Sunday, December 29, 2013

Stronghold resident Kirby Vining: "McMillan Park -- Washington's first racially integrated park"

See this message from Stronghold resident Kirby Vining:

Date: Sat, 28 Dec 2013 13:55:36 -0800
Subject: [HistoricWashington] Washington`s First Racially Integrated Park

Washington D.C.’s McMillan Park commemorates the contributions of Michigan’s Senator James McMillan both to beautify our nation’s capital and improve the water supply and stop the epidemics of typhoid fever.  The commemoration of Senator McMillan at this location is significant: It combines the water purification function of the Washington Aqueduct’s McMillan Reservoir and slow sand filtration facility with the graceful, calming landscaping of Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., both of which projects Senator McMillan fought hard to realize. A fountain named in his honor, paid for by the school children from every county in Michigan, originally stood in the place of honor and prominence, overlooking the entire park, and again combining beauty with water.

But it is also the scene of a lesser-known chapter in the history of our once very segregated city.  McMillan Park was Washington’s first de facto racially integrated public park, enjoyed for decades by black families who were not permitted to use other, segregated public parks, until it closed for security reasons at the beginning of WWII.  And at the southern edge of the park is the former home of James Hurd, whose attempts to purchase that house resulted in the landmark Hurd vs. Hodge Supreme Court case that overturned the racial covenants then common in D.C. real estate deeds.

The racial integration of McMillan Park was likely unintentional. While police throughout the rest of Washington shooed blacks away from most other public institutions, McMillan Park was administered by the Army Corps of Engineers whose mandate was to maintain the water facility.   Apparently the Corps never chased anyone off the park for racial reasons. Howard University Sociology Professor William Henry Jones in his 1927 book, Recreation and Amusement Among Negroes in Washington, D.C., a detailed study of exactly where blacks could and could not go in segregated Washington, noted that there were only two public parks open to blacks.  Rock Creek Park and the National Zoo were open to blacks one day each year only: the day after Easter, according to an old Washington tradition.  But he also wrote that “McMillan Park, located east of Howard University and surrounding the New Reservoir, has been taken over almost exclusively by Negroes.”  Professor Jones could not cite any other public park in Washington that routinely admitted black families. 

A fence with no trespassing signs was erected around McMillan Park in May, 1941 to protect the water supply from enemy sabotage not many months before the U.S. entered WWII.  The McMillan Fountain was removed with all its benches and other amenities to stop the public from sneaking in to continue to enjoy their park.  The park has not been open to the public since then, though many men in the surrounding neighborhoods fondly recall sneaking under the fence to run around in the underground caverns or play ball on the surface even years after the park was closed.

Many now-elderly residents of the nearby neighborhoods recall their enjoyment of the park before it was closed, for all the usual activities we associate with city parks.  The park atop the sand filtration site was used for ballgames, parades, picnics, military training and many other common activities, as is documented in the DC Historic Landmark designation for the site (see section 310.23 of, as well as in some more recent oral history interviews (see And there are many more of our senior citizens who for reasons that must be respected choose not to have their stories documented. 

Thought the park, reservoir, sand filtration plant, and the fountain are tangible testimony to the McMillan Plan’s intentions of beautifying our city and saving us from the ravages of typhoid, the story of the use of McMillan Park is intangible, but no less a chapter of our history. This story is not well known because segregation was always a dirty secret not well covered in the press except when it exploded in arrests, riots, or worse.  We hope those days are gone and that this story will not be forgotten.

The District of Columbia is our home.  But it is also the world’s stage, a beautiful theater that hosts grand events such as the 1963 March on Washington and funerals of presidents.  It is also home to a subtler grandeur as well for those of us who spend our lives here, such as the drum circle at Meridian Hill Park, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, and for the black families who spent hot summer afternoons and evenings with a picnic on the breezy plain at McMillan Park.  Senator McMillan, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., and others on the McMillan Plan design team could not have foreseen these intangible details of how their redesigned city would be used, both grand and small. But they certainly foresaw the creation of this stage for the grand and the subtle on which history, national and personal, would play out. 

Kirby Vining


TheCommiss said...

