"Lift Every Voice"
— Georgia Ave./Pleasant Plains Heritage Trail —
Shortly before midnight on July 22, 1919, James Scott, a black army veteran, boarded a streetcar at the corner and nearly lost his life.
A few days before, a white mob, including many veterans of World War I, had terrorized Southwest DC, randomly attacking black people in retaliation for an alleged assault on a white woman. Spurred by rumors and newspaper headlines, attackers targeted other Black neighborhoods. But Scott didn't know this. Boarding the streetcar here, he was stunned to hear white passengers yell, "Lynch him!" As he attempted to flee, the conductor shot at him three times.
That summer race relations were tense nationwide, with rioting in many cities. In Washington black men who had fought bravely overseas came home to a city more segregated than the one they had left. President Woodrow Wilson's administration had established separate facilities for black federal employees. Unemployment was high. African Americans who had been respected as soldiers came home determined to fight U.S. racism. Most whites were determined to keep them "in their place."
As mobs raged, some 2,000 black Washingtonians rallied here to defend their neighborhood. Veteran sharpshooters manned the Howard Theatre's roof, and others patrolled Seventh Street. Clergymen called on President Wilson to protect the community. By the time U.S. troops quelled the violence, seven people were dead and hundreds were injured But African Americans took pride in the successful defense of their neighborhoods.
Among those decrying the violence was William A. Taylor, founding pastor of the Florida Avenue Baptist Church, which you just passed, at 633 Florida Avenue. The original 1913 church building was replaced in 1964.
For the duration of the disturbances, the Washington Post
ran inflammatory headlines including this one from July 22, 1919. The Washington Post
This map, published in the old Washington Times
in 1919, shows areas of the city hit by "rioting" on July 21. "Zone 1" was the around where this sign is today. Washingtoniana Division, DC Public Library
After the disturbances ended, copies of this handbill appeared throughout DC's black neighborhoods. Newberry Library
Rev. William A. Taylor, center, and family at his 2119 13th St. home, 1938. At upper left is grandson Billy Taylor, later an influential jazz musician and educator. Collection of Rudy Taylor
The Florida Avenue Baptist Church, right
, celebrated its mortgage burning in 1944. Scurlock Studio Records, Archives Center, National Museum of American History