Sept. 24 Zoom Presentation to Invite Readers to Participate in Important Research
Historic Chevy Chase DC and Northwest Neighbors Village are partnering to present via Zoom on Sept. 24 at 7 p.m. an exciting mapping project that reveals — as if unmaking a bed — the role systemic racism has played historically in shaping the District of Columbia.
The project, co-directed by historians Mara Cherkasky and Sarah Shoenfeld who run an organization called Prologue DC, will also explain how ordinary citizens can contribute to this fascinating historical research by volunteering a couple of hours in online searches of old D.C. tax records looking for once-legal racial covenants.
Cherkasky, who will hold a follow-up training session on Sept. 29 for volunteers interested in participating, said the sleuthing for these old pieces of evidence is exhilarating and enables you to be part of a worthwhile project.
Mapping Segregation in Washington DC [http://www.mappingsegregationdc.org] is a digital public history project that reveals the systematic way in which residential segregation was established and enforced in the nation’s capital during the first half of the 20th century.
At the core of Mapping Segregation is ongoing lot-by-lot research of DC real estate records and documentation of properties formerly subject to racially restrictive covenants. These covenants, which barred conveyance to African Americans, were written into property deeds by developers and, starting in the 1920s, also written by white citizens associations and filed with the city. Treated as contracts, they were perfectly legal and were enforced by the courts. Prior to the project’s launch, no one knew the extent to which racial covenants affected DC, and most white people, along with almost all younger people, were unaware of restrictive covenants at all.
“What is fascinating about maps is that they can reveal patterns that would otherwise remain invisible,” Cherkasky said. The project has also mapped segregated schools and recreation facilities; block-level Census data; segregated public and FHA-insured housing; and the impact of eminent domain on an African American community.
With its focus on systemic racism, Mapping Segregation has played a crucial role in helping residents and policymakers understand the historic forces that shaped DC’s neighborhoods, and has fostered much-needed conversation about race, inequality, and gentrification. Educators have used it in classrooms at all levels: from elementary school to graduate and law school.
Cherkasky and Shoenfeld established Prologue DC in 2014 with the mission of providing historical expertise, research, and writing for publications, exhibits and signage, historic landmark nominations, and other such projects. Among Prologue’s current or recent projects, beyond Mapping Segregation, are a Neighborhood Heritage Trail for Eckington, in Northeast DC; the DC Civil Rights Tour and Downtown DC Women in History Callbox Tour; research for various exhibitions at the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum; a successful Historic District nomination for Bloomingdale, in Northwest DC; and National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom signage for Kalorama Park in Adams Morgan.
Mapping Segregation has been funded in part by grants from Humanities DC (including, currently, a Vision Grant), the DC Preservation League, and the National Park Service but depends to a great extent on volunteer labor; Mara has spent a good part of the pandemic documenting restrictive covenants in Ward 4.Register for the Zoom program HERE. You can see the work Historic Chevy Chase DC has done on its website (historic chevy chase dc.org) in recognizing its community’s racist past when local officials forced out an established neighborhood of African American landowners on Broad Branch Road in 1928 to build Lafayette school and park.