Eva Calloway was a proud Georgetown resident: born in the neighborhood in 1899, she grew up on Prospect Avenue near the grounds of the university and lived there for much of her life. Throughout her childhood, Calloway heard the ringing of the bells from the Healy Hall clock tower and organized her life around those tolls.
Yet, for over 80 years, Calloway never crossed the front gates at 37th and O; she never found herself on the Hilltop; and she never imagined that she would be welcome.
Her first steps on campus came in the 1980s, when she — as part of the Older Georgetown Fellowship Group — was invited onto campus and was served by students at a Christmas party. As she stood outside Healy Hall, she took a moment to gaze up at its immense facade.
“Georgetown University, during my childhood days was a great inspiration, [but] I never realized that I would ever get an opportunity to enter that college,” Calloway — who died in 2003 at the age of 104 — said in an interview before her death. “As I stepped outside the college and viewed the clock, I never thought I would have a chance to stand under that clock.”
Calloway’s story is one of hundreds compiled in the landmark 1991 book “Black Georgetown Remembered,” which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year with a special edition released by the Georgetown University Press. An exhaustively researched and illuminating work, “Black Georgetown Remembered,” authored by Kathleen Lesko, Valerie Babb and Carroll Gibbs, and edited by Lesko, tells the frequently overlooked story of the black experience in Georgetown — from the town’s origins in 1751 to the post-emancipation days to the 1940s gentrification that substantively altered the racial makeup of the neighborhood.
In no way can this article do justice to the hours of research poured in by Lesko, Babb and Gibbs to create this book, nor can it capture all the complexity of cultural heritage and economic disenfranchisement latent in the Georgetown neighborhood.
Our presentation choice, then, is through pictures. We display pictures of buildings and community spaces that appear ordinary now but held such significance as cornerstones of the black experience in Georgetown. Then, on your next stroll through the neighborhood, perhaps on the way to a bite at Dupont Circle, maybe you will pause at the tennis courts at Rose Park and marvel that the Peters sisters began their legendary careers there. Or you might pass by Mount Zion United Methodist Church and recognize the significance of its 200th anniversary this year.
And perhaps, through these images, you will have a chance to glimpse the assured confidence that — according to history professor Maurice Jackson, who wrote the foreword for the 25th anniversary — characterizes black Georgetown.
“When you saw the people at the [Feb. 24 Gaston Hall] program, you just saw such pride in the neighborhood,” Jackson said.
Georgetown University has been an institutional pillar of the neighborhood since 1789, and as Eva Calloway’s story demonstrated, no history of black Georgetown would be complete without an examination of the university — and its relationship with the surrounding community and the workers that sustain its operations.
“Black Georgetown Remembered,” with stories of forced evictions of university workers in the 1950s, serves as a marker of the university’s complicated history; but in the year of Freedom and Remembrance Halls, when these complex relationships rise to the forefront again in the form of the upcoming Campus Plan negotiations and Georgetown Solidarity Committee’s recent petition on worker’s rights, the book offers an even more salient reminder: this time, of the importance of remembering.
“Remember the beauty of what once was, but also the beauty of what we went through, using that to understand our history and culture,” Jackson said. “Remember the institutions. Remember the bad times, along with the good.”