Ode to the Chocolate City: A Memoir of Change in Washington, DC

In recent years, Washington DC has served as a classic case study for what some are calling the back-to-the-city movement, or what Alan Ehrenhalt called “The Great Inversion.” Demographic trends show the city’s unprecedented popularity among young, largely white, middle-class millennials who are moving in various neighborhoods throughout the city and changing their look, feel, and function. Historically, however, Washington, DC is the city that coined the term the “Chocolate City.” Throughout most of the 20th century, it stood out as one of the only cities in the U.S. which not only had an African-American majority, but a thriving black middle- and even upper-class, who held long-standing political power in the city, as seen through its succession of black mayors that presided over the city since it was granted home rule in 1973. This research seeks to provide an in-depth look at what the loss of the “Chocolate City” means to long-term African American and other residents of the District. How do they view the changing demographics of the city and what do they believe they stand to benefit or lose from its transformation? The research will engage in-depth interviews with long-term residents, including many prominent political and social leaders. This work portends to not only tell the story of the demographic transformation of city, but also provide a sensitive portrayal of its impacts and give voice to long-term African American residents’ memories and attachments to the city, its legacy, and the complexity of their feelings and experiences in the face of rapid change.

I am preparing to launch a website to encourage current and former District residents to post their thoughts, memories, and perspectives about the changing demographics of the city and what it means to them. This is meant to encourage community dialogue and debate about the changing city, and serve as a repository for stories and memories of the “Chocolate City” and perspectives on its changes.