April 2014

DC Was a Busy Place for Women in April 1922

April 1922 was a busy time for Washington socialites and the newspapers that followed them, as the city hosted no less than five national and international women’s groups in the span of a few short weeks.

DC had long been a party town (pun intended) but these gatherings provide a glimpse of the changing dynamics of womens’ political involvement during the 1920s, immediately following the passage of the nineteenth amendment. Let’s take a look at some highlights.

Muhammad Ali in 1967 (World Journal Tribune photo by Ira Rosenberg, Library of Congress)

Muhammad Ali's Speech at Howard University, 1967

The PBS documentary The Trials of Muhammad Ali, covers the boxing champ's struggles outside the ring during the tumultuous mid-1960s, when his refusal to serve in the military during the Vietnam War led to him being stripped of his title, and nearly cost him his freedom. The program also explores Ali's involvement in the Black Power movement of the 1960s, and his emergence as a symbol of protest and dissent for young people of that time. 

Ali's duality as a firebrand activist and a revolutionary icon is examplified, in some ways, by his controversial appearance at Howard University in April 22, 1967, where he gave a speech to African-American students just days before he refused induction in the armed forces, which led to his indictment and conviction for draft evasion. 

Marian Anderson Actually Did Get to Sing at Constitution Hall

In 1939, in what became one of the most painful moments in Washington music history, celebrated African-American singer Marian Anderson was denied an opportunity to perform for an integrated audience at Constitution Hall because of her race. Then-First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt resigned her membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution, which owned and operated the concert hall. Anderson's manager, Sol Hurok, capitalized on the First Lady's support to seek federal government approval for the singer give an open-air performance instead.

On April 9 of that year, a crowd of 75,000 people, which included Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes and Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial and listened to Anderson sing "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" on the memorial's steps. According to the New York Times' account, six microphones carried Anderson's voice to millions of radio listeners throughout the country.

Standing Room Only: DC's WWII Housing Crunch

Two African American children in Washington, D.C. alley (Photo source: Library of Congress)

During World War II, the job market in D.C. exploded; between 1940 and 1945, the number of civilians employed by the government almost quadrupled. The Defense Housing Registry, created by the DC government to help these new employees find housing, processed around 10,000 newcomers every month.

The housing market in D.C. was not at all equipped to deal with this influx; construction in the city had slowed during the Great Depression, and halted completely when materials and labor were diverted to the war effort. So what resulted from the overcrowding of Washington?

When Washington was Nashville North

With the American Country Music awards coming up this weekend what better time to look at our local country music heritage?

There was a period, from the late 1940s until the early 1960s, when Washington, D.C. was a veritable Nashville on the Potomac, a mecca that provided country performers a chance to get their records played, and to perform before big audiences. The man who was most responsible for the District's country preeminence was a charismatic impressario who originally hailed from Lizard Lick, N.C. named Connie Barriot Gay.

How Frank Capra Aroused Washington's Ire

Director Frank Capra's classic 1939 film, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,  a comedy-drama about an ordinary citizen who ascends to the U.S. Senate, today is widely regarded as an uplifting, if overly sentimental, tribute to the egalitarianism at the heart of American-style democracy. But when it was released, Mr. Smith wasn't regarded as a feel-good film by members of Congress. Though Capra's depiction of a Capitol Hill ruled by corrupt, cynical dealmakers was vastly tamer than the blackmailing, murderous libertines in the current hit Netflix series House of Cards,  it seemed utterly scandalous to legislators of the day, who vehemently denounced the film and sought to punish Hollywood for daring to make it.