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Object of the Month: August 2015 0 Comment(s)

Accession No.: 2011.22
Donor: Frank H. Rich, Sr.
Description: In 1974, Frank H. Rich (1921–2015) ran for D.C. City Council. His involvement in politics began after the 1968 riots following Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.

Rich’s Shoes newly-opened store at 10th and F Streets, NW, 1919.

A Washington Institution

Frank Rich’s family had deep roots in Washington. His maternal great grandfather, Abraham Hart, was a volunteer in the Union Army in the Civil War and was on the Board of Education in Washington, D.C. Frank’s paternal ancestors belonged to Washington Hebrew Congregation in the 19th century, and his great-grandfather Bernard Rich, was a founder of Adas Israel Congregation in 1869. That same year, Bernard founded a men's clothing store, B. Rich & Sons, at 7th and O Streets, NW. Bernard’s sons, Max and Louis, later took over the store and decided to specialize in shoes. In 1919, they moved the business into a four-story building at 10th and F Streets, NW.

Max had three sons, Edwin, Herbert, and Melvin, and two daughters, Ernestine and Fanny.[1] Herbert took over the family business and married Rosa Hart Frank, the granddaughter of Abraham Hart. (A scrapbook in JHSGW’s collection chronicles the Hart and Rich families from the 1860s-1960s).

Frank Hart Rich

Herbert and Rosa’s son, Frank, grew up on Buchanan Street, off 16th Street, NW. In 1942, after earning a degree in business administration at Lehigh University, he enlisted in the army and worked in administration for the Army Air Corps (precursor to the Air Force) in Assam, India. He supported flights over “The Hump,” the dangerous air crossing over the Himalayas to resupply U.S. air bases and aid the Chinese war effort against Japan. He distinguished himself and quickly rose to become a major.

Flooring advertisement featuring renovated 10th and F Streets, NW, location, 1950s.

JHSGW Collection.

Frank returned to the U.S. in 1946. In a 2011 interview, he told the Society that he was desperate for a new pair of shoes: “My shoes were in such terrible shape from the monsoons and everything. They were terrible.” But he could not simply pick up a new pair from his family’s business. Because of wartime rationing of materials like rubber and leather, Frank had to first go to Wilmington, Delaware, to get a document from the army allowing him to obtain the shoes.

After his return to Washington, Frank found a job as an assistant buyer at the Hecht Company’s shoe department. Soon thereafter, Frank’s father Herbert invited him to work for Rich’s Shoes. Frank agreed.

Frank set to work expanding the business to serve postwar Washington’s growing population in the 1940s and 1950s. He renovated Rich’s Shoes’ iconic 10th and F Street, NW, location. He also focused on cutting-edge trends that appealed to young shoppers and opened a new store at 1516 Wisconsin Avenue, NW, in Georgetown in 1953, followed more than a decade later by the Gaminerie, a boutique modeled after a shop with the same name he had visited in Paris. In 1955, he opened a spacious location in a new shopping center in Chevy Chase, Maryland. The business continued to expand. In 1961, Frank sold the family’s building on 10th and F and moved the business to 1319-21 F Street, NW. Every new location was a hit.

Washington Daily News story on opening of the new store in Georgetown, 1953.

JHSGW Collection.

Civic Activism

Frank translated his business success into a variety of civic activities. As president of the National Shoe Retailers Association, he testified and wrote op-eds for The Washington Post against low-cost and low-quality shoe imports from abroad. He was a board member of several local organizations, including the Washington Performing Arts Society and a founding board member of Temple Sinai.

Perhaps his greatest civic activism came in the aftermath of the riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in April 1968. Looting caused $50,000 (in 1960s dollars) in damage to Rich’s Shoes downtown location. In his interview with the Society, Frank recalled, “I came downtown and, of course, all of the windows were out. The store was full of tear-gas [canisters]. Everything was upside down.” Within a few days, the business was up and running, but Frank felt the need to help the greater downtown business community. He started Project Progress, an employment organization focused on helping unemployed African-American residents of D.C.

