D.C.’s Black Churches are Losing their Congregations. Blame Gentrification.
From their earliest days, Black churches have been political by necessity, from the abolitionist movement to the civil rights movement. D.C.’s churches are no exception. But over the last two decades, congregations of Black churches in the District have begun to disappear. This video explores the role gentrification is playing on Black churches in the area.
In 2000, D.C.’s population was 59 percent Black. As of the 2020 Census, Latino and Asian representation had climbed to 11.3 percent and 4.8 percent, respectively. Black residents are now 41 percent of the city. In addition, the cost of living and property values have skyrocketed as gentrification has taken root in D.C. Other cities are seeing similar declines in their Black populations, but D.C.’s transformation has been the most dramatic. Today, the median household income for white residents is over three times higher than the median income of Black residents in the city. A POLITICO analysis found that the area including Logan Circle and Shaw has seen a combined loss of 7,280 Black residents in the last 20 years.
That’s a change that Rev. William H. Lamar IV, has witnessed firsthand as pastor of the historic Metropolitan AME Church located near the White House, the longest continually operating Black church in the city. Civil rights icons, such as Frederick Douglass in 1894, gave speeches in that sanctuary. When Rosa Parks died in 2005 at 92, Oprah Winfrey, the late Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and the late actress Cicely Tyson attended her memorial service.
Aside from leading a church, Lamar helps lead the Black Equity Through Homeownership program, where religious leaders are now organizing Black homeowners in D.C. to fight gentrification. Not everyone agrees on how to do that: Many pastors want policy changes. But policymakers like Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) see things differently.