- Malisa Payne
Native Narrative: Beloved Chocolate City
I was talking to one of my friends the other night about the city we share. Washington, DC is affectionately referred to as the Chocolate City because of its predominantly Black population. Though it is becoming more "Neapolitan flavored", as my friend Angelo would say.
Angelo was born and raised here and he's been around since the mid 50's. He was so excited to share the fascinating memories he has of DC, one of the first Black cities in the country.
It is a gift for me to live here now. With a heart of gratitude and awareness I work to get to know this place I call home, preserve its worth, join in the celebration, and enter into genuine community with its inhabitants.
Angelo recapped his young years growing up in the city center. “Community was the most valuable thing back then. You knew your neighbors and people took care of each other,” he said. ”Families lived in the area for generations. They understand the significance of the history that brought them here. There is great pride in the economic and political influence Black folks have had in this city.”
Washington DC has long been a special place for Black Americans. The city was carved from two slave holding states in 1791. In 1862 Lincoln freed the slaves of Washington nine months before the Emancipation Proclamation, which prompted thousands of African Americans to flood into the free capital. By 1957, Black people had become the majority of the city’s residents, exceeding numbers in any major city in the United States. Since 1967, the city has been shaped by Black institutions.
Angelo reminisced with me about everything from horse drawn carts delivering produce grown in the rural areas to the musicians he lent an ear to. He said he saw everybody from Duke Ellington to Stevie Wonder going to Howard Theater for $1.50. He saw Smokey Robinson, the Temptations, and The Supremes.
Angelo continued to recount meeting leaders of the civil rights movement that transformed our country, such as Cleveland Seller and Rev. Ralph Abernathy.
There is so much rich history here among these towers filled with what is now a more diverse flow of individuals. Being here is such an honor I will always respect. The culture is invaluable. The lessons are still relevant. Advancements are still necessary. And the celebration is current.