Updated: Feb 10, 2021
Joseph Arnold in his book, The New Deal in the Suburbs: A History of the Greenbelt Town Program 1935-1954, writes that there were several Black families who lived on the land that would become Greenbelt, but that they were not part of the community. Census records from 1940 show that these families were the the Jacksons, the Gillispies, and the Youngers. All were renting their homes. The first two families lived in what was called the Lanham district. The Youngers lived near Vansville.
The Jackson family was made up of six people. William Jackson, age 40, was the head of household and he was a laborer with the WPA. He had four children: Virginia, age 14; Edna, age 11; Richard, age 10; and Edward, age 3. William’s sister, Emma, 23 years old, was living with them as well.
The Gillispies were Randolph and Marie. Randolph, age 43, listed his occupation as laborer but it is not know where he worked. Marie, his wife was not employed at the time.
The Younger family was comprised of Joseph, age 46, and his wife Agnes, age 37. They had three children: Bernice, the eldest at 16 years old, Josephine, 13 years old, and Odelia, 10 years old. Joseph was also employed by the WPA as a laborer, and Agnes was unemployed (United States Census Bureau, 1940).
We need to do a great deal more research to find out more about these families - if they moved or not. If the men worked on the Greenbelt project. If any of their descendants still live locally, etc.
This aerial photo is of Greenbelt in the fall of 1941 just a year after the 1940 census was completed. Note how undeveloped the surrounding land was. Courtesy Library of Congress. Maryland.