GABIDDC honors black history month every year, and honors the people whose shoulders we ride on every day. We do more than parades, or speeches or having a party. We seek to honor black history. This year we were honored to tell the story of Elizabeth Proctor Thomas. GABIDDC was originally going to publish the whole story but we ran into a lot of interesting things during research on it and so we wound up with a draft of a book.
Her story is relevant to the debate about Sustainable development. This post is a little late consequently.
Fort Stevens and Elizabeth Proctor Thomas
“Elizabeth Proctor Thomas was born in Prince George’s County, Maryland in the early 1800s. As child, Thomas and her parents moved to Vinegar Hill, a small community of free blacks located in northwest Washington, D.C., approximately two miles south of the Maryland border. The family settled on a high point beside the Seventh Street Turnpike, a major road leading to downtown Washington.”
The Seventh Street Turnpike was eventually renamed Georgia Avenue and so we consider her an original resident of the Georgia Avenue Business Development District. She built her house on that high point, the place where Fort Stevens would be built.
“following the Union defeat at Manassas in July 1861, Congress voted in favor of constructing a ring of forts and other defensive works to encircle the city. Soon afterwards, miles of trees were cleared and building commenced. By the end of the war, 68 forts, 93 batteries, 20 miles of rifle pits, and 32 miles of military roads surrounded the capital and Washington became the most heavily fortified city in the world.”
One of those properties was her house! She was so patriotic that when the Union tore down her home to build the fort she took it stoically. Though after the war it took years of court battles to get compensated for building it!.
But here is what is important.
“she remained the owner of portions of the fort, and during the course of her life, she amassed a considerable amount of land in the vicinity. At the turn of the century, Thomas sold some of her Fort Stevens acreage to an influential Washingtonian who hoped to preserve the remaining earthworks and establish a park.”
She also fostered businesses and opportunity, both before and after the war, for all classes of people who wanted to move to her community, while also fostering the creation of the Walter Reed as well as the Fort Stevens development. People who settled on her properties got steady jobs, mostly with the Federal Government, and were able to achieve a middle class lifestyle. Sustainable development is about ensuring that no-one is left out by progress.
It Is Always a Struggle
It took Ms. Thomas 50 years of struggle to get compensated for the land she’d willingly sold to the Federal Government. But in the meantime she ran businesses and did well for herself anyway. She should be remembered as a patriot and activist and someone who sets an example of how to act both in the civic and the business arenas.
For more on her The national park service has a nice article on her:
- Eventually we at GABIDDC offer a booklet about her. Stay tuned.