Park Road Church’s Role in the Birth of Head Start

In 1965, the small church at 625 Park Road was the home of Trinity A.M.E. Zion chuch, and one of the locations of UPO's pilot head start program.

In 1965, the small church at 625 Park Road was the home of Trinity A.M.E. Zion chuch, and one of the locations of UPO’s pilot head start program.

Head Start began as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society campaign. Its justification came from the President’s Council of Economic Advisors, whose staff advanced the concept of investment in education during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. The Office of Economic Opportunity’s Community Action Program launched Project Head Start as an eight-week summer program in 1965. The program was led by Dr. Robert Cooke, a pediatrician at John Hopkins University, and Dr. Edward Zigler, a professor of psychology and director of the Child Study Center at Yale University. Together, they created a comprehensive child development program to help communities meet the needs of disadvantaged preschool children. The following year it was authorized by Congress as a year–round program. In 1968, Head Start began funding a program that would eventually be called Sesame Street, operated by the Carnegie Corporation Preschool Television project.

However, Head Start did not begin fully developed in the summer of 1965. The United Planning Organization (UPO) – the designated community action agency for Washington, D.C.established on December 10, 1962 to plan, coordinate, and implement human services programs for low-income residents in the Nation’s Capital – played a significant role in the development of the Head Start Program.  In September 1964, District School Superintendent Carl F. Hansen announcement his support of UPO’s “completely experimental” model school system for the Cardozo area.” The first year of the model system focused primarily on program development along with a few programs, such as preschool centers for 3 and 4-year-olds. By January 1965, UPO gave $565,178 to the District public schools to operate five preschool centers. The Cardozo High School area was chosen because it had the widest possible cross-section of poverty problems in the District of Columbia at that time.

In addition to schools in the Cardozo area remaining open until 5 p.m., pre-schools were set up at Augustana Lutheran Church, Florida Avenue Baptist Church, Galbraith Zion A.M.E. Church, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, and Trinity A.M.E. Zion Church (then located at 625 Park Road, NW). The church at 625 Park Road was of particular interest due to its location across the street from the new Park Morton public housing development.

From the beginning, Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson took an active interest in the Head Start program with the hope that it would be an important breakthrough in education. To better assess what more than 600,000 children from all over the country would experience in Head Start Child Development Centers in the summer of 1965, she visited the pilot program operated at Trinity A.M.E. Zion on May 5th of that year. As the pilot organization of all the Head Start centers in the District and neighborhood suburbs, the Trinity pre-school project included a nursery school open from 9 a.m. until noon, and a child care center where parents could leave their children from 7:30 a.m. until 6 p.m.

Forty-five children were enrolled in the Trinity pilot program, which had four teachers and four teachers’ aides. Each child in the program received a medical examination and the school provided one hot meal a day. In addition to programs in the church, pre-schoolers were introduced to their broader community through visits to local businesses – such as the local firehouse, drug store, and post office.

During her visit Mrs. Johnson walked through the school stopping from time to time to talk to the children, watched them make bread, paint pictures, and show off the bean plants they were raising. Mrs. Johnson was reportedly impressed with the results of the pilot program.

Mrs. Johnson at Trinity pre school May 1965(From the Washington Post, May 7, 1965, pg. C3)


Asher, Robert L. “Cardozo Plan Gains City Backing.” The Washington Post, Feb. 10, 1965: pg. C1.

Asher, Robert L. “White House Backs ‘Model’ School Plan Outlined by Hansen.” The Washington Post, Jan. 19, 1966: pg. A10.

“Civil Rights Roundup: Help Negroes Catch Up.” The Chicago Defender; May 1, 1965: pg. 4.

Garrett, Lula Jones. “Say centers must be non-discriminatory.” Afro-American; Feb. 27, 1965: pg. 7.

Grant, Gerald. “Cardozo Area Model School Funds Begin to Squirm Free of Red Tape.” The Washington Post, Feb. 9, 1965: pg. A1.

Grant, Gerald. “Experimental School System Revamped for Its Second Year.” The Washington Post, Oct. 3, 1965: pg. B1.

Grant, Gerald. “School Plan Trial Gains Hansen Nod.” The Washington Post, Sept. 30, 1964: pg. E1.

McLendon, Winzola. “They Speak Up to Mrs. LBJ.” The Washington Post, May 7, 1965: pg. C3.

“Mrs. LBJ visits Zion pre-schoolers.” Baltimore Afro-American, May 15, 1965: pg. 6.

“New Model School Projects Win Preliminary Approval.” The Washington Post, June 10, 1966: pg. C6.

Smith, Marie. “Head Start Plan Jumps the Gun.” The Washington Post, Mar. 26, 1965: pg. C2.

Shelton, Elizabeth. “Dance Vocabulary Helps Teach Words to Head Start Children.” The Washington Post; Jan. 30, 1966: pg. F11.

United Planning Organization Web site, available at: Viewed December 31, 2012.

“UPO Awards $565,178 for Model School.” The Washington Post, Jan. 28, 1965: pg. 5.

“War on Poverty (editorial).” Baltimore Afro-American, Dec. 12, 1964: pg. 5.


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3 Comments on “Park Road Church’s Role in the Birth of Head Start”

  1. imgoph Says:

    thanks for digging up more history, Kent!

  2. Angry Parakeet Says:

    Your research and writing have continually upped my pride in my Park View neighborhood.

  3. […] selected Trinity AME Zion Church to be the lead site of their pilot Head Start program in 1965 (read more about this history here). The success of the pilot Head Start program, and its positive support of Park Morton youngsters, […]

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