East of the Anacostia River, you will find over 500 unique buildings lined up and down the street –– two-story cottages, Italianate-style architecture and Queen Anne-style homes –– all working in conjunction to preserve the Anacostia Historic District.
As one of Washington D.C.’s oldest neighborhoods, Anacostia is naturally rich with history and culture.
The Anacostia River got its name from the native Nacotchtank tribe which occupied the southeast area of The District before, according to some historians, being forcibly removed over 400 years ago. But in the late 1800s, the neighborhood was named Uniontown with the hopes of being a whites-only residential subdivision. According to the 1880 census, Anacostia was home to carpenters, blacksmiths, boilermakers, printers, plumbers, chainmakers, shipmakers, enlisted and commissioned Naval personnel, and laborers.
When slavery was abolished in The District on April 16, 1862, many newly emancipated slaves sought out the encampments that had been built along the Anacostia River. After the civil war, in 1867 the federal government purchased a 375-acre site in Anacostia for the settlement of freed African Americans. The citizens in this community demanded the installation of basic utilities and led the way in building schools, churches and civic organizations.
The “Lion of Anacostia,” Frederick Douglass, bought his home in the neighborhood in 1877, where he resided until his death in 1895. Cedar Hill is now a national historic site that gathers thousands of visitors annually to the late abolitionist’s home.
Today, Uniontown is still a subdivision of the Anacostia Historic District, but 92% of residents in the Ward 8 neighborhood are Black. In 1957, Washington, D.C. became the first major city that consisted of majority Black residents, earning its periodical name “Chocolate City.”
Despite the valuable cultural and historical influences brought to Washington, D.C. by Black residents, since the 1950s, the city has faced a great deal of gentrification. Since the 1980s alone, the percentage of Black residents in the Washington metropolitan area has decreased from 70 percent to 41 percent. Much of this is due to rising property tax values and developing in neighborhoods that were once majority Black areas.
At the end of 2021, the D.C. council approved redistricting plans for Ward 7 and 8. Both historically Black and impoverished wards now include areas west of the Anacostia River. This rezoning drives the average income in Ward 8 up as well as the population of White residents. This led to members of Anacostia now referring to themselves as “people east of the river” instead of Ward 8.
With The District leading the scoreboard for one of the most rapidly gentrifying in the United States, it has become apparent that the historic Anacostia neighborhood will be the final victim to the city’s gentrification plan. Black residents located East of the River have faced and will continue to face displacement if the plans for gentrification proceed.
But the residents say the spirit of Anacostia, its people and their long struggle and sacrifices will never be forgotten no matter what happens to their neighborhood.