An erasure primer

Two maps of Silver Spring, Maryland, published 80 years apart provide a palpable and accessible example of erasure.

Top: 1933 North Washington Realty Company map of “North Washington”; Bottom: Historic Neighborhoods of Downtown Silver Spring. The dotted line shows the approximate location of the historic African American hamlet, Lyttonsville.

The first map was published in 1933 by the North Washington Realty Company. It shows all of the area the company and community boosters were branding as “Maryland North of Washington.” The promotional map showed the existing street network, community institutions (schools, churches, commercial buildings), and neighborhood names, including areas shaded where the company had investments and plans for new residential subdivisions. Continue reading

Is Montgomery County Planning tainted by racism?

Montgomery County, Maryland, goes to great lengths to promote its communities as diverse and progressive. Yet, actions by such institutions as the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission undermine those assertions with racialized land use policies and historic preservation plans that omit, marginalize, and alienate the county’s communities of color. Patterns apparent over the past 20 years suggest that the agency, which was founded by a white supremacist real estate developer and Democratic Party boss, structurally hasn’t moved very far from its 1920s origins as a machine for building suburbs where power and authority remain concentrated among the white middle and upper classes.

Framing Structural and Institutional Racism

In September 2016, a historic preservation planner with the Montgomery County Planning Department’s Historic Preservation Office approached a group of residents from the  Lyttonsville community in the lobby of the Montgomery County Council Building in Rockville. The planner and the residents of the historically African American community were there to attend a hearing for the Greater Lyttonsville Sector Plan.

The planner began speaking enthusiastically about her research in a neighboring community that had been developed by Jewish developer Sam Eig: Rock Creek Forest. She told the Lyttonsville residents that in her research on Eig and the subdivision she found that Eig did not attach racial restrictive covenants to the properties.

The following morning I emailed the planner and asked her about what she had told the Lyttonsville residents. She replied:

What I was telling [Lyttonsville resident] was that Sam Eig developed Rock Creek Forest, without restrictive covenants. He also donated land there for two churches and the Jewish Community Center (?and maybe for the Red Cross). MCHS has  information on Sam Eig.

Continue reading

Confronting racism

I was honored to participate in IMPACT Silver Spring’s program last night, Courage Lives Here: Confronting Racism that Divides Us.

IMPACT Now 2017 panel. FB photo.

Dr. Yanique Redwood (with microphone) gave the keynote address and then moderated a panel that included Rev. Ronnie Galvin, MD Delegate Maricé Morales, and myself. This is the start of a very important community dialogue in Silver Spring and my work in documenting Silver Spring’s history as a sundown suburb plays a key role in addressing structural racism here.

 

Breaking through biased history in Silver Spring, Maryland

“Montgomery Modern” exhibit panel on display in the Silver Spring Library.

Three quarters of the buildings shown in this panel on display in the Silver Spring Library have important civil rights history stories. Unfortunately, Montgomery County residents won’t read about them in anything produced by the Montgomery County Planning Department’s Historic Preservation Office.

For the stories related to the community’s civil rights struggles and Silver Spring’s history as a sundown suburb folks need to take one of my Silver Spring Black History tours. The May 6, 2017, tour is booked solid. New dates are coming the week of May 8.

“Montgomery Modern” by the Montgomery County Planning Department’s Historic Preservation Office.

 

Montgomery Modern madness

Montgomery County historic preservation planners have begun exploring, analyzing and recording local mid-century modern buildings and communities, part of an effort we call Montgomery Modern. — Montgomery County Planning Department website

A few years ago the Montgomery County Planning Department’s historic preservation staff began an initiative it calls “Montgomery Modern.” The initiative has included a massive public relations campaign to raise public awareness for, and appreciation of, Montgomery County’s mid-twentieth century architecture. Montgomery Modern has included bus tours and bike tours of residential subdivisions and architecturally significant office buildings, churches, and public buildings. And it’s yielded a book written by one of the agency’s historic preservation planners.

In its zeal to highlight other’s peoples’ buildings, the agency appears to have overlooked its own headquarters: the Maryland-National Capital Planning Commission’s Montgomery Regional Office (MRO) at 8787 Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring.

