Chevy Chase DC House Plaques - Sharing Neighborhood History


On the evening of March 7, 1965, TV programming in living rooms across America was interrupted to air the brutal clubbing of African Americans as they attempted to peacefully march near Selma, Ala., for voting rights. Unaware Americans watched in stunned horror and outrage at what was dubbed “Bloody Sunday.” When Martin Luther King Jr. called on community leaders to join another march two days later, hundreds joined in.

One of them was the former associate minister of All Souls Unitarian on 16th Street. The Rev. James Reeb, a young white man passionate about civil rights, had lived at 5700 Chevy Chase Parkway with his wife and four children for nearly six years. Only five months earlier they had decamped to Roxbury, Mass, so he could devote himself fulltime to civil rights.

On the evening of March 9, Reeb participated in an aborted march in which state troopers again blocked the highway. Afterward, he and two other Unitarian ministers emerged from a restaurant and were attacked on the sidewalk by four white supremacists. Reeb was hit in the head with a baseball bat and never regained consciousness. The black hospital couldn’t care for his grave injuries and the white hospital reportedly turned him away, so it took two hours to get treatment. His death a few days later was mourned by hundreds of thousands and prompted vigils across the country. It was a powerful nudge for President Lyndon Johnson to deliver a draft of the Voting Rights Act to Congress on March 15, 1965.

To remind those who pass by of Reeb’s selfless actions, his name is now imprinted on a historic house plaque at 5700 Chevy Chase Parkway. The plaque won the lottery, of sorts -- it happened to the 200th one purchased in a historic-plaque program run by Historic Chevy Chase DC and the Chevy Chase Citizens’ Association. The program was started in 2007 to celebrate the centennial of the establishment of Chevy Chase DC and to reflect the pride of residents in their neighborhood.

“This one is somewhat unusual in that it includes the name of a civil rights activist,” said Evelyn Wrin, who manages the program for CCCA. “The plaque also includes the name of the architect and the year the house was built. Other information frequently put on plaques includes the name of the architect, the year of an addition, identification as a catalogue house and other historical descriptive language.”

Cate and Rod Atkinson, who bought 5700 Chevy Chase Parkway in 2015, said they wanted to honor Reeb when they discovered it had been his home. “The house plaque seemed to be a great way to do it,” said Cate Atkinson, who is working on a history of the house built in 1930. “I recently tracked down Reeb’s wife, who is 89 now, and she was delighted about the plaque. She said she always did like this house. She was also pleased to learn that it was home to an African American woman -- Bernice Degler -- for 48 years after she moved out.”

The plaques are 8-inch by 12-inch ovals made of brass with black finish and are manufactured by the Erie Landmark Company. Wrin said the idea for the program came from a Morrison Street resident who purchased a historic plaque for her house in 1995. Several other homeowners liked it and followed suit. Wrin and Jordan Benderly of HCCDC formalized the program and now coordinate the plaque purchases, helping homeowners decide on content and wording.  The plaques are $249 plus shipping (about $23). Those interested in finding out more about plaques, contact Evelyn Wrin at evbobwrin@verizon.net.

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From left is Robert Gordon and Evelyn Wrin of the Chevy Chase Citizens’ Association, homeowner Cate Atkinson, and Jordan Benderly of Historic Chevy Chase DC with the 200th historic house plaque to be ordered since the program started in 2007.