By William Reed
Every since Washington was carved from two slaveholding states in 1791, it has been a special place for Blacks. Nowadays, most Black Americans know the nation’s capital by the moniker “Chocolate City.” By the 1960s “Chocolate City” was the center for “Black Power” in America. The “most important city in the world.” D.C. was a symbol of pride and power for African Americans advancing in lifestyles and “power positions.” The country should be on the alert that now that Washington is no longer considered a “Chocolate City” and other cities are likely to follow suit.
Back in the day, African Americans in Washington were experiencing unprecedented political, social and economic status. In the 1970s, D.C.’s Blacks made their move from the streets to the suites. Black professionals moved up private sector and government career ladders and became the policy and decision-makers on rules and regulations that benefited Black people and institutions.
Marion Shepilov Barry Jr. exemplified a machine boss who dominated politics for more than a decade, serving as the second elected mayor of the District of Columbia from 1979 to 1991, and again as the fourth mayor from 1995 to 1999. Barry is remembered fondly as a champion of the young, the aged and the poor, having plowed hundreds of millions of tax dollars into summer jobs programs, senior centers and an array of social welfare programs that ranked among the most generous in the nation. He also used the city’s bureaucracy as a vast employment program that fostered the growth of a Black middle class that have the highest paid municipal jobs in America.
All of that is long gone. The people that Barry made middle class have taken their salaries and taxes and moved out of D.C. to make Prince George’s County, “America’s wealthiest majority-Black county.” As the Blacks of means leave D.C., more Whites, Asians and Hispanics are moving in. The District of Columbia’s Black population is less than 50 percent. The city that once had a 70 percent Black population has dropped down to just 301,000 Blacks of the city’s 601,700 residents. The “Black Power Elite” that came to be in the ’60s and ’70s are eroding in power and prestige. The “Black Power” way of life is at an end in D.C
Back in our days of dominance, Calvin Rolark got his calls to City Hall returned promptly. Dr. Rolark was an influential community leader as publisher of The Washington Informer newspaper and head of United Black Fund. Today, Rolark’s daughter, Denise gets scant attention and few “call backs” from current D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray.
The awarding of D.C. government advertising contracts is a case that should be a cause célèbre for majority-Black populations and governments across America. [Public Notices] are advertisements that generate billions annually in America. Public notices placed in newspapers include contract opportunities, foreclosures, unclaimed property, community information and more. The issue and controversy in D.C. is about a $30,000 contract to advertise unclaimed property in the city.
Washington Informer Publisher Denise Rolark Barnes claims that her paper was denied a chance at the contract by the Office of the Chief Financial Officer because her paper’s coverage centers on Washington’s Black residents. Barnes has filed a protest over the awarding of the contract. The conflict, a test-case in reverse-discrimination, hinges on whether The Washington Informer counts as a “newspaper of general circulation.” In her complaint, Barnes quotes a city contracting official saying that The Washington Informer‘s editorial focus toward Black Washingtonians means it isn’t a “newspaper of general circulation.”
(In the interest of full disclosure, I have assisted in getting publicity for this cause).
Are Blacks headed toward being invisible in America again? In recent generations “Black Power” is on the decline in D.C. and across America. D.C. illustrates that government sector contracting is fundamental to the successes of minority-owned businesses such as The Washington Informer. As Blacks in every locale should, Blacks in D.C. are concerned that the 47-year-old Informer publication has been deemed “irrelevant” by the decision-makers who currently occupy the top realms of D.C. government.
William Reed is head of the Business Exchange Network and available for speaking/seminar projects through the Bailey Group.org.