By James Wright, Special to the AFRO,

The Ward 7 Business Partnership, an organization of businesses, held a forum Aug. 11 at the Riverside Center in Northeast. The forum, “1968-2018: Small Businesses of Historic Deanwood-A Look Back,” was designed to remember the businesses that operated before and after the riots that occurred after the April 4, 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Alice Chandler, a lifelong Deanwood resident and a humanities scholar, said Deanwood was largely spared during the 1968 riots unlike 14th Street, N.W.; U Street, N.W.; and H Street, N.E.

Deanwood is a historic Black community in Far Northeast Washington. (Courtesy photo)

“None of our businesses were torn up,” Chandler told the AFRO, “because Deanwood at that time was a community and had small businesses that were self-contained.”

Deanwood has been a predominantly Black neighborhood since the late 19th century. Before the civil rights movement, Blacks found it easy to move to Deanwood because there were no racial covenants and there was a welcoming community that had schools, barbershops, grocery stores, theaters and entertainment spot.

However, since 2011, Deanwood has been spotlighted on the national radar as a neighborhood ripe for gentrification. Earlier this year, Redfin, a national real estate publication, named Deanwood as “one of the 10 hottest neighborhoods” in the country.

There was an extensive discussion about businesses such as Cobb’s Bakery that is now Nook’s Barber Shop that has been the scene of police-resident unrest recently and the Division Drug stores that served people in the neighborhood. It was noted that there are no book stores in Deanwood but once there was Battle’s Bookstore. “Battle’s Bookstore was a good place to go get your choir robes as well as Christian books,” Chandler said. Battle’s has been shuttered for years.

Many residents repaired their homes with materials from Jimmie’s Hardware and there was even a motel on Division Avenue near The Strand Theater. One of Deanwood’s most beloved entrepreneurs was Nathaniel Mathis, a barber who still practices and was active in 1968. “I enjoy cutting people’s hair and had a great business in Deanwood then,” he said. “Magic happened here in Deanwood and anyone who wanted to make it, could do so.”

While the event participants celebrated the past, they were clearly aware of the future of Deanwood. “This was a lovely place to live,” Roceal Duke said. “There are efforts to bring affordable housing to Deanwood, but my question is affordable for whom. Deanwood doesn’t have to look like Georgetown.”

Anthony Bolling is a successful real estate professional in the District and grew up in Deanwood. Bolling told the AFRO that Deanwood shouldn’t change its character as new people and developments come in. “I grew up in an insulated community and I liked that,” Bolling said. “We need to keep that small-town feel that Deanwood has. That’s what made the community so special.”