Carter G. Woodson is often known as the “father of black history” due to his contributions to African American scholarship. His historic home on 9th Street, NW sits vacant and unused, but the National Park Service owns and could restore it.
In 1912 Woodson became the second black American to earn a doctorate from Harvard University. His industrious scholarship led to the founding of multiple academic journals that are still published today. He prepared many of his most important works from his home at 1538 9th Street, NW, where he lived from 1922 to 1950.
The house was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1976, but according to the Washington Post such designation “brought little more than a plaque on the facade.” The decaying property remained accessible to squatters and vagrants until 2005, when NPS bought the home.
The same Post article notes that “the Park Service figured that renovation and development of exhibits and a visitors center would cost $2.9 million and that the historic site, which could draw 10,000 to 30,000 visitors annually, would cost about $100,000 a year to operate.”
But where’s the money?
The Park Service’s plans identify community partners and charitable organizations as potential supporters. Possible partners might include the University of Virginia’s Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American & African Studies, the African American Experience Fund, the United Negro College Fund, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library’s Black Studies Division, and sponsors of the $1oo million Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. Some organizations could help by lending their support in name only, while others could help to raise capital.
One important partner may be the Shiloh Baptist Church, which sits at the corner of 9th and P, NW on the same block as the Woodson home. The church has been an important center of social services for decades, but it has also not always been a good neighbor. The church owns several vacant properties in the area, and is sometimes called a slumlord.
The good news is that the Omega Psi Phi fraternity recently made a $5,000 donation towards renovations at the Woodson home. Unfortunately, while generous in ceremony and sentimentality, $5,000 is akin to the ceremonial first pitch at the beginning of a baseball game. First pitches start the game, but don’t impact the game played or the final score. The Woodson house will need millions more.
Meanwhile, the Woodson house and the 1500 block of 9th Street wait. The house has the potential to become an important destination for cultural tourism and education, but it needs funding. How long will it be before there is serious movement? Hopefully, where there’s a will, a way will follow.