Placing historical signage at Lafayette Park has been a main component of HCCDC’s effort for public recognition of the Black families who were dispossessed of the land in 1928 to make way for the park. The following is material HCCDC presented in 2019 to the D.C. Department of Recreation in requesting that part of the renovation funds for the recreation center be set aside for signage.
Proposed Interpretive History Signage at Lafayette School/Park
The purpose of this note is to raise support for the installation of a historical marker or sign in Lafayette Playground to note the long-time African-American residents who were displaced when the land was seized in 1928.
- Historic Chevy Chase DC’s mission (www.historicchevychasedc.org) “is to promote the architecture and history of Chevy Chase DC by doing research and educating our neighbors about our community’s past.” HCCDC has been committed to exploring the neighborhood’s racial history, as well, including through its growing library of oral histories of long-time residents. One such interview was conducted with James Fisher and Tanya Hardy, concerning the history of James’ ancestor, Captain George Pointer (born enslaved in 1773), and the family’s home for 4 generations on Broad Branch Road N.W. until its dispossession by eminent domain in 1928 to make way for Lafayette school and park. The interview can be read here: https://www.historicchevychasedc.org/oral-histories/#/james-fisher-tanya-hardy/
- Pointer Descendants/Broad Branch Road Settlement The history of George Pointer, his purchase of his own freedom at age 19, and his 40-year plus employment, including as a supervising engineer, by George Washington’s Patowmack Canal Company, and his descendants’ settlement in the 1840’s on Broad Branch Road, has been the subject of considerable recent scholarship. See Barbara Boyle Torrey and Clara Myrick Green, “Free Black People of Washington County: George Pointer and His Descendants,” Washington History (Spring 2016). Attached hereto. Torrey and Green also tell the remarkable tale of the Pointer Descendants and their lives on Broad Branch Road, including their service to the Union Army during the Civil War, their education (including at the Reno School), and their struggles as African-Americans in the face of broad, daily-enforced racial strictures. All of that ended in 1928, however, with the forced evacuation and destruction of their small community, resulting from the same legislation that authorized the taking of homes in the nearby (and much larger) black community of Reno City, to build Alice Deal Junior High.
- Pointer Descendants 2015 Family Reunion This lost history became more visible after a remarkable organizing effort by James Fisher and Tanya Hardy (with historical assistance by Torrey and Green), the Pointer Descendants returned to Lafayette Park in August 2015 for an extended “family reunion.” See Pointer Descendants First Family Reunion Picnic Program (August 2015). Attached hereto.
- Recent Scholarship/Opportunity for Education The 80-year history of the black community on Broad Brand Road is not widely known. Torrey and Green’s comprehensive article provides the opportunity to change that. After reading that article, the compelling need to tell the story more broadly was recently recognized by one long-time member of the Lafayette community, James Zogby, in a Black History Month Essay. Mr. Zogby wrote “[a]s profoundly disturbing as this history is, even more troubling is that it is largely unknown.” See “Recognizing Black Contributions and Atoning for Our Past,” http://www.aaiusa.org/black_history_month_recognizing_black_contributions_and_atoning_for_our_past
- HCCDC Working Group Historic Chevy Chase DC has formed a working group to explore the feasibility of erecting interpretive history signage at Lafayette School/Park to tell the story of the dispossessed black community. We are currently reaching out to other likely interested stakeholders, including the Lafayette Elementary Home and School Association, the Friends of Lafayette Park, and the Chevy Chase Citizens’ Association. We have been in contact with James Fisher and Tanya Hardy, on behalf of the Pointer Descendants, and they are very much in favor of our efforts. Our focus will be to build community support for interpretive signage to be designed and erected as part of the extensive renovation of the Lafayette Recreation Center that is currently in its design phase.
- Lafayette Rec Center Renovation There are plans to renovate the Lafayette Rec Center, in the process of being approved now. See https://dgs.dc.gov/event/lafayette-recreation-center-modernization This presents a very timely opportunity to assure that future users of the playground can appreciate its full history. The project is still in design stage (through June 2018); construction not scheduled to start until October 2018. The budget for the rec center renovation is reported to be $4.6m.
- Reno School Example/Tenleytown Historical Society We are seeking to follow a pathway similar to that used in Reno School’s recent renovation. In that instance, the Tenleytown Historical Society advocated for historical signage to tell the story of the large black community at Reno City, and the history of Reno School. Councilmember Cheh was instrumental in obtaining support from the school system and the general contractor to include the extensive historical signage now on display in the renovated school and adjoining Alice Deal. See http://www.keanedesign.com/installations.html
- Request: We are requesting support to include historical signage to tell the story of the dispossessed black community on Broad Branch Road NW as part of the pending renovation of the Lafayette Recreation Center. Action on this will benefit from the support of the DC Parks and Recreation Department, the Lafayette HSA, the contractor and architect, and/or the ANC and DC Council.