Culture Hack

Chocolate City: Past, Present, and Future of D.C. 

This on-the-ground report is the first in our series taking a look at the nuances of local culture and communities.

Over the past decade or so, Washington D.C. has seen a dramatic gentrification makeover. The once bustling predominantly Black city previously filled with Black-owned businesses, Black-led organizations, and a national icon of local political power. With 340,061 Black residents in D.C. in 2000, the city’s Black resident population now sits at 282,066 as of 2020. This is roughly a 60,000-person difference that begs the question: What were the key moments of change that altered the Chocolate City? 

The population shift can be traced back to the appointment of Mayor Anthony Williams in 1999. With a promise to bring a “hundred thousand new residents,” the city launched a strategy to increase tax revenue and tourism efforts. This began the shrinking of D.C.’s Black community and launched a catalytic shift within D.C.’s demographics. 

Black Churches were a vital political necessity for the Black D.C. communities. As gentrification started to impact the city even more, DC’s Black churches struggled to maintain their robust and thriving congregations. The notion of nuance plays a big role in the gentrification of the city as well. Red-light districts like Logan Circle, 14th Street, northern edges of Navy Yard, and Marshall Heights are now full of renovations, boutique shops, and wine bars. 

With all the new population and community changes D.C. has faced in the past decade, one can wonder if there are ways to preserve the city’s chocolate foundation. With various avenues of preservation to explore, the one that might prove to be beneficial is to uphold protected Black spaces within the city. If meaningful Black cultural spaces were protected through political strategy and supported by the city’s tax and tourism revenue, the integrity of the city would remain intact and connected to its roots.

Kimberly Heard