He soon joined the Metropolitan Washington Urban Coalition, a group of business owners and city officials who sought to rebuild D.C.’s decimated downtown. He was the organization’s president from 1969-1971. John W. Hechinger, a former City Council Chairman and owner of a regional chain of hardware stores, said that Frank used his relationship with business leaders across the city “to get to know the leaders of the black community, as well as the frustrations of the rank and file of the black community. His earnestness advanced interracial harmony.”

Frank Rich campaign advertisement, 1974.

JHSGW Collection.

Frank saw home rule as the key to improving the city, particularly for African Americans, which represented the majority of D.C.’s residents. In 1970, he testified before the Senate District Committee in favor of home rule for the nation’s capital. He later noted that the committee was hostile and “generally [was] against what I was there for.” In 1974, Frank ran as an at-large candidate for the D.C. City Council. He ran, he said at the time, because “this is the first city government and, if home rule is to survive, we need responsible people [who can manage].” He narrowly lost the election.

Frank Rich’s dedication to revitalizing D.C. led to his involvement in a range of civic activities. He was an outspoken advocate for redevelopment of F Street, NW (where his store was located), preservation of the Willard Hotel, and expansion of the Metro system – the construction of which paradoxically hurt his business, turning F Street into a perennial construction site that deterred most shoppers.

Rich’s Shoes was the longest-operating family business in D.C. when Frank and his youngest son Ned closed it in 1987. The course toward the 1990s revitalization of downtown Washington came too late to save Rich’s Shoes.

Frank remained a steadfast and outspoken advocate for his hometown, and especially for home rule. In 2012, a D.C. City Council proclamation recognizing Frank’s contributions as a business and civic leader quoted him: “I always tried, wherever I was or whatever I was doing, to give my empathy to people who deserve more out of life than what they are getting – whether voting rights or job opportunities.” When he passed away earlier this year, DC Vote, an organization for which Frank volunteered weekly for more than a decade, described him as “a symbol of what D.C. had contributed to the nation.”

[1] Melvin Rich was a civil engineer who worked on numerous D.C.-area structures, including the British Embassy, the Kennedy-Warren apartments, and the refurbishment of the Washington Monument in 1934.

Presidents Visiting D.C. Synagogues 0 Comment(s)

Rabbi Gil Steinlauf greeting President Obama at Adas Israel

Adas Israel Congregation

This morning, President Barack Obama spoke at Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C. in celebration of Jewish American Heritage Month. Watch the speech in its entirety. 

U.S. presidents have participated in the affairs of the Washington Jewish community since the founding of Washington’s first congregation. Indeed, President Obama is the second president to visit Adas Israel’s synagogue; the first was President Ulysses S. Grant in 1876! The following timeline features some of those presidential connections with Washington’s Jewish community.

Have a story of a national leader’s visit to your synagogue? Tell us about it at info@jhsgw.org.

Facsimile copy courtesy of Washington Hebrew Congregation. Original in National Archives.

1856: President Franklin Pierce signed “An Act for the Benefit of the Hebrew Congregation in the city of Washington”, which ensured the right for Jews to purchase land for a synagogue in the District of Columbia. With this act, Washington Hebrew Congregation became the only congregation in the country with a Congressional charter.

Receipt sent to the Executive Mansion for President Grant’s donation

Library of Congress

1876: President Ulysses S. Grant became the first U.S. president to attend synagogue services when he attended the dedication of Adas Israel Synagogue at 6th & G Streets, NW. Grant stayed for the entire three-hour service and made a subsequent gift of $10 to the building fund. Learn more about President Grant’s visit to the synagogue and Ulysses S. Grant’s notorious General Orders No. 11 issued during the Civil War.

1898:  President William McKinley attended the cornerstone laying of Washington Hebrew Congregation at 8th & I Streets, NW, attended by over 3,000 people. Learn more about Washington’s earliest synagogues.

JHSGW Collections

1925:  President Calvin Coolidge spoke during the cornerstone-laying ceremony of the Jewish Community Center at 16th & Q Streets, NW.

JHSGW Collections

1926: Orthodox Zionists met with President Calvin Coolidge at the White House.  

