National Geographic : 1983 Jan
(Continuedfrompage 92) will clear out some pornography shops in that part of town as rents rise. But as Mayor Barry told me, continuing tension exists among those who want more housing for ordinary people, rather than more expensive hotels, and among develop ers who sometimes think they have the game plan all straight, only to have new pressures put on them or to have the ground rules changed, and among the city government officials who control the valuable land and who want development to provide a sound tax base as well as the kind of charm that will draw tens of thousands of visitors, plus inex pensive housing that sounds more and more like pie in the sky. Until World War II, really, Washington was thought of as-and was-a sleepy southern city, the pace slow and the general tone genteel. In every war, however, the city has had a spurt of growth, and in the 1940s this expected increase combined with two other phenomena to shape the city as it is to day. First, it was the heyday of the suburb: There was a general rush throughout the na tion-aided by Veterans Administration in expensive mortgages-to move beyond the crowded and expensive city to a more spa cious and relatively cheaper castle, with room for kids to play, room for a garden, and maybe a couple of dogs. By the fifties there was a flood of black migration from the South. Such factors as the perfection of cotton-picking machinery made tens of thousands of farm workers superfluous. It was also a time of rising expectations. Thousands of blacks had ex perienced high-paying defense jobs or had felt a new freedom in the Army. Washing ton, as capital, led the country in nondis criminatory pay scales for government jobs. The result has been that the city now is 70 percent black. A substantial black middle class has developed, and many blacks hold good positions and have high incomes. The local government is largely staffed with blacks. In business, the professions, and the arts, blacks have played a part undreamed of even a generation ago. Todd Duncan, whom George Gershwin chose to create the role of Porgy in Porgy and Bess in 1935, told me he sometimes can't be lieve the change in the city in recent decades. "I've been here 51 years," he said, "and I've seen it all grow. Years ago I was first president of the Washington Performing Arts Society, and we had a budget of a few thousand; now it's almost three million. "When I came, I loved opera, concerts, and the theater, as I still do, but in those days we couldn't see them. As far as that goes, Negroes couldn't take their children down town and buy a hot dog. We couldn't try on Chinatown, D. C., though small compared to San Francisco'sand New York's, proudly proclaims its identity on telephone booths, street signs, and in a number of popular restaurants.After 20 years of decline, as young Chinese moved to the suburbs, the community has begun to turn around, thanks to the proximity of Washington's new 98-million-dollar ConventionCenter-a vitalizingforce for a long-decaying downtown area. clothes in stores, and as for hotels and res taurants, there was no such thing. This was common to the South, of course. "But let me say a word about music. When I first came here to teach music at Howard University, my students were al most all Negro. Now they come from China and India, England, Germany, Spain, Czechoslovakia, Vietnam, a regular United Nations of music students. "Every day there is music in public places. The Folger Shakespeare Library, Library of Congress, churches, as well as regular concert halls. I cannot speak glow ingly enough of the quality of music here. "For young people studying the arts, Washington is a wonderful place. I tell them now there is no need to go abroad, no need to go to New York. Even in the specialized and costly field of opera, there are companies not Washington, D. C.