Curricular Unit Information

Unit Title: History of U Street
Course: DC History 
Grade Level: 12
Unit Length: [10]
Length of Class Period: 55 

Personal Stake:

U Street is an area or neighborhood that is familiar to many Banneker students.  Some students use the U Street Metro stop on a daily basis.  Others have been to the restaurants in the U Street area, including Ben's Chili Bowl, while still others have worked and/or shopped along the commerical strip.  What is less well known to many Banneker students is the rich and diverse history of the U Street area.  This unit will explore the development of U Street since the city's founding and the long, varied connection to African Americans.  That history includes plantations, war and soldiering, the New Negro, rioting, and a commerical rebirth. 

Unit Topic: 

 By the end of the unit, which will be taught over the course of the semester, students should come to understand and appreciate the long, varied history of an area of the city many pass through on a regular basis.   

U Street starts off as a border area in the city (link with geography), then evolves into a site for contrabands and black troops participating in the Civil War.

African Americans come to the area in large numbers during the Civil War.  At this time the city's borders stop around the U Street area, so land is relatively available. Contrabands settle around the area as well, and the first Freedman's hospital opens.

U Street takes off as a center of black culture (the Black Broadway) during the Harlem Rennaisance. Many whites leave the area for new suburbs further out.

The Shaw area becomes largely an African American neighborhood through the 1960s, populated with many Howard University students and personnel.

After the 1968 riots many residents, black & white, leave the area, and, starting in the 1990s, gentrifacation slowly transdorms the neighborhood and its residents.

These are all big ideas I want my students to learn and discover, hopedully through working with maps, photos, etc. I want students to "uncover" this largely unknown history to them. They will so this through analysis and evaluation of primary & secondary sources. The DC History trestbook will also help with the contextualization of these trends.

In terms of skills and attitudes, I guess I'd like my students to know the history and development of the U Street area so well that they could lead cultural tours through the neighborhood, if called on to do so.

DCPS Content and Skills Standards:

12.DC.3. Students explain how and when Africans came to the Chesapeake and Potomac Region, why a significant number of them were free, the roles they played in the development of the agrarian economy (e.g., tobacco), and how slavery developed as an institution in the region.

12.DC.7. Students describe the effect the Civil War had on life in Washington, DC.

-- Explain how the city responded to the problems that accompanied the sudden surge of population (e.g., soldiers and escaping slaves).

12.DC.12.1Identify some of the African American writers of the Harlem Renaissance who were born or lived in Washington, DC.
12.DC.12.2Describe the New Negro Alliance and the tactics they used to fight discrimination and segregation.
12.DC.15Students describe efforts to overcome discrimination in employment, public accommodations, housing, and education in the District (examine the National Committee on Segregation), and explain the local and national effects of these efforts.
12.DC.22.1Explain the tension between gentrification and the interests of long-term residents.
Common Core Standards (connections):

Reading Standards for Literacy in history/Social Studies 6-12


1) Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.

3) Evaluate various explanations for actions or events and determine which explanation best accords with textual evidence, acknowledging where the text leaves matters uncertain.

6) Evaluate authors' differing points of view on the same histoical event or issue by assessing the authors' claims, reasoning, and evidence.

7) Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.

9) Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.

Methods of Inquiry: 

Students will work with a variety of sources, and perhaps some they find, to develop a cultural history of the U Street area.  Maps, photos, etc will be used to stimulate students' thinking, and questions.  Secondary sources will also be used to help set the context for historical periods and developments.  Students will use the information they gather to write essays and articles about the history of U Street, with a focus on the area as a cultural landscape for black history & pride in DC's historical development.  


I want students to come to appreciate the rich history of the U Street area for African American throughout the city's history and development.  This history is largely unknown by my students, and they tend to take things as they are as how they've been or were in the past.  While U Street is perhaps not the "Black Broadway" it once was, there is an economic and cultural re-birth in the area.  Where did this come from?  Why are there so many clubs and theatres in a formerly run-down neighborhood?  What is being discovered, and re-discovered, by Washingtonians in this neighborhood?  I want students to share in this history, and excitement, about the renaissance of the U Street neighborhood.

Essential Questions: 

The overarching EQ is: How does U Street explain or define African American history in DC?

Other EQs are include the following:

What does U Street mean to you?

Is U Street important to the history of DC?  Why or why not?

How did the U Street area evolve throughout DC's history?

Why does the area change during the Civil War?

Why is the neighborhood sometimes referred to as the "Black Broadway?"

