In the early 1920s to the 1950s, Washington, D.C.’s historic U Street was humming with jazz, buzzing with laughter, and bursting with Black excellence. It was a cultural oasis and a beacon of hope. Today we refer to this moment in time as – Black Broadway.
Escaping Jim Crow, Finding Freedom:
For African Americans facing Jim Crow’s oppressive grip of segregation and discrimination, U Street was a safe haven. Here, Black-owned businesses lined the streets and Black entertainers attracted an audience. It became a “city within a city,” a thriving community where Black doctors, lawyers, artists, and entrepreneurs flourished.
Stars Were Born (and Made):
Black Broadway was a launching pad for legends. Renowned venues like the Lincoln Theatre, The Crystal Caverns, and the Howard Theatre hosted the biggest names in jazz, from Duke Ellington and Miles Davis to Pearl Bailey and Billie Holiday. These were just a few of the countless artists who found their voice and their audience here.
Beyond the Stage:
Black Broadway was not just about entertainment; it was also a hub for social change. Literary giants like Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes found inspiration here from civil rights leaders like Mary Church Terrell, who advocated for equality. It was a place where dreams were born, voices were amplified, and progress was made.
Echoes of the Past:
Today, walking down U Street, you will not hear jazz music or see flashing lights, but the legacy of Black Broadway lives on. The historic buildings still stand and even some of the businesses that started then are still operating now. A few of the buildings like Ben’s Chili Bowl have murals painted on their sides depicting jazz icons and community leaders. These remnants and nods to Black Broadway keeps the history of the area alive.
Let Black Broadway be a reminder that even in the face of adversity, creativity, resilience, and joy can thrive.
Want To Learn More?
- Immerse yourself into history by visiting the Lincoln Theatre, Howard Theatre, and Ben’s Chili Bowl.
- Check out “Black Broadway on U” website for multimedia experiences and virtual tours.
- Read “Black Broadway in Washington, D.C.” by Briana Thomas for a deep dive into history.
Remember, history is about the stories that shaped us, the communities that inspired us, and the legacies that continue to guide us.
Written with lots of care,
Your Internet BFF
P.S. Share your favorite moments on U Street in the comments below.
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