Good Hope Is More Than a Street Name

570

Good Hope Road offers a passage through DC history, especially for communities east of the river. Its footprint overlaps the historic settlements of the indigenous Nacotchtank peoples. It intersects the life of Frederick Douglass, whose home was here. It was the escape route John Wilkes Booth took after assassinating President Lincoln. Like the name Anacostia, Good Hope Road tells the story of a place.

But its name will not survive Bill 24-1064, renaming Good Hope Road as Marion Barry Avenue, sponsored by 10 councilmembers.

Opposing this bill has nothing to do with opposing Marion Barry, a hero of our nation’s struggle for civil rights. It is a false choice. Marion Barry is a beloved figure. Many members of the community desire to honor his life and legacy, but this can be done without sacrificing Good Hope Road.

Good Hope Road has existed for a long time. It is difficult to pinpoint the age of its name, but Anacostia Heritage Trail marker #17 (at U Street and 14th Street SE) displays an 1878 map featuring Good Hope Road, so the name is at least 145 years old. Frederick Douglass ‒ the Lion of Anacostia ‒ knew this road by its current name. He walked on Good Hope Road for at least 15 years before his death in 1895. Such a historical link deserves our respect and protection.

Why are axes being sharpened to fell this ancient name? It began with good intentions. In 2015, the Commission to Commemorate and Recognize the Honorable Marion S. Barry Jr. made four recommendations, one of them “the renaming of a road or street.” Mayor Bowser declared her intent to implement this recommendation by renaming Good Hope Road.

This decision was an unforced error. It needlessly put the issue on a path to conflict, manifested by years of community discord, threats of political violence and finally with the bill’s sponsors simply ignoring DC Code requirements for proposed street name changes (see § 9–204.21).

There are better ways to honor Marion Barry.

Transform the dysfunctional, hostile intersection of Good Hope Road and Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue into a grand traffic circle ‒ Marion Barry Circle ‒ with a statue of the Mayor for Life at its center. This would be an inspiring welcome to East of the River DC.

Name the soon-to-be-world-famous 11th St. Bridge Park after Marion Barry. This would better reflect the commission’s intent to honor Barry’s legacy “with significant visibility” for both residents and tourists.

Designate Marion Barry Avenue as an honorific name to complement Good Hope Road.

Any of these moves would create a new memorial to Barry without destroying a memorial that exists. These are transformative ideas worthy of the man. It is unfortunate that Bill 24-1064 does not dream bigger.

But there is injury here too. This bill represents an enormous missed opportunity. The communities along Good Hope Road are buckling under the accumulated weight of drug trafficking and violence, abandoned buildings, predatory landlords, reckless driving, a methadone clinic operating in defiance of the community, unsafe pedestrian crossings and inequitable transportation infrastructure.

The DC Council should consider ways to uplift the Good Hope Road corridor. It is disappointing that so many councilmembers rushed to support this bill while failing to address deeper problems. Because, when the ribbon-cutting ceremonies end, the communities along Good Hope Road will realize the window of opportunity has closed. The DC Council will have moved on, the problems will remain, and all we will have gotten was new street signs. It’s a bad deal for Ward 8.

Good Hope Road deserves more than surface-level treatment ‒ it deserves respect, appreciation and resources. Good Hope Road is not an empty place, waiting to be discovered. It exists. It possesses a name. There are better, non-destructive ways to honor Marion Barry.

And DC Councilmembers, please focus your energies on substantive solutions for Good Hope Road. The Mayor for Life would be impressed by real results for Ward 8, not mere rhetoric.

Paul Davis wasn’t born in Ward 8, but he got here, gratefully, as soon as he could. He started a community initiative, Friends of Good Hope, to organize support for this wonderful corridor. He loves chatting over coffee. Drop him a line at paul.timothy.davis@gmail.com.