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:
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.
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.
Her papers were contributed to our archives by her sister in 2011.
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.
Accession No. 2004.13 Donor: Constance Tobriner Povich Description: Walter Tobriner and Fair Housing in Washington, D.C.
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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org or (202) 789-0900
Last week, the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington held its annual meeting and celebrated its 100th anniversary. JHSGW Executive Director Laura Apelbaum spoke at the meeting and recounted a few highlights from the last 100 years of JCC history. Here are some excerpts from her talk:
Among the most treasured objects in our archival collections are 34 scrapbooks documenting the JCC from the 1920s into the 1980s. Each scrapbook is filled with invitations, programs, flyers, and newsclippings, creating a wonderfully colorful and rich compendium of the Center’s activities and our community's history.
Opening the first scrapbook page, we find a photograph of a 3-story brick townhouse at 415 M Street, NW. One hundred years ago, young Jewish men and women wanted to create a place for social interaction, cultural activities, and athletics. They formed the Young Men's and Young Women's Hebrew Associations - predecessors to today's JCC. In 1913, the YMHA purchased this home as their headquarters. They fielded baseball, tennis, and bowling teams, went on picnics and beach trips, held debates and dances, and raised funds for Jewish overseas relief during World War I. In 1914, they sold the building to the newly formed Hebrew Home and moved into other rented facilities.
The next scrapbook opens to a panoramic photograph of President Calvin Coolidge speaking to a crowd assembled at the corner of 16th and Q for the cornerstone laying ceremony of the JCC's new building. The national Jewish Welfare Board provided an initial $50,000, while developer Morris Cafritz and Jewish leader Joseph Wilner led the $500,000 building campaign. In his speech, Coolidge remarked "Hebraic mortar cemented the foundations of American democracy."
Another scrapbook reveals a photograph of young men in uniform dancing cheek to cheek with young women in the JCC's gym during World War II. The Center’s policy "Your uniform is your admission" made the JCC the central place to meet and socialize for Jewish servicemen and women stationed in Washington. Young women called "government girls" were flocking to DC to work in war agencies, and a JCC room registry helped them find housing in Jewish homes that provided kosher meals.
As the Jewish community grew in postwar years and began moving north and west into the suburbs, many Jewish communal organizations and synagogues followed. Turning the page, we find a smiling Charles E. Smith holding a ceremonial shovel alongside the youngest student at the JCC's nursery school and the oldest resident of the Hebrew Home at the 1967 groundbreaking for the new Rockville facility on Montrose Road.
The JCC's history showcases our community's unique relationship as the nation’s capital where presidents attend holiday events and groundbreakings. At the same time, the JCC holds many personal connections and has played a central part in the lives of many families for the past century.
Object No.: 2008.3.1 Donor: Fae Brodie Description: White, satin-covered heart-shaped box, with monograph LPN and the date 8-6-66 embossed in gold on the top
Box Background: In 1966, Fae Brodie, then Fae Lee Rubin – owner of Party-Go-Round, received a telephone call asking if she stocked white, satin, heart-shaped wedding cake boxes. The next day, the caller came to the shop to purchase one and later called in an order for 750 of the boxes. When Mrs. Rubin requested a deposit or purchase order, the caller assured her that the father of the bride, President Lyndon Baines Johnson, would pay the bill promptly.
While work on the gold monogram stamping for the box tops progressed, the White House requested decorative materials for the wedding such as gold metallic cord, narrow gold foil paper, and personalized napkins. Then, one day, the White House housekeeper called to ask if Mrs. Rubin would assist with the wedding plans. How could she say no?
Mrs. Rubin later wrote, "As I drove onto the White House grounds, my eyes filled with tears. I was overwhelmed by the unique experience I was about to encounter." Her tasks included helping cut 750 pieces of groom's cake, wrapping each piece in gold foil, and placing them into the satin cake boxes, which were then tied with gold cord. By the time the wedding was over, she'd been working at the White House off and on for two weeks. Mrs. Rubin went on to help plan the wedding of Lynda Baines Johnson to Chuck Robb the next year.
