Sunday, October 23, 2011

Adams Morgan

Behind the Name: Adams Morgan

2011_1023_John Quincy Adams School.jpg
Photo by cstein96.
A neighborhood's name is part of its identity. Adoption of it, or aversion to it, can say a lot about where a place is going -- and where it came from.
D.C. seems perpetually allergic to "NoMa." I've observed -- more than a decade after its Soho-inspired birth -- visceral reactions to the moniker (smirks, raised eyebrows, instinctive eyerolls). It prompted me to question where other D.C. neighborhood names have sprung from.
Serendipitously, I stumbled upon a book in the Washingtoniana that explores, among other fascinating histories, the genesis of Washington neighborhood names. It’s Dex Nilsson's, The Names of Washington D.C.
Today, we’ll look at Adams Morgan.
Some of you may have heard Adams Morgan's story before -- we touched on it several years ago, and a few other local blogs and columnists have as well. It’s a great story, and I hope you won’t mind me rehashing it for those who don’t know it -- this time with some excerpts straight from the pages of the past.
First, Celestino Zapata and Josh Gibson's 2006 book, Then and Now: Adams Morgan, offers a crisp introduction to the neighborhood:
Adams Morgan is a study in contradiction. It is named for two once-segregated schools, yet it is remembered for the biracial cooperation of their principals and others to improve the community. It prides itself on being the polar opposite of the homogeneous cookie-cutter suburbs, yet it itself was once a suburb. It rightfully decries and fears gentrification as being right around the corner, though it has been doing so for nearly five decades, and despite the fact that before the neighborhood was rich it was poor, but before it was poor, it was originally rich.
According to Nilsson, in the 1950s, there were two neighborhood elementary schools: John Quincy Adams Elementary, the school for white students, and Thomas P. Morgan, the school for black students.
In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled in Bolling v. Sharpe -- the same day the Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education -- that segregation in D.C. schools was unconstitutional. In 1955, Washington integrated its schools.
As part of an effort to encourage the community to respect racial and cultural differences, Florence Cornell, principal of Adams, and Bernice Brown, principal of Morgan, came together to create the Adams-Morgan Better Neighborhood Conference, armed with the vision of a healthier, more integrated neighborhood.
The first mention of the Adams-Morgan Better Neighborhood Conference in the Washington Post was on October 21, 1956:
An unusual program, first of its kind in Washington, is being mapped to roll back deterioration in a Northwest neighborhood, housing perhaps 30,000 persons. The cooperative venture, cutting across racial lines, is an attempt to couple energy of residents, resources of the District government, and Federal funds into an attack on blight that has not yet become irreparable.
Sponsor of the “stitch-in-time-saves nine” program is the Adams-Morgan Better Neighborhood Conference. Members are citizens and school, civic and church organizations in the area.
Around the same time, a civic association called the Adams-Morgan Community Council was established to improve neighborhood schools. Its first mention in the Washington Post was on May 2, 1961 in “Today’s Events Scheduled in Washington Area.” The council met at 8:00 pm at the Adams-Morgan Field Office, 1811 Columbia Road NW. You might recognize the address. The location now serves Sunday Drag Brunch. The Adams-Morgan name stuck, along with the hyphen, which persisted for years. From a Washington Post story on September 28, 1980:
There is nothing typical about Adams-Morgan, tucked as it is between gritty Florida Avenue and lush Rock Creek Park. The last vivid vestige of an American melting pot in Washington, it is a city within a city, an independent movement, a village crossroads where different races, ages and economic groups mix together in a cultural stew.
The Post dropped the hyphen in the summer of 2001. On June 24, one of its copy editors, Chris Hopfensperger, wrote:
For decades the hyphen has tied together the two names as well as the neighborhood's racial factions. The Post, though, has seen the syntax on the wall. Adams Morgan is almost universally accepted as the area's name, and The Post's editors have accepted it into the paper's stylebook. The paper hopes this will silence the debate."
Now, if we could just get rid of that errant apostrophe.
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