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Scenes from the Past...

The Glory Days of U Street in the 1920s and ’30s

By Paul Kelsey Williams*

Images accompanying this feature can be viewed in the current issue PDF

The greater U Street neighborhood began a transformation into a prominent African-American “City Within a City” beginning about 1900. By 1920 it was the center of black culture, housing, architectural design, business, and society. The community largely formed due to the restrictions and segregation forced onto blacks elsewhere in the city, preventing them from occupying hotel rooms or shopping at local department stores.

Fortunately, many local landmarks remain along the U Street corridor, preserved when the neighborhood was declared an historic district in 1998, and artifacts, photographs, oral histories, and documents continue to be discovered that serve to enrich our understanding and significance of this corridor, which is once again thriving with business and commerce. These images are taken from the book Greater U Street and show the myriad activities, personalities, and entertainment venues during the first decades of the 20th century.

*The writer, an historic preservation specialist and historian, is the president of Kelsey & Associates in Washington, DC and Baltimore.