A Feb. 4 Style article about the arrest of pop music producer Phil Spector on suspicion of murder reported that Spector had been ordered in 2000 to pay $2.6 million in back royalties to the singing group the Ronettes. That order, however, was later overturned on appeal and the case was sent back to a lower court, where it awaits reconsideration. (Published 2/6/03)
Carter G. Woodson would have been pleased, no doubt, with the Black History Month kickoff luncheon at Howard University on Saturday. He might have smiled at his picture on the cover of the program, "the man behind the legacy," he is called, and that of W.E.B. DuBois, whose influential work "The Souls of Black Folk" marks its 100th anniversary this year.
Woodson would have been proud of the event's sponsor, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, which he founded in 1915. The featured speaker was David Levering Lewis, DuBois' Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer.
Icing on the cake.
As a professor at Howard University in the 1930s, Woodson would sometimes walk from the campus to his home at 1519 Ninth St. NW. Imagine him returning to it after such a splendid affair and finding a two-man work crew bricking up the rear windows and doorways to keep out drug addicts and prostitutes, as was the case Monday.
Although the vacant house is a designated historic landmark, and should have been restored as a state-of-the-art museum by now, intruders apparently don't bother to read the National Park Service's commemorative plaque. They simply break in at night and, using plastic garbage bags for curtains and Sterno cans for heat and light, turn the place into just another urban crack house.
"That ought to keep 'em out," one of the workers said after sealing up the last rear window. But the other man just looked up at the water-damaged ceiling and said, "I think they come in through the roof, too."
It was from this house that Woodson conceptualized his 1933 classic, "The Mis-Education of the Negro," which addressed the ways black people had been brainwashed into believing that they had no worthwhile history and, therefore, into doubting whether they were capable of significant achievement.
"Lead the Negro to believe this and thus control his thinking," Woodson wrote. "If you can thereby determine what he will think, you will not need to worry about what he will do. You will not have to tell him to go to the back door. He will go without being told; and if there is no back door, he will have one cut for his special benefit."
The luncheon at Howard had attracted a new generation of black historians whose accomplishments and prosperity would have been beyond Woodson's wildest imagination. But his house symbolized the downside to this success.
"Just as we have seen black businesses fall into disarray as a result of integration, so have we seen this house lose the interest of many stellar young black scholars," said Debra Newman Ham, a professor of history at Morgan State University. "As Black History Month becomes more mainstream, black historians are speaking at more prestigious, often corporate-sponsored events, and ignoring the place where it all began."
DuBois described this phenomenon in "The Souls of Black Folk," which was published in April 1903.
"One ever feels his two-ness," he wrote. "An American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder."
That strength, however, did not not extend to Woodson's house.
The walls are buckling. The stairway is on the verge of collapse, and the roof is about to cave in. A stained and smelly old mattress lies on the bedroom floor, surrounded by beer cans and cigarette butts.
"The really scary thing is that they are lighting candles all over the house and starting small fires on the floors," said Alexander Padro, an advisory neighborhood commissioner in that area. "It wouldn't be the first time that one of these vacant houses went up."
Irena Webster, executive director of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, which owns the property, said recently that government and private efforts are underway to fix up the house. But, she conceded, these are the same plans that have been in the works for years.
Ham said Woodson, who died in 1950, "was probably turning over in his grave." I believe that if Woodson was alive, he'd probably see the house as evidence of the Negro's continued miseducation and simply say, "I warned you."