Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Washington, D.C.: "The Secret City"

As I've mentioned before, the history of the Nation's Capital is very much an African-American story because it was these Americans who filled the demand for labor in the city, initially as slaves and later in low-paying jobs as cleaning women, nannies, porters and custodians.

Gaining access to skilled, better paying jobs as clerical workers wasn't as easy.

Constance McLaughlin Green addressed this in her book, "The Secret City: A History of Race Relations in the Nation's Capital." 

Washington Post deputy managing editor, Ben W. Gilbert, reviewed the book in an article titled, "The Negro's Painful Rise" published on May 11, 1967.

"Americans generally assume that the Nation's history is one of steady progress, of technological improvements, of widening horizons, of improved living," he wrote. "The story of the Negro in Washington is not such a fairy tale. It is a story of adversity and a little progress, accompanied by a shocking indifference and some hostility from the mass of whites."

Gilbert explained that any progress that was made was thwarted in the 1880s.

"The segregation of Government employment by race, begun at the turn of the century, became policy under Wilson, whose first wife was distressed to see Negroes and whites working together in the Post Office," he added.

Gilbert credits Harold Ickes, Franklin Roosevelt's Secretary of the Interior, with laying "the public foundation of today's integrated city by insisting that the facilities under his jurisdiction be used without discrimination."

"Mrs. Green's book should prove valuable to anyone caring about the future of race relations in Washington," he wrote. "It would be great if funds could be found to make it available as a standard text in the city's high schools. Today's youth need to know how we got where we are. Mrs. Green can help them find out."

"The Secret City" is available on Goodreads (click).