Barack Obama‘s victory has sunk in. Election night, on the other hand, still seems like a dream to me. We know why people took to the streets around roughly 11:00 p.m. on November 4. The White House was an obvious destination. But 14 and U Street? What does it say about our city that this particular spot became a converging point for the masses?
Like many in D.C., I was down there right after results were announced. For a few minutes, I tried to be in the moment. You know: jubilant hugs, marveling stares from deep inside the election joy swirl. Then, I extricated myself from the crowds, found a perch somewhere nearby and just gawked at everything for a good ten minutes: thousands blocking the intersection, a bus being told to turn around, embracing strangers, people (sane people) dancing in the streets.
Now comes an article from the Voice of America about the sights and sounds of U Street that night. “This is a solid example of the evolution of race relations,” says Sterling Tucker, a civil rights activist. Here’s more:
Sterling Tucker sees U Street as a real life example of the progress Barack Obama’s election symbolizes. He says he is amazed at how far U Street has come. Tucker was here in April of 1968 during four days of race riots sparked by the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Twelve people were killed citywide. Nearly every business on U Street was looted and set on fire.
The story is familiar for us locals. But this question arises: who do we have to thank for our transcendent moment? Developers? Is that what it comes down to?
Sure, the foundation of U Street’s African-American musical culture was laid down years ago. But what revived the corridor was construction. Two years ago, theWashington Post wrote an article about the history of the neighborhood. The writer took care to mention that not everyone was thrilled about the evolution: “U Street is renewal and gentrification. But now U Street is also resentment and fear, about being pushed out in the quest. ‘I’ve never seen so many white people [on U Street] before,’ says Danielle Boyd, 29. She’s sitting in the chair at Shear Movement, fretting as Sandra Butler winds a curling iron through her hair.”
Now check back with the VOA article: “Today, U Street is a racially-mixed neighborhood. The changes have been driven by steady economic development since the subway came here 17 years ago. There are new upscale condos and apartments next to trendy boutiques and restaurants.” Not a hint of resentment or anger over gentrification.
Photo by Amanda Hess