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Pre-1962 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 racism and strict segregation in Prince George’s County and the state of Maryland, these controversial plans were quickly dropped.

Initial Greenbelt Plan from RA booklet 1

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. However, 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.

Additionally, although Greenbelt was a New Deal Era 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. This was partly due to state and national segregation laws, but also compounded by the Federal Housing Administration's policies that limited mortgage assistance and insurance to white citizens only.

From the Archives of the Greenbelt News Review

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African American History in Greenbelt

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A young Greenbelter explores the typewriter in the Museum house while visiting with a school group. 

As a lasting legacy of the 75th Anniversary of the City of Greenbelt, and in an effort to answer some of the 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.

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