African American builders, Greenbelt, MD, 1937. Photo from the Greenbelt Museum.

Crowdsourcing African American History in Historic Greenbelt

03/09/2018
By Preservation Maryland

The Greenbelt Museum is crowdsourcing information about the early African American families of the New Deal-era community in Prince George’s County.

While the planned community was thoughtfully developed for a diversity of uses and incomes, Greenbelt was a segregated community from it’s founding in the late 1930s until the late 1960s. Many of the African American workers who literally built Greenbelt were unable to apply for residency.

The Greenbelt Museum is undertaking research to learn more about the African American families that pre-date the development of Greenbelt and those that helped build Greenbelt. If you are a descendant of one of the early African American families who lived near what was to become Greenbelt or you have knowledge of African American workers who helped build Greenbelt, please contact the Greenbelt Museum.

MORE FROM THE GREENBELT MUSEUM

The Resettlement Administration’s earliest plans for the land that would become Greenbelt included an area called the Rossville Rural Development, which was to be lived on and farmed by African American families. However, in the climate of strict segregation in Prince George’s County and the state of Maryland, these controversial plans were quickly dropped. Additionally, although Greenbelt was a relief project built by both African American and white workers, because of segregation, only white families would be accepted to move into the experimental town. There were two other New Deal communities in the mid-Atlantic region built for African American families, Langston Terrace in Washington, D.C. and Aberdeen Gardens near Newport News, Virginia; but Greenbelt, Maryland would remain an all-white community for several decades.

Inevitably, at the Greenbelt Museum, when staff and docents explain Greenbelt’s segregated history, the next question from visitors is, “When did Greenbelt become integrated in terms of race?”. We know that there was a Citizens for Fair Housing group active here beginning in 1963, but to the best of our knowledge so far, African American families did not begin moving into Greenbelt until the late 1960s. In researching this exhibition, we have realized that we have many, many more questions than answers. As a lasting legacy of the 75th Anniversary of the City of Greenbelt, and in an effort to answer some of the many questions we have about segregation and integration here, the Greenbelt Museum will establish an ongoing Archive of the African American Experience in Greenbelt. We need your help to make it successful. If you would like to share information, photographs, memories, or oral histories, please contact the Museum by calling 301-507-6582 or sending an email to museum@greenbeltmd.gov.

African America History in Greenbelt

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