New History Exhibit in Pepco Gallery: Broad Branch & Belmont
The Friendship Heights Alliance has once again partnered with local historians to unveil an informative, thought-provoking exhibit in the Pepco gallery windows at the Harrison Substation. The Fort Reno and Reno City exhibit currently there will just be up through the end of November, so make sure you don’t miss it!
This exhibit explores two stories of our neighborhood from the early 20th century. In one, two Black families along Broad Branch Road NW were forced to leave the land and homes they owned in order to make way for the newly developing all-white neighborhood of Chevy Chase D.C. The Black Broad Branch Project documents this history, and advances the vision for repair put forth by the descendants of these families today. In the other, four Black businessmen attempted to build a modern “high class” suburb for Black people on 30 acres in Friendship Heights, Md., where they sold lots to at least 28 other Black people to build homes before their plan was thwarted. Their development, called Belmont, is important to the history of American suburbanization in the 20th century, and explains why DC’s suburbs look the way they do today.
Join the Alliance and the historian team for a launch event to learn more about the content and the process.
Date: Saturday, December 9, 2023
Time: 10 am to 12 pm
Where: 5210 Wisconsin Avenue NW, DC. The event will take place on the sidewalk adjacent to the Harrison substation
Special thanks to Pepco for providing the space.
Note: The image above is of the current exhibit on Fort Reno.
About the Exhibit
Each year, the Friendship Heights Alliance sponsors local historians, students, and artists to produce public works that explore the stories of our neighborhood in the Pepco gallery windows at the Harrison Substation.
“Exploring our Neighborhood: Black Broad Branch & Belmont” presents two stories of our community from the early 20th century. In one, two Black families along Broad Branch Road NW were forced to leave the land and homes they owned in order to make way for the newly developing all-white neighborhood of Chevy Chase, DC The Black Broad Branch Project documents this history, and advances the vision for repair put forth by the descendants of these families today.
In the other, four Black businessmen attempted to build a modern “high class” suburb for Black people on 30 acres in Friendship Heights, Md., where they sold lots to at least 28 other Black people to build homes before their plan was thwarted. Their development, called Belmont, is important to the history of American suburbanization in the 20th century, and explains why DC’s suburbs look the way they do today.
Kimberly Bender, Exhibit Manager, Belmont
Neil Flanagan, Belmont
Amanda Huron, Black Broad Branch
Mariana Barros-Titus, Black Broad Branch
Corey Shaw, Black Broad Branch
Lucy Pope, Graphic Design
Athena Angelos, Image Research
Special Thanks to: DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities, Historic Chevy Chase DC, HumanitiesDC, Jocelind Julien, Mark Minsker, Barbara Boyle Torrey & Clara Myrick Green, Natalie Avery, Rachel Davis
Sponsored by: Friendship Heights Alliance & PEPCO
More About the Black Broad Branch Project
The Black Broad Branch project traces its history to a conversation between Tanya Hardy and James Fisher about James’ family history – and their realization that James was a direct descendent of the remarkable Captain George Pointer. At the same time, historians Barbara Boyle Torrey and Clara Myrick Green were working on their book about the history of the Pointer family, Between Freedom and Equality: the History of an African American Family in Washington, D.C. (ultimately published by Georgetown University Press in 2021). The organization Historic Chevy Chase D.C., which was working with Torrey and Green to uncover the Black history of their neighborhood, invited Tanya and James to be on their board, and later reached out to University of District of Columbia professor Amanda Huron about launching a student project on the history.
Huron received a grant from HumanitiesDC to create the project Black Land Loss in Washington: Memories of the Past, Hopes for the Future, in partnership with Historic Chevy Chase D.C. In the spring of 2021, Huron co-taught a UDC class, Black Land Loss in Washington, with oral historian Benji de la Piedra. The students studied the history of the theft of Black land, learned oral history methods, and then conducted oral histories with eight descendants of two families whose land off Broad Branch Road was taken in the 1920s in order to build Lafayette Elementary School and park. The interviews focused both on the generational impacts of the land loss on the families, and also on their visions for repair in the future. Ultimately, the students created a report of future recommendations for the descendants, based both on the interviews and other research the students had conducted into reparations efforts around the country. This exhibit is one part of an ongoing effort to educate the public about the Black Broad Branch story, in accordance with the wishes of the descendants.
Between Freedom and Equality by Barbara Boyle Torrey & Clara Myrick Green
More About the Belmont Project
Historian and architect Neil Flanagan grew up in Tenleytown hearing the rumors about a Black servants’ colony in Chevy Chase, Md. While conducting research related to his upcoming book involving the displaced Reno neighborhood, he discovered multiple court cases about Belmont. In 2017, he partnered with Kim Bender, an attorney and Executive Director of the public history-focused Heurich House Museum, and they have spent the last six years doing archival research and reconstructing the story. They have been able to find the names of the four developers and some of their allies and business partners, people involved in opposition to the project, and 28 lot buyers, and used this information to piece together preliminary biographies for many of them. In order to bring the story to the community and make it visible in the academic record, they have created a YouTube video, written and been interviewed for stories in local news media, and have presented at local and national academic conferences, including as the keynote address for the 2023 Montgomery History Conference. They are currently preparing a paper on Belmont to be submitted for publication in an academic journal. The Maryland Cultural Resources Division of the Department of Transportation recently accepted their application to place a historical marker at the Belmont site on Wisconsin Avenue near the Friendship Heights metro stop, which they expect to unveil in early 2024.