“When we first opened, the majority was African American,” said Puesan. “But 15 years ago, the mix changed.” The block that once housed HR-57, the Afro-American newspaper and a black-owned beauty salon is now home to a high-end audio showroom and a sleek, minimalist Thai eatery.
“Cities evolve, the affluent come in, and people shift around,” said Puesan, 49, who is black and grew up in Adams Morgan. “But this city’s culture is still solidly African American, and that’s not changing.”
When new census data revealed last month that blacks are probably no longer a majority in Washington — a status they had held since shortly after World War II — some residents read that as confirmation that the District’s black identity is slipping away. From politicians to talk-show callers, in diners and schoolyards, many Washingtonians — and especially black residents who have spent all their lives in the city — took the census numbers as proof that the District is turning into one more majority-white city.
But in politics, business, culture and sports, the public face of Washington is still largely African American, and there’s considerable evidence that it may stay that way for a long time to come.
Washington remains “a magnet for black intellectuals, the black middle class and the black creative class,” said Richard Florida, whose theories about how the creative class of academics, artists and professionals vitalize cities have been the core of several best-selling books. Florida, who moved from the District to Toronto in 2007, said his interviews with young people across the country “identified greater Washington as a place they wanted to live — young policy wonks, foreign-born techies, gay professionals and also ambitious, college-educated African Americans.”
More than half of the anchors on the local TV news here are black — unlike any other city in the nation, according to Craig Allen, who studies the history of local TV news broadcasting at Arizona State University.
And the D.C. audience appears to be less conscious of race than it once was. “Washington was really the first market to go with diversity in TV news, in the ’70s,” Allen said. “It was something that station owners and managers were very careful and deliberate about. Now, despite how the population changes, there’s still a powerful African American presence in Washington TV news, including dual black anchors, which I can categorically say does not happen anywhere else. The audience hardly notices anymore.”