The Dissed-Trict Congress Heights, Washington Highlands, Bellevue, Shipley Terrace

Darrow Montgomery

These are the neighborhoods that spent the crack era in the crime briefs. Their complex geography and complex struggle whittled down to an endless series of short paragraphs that revealed only the simple facts: an address, a bullet, a body sometimes with a name and age, a date, and time of death.

It didn’t matter that the briefs only told the end of a story. It didn’t matter that the briefs rarely if ever touched on motive. This was the crack era, and these were the neighborhoods that took the brunt of it. “Drug-related” was the catchall for everything, just part of the sad familiar.

But the byproduct of civic despair and feeling ignored is activism, a pursuit in which the Dissed-Trict is steeped. Congress Heights alone serves as a breadbasket of political feistiness, including in its ranks such bully-pulpit vets as Phil Pannell, Sandra “S.S.” Seegars, Mary Cuthbert, and Cardell Shelton.

Behind their hopeless runs for office, their wacky feuds with one another, these activists care deeply for the problems within their neighborhoods—whether it’s doing battle with the police (Seegars), calling out the Nationals for anti-gay policies (Pannell), advocating for vocational training (Shelton), or feuding with Marion Barry (all of the above).

Unlike their virtual peers squatting on message boards, this breed of rabble rousers has spent years fighting over simple things like getting a grocery store. There’s plenty of other reasons to head out to ANC meetings, too. Since the neighborhoods had their post-war boom in the ’40s and ’50s, Ward 8 activists have had to contend with the District’s poor planning, neglect, and failed promises.

To wit, the landscape of dysfunction:

• Congress Heights residents have long had to commute for goods and services. The Eastover Shopping Center across the line in P.G. County has long benefited from the patronage of its citizens.

• Washington Highlands was cursed with a landscape that was 83 percent apartment buildings—what a 1971 District report labeled as pure “monotony”—and extreme poverty.

• Bellevue has had to contend with butting up against the sewage treatment facility at Blue Plains. It has also been dealt a name that has only now started to stick. Residents and the press used to refer to Bellevue as “Bellview.” Flags now adorn lampposts bearing the correct name and the slogan: “A Great View to the Future.”

This publication saw the bright future almost a decade ago. In 1999, it declared in a cover story titled “When Hell Freezes Over” (11/5/1999) that gentrification in the form of new town-home development had hit the Dissed-Trict, that the familiar drive-by tableau of liquor stores and blight, and the feeling that this was a place stuck in time had been bulldozed. That old cliché had been replaced with fresh bricks and new money.

New town homes have since been built up all over the Dissed-Trict, most notably in Congress Heights. The neighborhood finally got its grocery store—a sprawling Giant in Camp Simms—with an IHOP coming soon.

But its main commercial strip—Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue—remains an ugly charm bracelet of liquor stores and carryout joints. The new Subway franchise that opened up—with its three tables—hardly counts as classic sit-down dining.

In the next decade or so, there will be plenty of battles, from crime reduction to the Department of Homeland Security’s taking over the ward’s best views on the grounds of St. Elizabeths.

Pannell sees another issue—the graying of the activist set.

Is it hard to get angry? “Not difficult at all,” says Pannell. “The difficulty with me is as I have aged, I can’t really back up the anger because of limited resources, time, and energy.”

Pannell worries that the new homeowners aren’t filling up the civic meetings. He worries that Congress Heights is turning into a series of enclaves. “It will become a place where not only each person’s home be each person’s castle but each person’s fortress,” he says.

Pick any block within these communities, and you’re bound to find a mix of transition, tension, and old war stories still all too fresh. The unit block of Forrester Street SW in Bellevue, for example, begins with vacant units butting up against new apartment construction. Up farther, the apartments give way to a string of stable brick homes bearing rose bushes, ADT signs, an American flag, and a beware of dog poster.

The owner of that poster is Anthony Cunningham. His son was shot and killed two years ago. He got a three-sentence crime brief. His case remains unsolved. “That’s the reason I live here,” Cunningham says. “I earned the right to be here with my son’s blood.”


• Whereas Congress Heights has a group of over-the-top activists, Bellevue has a whole family of eminently reasonable ones. The Kinlows, at one point or another, have played big roles in city finances (patriarch Eugene Kinlow sat on the D.C. financial control board), Democratic city politics and statehood (Eugene DeWitt Kinlow serves on the Democratic State Committee), and the D.C. public schools (Tonya Vidal Kinlow serves as the ombudsman for public education). When big-time city issues hit Bellevue, the Kinlows swing into action: Eugene DeWitt led a successful movement to prevent a proposed Ward 8 prison. He also wrote a history of Bellevue. For him it’s personal: “I moved to Bellevue in 1969 as a kid. We were the first black people on the block...I tell people kids used to try to take my bike and they were white kids and they can’t even imagine that.”