1930: The first issue of the National Jewish Ledger (now called Washington Jewish Week), featured a Rosh Hashanah message to Washington Jews from President Herbert Hoover.
Explore Jewish Washington in the 1930s.

1952: President Harry Truman attended the cornerstone-laying ceremony for Washington Hebrew Congregation’s new building at Massachusetts & Macomb Streets, NW.

Washington Hebrew Congregation

1955: President Dwight D. Eisenhower spoke at the dedication of Washington Hebrew’s new synagogue. During his speech, President Eisenhower mused that it is incumbent upon his office that he should attend “such a great and significant event in the lives of one part of the great faiths that have made this country what it is, to pay his respects to that faith and to this event and to the people who have made it possible.” Read President Eisenhower’s entire dedication speech.

Left to right: Joel Breslau (United Jewish Appeal Federation President), Soviet emigre Tamara Feldblyum, JCCGW senior citizen Ida Luzanski, high-school student Charles Wolstein, President Reagan, and JCCGW President Philip Margolius.

Ronald Reagan Presidential Library

1983: President Ronald Reagan visited a Hanukkah celebration and met with Soviet Jewish emigres at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington in Rockville, Maryland. During the visit, President Reagan remarked, “To every religious dissident trapped in this cold and cruel land, let us pray that the warm lights of Hanukkah will spread out the spirit of freedom and comfort and sustain every person who is suffering tonight.” Read President Reagan’s complete speechLearn more about the Washington area's movement to free Soviet Jewry.

White House photo by Paul Morse

2005: President George W. Bush visited the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue just prior to a major event celebrating 350 years of Jewish life in North America. Read President Bush’s remarks

2011: Former President Bill Clinton visited the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue for a wedding. Read about the visit in The Washington Post.

2012:  President Barack Obama mentioned the historic 1876 Adas Israel synagogue when he told the story of General Grant’s General Orders No. 11 during Jewish American Heritage Month. Read President Obama's remarks.

Object of the Month: March 2015 0 Comment(s)

Description: Black and white photograph of Justice Arthur Goldberg with Albert and Lillian Small at the 1975 rededication of the historic 1876 Adas Israel Synagogue. Justice Goldberg was an active member of Washington’s Jewish community. For years, he and his wife Dorothy hosted an annual Passover seder with members of Washington's political and intellectual elite as guests.

Arthur Goldberg (1908 – 1990) came to Washington from Chicago in the 1950s. A labor lawyer, he was the general counsel for both the Congress of Industrial Organizations and the United Steelworkers of America, which merged to form the AFL-CIO in 1955. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy appointed him as Secretary of Labor. The following year, Kennedy appointed Goldberg to the Supreme Court, and, in 1965, President Lyndon Johnson appointed him as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

The Goldbergs’ D.C. Seders

Early guest list and draft menu for Goldbergs’ 1961 Seder

Library of Congress

In 1961, just two months after Arthur Goldberg’s appointment as Secretary of Labor, the Goldbergs hosted a Seder attended by national and international leaders. According to a draft guest list in the Arthur J. Goldberg Papers in the Library of Congress, invitees included President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy, Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn, Chief Justice Earl Warren, Justice William Brennan, Senator Everett Dirksen, Senator Paul Douglas, AFL-CIO President George Meany, Israeli Labor Attaché Nataan Bar-Yaakov, family, and friends. Ultimately, the President and First Lady did not attend the Seder. JHSGW president, Sam Brylawski, who was then eight years old and whose family were neighbors of the Goldbergs, filled one of the Kennedys' places at the Seder table.

The evening's menu included beef bourguignon, potato kugel, whole hot peaches, prunes, and apricots. According to a draft menu, well-known D.C. Jewish restaurateur Duke Zeibert made matza ball soup based on a “yeshiva chef’s recipe” published in the New York Times.

