Both groups — the Federation of Citizens Associations and the Federation of Civic Associations, respectively — aim to gather the voices of a diverse city’s neighborhoods to speak as one on important public issues.
The most striking difference between the two groups? Twelve of the 13 people at the Federation of Citizens Associations meeting were white; 24 of the 26 people at the Federation of Civic Associations attendees were black.
As the District has entered a new era of growth, prosperity and diversity, a century-old division between its umbrella citywide resident activist groups has endured. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) has made “One City” his trademark, placing the phrase on D.C. documents and repeating it mantralike at his public appearances. But the two federations — one largely black, the other largely white — are at odds with the spirit of Gray’s motto.
“I’m very disappointed in the relationship of people, I would say, east of the [Anacostia River] with the other side,” said Barbara D. Morgan, president of the Federation of Civic Associations and a resident of the east-of-the-river Dupont Park neighborhood. “By golly, I think Vince has tried to breed ‘One City.’ But let’s face it. It’s not happening.”
There has been no explicit racism in the federations’ dealings for a generation. Whites-only language was removed from the citizens federation constitution in 1972, and for a time in the early 1980s, a white man led the historically black civic federation. Today, there is significant overlap between the two federations’ member organizations even as meetings remain homogenous.
“We have no bias whatsoever,” said Anne Mohnkern Renshaw, president of the Federation of Citizens Associations and a Chevy Chase resident.
Yet cooperation between the groups in recent years has been halting. Merger discussions have been intermittent and informal, at best. And, occasionally, there are tensions — such as in recent weeks, when the citizens group declined the civic organization’s invitation to host a candidates’ forum.
‘Present and insulted’
The 103-year-old division is an undeniable vestige of a segregationist era. In 1910, 20 of the District’s most prominent neighborhood civic groups met to organize as the Federation of Citizens Associations. Among its earliest business was this decision: Would the new, all-white organizations accept associations from black neighborhoods?
That May, the federation invited leaders of 10 African American neighborhood groups to attend one of its meetings. There, according to an editorial printed the next week in the black-oriented Washington Bee, the federation voted 12 to 8 to exclude the black groups “because of their color and nothing more.”