heritage Trail reflect the neighborhood's -- and Washington's -- complicated racial history and the aspirations on its citizens.

Worthy Ambition: LeDroit Park/Bloomingdale Heritage Trail is an Official Washington, DC Walking Trail. The self-guided, 2.5-mile tour of 16 signs offers about 90 minutes of gentle exercise. For more DC neighborhoods, please visit www.CulturalTourismDC.org.
 
Erected 2015 by Cultural Tourism DC. (Marker Number 11.)
 
Marker series. This marker is included in the LeDroit Park/Bloomingdale Heritage Trail marker series.
 
Location. 38° 54.938′ N, 77° 0.709′ W. Marker is in Bloomingdale, District of Columbia, in Washington. Marker is at the intersection of T Street Northwest and 1st Street Northwest, on the left when traveling east on T Street Northwest. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 84 Rhode Island Avenue Northwest, Washington DC 20001, United States of America. Touch for directions.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Fathers and Sons (about 700 feet away, measured in a direct line); Anna Julia Hayward Cooper Residence (approx. 0.2 miles away); Home to Headliners (approx. 0.2 miles away); Bloomingdale (approx. 0.2 miles away); Barnett Aden Gallery (approx. 0.2 miles away); Great Expectations (approx. 0.2 miles away); Separate Schools (approx. 0.2 miles away); Elks Columbia Lodge No. 85 (approx. 0.2 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Bloomingdale.
 
Categories. African AmericansChurches & ReligionCivil RightsIndustry & Commerce
 
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Credits. This page was last revised on March 21, 2019. This page originally submitted on November 23, 2017, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia. This page has been viewed 107 times since then and 17 times this year. Last updated on March 8, 2019, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia. Photos:   1, 2, 3. submitted on November 23, 2017, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia. • Bill Pfingsten was the editor who published this page.
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