Mary Church Terrell became the founding president of the National Association of Colored Women in 1896. Her activism continued for more than half a century. The 1953 Supreme Court decision in District of Columbia v. John R. Thompson Co. Inc., which desegregated D.C.’s restaurants, came after Terrell led a group to whites-only Thompson’s Restaurant at 14th Street and New York Avenue NW and served as a plaintiff on the case.
A year after that decision, Terrell died at age 90. Her will stipulated that Howard University would gain control of her LeDroit Park house after her daughter died. The property, at 326 T St. NW, was turned over to Howard in 1998.
The house, which appears sliced in half due to a fire that destroyed the adjacent property, has stood vacant since, its condition deteriorating. It’s been a national historic landmark since 1975, meaning it can’t easily be torn down—-not that neighbors or preservationists want it to be. The university has long had plans to turn part of it into a museum highlighting the efforts of Terrell and her husband, Robert Terrell, D.C.’s first black judge. The restoration effort got underway in 2009, when a foundation started by the university began shoring up the major structural problems. But the recession made funds scarce, and the project has stagnated since then.
Until now. At a recent community meeting, Howard President Wayne Frederick told neighbors that the university would break ground on a new restoration effort within six months.
“When the president said that in six months’ time they’re going to do it, I was just floored and so excited,” says Brian Footer, an advisory neighborhood commissioner for LeDroit Park who’s made the restoration of the house a top priority. “I’m going to do everything in my power to hold them to that.”
Frederick is traveling abroad, and a Howard spokesman couldn’t confirm the restoration plans. But two other people present at the meeting confirmed that Frederick made that promise.
For Footer and other neighbors, the historic property has become an eyesore and a nuisance. Footer complains of accumulating trash, an overgrown yard, rodents, and occasional squatters who break in and camp out on the property. If Frederick’s pledge comes to pass, those problems will be a thing of the past, and a piece of history will be a part of LeDroit Park’s future.
Photo via Library of Congress