What images or ideas come to mind when you think of U Street?

What is the cultural landscape of U Street?

What do you think will be the future of U Street in DC going forward?

How did the 1968 riots change the neighborhood? 

Assessment of Student Learning:
[For each category below, what indicators or evidence will demonstrate student learning; how do the assessments reflect the content, skills, and attitudes outlined above; how will you know what students do and don’t know at the beginning, middle, and end of the unit?]

Diagnostic Assessment:

A 15 question diagnostic assessment will be given to students at the beginningof the unit and at the end.  A copy is included below.

U Street Diagnostic Assessment

1. What was in the area of U Street before U Street was created?

2. U Street used to be known by a different name.What was that name?

3. Why is U Street a geographical dividing line in Washington?

4. What was on or near U Street during the time of the Civil War?

5. What was the 1920s nickname for U Street?

6. What was notable about the U Street area in the 1920s?

7. Which famous early 1900s African American entertainer was raised close to U Street?

8.Why was the 12th Street YMCA unique or unusual?

9. What happened on & around U Street in the late 1960s?

10. What happened to Ben’s Chili Bowl in the late 1960s?

11. Busboys & Poets refers to which African American poet?

12. The restaurant Marvin’s is named after who?

13. What African American history museum is located in the U Street area?

14. What was the Three Sisters Bridge?

15. The Shaw neighborhood is named after who?

Formative Assessment:

Formative assessments will be given throughout the unit to determine student understanding and retention.  Many written assessments will be given, such as a brief essay on the U Street area during and immediately after the Civil War.  Another example is a newspaper account that students will write based on the UPI photos from the 1968 riots.  Some multiple choice questions on the U Street content are included in unit tersts given in conjunction with the DC History textbook.  Other formative assessments will also be developed, once more sources are located for this unit. 

Summative Assessment:

My idea for now, subject to recision, is to have students prepare a brochure on the cultural history of the neighborhood, based on research, primary sources, a walking tour of the neighborhood, secondary sources, etc.  Students will work in pairs or small groups to produce their brochures in the school library or computer lab.  We will then have them judged by a representative from the Cultural Tourism offices. 


Students will engage in a variety of activities throughout the lesson.  Sometimes they will work on their own -- researching & giving the brief history of a historical figure or place.  Much of the time I envision students working together either in pairs or small groups, depending on the size of the class.  At other times students will share their findings & information with each other to complete a worksheet or summary of information available, such as the photo collections at the Thurgood Marshall Center.  Many writing exercises will be either solo affairs or working in groups to produce a larger, more complex assignment, such as the summative U Street cultural history brochure.  For the latter I will encourage students to divide the work up and/or suggest roles for each participant, such as researcher by era or period, photo editor, graphic designer, etc. 

Daily Instruction:

Provide a numbered list of lesson plan titles that correspond to the lesson plans that you create.
Lesson One: Origins of DC, U Street area -- map, Robert Peter deed, orchards, use of land, workers

Lesson Two: Contraband camps -- Pres Lincoln passes through, Elizabeth Keckley memoirs

Lesson Three: 1920s, Black Broadway -- thumbnail sketches of places, players, Ellington Reader & excerpt -- Life in Washington

Lessons Four & Five: Walking tour of U Street, visit Thurgood Marshall Center, CW memorial, student presentations enroute of places, players

Lesson Six: 1968 Riots, Three Sisters Bridge protest poster, Virginia Ali interview, UPI photos

Lesson Seven: U Street & Gentrification -- Post articles, Atlantic Monthly piece, roundtable discussion of pros & cons of gentrification

Lessons Eight & Nine:  School library or computer lab -- students develop their own cultural tourism brochures of U Street history (their final, summative assessment).  Students work in pairs or groups, depending on class size.

Lesson 10: Cultural Tourism evaluates & judges student brochures.

Community and Cultural Resources: 

Many of my primary sources are still to be located!  I expect to find some or many at the Historical Society of Washington.  Some I know they have, I just need to go in and copy them, such as the Three Sisters Bridges map.  Others I still need to hunt for and locate, copy, etc.  MLK's Washingtonia collection may be a source for information on military camps around the U Street area, as well as contraband info.  (The Lincoln Cottage may have info on this as well.)  The Thurgood Marshall Center may have info on the U Street area during the 1920s, as well as the Historical Society & MLK.

The UPI photos of the 1968 riots came from the Historical Society, as well as an article drom their journal Washington History.

Finally, I'll also search/use the resources of AU's library more -- just haven't had the time yet!