Experience Black History in Washington D.C. at this Historic Restaurant

BY Blog Editor

February is Black History Month, and the first Black History Month took place at Kent State University in 1970 after Black educators and the Black United Students proposed a way to honor and highlight the African diaspora’s shared history.

Six years after the first celebration at Kent State, Black History Month was being celebrated all across our country in educational institutions, centers of Black culture and community centers, both great and small. When President Gerald Ford recognized Black History Month in 1976, during the celebration of the US Bicentennial, he urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history”.

In the Black community, Black History Month was met with enthusiastic response; it prompted the creation of Black history clubs, with an increase in interest among teachers, and interest from progressive whites. Today, it was a nationwide event with college majors dedicated entirely to the study of Black History. Taught in schools of all demographics across our nation, names like Fredrick Douglas and Harriet Tubman have become just as synonymous with American history as figures like George Washington and John Adams.

While we have a way to go for true equality in America, we can start by learning our shared history, as Black History is just as much American History as the stories of our white founding fathers. To learn a bit more about Black History, this month and every month of year, check out this local black landmark near your apartment.

Ben’s Chili Bowl – Washington D.C. is full of museums and important monuments dedicated to Black culture and icons, however, sometimes you can learn just as much about history by visiting places where it actually happened. Ben’s Chili Bowl, located less than 15 minutes from your Wray apartment, is located in the historic Black neighborhood centered around U Street. Ben’s Chili Bowl was founded on August 22, 1958, by Ben Ali, a Trinidadian-born immigrant who had studied dentistry at nearby Howard University, and his fiancée, Virginia-born Virginia Rollins.  The building they chose was that of Washington’s first silent movie house, the Minnehaha, which was established in 1911.The building is a contributing property to the Greater U Street Historic District. Most of the furniture in the restaurant is original to the 1950s. At the time, U Street was known as “Black Broadway”. Many jazz greats of the day, such as Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, and Nat King Cole, would stop by the restaurant when they performed at U Street clubs. The U Street corridor was devastated by the April 1968 riots that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and during the riots, black activist Stokely Carmichael, leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, asked Ben to keep his restaurant open, and the Alis obtained permission to stay open past curfew. The restaurant fed both the police officers and firefighters working to impose order on the neighborhood, as well as the black activists.

Nowadays, Ben’s is both a popular restaurant for good eats, and a magnet for those looking to learn more about Washington D.C’s history. It’s been visited by Presidents, celebrities and just about every of walk of life who’s walked our capitol’s street – have you been yet?

Ben’s Chili Bowl, 1213 U St NW, Washington, DC 20009

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