Mr. Vining attempts to tug at your heart so your mind doesn't see all the facts. But reality the world in which we live and breath, isn't what he would lead the reader to believe.

First McMillan Sand Filtration site was a huge active and working industrial site. It was landscaped over because it was a real eyesore. Secondly it wasn't Olmsted designed like Central Park as many from his special interest group would like you to believe; but rather Olmsted Jr., who was never as good as the first generation of genius his father.

What Mr. Vining also does explain is the the park was never on the site that is being developed. The park his speaks of was on the reservoir side and was quite small. He also doesn't explain the history of the area either. During the construction of the site it was mostly and Italian masonry neighborhood in the area now know as North Bloomingdale and build about the same time. At the time Ledroit Park was very integrated and had been since the 1890's. Hence McMillan Park on the east side of First St was integrated. Let's not forget that this area in the 1930-40's was an upper middle class black community, it was until the war was on the horizon that the fence went up.

What Kirby also doesn't tell you is that the water supply still wasn't killing enough bacteria and contaminants and chemicals were introduced into the water in 1923. He doesn't explain any of these items. He doesn't tell you that he hasn't lived in this community in over 20 years but attempts to mislead the reader by presenting only half of the story. He doesn't have any connection to the residents who lived through the murders and crack days of the neighborhood, so he's not representing what the majority of residents have wait so long to see.

So join me and many of the residents of the area in CREATE MCMILLAN PARK!

DB said...

We are all looking forward to a new, beautiful park space that will allow us all to celebrate and enjoy McMillan's unique history. I agree - let us not delay: CREATE MCMILLAN PARK.

CairaDances said...

Create McMillan Park

TheCommiss said...

send me an email for your lawn sing CREAT MCMILLAN PARK!

TheCommiss said...

email me for your lawn sign!

Daniel in brookland said...

Thank you so much for your comments. I have always said, that even if McMillan didn't have such fascinating history, and the structures and site plan weren't so fascinating, it would still be a critically necessary recreational area for our city. Please read Kim Williams of our Office of Historic Preservation , nomination to the National Register of Historic Places nomination ( ) you will quickly understand that McMillan is a resource of NATIONAL SIGNIFICANCE, and its preservation is NOT a Ward 5 issue, but a national issue.There is something very beautiful about a big green space surrounded by city buildings. It is sensible to in-fill and develop property surrounding the park, called park view.
The site is protected by our historic preservation laws, and VMP and our govt, and mayor are working hard not to uphold our laws but to violate the laws, are trying so hard to distort the city and federal laws, protecting the historic preservation of this amazing site. If you don't care about that or recognize it's value for the health of the city, then don't come to it when the rest of us are enjoying all the special qualities and sunset vistas, and taking nice strolls with friends and family. If this was a big empty lot, which it isn't, it would still be the peoples land to enjoy and balance out the extreme dense, urban community surrounding it. A DC Glen Echo with art, performance, music, and many related adaptive re-use of existing structures. Is this too environmentally sustainable, is that your objection?
NYC has created The High-line from the West side highway. The West side highway was not a park , but despite the huge real estate development potential, NY was smart enough to create that park.
Our govt. has fenced off and denied our right to enjoy our green space since 1986, criminal theft of value and wasted 10's of $ millions , taken from all of us.Thankfully the community is waking up to what makes sense, and that a suburban office park with lawn is a bad idea. we need to stop the waste of this park, the waste of VMP and it's numerous developers, who really should be re-developing the Washington Hospital Campus where the storm water runoff is contributing to the flooding. Th city govt. is obsessed with development, though parks are development as well, and it's employees formerly with the developers, are driven, determined to force this humongous construction on the our neighborhood, misguided and a final mistake , from 27 years of abuse.

TheCommiss said...

Mr. Wolkoff you can't see any of the site from where you live 1.5 miles away. You can't enjoy any view since you don't have one. As for the flooding, all of what you say is not really true! Bloomingdale has flooded for years so what's new now...nothing but a reason for you to make up stuff about why it is happening... IT WAS A DERECHO! Are you stupid? Do you watch the weather??? So stop with the BS you are attempting to feed people on this site. Smoke another joint and make another stain glass window and leave the development and community planning to experts of which you are not! When I need a stain glass window I'll be sure to call you.

