Greenbelt, Maryland is a planned community built in 1937 as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. One of three Green Towns built during the Great Depression, the project put struggling Americans to work, provided much needed low-income housing in the Washington, D.C. region and was a bold experiment in town planning and cooperative living. Its first residents enjoyed modern homes, schools, a pool, a library and a town center complete with cooperative businesses and a movie theater all within walking distance of the homes in a utopian park-like setting.
Those first residents of Greenbelt, however, were exclusively white. Although Greenbelt was integrated in terms of religion, which was unusual for a New Deal Community, it was racially segregated. African American workers such as the ones pictured here importantly helped to build the town, but they were not able to apply for residency here as Greenbelt, Prince Georges County, and the state of Maryland were all racially segregated at the time. Early town plans called for an area to be set aside and called the Rossville Rural Development which was purportedly to be used by African American families, (see The New Deal in the Suburbs: A History of the Greenbelt Town Program 1935-1954, by Joseph Arnold) but the plans were dropped early on as they were too controversial.
The federal government did build two other New Deal era communities in the Mid-Atlantic region for African Americans, Langston Terrace in Washington, D. C. and Aberdeen Gardens outside of Newport News, Virginia.
Greenbelt turns 75 this year and in preparation for an upcoming timeline exhibition, the Greenbelt Museum is actively researching both the African American workers who helped to build Greenbelt and the first families of color who moved into Greenbelt, probably in the late 1960s. If you or anyone you know has any information, recollections, or photographs of African Americans in Greenbelt from the late 1930s on, please contact us at email@example.com. For more information about 75th Anniversary events, including an anniversary symposium which will explore diversity in one of its sessions, please visit the City of Greenbelt’s website. Or download the Symposium registration form here.