Throughout the decade, the Goldbergs’ Seders were lively occasions attended by a list of well-known figures. As a law clerk for Justice Goldberg, legal scholar Alan Dershowitz attended. In his memoir Chutzpah, he recalled, “George Meany would sing Irish ballads; Hubert Humphrey would tell stories; and Dorothy Goldberg would sing Yiddish labor union songs.”[1]

The Family’s Haggadah

Page from The Goldberg Haggadah

Library of Congress

Similar to many families, the Goldbergs’ Seder centered on their family Haggadah, which was adapted from various published versions. In The Goldberg Haggadah, as they titled it, the story of the Israelites is a symbol for contemporary struggles like civil rights. Displayed here is a page from the family's Haggadah, with the hosts’ initials next to assigned readings. In the margin is a note from Dorothy Goldberg, reminding her to mention the description of the Exodus in the African-American spiritual “Go down, Moses.”

Their Haggadah is explicitly American in tone, arguing, “Pesach calls us to the eternal pursuit of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” In the introduction to her own published Haggadah, Cokie Roberts, journalist and daughter of Congressional Representatives Lindy and Hale Boggs, remembers participating in the Goldbergs’ 1967 Seder “with gusto” when “the crowd started singing freedom songs from the civil rights and labor movements, held over from the days when Goldberg had been a leading labor lawyer.”[2] Brylawski, who went on to work at the Library of Congress, adapted parts of the Haggadah for his family’s Seders. “We used it several years,” he told the Society. “It's wonderful — tying Moses to the contemporary labor movement.”

Creating a Home with the Seder

Georgetown Law Center professor and another former Goldberg clerk, Peter Edelman, well-known for his legal career and public service, also attended the Goldberg Seders. In a lecture on Goldberg’s legal achievements, Edelman reminisced, “You went to Passover Seder; it didn't matter whether you were Jewish or not — you came to Passover Seder at his house. The crowd just got bigger and bigger. That's probably why he had to leave Chicago — because he needed to start a new crowd in Washington.”[3]

And that he did, both in future Seders at home and for the wider Jewish community. In 1964, Goldberg participated in a model Seder at Washington Hebrew Congregation to show Jewish students how Seders should be conducted. After leaving Washington for New York, Goldberg continued to host an annual Seder at his home in the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Goldberg returned to Washington in 1971 and continued this tradition.

---

This is the kind of story that you will encounter in the Society’s future museum showcasing the Washington region’s Jewish life and heritage.

Do you have a uniquely Washington Seder? Tell us about your Passover traditions.

 

[1] Alan Dershowitz, Chutzpah  (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992) p. 61.
[2] Cokie Roberts and Steven V. Roberts, Our Haggadah: Uniting Traditions for Interfaith Families (New York: Harper, 2011) p. xxxv.
[3] Peter Edelman, “Arthur J. Goldberg’s Legacies to American Labor Relations,” John Marshall Law Review, Volume 32, Issue 4 (1999) p. 676.

In Memory of Marion Barry 0 Comment(s)

Early yesterday morning, Marion Barry, D.C. City Councilmember and former mayor, passed away at the age of 78.

We remember him with these archival highlights:

Giant Food Chairman Izzy Cohen and Mayor Marion Barry, opening of Giant Food, Eighth and O Streets, NW, 1979

JHSGW Collection / Naomi and Nehemiah Cohen Foundation 

When JHSGW interviewed Barry in 2006 as part of an oral history project documenting the history of Giant Food, he spoke about the 1979 opening of the Giant store at Eighth & O Streets, NW, and its significance in rebuilding the city:

As you can imagine, the city had been devastated with the disorders of '68. Things were burned down, it was a shell of a city, people were depressed, and jobs had been lost from these establishments.  So we were anxious to get some consumer goods...and my recollection, I don't even know where the closest Safeway was, but it certainly wasn't around that area of D.C. And we were very ecstatic about that store [Giant at Eighth & O] being opened.

"Best wishes to a very dear friend
Jan Eichhorn
Marion Barry 7-7-81"

JHSGW Collections. Gift of Diane Liebert.

These two items are from the collection of Janice Eichhorn, an activist for Washington, D.C.'s political rights. Eichhorn worked on Barry's staff starting with his 1978 mayorial campaign until 1992, when she retired from her position as a senior policy analyst.

Bumper sticker from first mayorial campaign, 1978

JHSGW Collections. Gift of Diane Liebert.

Her papers were contributed to our archives by her sister in 2011.


