Washington D.C.’s U-Street is currently one of the most popular, exciting, and creative neighborhoods in the nation’s capital. Young people from around the world are flocking to U-Street for its restaurants, live music, and nightlife. To many, it would appear as if the neighborhood is undergoing a modern revival, but the reality is much more complex and contested. As new residents have moved in, longstanding residents, businesses, and communities have been forced out. In 2017, U-Street is as Dr. Derek Hyra explains “gentrification gone wild.” With this in mind, D.C. residents must ask, how can we honor the cultural, political, and artistic history of U-Street while simultaneously achieving economic growth? How can we support longstanding communities and preserve historical landmarks while opening new bars, restaurants, and music venues? How can we ensure longstanding residents can remain on U-Street while welcoming new residents? And overall, how can we create diverse, tolerant communities, which both embrace change, yet remember and respect the past and the voices of longstanding residents?
Unfortunately, the history of U-Street is often overlooked and forgotten, remaining in the shadow of the more famous Harlem Renaissance. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, Washington D.C.’s U-Street was home to many of the nation’s most prominent African American artists, musicians, intellectuals, and politicians. U-Street was as Dr. Ibram X. Kendi states, “The Chocolatest part of Chocolate City.” To many new residents today, U-Street is understood as a cool, modern place to live, but not always the heart of African American art, culture, and politics in Washington, D.C. Michael T. Barry Jr.’s new film “U-Street Contested” hopes to illuminate this history and find ways of bridging the gaps between past and present. Through interviews with, National Book Award Winner and Antiracist Research and Policy Founding Director, Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, Founding Director of the Metropolitan Policy Center, Dr. Derek Hyra, and Funk Parade Organizer Chris Naoum, “U-Street Contested” explores the ways in which U-Street has changed, its vibrant history, and how we can all work to create a better, more equitable community.
Michael Barry is a documentary filmmaker and doctoral student in history at American University. His current project is a documentary film which explores the Washington D.C. U-Street corridor past and present, modern challenges like gentrification, housing, and music policy, and how individuals are attempting to honor the history of U-Street today.