‘Black Broadway’: Segregation and U Street headlined DC theater’s chat with experts

A local theatre company brought local experts together to discuss the history of U Street and how it has changed through the years. 

A D.C. theater company brought local experts together to discuss the history of U Street and how it has changed through the years.

Known as “Black Broadway,” Mosaic Theater Company took an in-depth look at U Street in D.C. during a virtual panel with experts on Friday.

Derek Hyra, associate professor in the school of public affairs at American university and the founding director of the Metropolitan Policy Center at American University, said when he started his doctorate on the topic of Black cultural history, he quickly realized that a lot of what he was looking for happened in D.C.

“If I wanted to understand some of the most historic Black communities in the country, I need to understand U Street,” Hyra said.

Shellée Haynesworth, executive producer and creator of the Black Broadway on U Project, said D.C. is vital to understanding the history of Black music and performance.

“It was definitely the hub of the Black mecca of arts and culture,” Haynesworth said.

Abdur-Rahim Muhammad, founder of Hung Tao Choy Mei Leadership Institute, discussed how his grandmother would host the performers at her house around the corner.

“Because of segregation, when performers finished performing at the Howard or the Lincoln, or at other venues around the city, sometimes restaurants would be closed up,” Muhammad said.

“It was only a block and a half away from the Howard Theatre, and many of the performers after performing at the Howard would go to my grandmother’s house, and my grandmother would have meals prepared for them,” he said.

He said those who attended the meals frequently included Marva Lewis, Joe Lewis’s wife, and Jean Parks, performer and former girlfriend of Malcolm X.

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