Paige Osburn / WAMU
It may have been Washington, D.C.’s original gated community.
When Amzi Barber, a 19th century builder known as the “King of Asphalt,” developed LeDroit Park in the decade after the Civil War, it was designed as an all-white enclave, surrounded by an ornate fence. Before the end of the century, much of that fence would come down in a protest by African American neighbors. But a gate still remains and that’s where historian Sarah Shoenfeld began her “mapping segregation tour.”
“On the north side of the neighborhood, was a solid board fence,” Shoenfeld, who works for a local history project that’s documenting the District’s segregated housing patterns, tells a racially and generally diverse crowd taking her tour. “Behind that, north of here, was a neighborhood called Howardtown. This was a historically African-American neighborhood. So people who lived in that area had to actually walk all the way around LeDroit Park to get to their jobs.”
“There was jazz clubs, there were nightclubs,” says Bob Miller, an African American Washingtonian on the tour who remembers LeDroit in that heyday. “I mean, it was a thriving area for years.”
Then came the 1968 riots that followed the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. Like many major cities, D.C. saw many of its neighborhoods badly damaged. It took decades for signs of life to emerge.