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Ward 4 History

Prior to 1890, Ward 4 was a rural area north of the nation's capital. At this time black families owned land and built communities.


As the federal government hired additional workers during the two World Wars, the population of the city grew. With that growth came the real estate development that expanded the boundaries of the city. And, due to the racial discrimination that plagued real estate practices and federal policies alike, Ward 4 became nearly 100% white for the first half of the 20th century.

By 1950 African American residents began moving in to Ward 4 once again, driving up demand for housing in the neighborhoods they had so long been excluded from. Today, Ward 4 is home to more than 87,000 residents across 20 different (diverse and unique) neighborhoods. 

"Many DC areas such as Michigan Park, Riggs Park, Lamond Heights, Petworth, Manor Park, Brightwood, Takoma Park etc. here former committees of many new suburbanites, but real estate brokers started using scare and panic tactics to get them out of these areas and at the same time selling homes in these very areas almost exclusively to colored, and advertising these homes only to colored, when in reality the areas mentioned were almost completely white"

In a letter to President Eisenhower in 1959, Mr. W. J. Filling outlines the reality of racially segregated housing and neighborhoods in Ward 4. It becomes clear that the "development story" of the city was intentionally racialized and caused much pain and frustration among the citizens affected. Read the full letter here.

Self-driven and empowered citizens.

The resident makeup of Ward 4 has been forced to change throughout history, but it has always been home to vocal citizens exercising civic responsibility and action.


Written evidence that black families owned over 20 acres of land in Ward 4 east of 16th Street.


Much of the black-owned land was taken to build Fort Stevens at the start of the Civil War. During this time, many formerly enslaved families settled around the fort and other military facilities.

1903 - 1940

African American settlement around Fort Stevens bordered the soldier's graveyard and was centralized around the local church. In 1940 this settlement was bought up and torn down by developers to build the Fort View Apartments.


New  Washington Real Estate Board’s Code of Ethics was adopted and promoted segregation of housing, leading to new whites-only housing replacing Ward 4’s African American communities.


Temporary government housing constructed for the rapidly expanding federal workforce.  The temporary housing in Ward 4 was restricted to white tennents only.


The first black family moved back into Ward 4, purchasing a home in Petworth 5 years after racial covenants were lifted. 


Realtors began using scare tactics to encourage white families to move out of the neighborhood. The Lamond-Riggs Citizens Association resisted Realtors' efforts to spark panic in white homeowners about the (false) decreasing value of their homes and successfully removed real estate agent's authority from putting "sold" signs in front of houses.


Black residents lived on nearly every block in Ward 4.

What's next?

How might we use learn from Ward 4's tumultuous history to better understand the residents who live here and the story of this neighborhood? How might this understanding spark empowered citizenship today?

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