Decatur high school student examines gentrification & racism in articles

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Late last year I was contacted by a Decatur High School student reporting on what appeared to her to be racial bias in disciplinary actions at her school and the precipitous drop in racial diversity at the school. The student located me after reading some of my work on gentrification and racism in her community.

I’m a senior at Decatur High School, and I write for our school magazine, Carpe Diem,” wrote Ellie Ritter in a November 2016 email. “I’m writing an article on Decatur’s gentrification and the displacement it’s caused.”

We arranged a telephone interview and I subsequently agreed to let her publish some images from my website.

Ellie’s reporting package examining gentrification and race in her hometown was published in the December 2016 issue of Carpe Diem, Decatur High School’s award-winning magazine. Kudos to Ellie for digging deeper into these topics than the professional journalists working in Atlanta and Decatur.

© 2017 D.S. Rotenstein

 

How to not develop a “historical walking tour”

In 2014, graduate students in the University of Maryland’s Urban Studies and Planning Program dipped their toes into the public engagement process associated with the development of a Montgomery County, Maryland, sector plan.

Lyttonsville is a historically African American hamlet in unincorporated Silver Spring. For much of the 20th century, Lyttonsville was Silver Spring’s other side of the tracks. Silver Spring was developed in the first half of the 20th century as a sundown suburb: a place where African Americans could not live (because of racial restrictive covenants) or shop, worship, and play (because of Jim Crow segregation).

Sign for one of Lee’s “restricted” subdivisions in NW Washington. Credit: DC Public Library/National Archives and Records Administration.

E. Brooke Lee (1892-1984) was a Democratic political boss in Montgomery County and he was one of Silver Spring’s earliest boosters and founders. Though he held various elected and appointed state and county offices, his primary career was in real estate development. Lee, through his North Washington Realty Company, transformed former farms into sprawling residential subdivisions. Each of Lee’s subdivisions contained racial restrictive covenants prohibiting African Americans from living there as homeowners and renters.

The only African Americans who could live in Lee’s subdivisions were domestic servants.

Typical covenants from properties Lee sold in Silver Spring. This deed was executed in 1930 for a lot in one of Lee’s Four Corners subdivisions.

There’s abundant evidence that Lee never renounced his white supremacist views, even as a septuagenarian. In the late 1960s as Montgomery County was debating and enacting civil rights laws outlawing discrimination in public accommodations and housing, Lee was railing against these laws in local newspapers describing them as “Anti-White Laws.”

The worst blow to the continued existence of the great suburban Montgomery County that her people have built since 1920 will come from the Anti-White laws — E. Brooke Lee, March, 1967.

And yet, the University of Maryland students, proposed a “Lyttonsville Historical Walking Tour” with a wayfinding sign dedicated to Lee and his contributions to the community.

Perhaps these students should literally go back to the drawing board with this one.

Lyttonsville and the Proposed Purple Line Station, Appendix B, p. 82.

© 2017 D.S. Rotenstein

Gored by a steer

The news earlier this week that a cow had escaped from a slaughterhouse in New York City went viral. After all, it’s the 21st century. What are cattle doing in the middle of big cities?

Yet, the headlines and the obligatory humor that followed would have been familiar to urban dwellers in any North American city since the turn of the 19th century. As cities expanded and drove yards on their hinterlands were absorbed by expansion. Later on, after 1850, railroads carried large numbers of cattle, sheep, and hogs to urban abattoirs,

Inevitably, some animals escaped while being offloaded from train cars (and later trucks) or they broke free from pens in stockyards while awaiting auction or slaughter. In the 1880s, a generation after the nation’s first union stockyards opened in a farm field outside of Pittsburgh, the local East End News ran several articles recounting wayward food on the hoof:

GORED BY A STEER (Saturday, September 4, 1886)

On Wednesday a steer broke out of the East End Stock Yards and for a time had things his own way. Mrs. Andrews was on the pavement in front of her house on Station Street, but before she could get out of the way the animal had gored her seriously. On her head were several scalp wounds and her body was considerably bruised. Medical aid was summoned and it was found that none of the wounds were dangerous. The bull was recaptured and taken back to the yards.

NEWS ITEMS (August 25, 1888)

A wild steer created a panic Wednesday afternoon … Mr. O’Neal, a butcher in Lawrenceville, was taking a drove of cattle home from the stockyards when one broke away and started back.

***

Some things never change. Cities with lots of people still need to feed those people. As long as we have cities and we consume fresh meat, stories like the one out of New York will keep coming. How would Twitter have treated the East Liberty beast that gored Mrs. Anderson, I wonder?

© 2017 D.S. Rotenstein

Lyttonsville Black History Month program

I would like to thank the staff of the Gwendolyn E. Coffield Community Center for hosting me Saturday February 18. And, a big acknowledgement to the Silver Spring residents who gave up a sunny and warm Saturday midday to learn about African American and civil rights history in Silver Spring, Maryland.

The walking tour returns this spring, along with a new local non-profit partner with plans to integrate my history work into its Silver Spring racial equity program. Stay tuned for dates and details.

Charlotte Coffield, the center’s namesake sister, was instrumental in arranging the program. I am fortunate to have met Charlotte and the other Lyttonsville residents with whom I have spoken the past year. I am looking forward to learning more about the community’s history and the role its people played in Silver Spring’s history. Their stories have enriched my understanding of how people of color and their histories are erased from suburbs.

Charlotte Coffield stands in front of a case inside the Coffield center’s lobby where her family and community’s history are on display.

Silver Spring Black History Tour program. Photo by Alan Bowser.

© 2017 D.S. Rotenstein

Silver Spring’s monument to white supremacy

Silver Spring Armory. Historic American Buildings Survey photo by Bill Lebovich.

In 1998, crews demolished the Silver Spring Armory. Located in the heart of the suburban Washington suburb’s central business district (CBD), the Armory occupied prime real estate earmarked to provide parking for a new urban renewal project.

Built in 1927, the Armory quickly became unincorporated Silver Spring’s de facto city hall and civic center. In 1984, the State of Maryland declared the property surplus and it was transferred to the Maryland-National Capital Parks and Planning Commission. After rehabilitation work, the building opened as a community center and in 1984 it was listed in the Montgomery County Master Plan for Historic Preservation. Continue reading