• In the early ’90s, the William C. Smith realty company started planting tulips in these neighborhoods. According to CEO Chris Smith, the apartment juggernaut’s tulip tally has now reached close to 1 million.

• Washington Highlands Public Library, located at 115 Atlantic St. SW, is not actually in the Washington Highlands neighborhood; it’s in Bellevue. But that hasn’t stopped the facility from becoming the go-to spot come election time. Count on the library to host its share of heated mayoral and council race forums.

• On a weekday night, you might want to stop by the concrete landing at Ferebee-Hope Elementary and check in on the wonder that is the Washington Showstoppers Community Marching Band, the Highland Dwellings’ own squad of about 40 dancers, flag-wavers, cheerleaders, and drummers. The neighborhood-sponsored band practices twice a week, so expect to hear booming percussion and prideful callouts.

More Hoods and Services: The Dissed-Trict demographics, photos, and cartography
Plus: How does The Dissed-Trict stack up on the Neighborhood Rankinator?

Our Readers Say

I enjoyed your June 20th series of articles on DC neghborhoods.....and I HATED IT!!!
To be fair, the series was educational and humorous. But I do wonder if the City Paper is consciously working to assist the careless real estate and population upheavals in DC. No I'm not talking conspiracies. Just a quiet, journalist stirring of the hornets nest .
You know this issue will become the Cliff Notes/cheat sheet for whites and newcomers looking to bone up on the territories they plan to envade and conquer. With this (and Google) they can pretend to be knowledable about these areas.
I am a life long DC resident ( I know, so is everyone now a days- including the white newcomers). I was a Barry Farm baby in the 1970's and became a poor Congress Heights kids when my father joined a wave of EMPLOYED black men in doing what Barack Obama spoke of this Father's Day. I have seen, enjoyed and endured ALOT here, so I am not ashamed or afraid of saying....
My blood boils at the site of a white person on my street (save the few" low incomes"who got stuck here, too). That boiling is the same as the one I feel at the site of a loud or oblivious black mother with 1 to 4 more kids than she needs, or black males ( age 16 to 60) howling at girls and women who just want to go to work or school.
I knowmany folks can understand my dislike of the latter groups but not the former. Why hate the whites, they bring upward mobility, services, Starbucks, blah,blah? But what good is that, if I am forced out? What good is it if I have to bend to the will of newcomers who claim I must RELIGIOUSLY attend regular community meetings that we wouldn't really need if the "ghetto" blacks and the stuck up, "rules and regulations" loving whites hadn't made our lives or futures depend on it?
I don't like to be threatened or pushed around. The lack of a gun and the presence of a (fake) smile and alleged good intentions- doesn't make this more palitable from whites. I hope we've all reached the point where white people saying " I'm not trying to push anyone out....I just want to move here because I love the nieghborhood and the d-i-v-e-r-s-i-t-y (ugh)"- doesn't get swallowed. They know what they are doing and the results. "I intended to make an omelet without breaking any eggs"- is an insulting excuse.
The thought of replacing black assholes with white ones is unbearable! Being nudged off the sidewalks of my own neighborhood by fearless, arrogant black youths who walk like they own everything and being nudged off by arrogant, fearless whites who think the same- feels no better. Congress Heights has seen an increase of these fearless whites who ride the Metro the use the S.E. Tennis Center or volunteer at the schools and Convenent House (charity working whites can have an aweful sense of entitlement). Once they realized they wouldn't be shot here, they got comfortable and started walking like they do when they are in N.W. and Downtown. They forfeit every game of "asshole chicken", though, by scrambling into the street whenever the pushy, black youths show up. While this is funny, it's not enough to make me want either of these groups in my neighborhood.
So, who would I prefer to live with? 1) Working class to middle class blacks ( no ghetto types, which can be found even in some middle class blacks....look at PG County). 2) Hispanics (yea, surprising I know. Yes, I am aware that the have "issues" and problems too). 3) Working class whites (truly working class, not starving artists or middle class whites crying poverty when they need to). Hillary Clinton supporters aside, I have always liked working class whites ( even the slightly racist ones) and I regret the disappeaance of them in DC and PG County. They have no pretense- unlike most whites. They don't smile in your face or volunteer to teach your kids to read when they really don't respect you or want you gone. They let you know by their words, their stance/body language, or their actions.They are more like black people than most whites, " ghetto" people, and some middle class blacks.
I don't know where Asians fit. I assume they will always be in black communities throughout DC and Maryland as shop owners and black men's wives or "baby's Mama's (no, I'm not trying to be insulting). Asian enclaves are often so close to black ones, that other parts of DC have experienced the Asian-Black neighborhood thing. I just don't know about how the Anacostia-Congress Heights area would fair.