Fred Kolker (wearing hat) and Mayor Marion Barry (right), renaming Florida Avenue Market to Capital City Market as part of planned market restoration, 1984

JHSGW Collections. Gift of Brenda Pascal.


In a 2010 oral history recorded by Glenn Richter, Ruth Newman, longtime leader of D.C.'s Soviet Jewry movement, recalled seeing Barry at the 1987 Freedom Sunday March for Soviet Jewry on the National Mall:

When we were...marching down Constitution Avenue, out of nowhere came the then Mayor of the City of Washington, Marion Barry. He said, "Washington," [upon seeing] our banner -- 'Washington Committee for Soviet Jewry.' He said, "That's where I belong," and all of a sudden he puts himself between those of us who were carrying the banner. He walked a couple of blocks with us and then he saw somebody else he knew and off he went.

Object of the Month: November 2014 0 Comment(s)

Accession No. 2004.13
Donor: Constance Tobriner Povich
Description: Walter Tobriner and Fair Housing in Washington, D.C.

Tobriner taking oath to become president of the D.C. Board of Commissioners, 1961

Tobriner with President John F. Kennedy (far left) presenting the keys to the city to the president of Brazil, João Golart (center), 1962


Fighting Persistent Housing Discrimination

Walter N. Tobriner was a native Washingtonian and lawyer whose career was distinguished by his service to his hometown. While serving on the Board of Education from 1952-1961, he was responsible for carrying out desegregation of D.C.'s public schools. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy appointed Tobriner to the city's Board of Commissioners. At that time, the Commissioners were D.C.'s governing body whose three members were Presidential appointees. Tobriner served as its president for six years.

During that same period, Tobriner was Chairman of the National Capital Housing Authority. Ending housing discrimination in Washington, D.C. was among his priorities. In the early 1960s, real estate agents, developers, banks, and landlords had a "gentlemen's agreement" not to sell houses to non-whites.

In addition to fighting this informal discrimination, Tobriner sought to end discrimination in housing contracts. Some house deeds and neighborhood-association agreements included restrictive covenants that prevented residents from renting or selling to certain minorities. Even after the Supreme Court declared restrictive covenants unconstitutional in 1948 (Shelly v. Kraemer), a handful of prominent developers and neighborhood associations continued to include these covenants in contracts with homebuyers.

Consequently, many African-American, Jewish, and other District residents, as well as several foreign visitors, were unable to rent or purchase housing in some buildings and neighborhoods. It was an issue that had both a local and global resonance. Tobriner argued this point in his testimony before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in 1962:

"In certain sections of our city, persons are still denied equal access to housing for no reason other than that of their religion or the color of their skin. With the emergence of a score of African nations, the problem of African diplomats in finding housing has added a new dimension to what is already a matter of concern."

Many African states had won independence from their European colonizers over the previous decade. In Washington, their new diplomats were unable to rent or purchase homes in the same neighborhoods as their counterparts from other countries.

Tobriner brought about fair housing ordinances aimed at ending this discrimination. But it was only in 1968, the year after he left the Board of Commissioners, that federal law followed suit. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.
 

A Regional Dimension: Restrictive Covenants

Housing discrimination was not confined to Washington, D.C. As thousands of Jews migrated to suburban Maryland and Virginia in the 1940s−1960s, many encountered restrictive covenants in deeds and contracts. Although legally unenforceable after 1948, even deeds for some new homes included such clauses.

This 1949 covenant in a deed for a house in Bethesda, MD stipulates that the property could not be sold or even leased to African Americans, "Armenians, Jews, Hebrews, Persians, and Syrians." However, this restriction did not apply to servants living in the house.

1949 Restrictive Covenant for Marywood Subdivision, Bethesda, MD

Courtesy of Myra Sklarew

Many homeowners have since had restrictive-covenant clauses legally removed from their deeds. Still, the deeds for some houses throughout the Washington area continue to include similar clauses – although they are legally unenforceable. The current owner of this house in Bethesda decided to keep the clause in her deed as a testament to the history of housing discrimination in the D.C. area.

Have a story about facing housing discrimination in the D.C. area?  We want to hear it: info@jhsgw.org or (202) 789-0900