At the end of the 19th century and for the first half of the 20th century despite segregation, D.C.’s historic Black greater U Street community prospered and built a self-reliant economic, social, civic, and cultural existence. During the height of the Jim Crow era, this influential Black U Street community of extraordinary achievers once known as “Black Broadway” birthed D.C.’s Black Renaissance and served as a prominent symbol of black culture and sophistication amid racial and political tension in America. Anchored by the famed Howard University (founded in 1867) some of the African American pioneers in science, civil rights, architecture, education, business, medicine, literary and performing arts you might have encountered on Black Broadway on U; Madame Lillian Evanti (first black international opera star), Carter G. Woodson (Father of Black History), Mary Church Terrell (one of the first African-American women to earn a college degree, civil rights activist and suffragette), Jesse H. Mitchell (founder/owner, Industrial Bank of Washington), Dr. Charles Drew (surgeon and researcher who organized America’s first large-scale blood bank), Zora Neale Hurston (anthropologist, author, poet), Georgia Douglas Johnson (one of the earliest black female playwrights/organizer “Saturday Nighters” literary salon), Mary McLeod Bethune (prominent educator/First Lady of Civil Rights Struggle) and Charles Hamilton Houston (prominent civil rights lawyer known as “The Man Who Killed Jim Crow in America”) laying the foundation for the New Negro and modern civil rights movements. The neighborhood was also home to the great American composer, Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington, first-rate AA-owned theaters and nightclubs that hosted the biggest stars in American music — Cab Calloway, Pearl Bailey, Louis Armstrong, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday and Jelly Roll Morton, among many others.
Yet, not only did this Black U Street community flourish and develop self-sufficiency; it was nationally significant for its stance against the injustices of segregation, spearheading some of the nation’s first civil rights protests while simultaneously embracing the highest standards of culture and intelligentsia experienced by blacks anywhere in America at that time, prompting the prophetic poetic voice of the New Negro Movement (who lived in the U Street corridor from 1924 to 1926) to observe and write,
“Never before, anywhere had I seen such persons of influence — men with some money, women with some beauty, teachers with some education — quite so sure of their own importance and their high places in the community.”
Launched in February 2014, the Black Broadway on U: A Transmedia Project is a groundbreaking multi-platform story and public history initiative created to chronicle, preserve and enhance, the under-told story and cultural legacy of D.C.’s marginalized Black community along the historic greater U Street community when it was known as “Black Broadway”, a city within a city. Through the use of interactive, digital and social media content, educational resources, mapping, mobile apps, photos, oral histories and stories via mini-docs and virtual reality films, live events, pop-up museum exhibits and our website aka “living, digital history book.” This multi-platform project connects today’s and future audiences to the “hidden” history and unprecedented black achievement of “Black Broadway’s trailblazers” that lies beneath the surface. They are “our ancestors” who overcame America’s and our nation’s capital’s racial and social barriers and have made considerable contributions to the fabric of American society and culture.
The aim of this project is to use cross-platform storytelling techniques and user-experiences to amplify these black community voices and their “first hand” memories to preserve a truer, “authentic” narrative of this historical American moment in time and humanities experience to foster knowledge and civic engagement around the important role of social justice, arts, history and culture — thus allowing communities of color to “learn from their past to re-imagine and re-define, from the ground up, the 21st century African American experience” amid today’s rapidly changing demographic and cultural landscape in urban America, specifically in Washington, D.C.
At the dawn of the “early 20th century,” for some, life was but a Gatsby-like dream…but in the little southern town of Washington, D.C., otherwise known as “The Capital of the Free World,” it wasn’t Freedom that ruled; it was Jim Crow. As our nation’s capital was still a segregated city, African Americans were not “free” to enter “white” theaters and nightclubs. Ironically, it was this very segregation that spawned a “CULTURAL and INTELLECTUAL REVOLUTION.”
EDUCATE greater audiences about the important role that the African American civil rights activists, culturalists, educators, entertainers, intellectuals and entrepreneurs (all in a little Washington, D.C. neighborhood) played in shaping American history. ENTERTAIN with compelling historical and digital content to promote positive cultural identity. EMPOWER through the sharing of “authentic” stories of these black leaders and civic places of prosperity that are part of our past and the points the way for our underserved youth’s future.
DISCOVER THE COMMUNITY: BLACK BROADWAY ON U! This interactive map is a storied journey back into time when D.C.’s greater U Street community’s businesses were black owned and run; its buildings, built and financed by blacks; its entertainment, by and for blacks. Through our digital walking tour you’ll discover the CHANGEMAKERS, CIVIC and CULTURAL LANDMARKS of this “great black way”, which by 1920 boasted more than 300 black businesses within a few square miles including the 12th Street Y (the first full-service black YMCA in the U.S.) and the Howard Theatre (opened with black capital 15 years before Harlem’s Apollo Theater).