I can't say I would want Africans or West Indians/Caribbean people here in large number. Why? It's the asshole factor again. I know a few really nice Africans and Caribbean folk, but I've seen too many slumlords, exploitative shop owners who insult you (IN ENGLISH!) to your face, and suck ups who think that insulting black Americans in front of white people will boost their status- in the long term! It won't. Even white people have noted that African and Caribbean problems see eerliy similar to that of black America and predominately black cities. I won't be insulted by people who fled countries FULL of resources and potential, but brought down by white exploitaion, a more successful Asian and middle eastern immigrant population, and BLACK violence, incompetence, dependency on hands outs (from the world), and irresponsible or lazy men. I don't care to hear from these people that "the problem with black Americans is...." we live in a country full of potenial, but wallow in failure after years of white exploitation and have CHOSEN to be violent, incompetent, dependent on others, lazy,and irresponsible. This does not good neighbor make.
I know, it doesn't really matter who I want as a neighbor. I have little real choice in the matter. And I know the City Paper is not responsible for the "issues" that arise from printing an article on DC neighborhoods- "What's Hot! What's Not!" I just wanted to remind The City Paper and readers that not every "hot" neighborhood you want.....wants you. And some of you are not wanted for good reason.
Congress Heights
No I'm not an idiot. Just mistyped the log in. Oh's kinda funny..
Why would any white person in their right mind, educated and smart and not some poor trapped redneck want to move to this armpit of a cesspool backwater anywhere near Bellevue, Congress Heights, Trenton Terrace or Valley Avenue? And I know the neighborhood, from the Washington Highlands library, to where the old Dart Drug and Brinsfield drugstores were on South Capitol Street, remember the old garden apartments torn down on 4th Street SE near Ballou. I don't tell my age, but I lived there back in the day. And we moved out before buses full of blacks ruined the neighborhood, turned it into a shooting gallery of both guns and drugs. I found my second grade class picture from Draper ES, deep in that area, and it was all white. I am also a life-long DC resident, and will never return to that den of self-inflicted poverty, crime, vice and lack of culture and can't imagine why anyone else would. And to the above poster, why would white people force you out? Would your mortgage rise because white people may live next door? All your racism reminds me of the redneck white people back in the 60s in the suburbs who were getting guns, afraid of black people coming into their neighborhoods. Don't worry. A few more shootings and the white people will never come and make you attend civic meetings and G-d forbid, tutor some public school kid.
See a therapist Chelita. If you don't live here- get over it!
I'm a racist, but -according to you- you moved out before the "bus loads of blacks" moved in and ruined the neighborhood?
So what race are you, white or "mixed/light"! How do you manage to have such racist attitudes toward ALL blacks (no class/income/moral distinctions made) but you can call ME racist for not wanting middle class whites ( or "ghetto" blacks) here? I guess I am racist for WANTING working class whites, hispanics, and decent lower to mid-class blacks in Congress Heights? You sound like one of those confused "mixed" people- but who knows.
Look, you are such a head case, that you barely noticed we have the same opinion on "ghetto" blacks. Where we differ is that you seem to hate ALL blacks (no class distinctions) and love MOST WHITES- except for the cartoonish "redneck" whites of days gone by.
As for what white would move into a black "cesspool"...
After your therapy, pick up a book or newspaper. Congress Heights is getting the DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY! IT HAS SOME OF THE BEST SCENIC OVERLOOKS IN DC! IT IS CONVENIENT TO METRO! IT IS A SHORTBUS OR BIKE RIDE FROM THE WATERFRONT AND A PARK ( which has seen an increase in white and hispanics using it)
LOOK UP GENTRIFICATION IN DC. Whites are moving into "black cesspools"- far worse than Congress Heights- all over DC. They are even displacing moderate income whites in some parts of DC! This happens when property values jump to reflect the NEW people's income- not the original residents. Housing prices and taxes rise the same way. Landlords, seeing a chance to collect higher rents, then raise the prices of rental units to reflect the newcomer's higher income. The previous residents (working poor, working class and lower middle class) are forced to struggle or leave. Rent control protects only a small percentage and savvy white newcomers can misrepresent their incomes to make themsleves eligible for "low to moderate" income housing.
In the end, the only people who can survive gentrification are the people who started it, a lucky few who get rent control, and a tiny, "slick" Section 8 population.
But you know this. You are just venting at "those stupid black" while calling me racist for not wanting "ghetto" blacks or duplicitous white gentrifiers (who only volunteer to help neighboood kids so that they can bring up such service AFTER they force the same families out of the neighborhood).
You are the racist- CHELITA.
and the new, middle class whites have already arrived. 2 in the condos near Ballou and the new townhouses on Alabama Ave- across from the new Giant Food.
These people operate like "islands" to themselves. Waiting it out until the "seas" change. And their kids and visiting relatives are assholes! They stare at blacks like it's a wildlife park or look EVERYBODY (even women and old men- with canes!) like they're rapists-carjackers or lepers.
Why should I want more of that?
I have been a landlord over here for a few years. It has definitely gotten better. At the same time, it has a LONG, LONG way to go to even be a viable community for even middle class blacks like myself.

