Now the first town incorporated by African Americans in Prince George’s County is at a crossroads. Longtime residents are dying or moving into nursing facilities. Their children are selling the homes, and almost all of the buyers are Hispanic — part of a wave that has doubled the number of Latinos living in Prince George’s to 129,000 over the past 10 years.
The newcomers are altering North Brentwood’s identity, even as a nonprofit group raises funds to make the town the site of an ambitious $25 million Prince George’s African American Museum and Cultural Center.
Barsabe Castellon Flores, who works in a hotel kitchen in Georgetown, bought her two-story house on 40th Street in North Brentwood seven years ago. It was affordable and the neighborhood was safe.
“It’s very tranquil,” she said, and, pointed to her neighbor’s houses. Salvadorans live next door. Across the street are Dominicans. Only one African American family lives on her end of the block.
Five miles from the District border, North Brentwood is a town of barely 500 residents that won a spot on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003. It was founded by Civil War veterans from the Maryland Colored Regiments, and incorporated in 1924. On the stairway leading to the second-floor town hall offices, the wall is covered with photos of North Brentwood’s black mayors. Nearby is the town flag of red, black and green, colors that symbolize African American pride.
For decades, the town was a haven for African Americans in Prince George’s, who often faced hostility in the all-white communities beyond its borders.
“If you got off the trolley car in Mount Rainier to save 8 cents, you were going to have difficulty in the walk home,” remembered Arthur Dock, 80, who was born and raised in North Brentwood.
Department store lunch counters in Hyattsville were off limits. Blacks couldn’t swim in the public pool. There were separate bathrooms at the county services building.
As recently as 1990, North Brentwood was virtually all African American. There were only two Hispanic families, 10 people in all. By 2000, the town had become 82 percent black and 8 percent Hispanic. By last year, the Hispanic population had more than quadrupled to 34 percent, and black residents had fallen to 64 percent.
At this rate, blacks could be a minority before the next census,or even before the African American museum can raise enough money to open its doors. The museum has received about $6 million from the county for land acquisition and planning, but it is just launching its capital campaign.
“If we’re still here, we may just barely be a majority, or we may be less than a majority,” said North Brentwood Council member Eleanor F. Traynham, who spent her childhood in the town and moved back as an adult to live in the house where her father grew up. “That’s just the way it’s going. The African Americans are dying out.”