An ambitious, kaleidoscopic history of race and politics in Washington, D.C.
The nation’s capital was the first major majority-black city in the United States. “Chocolate City,” the affectionate name created by black locals, has long been the epicenter of America’s national political scene, but for generations, it also has been arguably the sociocultural capital of black America. In this vitally important work, Washington History editor Asch (History/Colby Coll.; The Senator and the Sharecropper: The Freedom Struggles of James O. Eastland and Fannie Lou Hamer, 2008) and Musgrove (History/Univ. of Maryland, Baltimore County) narrate a sprawling history of the intersections of race, culture, and politics in Washington. From the early 17th century through the presidency of Barack Obama, the country’s first black president, race has helped to shape and define not only the area that would become the District of Columbia, but also the U.S. as a whole. The authors move chronologically, with chapters covering specific periods in the area’s history, from 1608-1790 through 1995-2010 and beyond. In each section, they show how the city “has had both a catalyzing and at times demoralizing effect on local racial struggles.” Certainly, D.C. has embodied the rhetorical freedoms on which the country was founded, but as the authors show, it also demonstrated the abject failings of those freedoms when it came to black Americans. Of course, the city is much more than just a metaphor; it is also a unique city with its own dynamic history, the political center of the country where its residents, majority black by the 1960s, reside in what the authors call the “voteless capital of democracy.” From slavery through the civil rights movement, from the Constitutional establishment of the District through the election of Obama—a moment wildly celebrated in the city’s streets even if, for black Washingtonians and others, his actual presidency was not the panacea they hoped—the city has captured myriad hypocrisies and paradoxes of race in America.
Essential American history, deeply researched and written with verve and passion.