Many of the residents living here are so used to second rate services that they don't even complain if their trash is picked up or if their streets are not plowed. The only way this changes is if a lot of active middle class newcomers move in while many of the ghetto dwelling blacks move on. It is just that simple.

I don't understand the disdain for the whites in these comments. If anything, it is the black people that serve to ruin this place. And I am not just talking about the gun toting youth. I am including the parents that let their kids throw down carryout containers on the ground. Litter is a big indicator of a community's decay. And Congress Heights has an abundance of it. The only way you get rid of either the decay or the litter is by picking it up and throwing it away.
I am going to pray for anonymous - you are in dire needs of a "come to jesus" talk.

I live in Congress Heights and I welcome ANYONE (white, black, blue or purple) who is a productive member of society and is willing to work and commit to positive progress in our community. There is too much infighting - no one can succeed with it. Some older people are threatened and suspicious of younger people, older homeowners resent new arrivals and vice versa, renters vs. homeowners, lower class vs. middle class - it is ridiculous and is only adding to the community problems. Anyone (and that includes ANC Commissioners too) that is supporting anything other than cooperation and encouraging all members of the community to work together need to go. I agree with the landlord comment that too many residents have become accustomed to 2nd rate service. Overall in the opinoin of this one homeowner there needs to be a through clean out of all the current elected officials from DC council all the way down to the current ANC commissioners. All you have to do is look at the community blight the lack of economic progress on MLK to see that our elected officials have FAILED us. Some of these people have been in these roles for 30 or more years and not only are they no longer relevant but they are running their neighborhoods as their own personal kingdom - they have long forgotten that there purpose was to SERVE the community - and not be SERVED by the community. It's time to show everyone the door and elect new representatives who will be held responsible for their actions (or lack there of).
I don't need to come to Jesus. But if that worked at all, Congress Heights- with it's many churches- would be better off.
LOOK STOP SAYING I HATE WHITES! My list of "KEEP OUTS" was multi racial and multi class.
It's ok for me to harshly judge "certain" blacks, but I can't say that "certain" whites are bad for communiities....... that is racist?!
Two people who chastised me made horrible blanket statement about BLACKS (period)! Is that fair? Is that what Jesus would do?
I said I don't want "ghetto" blacks or white gentrifiers! Because BOTH force hard working people out! Why should I applaud that because Whites did it with money and phone calls -not guns?
[I said that there are many working class whites I'd prefer to live with over middle class blacks. The niave, arrogant posters above remind me of why.]
Read the whole comment.
If it is too long for you read (it is LONG)....then don't comment on it. Commenting without reading makes you seem confused or hypocritical. Since many of you are echoing critical statements I made about BLACKS (ignoring my remarks about Hispanics, Asians and low income whites)- and calling me a racist BECAUSE I DON'T LIKE WHAT CERTAIN WHITES DO TO A NEIGHBORHOOD!
Newcomers to the area- just don't get it. Areas like this are partly when other areas force anyone NOT Middle and Upper class out! This forces alot of people into one area and the "ghetto" types feed on that crowding and lack of options.
By the way, we DO complain about lack of services and have for YEARS! Being ignored because you are not white or middle class- has an affect on you.
How awful that some posters above think it is alright to support a system that waits until middle class resident complain! Why shouldn't a WORKING, TAX PAYING citizen have a say?
I don't want more bullies here drowning out the voices of regular, working folks!
No Bullies! Black or white! Under Class or Middle Class!
I wrote up a little extra history piece on Bellevue for our City Desk blog:

It's about the Jamaicans who used to rule Forrester Street SW for a time in the early '90s.
PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE do a story on the ridiculousness that is the ANC in Ward 8 - in particular 8C! Between the secret ANC meetings that never happen, the shady financials (what quaterly reports), the fiscal mismangment (10k in rent but no other expenses such as a telephone or even a stamp all year), disfunction (dont you know Mary Cuthbert is the only one with the right to an opinion and all newcombers should be burned at the stake) and just general foolishness. In this regard Ward 8 has no one to blame but themselves for this foolishness but the fact that it has gone on for 30+ years is a black eye for the entire city.
Would it be possible to post the following below? I'm just trying to get the word out. Thanks.

