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1940s era LeDroit Park inspires playwright
(Published February 7, 2005)
By JOSHUA GARNER
It wasn't difficult for D.C. resident Lauretta Jackson to remember the 1940s.
She was young, a recent graduate of Howard University and a resident of LeDriot Park, a historic neighborhood known during the first half of the 20th century as the epicenter for intellectual African-Americans in the District.
"We always knew we lived in a historic area," said Jackson, reminiscing about the Northwest Washington area that has become the setting for a new theater production.
It was LeDroit Park's history that gained the attention of author/producer Will Gorham, who said he was inspired to produce and co-write LeDroit's Home Team after learning about LeDroit Park in Brad Snyder's book, Beyond The Shadow of The Senators.
Set in LeDroit Park during the late 1940s, a period known as the "Washington Renaissance," LeDroit's Home Team follows the struggle of a middle-class African-American family, headed by Todd Wellsley, who is struggling between his job as a baseball player and his dream to open his own tailoring business.
After traveling the world during his 21 years in the Navy, Gorham became disillusioned with the negative portrayal of "Black America" in the media and set out to change it with LeDroit's Home Team, the first production for his Theatre Blue company debuting at the Rosslyn Spectrum Theatre on Feb. 27.
"The media doesn't talk about the positive images of African-Americans," he said. "LeDroit Park was a great American community."
LeDroit Park was one of the first "suburban areas" built in the District after the land was purchased from Howard University in 1873. The community originally boasted a predominately white population, but that soon changed.
"By the turn of the century [LeDroit] had become predominately black," said Alice Aughtry, who heads the Robert and Mary Terrel's House Ledroit Park Museum and Cultural Center, one of the many revitalization projects currently underway in LeDroit Park. "There was a concentration of black intellectuals."
According to Aughtry, the abundance of middle-class African-Americans in LeDroit Park was due to Howard University's presence and the racist "Jim Crow" laws that existed after the Civil War, limiting job opportunities to educated African-Americans.
"There were doctors, lawyers, educators – they had their own businesses along the U Street corridor," Gorham said, during the five-decade span known as the "Washington Renaissance" that ended in the 1950s.
"It was before the Harlem Renaissance, but a lot of people don't know about it," he said.
During this time, LeDroit Park was a burgeoning, tight-knit community.
"People knew each other, knew families and background," Aughtry said.
It wasn't until the 1950s, the start of a period of racial integration in the District, when residents began to move to higher-profile neighborhoods.
"Once integration came along, it changed everything...everybody wanted to buy a house in Brookland or [Capitol] Hill," Jackson said.
With a dwindling population, and lack of investments, LeDroit Park quietly moved away from its heyday.
However, things began to change for the area in the late 1990s when Howard University and Fannie Mae began an initiative to revitalize the LeDroit Park area to recognize its historic significance.
With LeDroit's Home Team, Gorham hopes to bring LeDroit's Park history to the masses and inspire them to find history and importance within their own communities.
"I think (LeDroit Park) should stay up there with Georgetown," he said.
Copyright 2005 The Common Denominator