Chocolate City: A History of Race and Democracy in the Nation's Capital

Chocolate City: A History of Race and Democracy in the Nation's Capital

Chocolate City: A History of Race and Democracy in the Nation's Capital

Chocolate City: A History of Race and Democracy in the Nation's Capital


Monumental in scope and vividly detailed, Chocolate City tells the tumultuous, four-century story of race and democracy in our nation's capital. Emblematic of the ongoing tensions between America's expansive democratic promises and its enduring racial realities, Washington often has served as a national battleground for contentious issues, including slavery, segregation, civil rights, the drug war, and gentrification. But D.C. is more than just a seat of government, and authors Chris Myers Asch and George Derek Musgrove also highlight the city's rich history of local activism as Washingtonians of all races have struggled to make their voices heard in an undemocratic city where residents lack full political rights.

Tracing D.C.'s massive transformations--from a sparsely inhabited plantation society into a diverse metropolis, from a center of the slave trade to the nation's first black-majority city, from "Chocolate City" to "Latte City--Asch and Musgrove offer an engaging narrative peppered with unforgettable characters, a history of deep racial division but also one of hope, resilience, and interracial cooperation.


Surely nowhere in the world do oppression and persecution based solely on the color
of the skin appear more hateful and hideous than in the capital of the United States,
because the chasm between the principles upon which this Government was founded,
in which it still professes to believe, and those which are daily practiced under the
protection of the flag, yawns so wide and deep.—MARY church terrell, 1906

Washington, D.C., seemed to be at its finest on August 28, 1963. Despite dire warnings of racial violence and chaos, the city welcomed more than 250,000 peaceful protesters for the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.” Amassing near the Lincoln Memorial, the crowd listened to an interracial lineup of inspirational speakers, culminating with the dynamic young preacher from Alabama, Martin Luther King Jr. the civil rights movement had come “to this hallowed spot,” King insisted, “to make real the promises of democracy.”

Across the world viewers saw newsreels of King’s speech and images of the smiling, sweating, sign- toting throngs who represented a broad cross- section of America—black and white, young and old, Northern and Southern, Jew and Gentile. the march was vivid evidence of vibrant American democracy in action. Beautiful, orderly, and welcoming, the nation’s capital appeared to be the ideal staging ground for what King called “the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.”

At the end of the day, most protesters piled onto buses to head back home, but roughly 10 percent of the march participants already were home. They were D.C. residents, natives of a city that was at once a shining symbol of America and a glaring rejection of democracy. Unlike other U.S. citizens, D.C. residents had no representation in Congress and lacked basic self- government. Theirs was a city run by three presidentially appointed commissioners, not locally elected officials. Washingtonians of all races had no voting rights that any elected representative anywhere was bound to respect.

King’s call to “make real the promises of democracy” struck a particularly resonant chord in D.C. because it was the first majority- black major city in the nation. the crowd at the March on Washington may have epitomized an ideal . . .

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