Posted tagged ‘African American history’

Refresh of Petworth’s Chez Billy Hardly Refreshing

December 5, 2016

Back at the end of July 2016, Petworth’s Chez Billy closed to “refresh the decor” and launch a new “concept.” Now, four months since, it appears that we have a clue as to what a refresh of the decor actually means. I was very disappointed to see that the exterior of the building is being painted an interesting shade of green with the covering or removal of the handsome Tudor elements.

former-chez-billy(Transformation of Petworth’s former Chez Billy at 3815 Georgia Avenue, NW)

Personal tastes aside, the transformation of the exterior is particularly disappointing as the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2009 (read nomination here) due to the site’s association with Billy Simpson’s House of Seafood and Steaks — which was historically significant for playing a notable role in the social and political culture of the District of Columbia’s African American community. The restaurant was frequented by many notable people in politics and government, and the owner, William W. “Billy” Simpson, was an avid supporter of civil rights and anti-war causes.

When the building was renovated for Chez Billy, the exterior was tastefully restored to be in keeping with the site’s history. Now it appears that all that will remain will be a plaque alerting passers-by that the building  is on the African American Heritage Trail with a brief paragraph of explanation.

The photo below shows what the building looked like before the refresh.

Chez Billy's

Want to Know More About Who Built Our Capital? Check Out Sankofa For Additional Reading

August 9, 2016

During the Democratic National Convention, there was a lot of commentary on Michele Obama’s speech in which she said ““I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves. And I watch my daughters, two beautiful, intelligent black young women, playing with their dogs on the White House lawn…”

Sankofa, located at 2714 Georgia Avenue, carries many books about African American history in D.C., such at the title above.

Sankofa, located at 2714 Georgia Avenue, carries many books about African American history in D.C., such at the title above.

It’s a history that was largely unknown to many in the country, and one in which I’m sure people would like to know more. If you are one of those people, I noticed that Sankofa has among the many books it carries on African American history here in D.C. the book Slave Labor in the Capital by Bob Arnebeck. The book describes the use of slave labor to build the Capitol and White House during the most difficult phase of construction from 1792 to 1800.

The book is an easy read, about 150 pages, and priced at $20. I’m about a third the way through it already and don’t regret picking it up in the least.

African-American Civil War Museum Kicks Off Black History Month

February 3, 2015

The African-American Civil War Museum and the DC Black History Celebration Committee kicked off Black History Month last night with a program in the museum that began around 6 p.m. The event began with a welcome by Chuck Hicks, Director of the DC Black History Celebration Committee followed by a prayer. Following the prayer, Judy Williams led the audience in singing Lift Every Voice and Sing.

AACWM Black History Month kick off(Judy Williams singing with Chuck Hicks looking on.)

The musical selection was followed by a dance presentation by CityDance — which was extremely interesting and enjoyable. The CityDance performers were definitely polished and energetic.

AACWM Black History Month kick off 2(CityDance during their performance.)

After the CityDance performance, a series of remarks were made by Phil Mendelson, Chairman of the D.C. Council; Karl Racine, DC Attorney General; Brianne Nadeau, Ward 1 Councilmember; and Charles Allen, Ward 6 Councilmember.

Dr. Daryl Michael Scott delivering his key note address.

Dr. Daryl Michael Scott delivering his key note address.

Following the remarks, keynote speaker Dr. Daryl Michael Scott, president of Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) was introduced. Dr. Scott delivered an inspiring speech delving into the life of Dr. Carter G. Woodson, some of the misconceptions of Woodson, and Woodson’s legacy in the founding of Black History Month. 2015 is also the 100th anniversary of the founding of ASALH, leading Dr. Scott to delve into Woodson the reformer as a central theme to his presentation.

Dr. Scott’s speech was followed by another musical selection including the audience singing We Shall Overcome,
closing remarks, and a reception.

Remembering June Norton: Sang with Duke Ellington, Broke TV Race Barrier

January 23, 2015

June Norton 1950(A photo of June Norton from the Afro-American, 1950)

Several years ago, then Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Lisa Kralovic (ANC 1A01) told me about a former resident of 1435 Perry Place, NW, named June Norton. Kralovic told me that Norton had performed with Duke Ellington and that she was highly regarded in the neighborhood. She also stated that she had moved to Maryland a few years earlier but had since passed. I was intrigued, and what follows is what I’ve been able to learn about her life thus far.

June Norton (1924-2004) was a singer with Duke Ellington and his orchestra, working with Ellington in 1949, 1950, and 1960. Norton was born in Alexandria, Va., and graduated from Cardozo High School and Howard University. Though better known for singing with Ellington, her most notable achievement was singing as part of a one-minute commercial for station WTTG-TV.

Norton was hired to sing commercials on television for a product aimed at such states a Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and the District of Columbia. She was singing at the Flame restaurant in Washington in the fall of 1961 when representatives from a local advertising agency heard her. The representatives had been looking for a black artist to break the television race barrier, especially in Washington which had a population that was estimated at more than 50% African American at that time. The commercial’s sponsors – the Beautycraft Plastics Company – reported that June Norton was the first African American woman in the mid-Atlantic region to appear on TV commercials beamed at the mass market in Southern states.

In recognition of Norton’s work in the commercial, she received the 1962 Achievement Award from the National Association of Colored Women and drew acclaim from the YMCA which presented her with their trophy as “Singer of the Year for 1962.” A local bottling company named her “TV Personality of the Year” and the National Association of Market Development bestowed upon her their 1962 Emphasis Award.

Norton’s voice was described as having the range and flexibility to put across the up-tune as well as the ballad. During the 1960s audiences could hear her perform at venues such as the Shoreham’s Marquee Lounge (1964), Twelve Devils, near the corner of Connecticut and Calvert streets, NW (1965), and Mr. Henry’s Georgetown (1968).

In the early 1970s, Norton engaged in work as a counselor for women offenders imprisoned for drug related and other crimes. This work was featured in an episode called Ebony Reflections that aired on WETA-26 in 1973. In 1993, June Norton, along with other former Duke Ellington vocalists Adelaide Hall, Joya Sherrill, Kay Davis, Maria Ellington Cole, and Dolores Parker, received a lifetime achievement award from the Smithsonian Institution.

June Norton passed away on October 30, 2004, and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery next to her husband, Thomas C. Cuff.

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