These words, borrowed from a speech by the nation's foremost 19th century black statesman and author, were quoted by D.C. City Councilmember Hilda Mason last Saturday to describe the long effort that led to the rehabilitation of 152 apartment units at the Frederick Douglass Garden Apartments in Anacostia.
During the dedication ceremony at Cedar Hill, Mason praised the project as a "great achievement." Tenants moved into the freshly renovated apartments earlier this year.
The renovation followed a lengthy struggle by the Frederick Douglass Memorial and Historic Association and its affiliate, the Frederick Douglass Housing Corp., to regain control of the five-acre complex. It is on a portion of the original 14-acre estate that served as the last residence of Douglass and his second wife, Helen Pitts Douglass.
Chartered by Congress in 1903, the historic association was organized to carry out the wish of Douglass' widow that after her death, Cedar Hill be preserved as an example of the contributions of black Americans to the history and culture of the United States.
The home and 14 acres were willed to the association in 1905 along with a $500 trust for the estate's maintenance. One stipulation was that the land never be sold or subdivided.
But over the years the funds spent on upkeep exceeded the trust's earnings and the financially strapped association was forced to seek other sources of revenue. In 1952, Cedar Gardens, a 152-unit garden apartment complex, was constructed on a five-acre portion of the estate by Douglass-Glen Gardens Inc. of New Jersey.
When Cedar Gardens was built, association officials believed they had entered into a leasing agreement that would have provided the organization with a $3,000 yearly income to maintain the Douglass home and pay for projects perpetuating his memory. But to their dismay, the the contract apparently provided for the sale of the property to the developer, according to association records.
Scarcity of funds prevented the association from pursuing court action against the developer, and for 13 years, the association claimed, it lived with the agreement while the apartment complex went into a decline.
The National Park Service acquired the Douglass Mansion and the remaining nine acres of the estate from the association in 1964, making it the first black American's home to be declared a national historic memorial. According to park service Deputy Director Ira Hutchinson, a dedication ceremony for the new Douglass Mansion visitors center will be held on Feb. 14, 1982.
But renewed hope for the association's efforts to regain the five-acre property came in January 1975. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development foreclosed on Cedar Gardens after Douglass-Glen Gardens defaulted on its HUD-guaranteed loans, according to HUD spokesman Tom Bacon.
A month later, association officials began talks with HUD about regaining Cedar Gardens. Negotiations continued for two years but the two sides were unable to reach agreement.
Finally, when Patricia Roberts Harris took office as HUD secretary in January 1977, she waived HUD regulations which had prevented the ownership transfer.
On Sept. 26, 1979, the Frederick Douglas Housing Corp. purchased Cedar Gardens from HUD for $231,623, contingent upon the association making substantial renovations to the complex, Bacon said.
The association helped resettle Cedar Gardens tenants and gave them first preference to move back into the complex when renovation was completed, said association president Maxine Boyd.
The $4 million rehabilitation project, aided by federally insured construction loans, started in late 1979 and culminated with Saturday's ribbon-cutting ceremony, returning the housing complex to the association.
"I am sick of hearing that projects for the poor are a failure," Harris said at the dedication.
"Around us today, we see a vivid reminder that projects that subsidize housing for those who cannot deal with their problems alone are worthwhile. The current administration says that programs for the poor under previous administrations were a mistake.
"But what they should say is that we are selfish," the former HUD secretary continued. "Projects for the poor have worked and must continue. It is cruel and dishonest to say that the private sector will replace the loss of government funds for these projects."
The complex will be managed by the Frederick Douglass Housing Corp. and the Edgewood Management Corp., and is covered by housing subsidy programs which permit residents to pay rents amounting to no more than a quarter of their incomes. All 152 units are filled and there is a waiting list.
"It's beautiful for low-income people to have a nice place like this to live in," said Shirley Williams, a resident of the complex and member of the Frederick Douglass Tenants Council. "We worked hard to get this place, but we're going to work even harder to keep it up."