Just trying to spread the word, this Saturday, July 19, 2008, There will be a Shipley Terrace Community Clean Up. Ward 8 Clean and Green, sponsored by Marion Barry and Fenty, are looking for volunteers to come out. It will be in the Shipley Terrace Community, meeting at 23rd and Savannah Street, near Shipley Market from 10am-12pm. Please get the word out and show your support
As a young white woman who used to live in Congree heights, I was hard working but not yet above poverty lines so do you think I has any business living in Congress heights? Some of us don't have a choice as to where life places us, or where life will take us, in my case somewhere a whole lot more peaceful, as I worked hard living in Congress heights to get an education.
Such negative comments. I think the comments speak more on this neighborhood than the CP blurb.
negroes ruin everything they touch every place negroes live they turn into a cesspool of crime and corruption. show me any city or country run by negroes that that is a place you would like to live in,show me just one3!
You blue gummedcoons and your wacko remarks-now you listen to me you goddamn unevolved small brainedliquor lovin freaks-Congress Heights was once a great little town made by the white man and you jabones destroyrd it.,I know I lived there u freaks go to this URL and take your medicine
Why is the "good" part of town always predominantly white, and the "bad" part of town always black? You spear chuckers make me laugh with your backward logic and excuses. If it weren't for the whites you would have been colonized....Do you know what that means? Do you know your history? The fact is you don't. You are uneducated, you are ignorant, and the worst part is you have squandered every chance you were ever given. A chance provided by tens of thousands of Union soldiers who did not understand their ideals and blood were going to be wasted on you dogmatic idiots.
I think Payton's comments were presented eloquently with a tone that let's' you know that he is invested in this community. Keep it going Payton. I might not necessarily agree with your stance on middle class whites and gentri, but for the life of me I don't get why the commentators are getting your point. It's not about racism. I think he summed it up best when he said, "I said I don't want "ghetto" blacks or white gentrifiers! Because BOTH force hard working people out! Why should I applaud that because Whites did it with money and phone calls -not guns? ". That means there's room for working class whites and middle class blacks which was said over and over in his comment. But to be fair to the people that think he's a racist, he did put in caps..."I DON'T WANT ANY MORE WHITES OR LOW INCOME/GOVERNMENT FUNDED BLACKS IN ANACOSTIA OR CONGRESS HEIGHTS! STAY OUT! GET OUT! ". But I get his point, because often times when you say whites, people assume that your talking about middle class whites anyway...almost like the others dont exist. But its the opposite for blacks, when people say blacks with no distinction, people automatically assume that you're speaking of poor blacks.

Think about it for a second. Isn't that what the real argument is all about. People thinkin' that their perceptions are based on reality. It allows them to make broad judgements about people that are not based on facts. It allows people like the Mighty Whitey commentator to create a whole website based on a few incidences (in comparison to events that are happening all around the community) and use it to paint a whole community a certain way. It obviously satisfies him though. He feels really superior, by spotlighting these incidences and certain people, while ignoring black people who have money, who go to work and school everyday, keep their noses down, and stay clear of trouble. But I guess if I was some insecure white guy looking for something to hold onto to feel significant in this society, I'd pick on the 'wretched of the earth' too.

The facts are that most of the problems in the community are based on class and race is used as a 'divide and conquer' tool by the ruling class as it has always been throughout history. Sorry to disappoint you Mighty Whitey, but there was never some big war between the races that led to one race being superior to another. It all started with rich whites buying slaves from rich blacks and expanding.

We all need to think a little deeper here and stop making poor blacks a dumping ground for our own insecurities. 'Time for change', whites litter too, but usually around trailer parks in the middle of the country. Learn the difference between problems based on poverty and problems based color. Let me give you a hint...there are no problems based on color. People do not act a certain way based on their race. People act a certain way based on their environment and their perception of the world. Come on people can move this conversation to a higher level?

APayton, based on your comments above, what can middle class whites do to become worthy of your approval in the neighborhood? They are not leaving, nor are they going to reconsider moving here.

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