Daniel in brookland said...

I'm working with responsible, sincere Washingtonians and the National Organization of Olmsted Parks. We see the value to our city of a "Great Place" , vistas, community building activities, kids play, bike, we can walk to. And yea Commish, I walk, surprised? We are working hard, not paid by the real estate machine,working for the entire nation and all the international tourists and visitors, not just yuppie's, who sit at computer 24-7 and don't need parks. Beautiful outdoor places to walk to, not just Walmarts to walk to.
We understand the environmental harm, of crowding more pavement, more congestion, more traffic and overloading the failed infrastructure. If you want to ignore the reality, fine. If you believe the environment can sustain endless waste of resources, mining coal and metal, clear-cuttiing forests, covering the land, denuding the tree canopy, fine, your destructive delusion, see what you get, flooding!
The city government has fenced off the property in bold faced racial and economic class discrimination. Your neighbors have been too polite, and tolerant all along, because a good class action suit is what this miserable DC govt. needs. If McMillan was in upper NW we'd be going to music festivals, and family reunions there all these years.
We, and people with creative vision all over the world, are re-purposing, restoring and creating recreation, and adaptive re-use for a balanced community. You want to support super urbanization of every last open space, fine , we will keep to our ethics and values despite your obsession. The criminals who have run this project, Harry Thomas Jr., Kwame Brown, Michael Brown and Mayor (unindicted) Gray, who have fixed this deal from day one, and VMP are pushing so hard, cause they are wrong. Commish, why not organize a ballot referendum, so you can proe us wrong, by real democratic methods and procedures, sound weird?

Let's see. Who is the most arrogant DC elected or appointed official? Jeff Miller, Hoskins,Tregoning, HPRB? The Mayor for committing massive electoral fraud, or how about how he appointed Tregoning to be the Historic Preservation Mayor's Special Agent? Arrogant enough for you? I hope so!
You can support a corrupt, patriarchal, wasteful, system, but at least there are people with common sense, who want more than EYA condos crowding out a gracious , healthy place to live for families with children, schools, young folks. Our community is not a business, and it's not plastic or an instant neighborhood, doomed to fail.

Daniel in brookland said...

Commiss, as you know the McMillan plan extended the Mall in a triangle with the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial, also part of the L'enfant/Mcmillan Plan. The Park is of National significance, whether one lives in Blomingdale or Bloomington, Indiana, or Michigan where the McMillan memorial was commissioned and paid for, not "memorialized" by nouveau plans of a consortium of big developers.
We are still living, being injured, and dieing in DC due to " the residents who lived through the murders and crack days of the neighborhood"( The Commiss) Crime, youth crime and under-employment are still serious problems, as you know. When McMillan becomes a community building Eco-Campus, we can help the young, and all our families to healthy activities that bring integrity and good citizenship.Would you support that all of DC is over developed, and no where left to grow healthy young people, like Glen Echo in West Bethesda. The training programs at McMillan can help with real careers in restoration trades, but if our land is given to developers,,maybe we'll never have the peoples park we need.
Commiss, is this reverse Eminent Domain? People of DC own the park, and corrupt officials give it to developers, our public Billions of dollars handed to private enterprise? Something backward about this. Like reverse Robin Hood organized by corrupt DC officials. If VMP and the other 10 developers are so brilliant, why don't they pay us for it? We'd have no L'enfant/McMillan plan from these crass politicians. No park development like smart, civic minded, planners should have done in 1986. VMP is glorifying a lawn, and are miserable planners, their ideas required years of revision, who have only taken good ideas from the community, and claimed they are theirs. This insider, "exclusive rights agreement" would be called racketeering if it wasn't run by an oligarchy, just been given this facade, just as fake as the designs for this development. What happened to the big black lump of coal designed for the "medical offices", particularly hideous, from Shalom Baranes. Please Commiss force someone else to accept this awful pre-fab neighborhood full of awful designs, please.