HCCDC to Partner on “Black Land Loss in Washington: Memories of the Past, Hopes for the Future“
Offshoot Projects Take Root in Time of Heightened Racial Reckoning
Dr. Amanda Huron, associate professor of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences at the University of the District of Columbia, has been awarded a full $30,000 Humanities DC grant to involve DC youth – at both college and high school levels — in an oral histories project that focuses on the experience of Black families evicted from Chevy Chase DC in 1928.
The project, titled “Black Land Loss in Washington: Memories of the Past, Hopes for the Future,” grew from important research and grass-roots activism initiated by Historic Chevy Chase DC that was based on work by historians Barbara Boyle Torrey and Clara Myrick Green.
It revolves around the family of George Pointer, a man born enslaved in 1773 who bought his freedom at 19 and became supervisory engineer for George Washington’s canal company. By the 1840s, his granddaughter settled in a small community of Black landowners along Broad Branch Road. In the 1850s, she bought a 2.3 acre farm there, and her family and other African Americans continued to thrive there for the next 80 years until evicted to make way for Lafayette, a whites-only school.
Torrey and Green’s research evolved from the discovery of an 11-page letter in the National Archives written by Pointer in 1829, in which he humbly tells of his amazing accomplishments. Their work expanded into a book to be published by Georgetown University Press in spring 2021 called, “Between Freedom and Equality: The History of an American Family in Washington, DC.” Torrey and Green have awarded the royalties to HCCDC to create awareness of this and other types of racial injustice in DC.
HCCDC has been focused on the Pointer story since Torrey and Green first published their research in 2015 in Washington History, the quarterly publication of the Historical Society of Washington, DC. In March 2016, HCCDC President Carl Lankowski recorded an oral history of Pointer’s eighth-generation direct descendant James Fisher and the Pointer family genealogist Tanya Hardy (both of whom joined the HCCDC board this past spring).
In 2017-2018, HCCDC board member Tim Hannapel suggested petitioning the DC Parks department to included historic signage in the Lafayette Recreation Center renovation contract. The goal of this effort was to recognize that the history of Chevy Chase DC also includes racial injustices that should be acknowledged and not repeated. He along with board member Charles Cadwell attended numerous community meetings to advocate for this official recognition.
The work of Hannapel and Cadwell grew to propose a new name for the park that would honor these Black landowners. So they organized a petition to rename the park “Lafayette-Pointer Park,” and the HCCDC board collected more than 500 names in favor of that proposal. The HCCDC board won ANC support in the summer of 2019 and the bill was put before the DC City Council. The first of two DC City Council votes was taken Dec. 1 with resounding approval. A final vote is expected in mid-December.
Meanwhile, the District has agreed to fund two historic signs for the park, the content of which is being generated by HCCDC. Editorial review of those signs is underway now. Unveiling is expected by this coming spring.
UDC took up the Pointer project when approached by HCCDC board member Cate Atkinson to engage young people in Pointer-related research. Huron, whose expertise includes housing justice issues, has created a project with even more depth. See an article about the grant here.
The Historic Chevy Chase DC website has a projects page that captures all the various components of this story. You can reach it here.