African American History in Greenbelt

The Resettlement Administration's earliest plans for the land that would become Greenbelt included an area called the Rossville Rural Development, which was to be lived on and farmed by African American families. However, in the climate of strict segregation in Prince George’s County and the state of Maryland, these controversial plans were quickly dropped. Additionally, although Greenbelt was a relief project built by both African American and white workers, because of segregation, only white families would be accepted to move into the experimental town. There were two other New Deal communities in the mid-Atlantic region built for African American families, Langston Terrace in Washington, D.C. and Aberdeen Gardens near Newport News, Virginia; but Greenbelt, Maryland would remain an all-white community for several decades.

Inevitably, at the Greenbelt Museum, when staff and docents explain Greenbelt’s segregated history, the next question from visitors is, “When did Greenbelt become integrated in terms of race?” We know that there was a Citizens for Fair Housing group active here beginning in 1963, but to the best of our knowledge so far, African American families did not begin moving into Greenbelt until the late 1960s. In researching this exhibition, we have realized that we have many, many more questions than answers.

As a lasting legacy of the 75th Anniversary of the City of Greenbelt, and in an effort to answer some of the many questions we have about segregation and integration here, the Greenbelt Museum established an ongoing Archive of the African American Experience in Greenbelt in 2012. We need your help to make it successful. If you would like to share information, photographs, memories, or oral histories, please contact the Museum by calling 301-507-6582 or sending an email to director@greenbeltmuseum.org.

Please stay tuned as we will be adding to this page. 

Initial Greenbelt Plan from RA booklet 1
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African American relief workers on site at the Greenbelt project. Greenbelt Museum Collection

FACT SHEET

African American History in Greenbelt

This map designates space for rural development (lower left corner) which at one time we thought may have been where planners hoped to establish the Rossville Rural Development, an area to be occupied and farmed by Black families. Additional research has indicated, however, that this area was designated for white families. The area for Black families was farther away to the north, along the edge of the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center. This portion of the plan was dropped early on, however, as it was considered too controversial, and the small farms were never built, nor were the farms on this map for white families. Had they been established, both farms would have supplied the residents with locally grown food, which was in keeping with the original idea of a garden city.

 

This archive is part of the Museum's ongoing work to raise awareness about Greenbelt's segregated past, to record and share the experiences of BIPOC (black, indigenous, people of color) in Greenbelt, and to offer a forum where respectful discussions about race, diversity, justice, and equity can take place.