Explore Georgetown’s African American History

According to the 2000 Census, Georgetown’s population is only 3% Black. However, this was not always the case. Through the 19th century and into the first half of the 20th century, Georgetown had a substantial African American population (reaching around 50% of the population at the turn of the century). The majority of these residents were descendants of slaves that lived in Georgetown or emigrated there shortly after the Civil War.

This day being Martin Luther King’s birthday, GM suggests you take a stroll through our neighborhood and visit some of the landmarks of Black Georgetown. Some suggestions are listed below.

The bulk of the African American population of Georgetown during the late 19th century descended from the slaves that were held right in Georgetown.  Originally spread throughout Georgetown, the Black population eventually coalesced in the eastern portion of the neighborhood in an area historically known as “Herring Hill”. According to legend, this name came about because the families who lived here fed off the herring in Rock Creek.

Still located in Herring Hill are several historically Black churches. While almost all of the congregants now travel to the churches to attend them, Mount Zion United Methodist Church at 1334 29th St., First Baptist Church at 2624 Dumarton Ave., Jerusalem Baptist Church at 2600 P St., and Alexander Memorial Baptist Church at 2709 N St. are all still vibrant congregations.

Traveling to the north section of Herring Hill, you ought to make a stop at Mount Zion Cemetery. It’s located at the northern end of 27th St., just behind the apartment building at 27th and Q St. The cemetery is actually two cememteries in one: the Female Union Band Society Graveyard and the old Methodist Burying Ground.  The first was established in 1842 by an organization of free Black women to provide for the burial of free Blacks. The second was established in 1879 when the church rented the land from the Dumbarton Church. Threatened with removal in the 1970’s, the cemetery was saved by the advocacy and labor of the Afro-American Bicentennial Corporation and other groups.

If you have time and can stand the cold, the National Park Service has listed several other locations such as the Billings School and the Yarrow Mamout residence that are significant to Georgetown’s African American History.


1 Comment

Filed under History

One response to “Explore Georgetown’s African American History

  1. Richard Schmidt

    Local historians may be interested to learn that Alexander Memorial Baptist Church was built as an addition to the former home of Naval Observatory astronomer Asaph Hall, discoverer of the moons of Mars, who lived at 18 Gay St. (2715 N. St. NW) from 1867 to 1892. An early picture of the house can be found in Angelo Hall’s book “An Astronomer’s Wife” available on Google Books.

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