Langston Terrace is the nation’s first public housing program built in Washington, D.C. Opened in 1937, Langston Terrace housed Black low-income, working class families; it was one of 51 racially segregated projects built by the Public Works Administration as part of the New Deal. The architect, Hilyard Robinson, combined his experience as a native Washingtonian, his concern for housing solutions for low-income families, and his commitment to his race in this project. In so doing, Robinson followed in the tradition of the project’s namesake, John Mercer Langston who served as the first Black American to serve in the United States Congress. John Mercer Langston represented Virginia in the House of Representatives. Hilyard Robinson, like Langston before him, advocated for social reform for Washington’s poor residents.
Nestled on a naturally terraced site overlooking the Anacostia River, Langston Terrace stands at the corner of Benning Road and 21 Street, in Northeast. The initial complex housed 274 units; in 1965, 34 units were added just North of the original site. In 1987, the National Park Service recognized Langston Terrace’s architectural and social significance by placing it on the National Register of Historic Places. This past summer, D.C. Preservation League placed Langston on its list of Most Endangered Places 2001 because of the neglect these historic structures have endured.
In collaboration with Kelly Quinn from UMD’s Department of American Studies, MITH staff assisted with the creation of a website, Learning from Langston Terrace, which sought to commemorate the history of the community by compiling and offering primary sources for visitors. The materials on the site were meant to augment user’s experiences and memories of Langston and the scholarly literature.