Business Background: Mrs. Rubin's Party-Go-Round started as a small part of the Jewish-owned Jacobs Paper Co. at 5609 Georgia Avenue, NW. After realizing that party supplies would sell well with paper supplies and cards, Mrs. Rubin expanded into the party planning business. One day, after ordering invitations for her daughter's Sweet 16 party, a customer asked if Mrs. Rubin could decorate the party room. Despite having no experience, she agreed. Just two weeks after the party, another mother hired her to decorate her daughter's Sweet 16 party.
Business took off -- more invitation catalogs, more paper stock, and more party decorations. With the expansion, Mrs. Rubin relocated to downtown Silver Spring, Maryland. In her busiest year, she had an event every weekend except two. In addition to the White House weddings, Mrs. Rubin helped with the Naval Academy Ring Dance and parties for General Omar and Kitty Bradley.
With the death of her husband in 1978, Mrs. Rubin decided put party planning aside and focus on the shop, which then carried a full offering of party and holiday decorations, New Years Eve kits (hats, horns, etc.), Halloween costumes, and custom-print cards. Eleven years later, she retired and sold the shop. A Takoma Park couple has owned the business since.
Do you have materials you would like to donate to the archives that document a local Jewish-owned business? Please contact us at email@example.com or (202) 789-0900.
This year, in conjunction with the Jewish Food Experience, our Objects of the Month feature DC's rich Jewish food history. For stories about this history and the latest on the local Jewish food scene – recipes, restaurants, chefs, events, and volunteer opportunities – visit jewishfoodexperience.com.
Here are the answers to the quiz we published last week. There were 146 quiz takers and 20 got all the answers correct! Based on the responses, questions 3, 4, and 7 were easiest, while questions 1 and 5 were trickiest. We hope you learn something about the presidents' relationship and experiences with D.C.'s Jewish community.
1. Who was the first president to attend synagogue services in the United States?
2. Which president spoke at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Jewish Community Center on 16th Street, NW?
President Calvin Coolidge addressed the crowd in 1925 and closed his remarks by saying, "As those who come and go shall gaze upon this civic landmark, may it be a constant reminder of the inspiring service that has been rendered to civilization by men and women of the Jewish faith." (Other answer options: Woodrow Wilson and Warren G. Harding)
3. Who was the first Jewish candidate on a major-party presidential ticket?
Senator Joseph Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew who did not campaign on the Sabbath, was Senator Al Gore’s running mate in 2000. (Other answer options: Jacob K. Javits and Abraham Ribicoff)
4. What enterprising Washington businessman provided lumber to build the inaugural stands for Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, and Dwight D. Eisenhower?
Sidney Hechinger first donated lumber to build the inaugural platform in front of the Capitol in 1933. After the ceremonies, he dismantled the stand and sold pieces cut from the wood as inaugural souvenirs. (Other answer options: Alexander Hecht and Max Lansburgh)
5. Which congregation is named in an Act signed into law by President Franklin Pierce that entitles Jewish congregations in Washington, D.C. to the same rights and privileges as churches?
President Franklin Pierce signed “An Act for the Benefit of the Hebrew Congregation in the city of Washington” on June 2, 1856. Washington Hebrew had petitioned Congress for legislation to ensure its right to own property in the city. (Other answer options: Adas Israel Congregation and Kesher Israel)
6. Which President sent his Jewish chiropodist (foot doctor) on a secret wartime peace mission?
Isachar Zacharie tended the feet of President Abraham Lincoln and several other Cabinet officials during the Civil War. In 1863 Lincoln sent him to Richmond to meet with Confederate Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin to propose peace negotiations. The errand was unsuccessful. (Other answer options: Theodore Roosevelt and James Monroe)
7. Which native Washingtonian received hate mail when President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed him head of the Internal Revenue Service?
President Johnson appointed Sheldon S. Cohen General Counsel of the IRS in 1963 and later Commissioner of the IRS, a post he held through the end of Johnson’s term in early 1969. (Other answer options: Simon Wolf and Gilbert Hahn)