From the Director: Black History Month 2020

Greenbelt's segregated history is a topic often on our minds at the Museum. The fact that Greenbelt was built by both African American and white workers, but was only open to white families is a hugely significant part of the community's history. We established an archive of African American history at the Museum in 2012 and even before that our goal was to make sure that every visitor to the Museum is aware of Greenbelt's segregated history as well as its subsequent integration. We've produced a fact sheet, held docent trainings on the topic, added resources to our website, and encouraged and facilitated research on African American history here. Over the years the Museum has hosted a variety of lectures on African American history including a talk on Jacob Lawrence (who began as a WPA artist), a lecture by Ty Gray-EL a poet and activist who grew up in Langston Terrace (a New Deal community in Washington, DC for African Americans), and more recently we hosted Stewart Eisenberg who spoke about redlining in the area and the Mapping Racism project.

Later this month, I'm thrilled that the Museum is cosponsoring an event as part of Greenbelt's Black History Month celebration, entitled "Desegregating Greenbelt." Rev. Angie Williams, who moved into Greenbelt Homes Incorporated in 1966 will speak about her experiences. Some members of the Greenbelt Fair Housing Committee, which began meeting in 1963, will be in the audience as well and we look forward to hearing from them, also. We're honored also to have Monica Montgomery, Director of the Prince George's African American Museum and Cultural Center serve as moderator.

There is so much research yet to be done on this topic - for instance, did you know that there were fourteen people of color who lived on the land that would become Greenbelt? That a section of Greenbelt's original plan was to be set aside for African American families? Or that it's rumored that students and/or faculty from Howard University's School of Architecture may have been involved in Mishkan Torah's design? We have a long way to go to raise awareness about Greenbelt's segregated past and we have both a scholarly obligation to tell the whole story of Greenbelt's history, as well as a moral one. In a setting where "utopia" and "town of tomorrow" and "ideal planned community" are phrases that are frequently used, it is even more important to acknowledge that our community did not include everyone.

Megan Searing Young is the Director of The Greenbelt Museum and Historic House in Greenbelt, Maryland. If you have questions or want to share more with us about Greenbelt's history, please feel free to send her an email or give us a call. You can follow her on Twitter at @msearingyoung.

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Preserving and sharing the New Deal history of an experimental planned community built by FDR in suburban Maryland in 1937 and still thriving today.