Continue reading

Producing art in spaces of change

For this year’s Delta Symposium at Arkansas State University I collaborated with two University of Arkansas professors on a panel titled “Producing Art in Spaces of Change.” The panel drew from my work in Washington, D.C., and Decatur, Ga. Dr. Robin Roberts (University of Arkansas Dept. of English) and Les Wade (University of Arkansas Dept. of Theatre) spoke about their work in gentrifying New Orleans neighborhoods post-Katrina. Dr. Richard Burns (Arkansas State Dept. of English and Philosophy) moderated the panel.

Delta Symposium panel (left to right): Dr. David Rotenstein, Dr. Robin Roberts, Dr. Les Wade, and Dr. Richard Burns. Photo courtesy of Richard Burns.

Our panel was about displacement and the creative responses to it that emerge in neighborhoods where it occurs. Here is our panel’s abstract:

Displacement is a violent process that involuntarily separates people from their homes, neighbors, families, and essential social networks. This panel examines artistic production in two Southern cities with histories of displacement and substantial communities of color, New Orleans and Washington, D.C.

Both cities in the twentieth century became majority African American and by the turn of the twenty-first century both had begun inverting demographically. In New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and subsequent rebuilding efforts were key displacement catalysts. Washington’s historically black neighborhoods are rapidly changing through gentrification.

Two scholars explore artistic production in New Orleans. Robin Roberts drills down into the economic and social changes affecting communities with long histories of Mardi Gras participation and how residents respond to and resist change. Les Wade examines cultural changes in the Treme neighborhood, hard-hit by Katrina and memorialized in popular culture by the HBO series.

David Rotenstein unpacks an urban legend found in African American neighborhoods throughout North America and long associated with the District of Columbia, “The Plan,” and its jump from black homes, churches, and barbershops into the African American press, mainstream white media, and academic literature.

I’m already looking forward to next year’s Delta Symposium. I plan to pitch a paper on heritage tourism in Helena, Arkansas, where contemporary residents are struggling to find the right mix of history and tourism to reboot the local economy.

Cherry Street Historic District, downtown Helena, Arkansas.

Abandoned motel, downtown Helena, Arkansas.

Cherry Street Historic District, downtown Helena, Arkansas.

Fake art and the right to stay put

How many layers of resistance are embedded in this poster?

This poster is one of three affixed to a boarded-up storefront in Washington, D.C.’s Anacostia neighborhood. The storefront, like many other properties in this community East of the Anacostia River, is an active worksite in the Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. corridor. Anacostia once was a predominantly African American neighborhood stigmatized for its poverty and its perceived high crime. Now, Anacostia is prime real estate ripe for reinvestment, redevelopment, and gentrification.

Public space like the boarded-up storefront is a communications free-for-all where graffiti tags compete with concert flyers, community event announcements, and protest statements. With advocacy organizations and artists appropriating the language and imagery of resistance and commodifying it, discerning who is doing the resisting and why becomes fraught. Continue reading

King Biscuit Time

Last week I presented a paper at the 2017 Delta Symposium at Arkansas State University. On the way I spent a couple of days in Helena, Arkansas, revisiting some work I did 30 years.

A high point of the trip was being interviewed by Helena radio personality Sonny Payne on the King Biscuit Time show. Sonny turned the tables on me: I’m usually the one asking the questions and “holding” the microphone. My wife and I had gone to the Delta Cultural Center in-between interviews I was doing with Helena residents. After I re-introduced myself to Sonny, he asked us to sit in on the show. It was program number 17,679!

Sonny Payne. Delta Cultural Center broadcast studio, Helena, Arkansas.

Here’s a clip from the show:

Audio clip courtesy of KFFA’s King Biscuit Time.

© 2017 D.S. Rotenstein

 

Silver Spring Black History Tour: May 6, 2017

UPDATE: The May 6 tour is sold out. New dates will be added soon.

Tickets are now available for the next Silver Spring Black History Tour. Mark your calendars: Saturday, May 6, 2017. The event is free but registration is required: https://silverspringblackhistory.eventbrite.com.

Things that arrive in the spring

The spring brought new things to Africville, things which were not pretty like flowers, nor sweet smelling like the sea air. The newest things in Africville were suit-wearing, briefcase-toting white men — Leslie Ann Carvery, Africville My Home (2016).

In communities of color, folks know that whenever this happens, bad things follow.

Two Halifax city officials, one holding a rolled plan of Africville, outside an Africville house, prior to demolition of the community. Credit: Nova Scotia Archives, Bob Brooks Nova Scotia Archives accession no. 1989-468 vol. 16 / negative sheet 5 image 25 .