With a marching band and D. C. Del. Walter E. Fauntroy leading them in song, several hundred persons gathered in front of the now-closed Anthony Bowen YMCA in Shaw yesterday to urge that the historic building be reopened. The community rally followed by 48 hours the announcement of a tentative agreement that could accomplish that goal.
Despite the tentative settlement announced Friday by Mayor Marion Barry, however, yesterday's rally was marked by several bitter denunciations of the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington from community speakers.
They criticized the YMCA for allowing the 70-year-old Bowen facility, which housed the first black YMCA in the country, to deteriorate to the point where it was closed for safety and financial reasons on Feb. 23.
Rally organizers, who said they have gathered more than 8,000 petition signatures and have started a fund drive including the sale of $2 "Save Bowen" bumper stickers, stressed that the settlement announced by Barry is only tentative.
The rally closed off the 1800 block of 12th Street NW, as the 120-member Shaw Junior High School band marched down the street, drawing scores of neighborhood residents who gathered in front of a two-tiered speakers' platform erected on the Bowen steps. The City Council had declared yesterday Anthony Bowen Day.
To the tune of the spiritual "Michael Row the Boat Ashore," Fauntroy led the crowd in singing, "Y board open up the Y, hallelujah." Anthony Bowen's great-granddaughter, Ella Payne Moran, also called for the structure to be reopened.
Calvin Rolark, president of the United Black Fund, called the Bowen closing "one of the worst things that could happen to black folk in the nation's capital," and then denounced the YMCA board and its president, Thomas B. Hargrave Jr., who also attended the rally as an invited speaker.
"If Tom Hargrave is not sensitive to our community, let him get the hell out of Washington, D.C.," Rolark said. He also suggested that if the YMCA ignores black community needs, the United Black Fund might be a better parent agency for the Bowen YMCA. At another point, Rolark angrily called Hargrave and other members of the YMCA board "degenerate," and later accused them of "total insensitivity" to the black community.
Hargrave, who was booed by several members of the audience and who sat impassively through the hour-long rally, told the crowd that he would work to try to reopen Bowen. "Sometimes it takes a death before there can be a resurrection," he said.
Hargrave said it "grieved me" to have been forced to recommend the Bowen closing, but repeated his position that it was necessary. He noted that several weeks ago in Rahway, N.J., one person was killed and more than 40 injured in a fire at an old YMCA building.
"We closed Anthony Bowen because we didn't want that to happen here," he said, then added, "We did not close it, we relocated it." The YMCA has opened a temporary office at 1307 W St. NW and has also allowed youngsters to use its downtown facility at 1711 Rhode Island Ave. NW during limited time periods.
Hargrave lauded Barry's offer to lead a $150,000 fund-raising drive to reopen Bowen, but said it may not be enough money to repair the building.
The agreement announced by the mayor would allow Bowen to reopen temporarily and would possibly result in a Shaw-oriented YMCA facility being built on an adjacent lot owned by the association. In addition, the city and the YMCA will negotiate a land swap that will turn over Bowen to the city in exchange for a city-owned parcel that could become a new citywide YMCA.