It’s May 1940, and the illustrious actress/singer, Pearl Bailey (portrayed by D.C. native/actress, Roz White) is in her dressing room getting dolled-up before her performance at U Street’s historic Lincoln Theatre in Washington, D.C. Pearl shares her tale about the music filled evenings, culture, entertainment, rich history and heritage and heydays of D.C.’s Black Broadway on U despite the tough Jim Crow laws of the day this black community continued to strive and thrive.
HISTORIC NOTE: Ms. Bailey is credited with coining the phrase “Black Broadway on U Street” for this historic Black Washington era before Harlem and jumpstarted her singing career here too. Learn More…
Washington, D.C. – Monday, October 3, 2016 – The Black Broadway on U: A Transmedia Project celebrated the historic…
Washington, DC – September 29, 2016 – There are few physical reminders left of the U Street corridor’s rich…
Washington, DC – June 20, 2016 – Before legendary 20th century African American photographers Gordon Parks, Robert H. McNeill…
Shellée M. Haynesworth is an award-winning multimedia maker, storyteller and culture keeper. Throughout her more than 20+-year career and through her multimedia firm, Indigo Communications, she has produced documentaries, multicultural and digital media projects for clients such as USAID, U.S. Department of Education, Smithsonian Institution, Gates Foundation, PBS, NBC, Black Entertainment Television, TV One, HBO/Time Warner, and King World Entertainment, among others.
As a storyteller, her focus has been to examine the African Diaspora and shed light on the “untold” human stories and “hidden” contributions of African American and Latino changemakers in history, social justice, arts, culture and humanities. Some of her documentary and broadcast credits include Latino Voices: Art & Culture (PBS/Smithsonian), The HistoryMakers: An Evening with Quincy Jones (PBS), Latino Music Greats (National TV Syndication), Women’s Land Rights: A Ripple Effect (USAID/Gates Foundation) and A Tribute to Madiba: Nelson Mandela Special (TV One/News One Now).
Currently, she is exploring new approaches to developing immersive (multi-platform) cinematic experiences, coding and pioneering the “next generation” for African-American themed content and projects at the intersection of technology, narrative, creative placement and cultural preservation. Shellée stays true to this creative vision with her latest multi-platform endeavor, “Black Broadway on U: A Transmedia Project,” which highlights the under-told story of her native Washington, D.C.’s greater, historic U Street Corridor during its heyday, aka the “Black Broadway” era, when this “secret city” served as the cultural and intellectual mecca of Black America. A multigenerational Washingtonian, Haynesworth is very passionate about this project and storied community very near to her once an important crossroad for her family in the early 20th century. READ: WAMU 88.5 Bandwidth’s article, A Chat With The Creator of ‘Black Broadway On U,’ A Trove of D.C. Cultural History, HERE:
She is the recipient of several top industry awards and was nominated for a local Emmy Award in 2013 for “The Sound: A Chuck Brown Tribute.” She is an active member of the Producers Guild of America, Women in Film and Video (WIFV) and currently serves on WIFV’s Advisory Board in D.C. She is an University of Maryland at College Park alum, where she earned a B.S. in Broadcast Journalism.
Creative Consultant/Digital Media Strategist
A native of Washington D.C., Karen brings over 14 years of expertise in special events planning, project management, writing, and research to the Black Broadway on U team. Skilled in social media strategy and execution, her creative outlet has always been entertaining and the lively arts. She grew up learning the finer points of planning, producing and managing all sorts of affairs from small soirées to large fundraising galas. A proud Howard University alumna, she resides in the District, is an inveterate audiophile and history buff.
Vice President of Media Relations/Communications
Michelle Delino is a media strategist and communications specialist with a 25+ year career working in television and public relations in New York City and Washington, DC. A savvy publicist, producer, and talent/brand developer, Delino brings a high level of creativity and insight to multi-media projects. She works closely with clients to develop their brand identity from the inside out, assisting them in creating conscious content for TV, web, mobile and social media. Today, Delino combines her passion for PR and television programming, specializing in creating entertainment, lifestyle, health and wellness content which educates, enlightens and uplifts audiences worldwide.
Thank you for visiting Black Broadway on U! Don’t hesitate to contact us if you want to become a funder, supporter, content or community outreach partner; if you have any questions about the project or; if you would like for us to share your personal Black Broadway on U story. We look forward to hearing from you and will respond, shortly.