Segregated Washington will be relived Sunday and Monday by a group of black poets, doctors, educators, lawyers, historians, journalists and other survivors who fought it, beat it to its knees and emerged victorious.
Those who recall the 1919 riots, local boy Duke Ellington before he got his hair gassed, the segregated Lincoln Memorial dedication ceremonies in 1922, the Washington Renaissance, the 1926 march of the Ku Klux Klan down Pennsylvania Avenue and the D.C. school board turning down Marian Anderson for a concert in 1939 at what was then Central High School (now Cardozo), will participate in "an experiment in collective memory" at the Folger Shakespeare Library.
Titled "In The Shadow of the Capitol," the free program, which runs from noon to 5:30 p.m. Sunday and from 10:15 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday, will feature personal testimonies on segretation and its effects on local education, law, medicine, journalism and the arts. Octogenarians Sterling A. Brown, poet and Howard University professor emeritus, and historian Rayford W. Logan will join other native-born Washingtonians in the opening session, "Growing Up in Segregated Washington."
Logan, responsible for several studies on black life, is enthusiastic about appearing on the program. "Our reflections should be helpful in charting a course for the future," he said. However, the former Howard educator, now 84, cautioned: "As a result of a recent study I was involved in, I find it extremely difficult to determine whether we're making progress, standing still or going backward."
The program will stress informality and spectator interaction with eyewitnesses, who will bridge the span of time from Woodrow Wilson's reintroduction of segregation to the federal city through the 1963 March on Washington -- the symbolic capstone of efforts to rid the Nation's Capital of racist policies.
"The oral history of this community should be shared with the community before we lose those who lived it," said Betty Parry, a writer and one of the organizers of the program. The colloquium, as the program is called, is an outgrowth of an oral history project begun last year by Parry and funded by the D.C. Community Humanities Council through the Institute for the Preservation and Study of African-American Writing and Word Works Inc., a small press that prints poetry books.
Parry brought them all together to sponsor the colloquium, saying: "I plan to do a book, but why wait for that?"
Parry said the program title was selected because the "glistening white Capitol has thrown a metaphorical shadow over social equality in this city."
Parry's tapes offer an absorbing preview of the living history to be presented at the Folger: mothers attempting to explain away segregated drugstore counters to hamburger-happy children without harming the children's perception of self -- "It's always better to eat at home;" the "network of hospitality" that existed here for strangers, friends of friends and people like W.E.B. DuBois, to provide lodging and food in a town that had none to spare if you were black.
Black history, as remembered grew roots here during the 1920s under the guidance of historian Carter G. Woodson and his Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History. Poets Langston Hughes, Jean Toomer and May Miller evoke images of blackness here in the shadow during this period.
Black architects formed their own association and fanned out to build Howard University buildings, churches and luxurious private homes.The Negro Alliance, a group formed in the 1930s to protest the economic practices, led a boycott against Peoples Drug Stores because of their policies of neither hiring nor serving blacks. One of the organization's members was former mayor Walter Washington.
Despite the shadow, people grew by manufacturing their own sunshine; bobbing and weaving through the cracks, using their intelligence and courage to keep the backbone straight, the family together. Careers were carved. Day-to-day living plotted.
The survivors came through. The judges. Doctors. Lawyers. Writers. Educators. To paraphrase poet Sterling Brown: They didn't come by ones; they didn't come by twos; but they came by tens. Many are still around to tell the story.
Although the sessions are free and open to the public, seating is limited and reservations are advised. Reservations can be made by the calling the Folger Library Poetry Office, 544-7077.