Martin Puryear, sculptor, was featured in Time magazine’s July 9, 2001 issue in a series on “America’s Best” about prominent contemporary artists. Born in 1941, Puryear and his family lived primarily at Half & O Streets SW. He attended Syphax Elementary School in Southwest, eventually matriculating from The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC with a degree in art. After spending some time traveling abroad, during which he studied at the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts, Puryear returned to the states and continued his studies at Yale University, earning a Master of Fine Arts degree. He successfully pursued a lifelong career in art, with one of his first major solo museum shows at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in 1977. Puryear was featured in several shows at prominent museums, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art, both in New York, NY, and the Art Institute of Chicago in Illinois. The Time feature states that “… the intensity of Puryear’s work comes from doing everything himself, mainly in wood. …Through the action of the shaping hand on wood, he brings forth a poetry of material substance that’s unique in today’s America.”
Saunders was a resident of Southwest for much of his later life, and was the winner of several top awards in the annual Southwest photography contests. A photojournalist born in Bermuda, Saunders moved to the United States in 1947 to attend university and then begin his career. Saunders was a very successful freelance photographer based primarily in New York, NY and Pittsburgh, PA for several years, with his work appearing in Life, Look, Fortune, Ebony, The New York Times, and a number of other publications. In 1967 Saunders joined the United States Information Agency, becoming international editor for their newly established publication, Topic, which focused on Africa and African affairs. He worked in this position from an office in Tunis until 1972 when he moved to the District of Columbia, where we would spend the rest of his career and retirement until his passing.
Arthur Fletcher was born in Phoenix, AZ and raised in Kansas. In 1968, Fletcher, a successful and active Republican, ran for lieutenant governor of Washington State, and narrowly lost to the incumbent, John Cherberg. Fletcher’s close race for lt. governor and other efforts for the party gained the attention of then-President Richard Nixon, who appointed Fletcher soon after to be the Assistant Secretary of Labor. He would go on to serve in various positions under the Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and George H. W. Bush administrations. Fletcher became the executive director of the United Negro College Fund in 1972, during which time they initiated use of the famous slogan, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” In 1978, Fletcher ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Washington, DC, but was defeated by the popular Democrat Marion Barry. Fletcher is also considered to be the father of affirmative action because of his efforts with that initiative while serving as the chairman of the United States Commission on Civil Rights from 1990 to 1993. Fletcher also briefly ran for the presidency in 1996, in part because of reversals in affirmative action policy by Senator Bob Dole. Fletcher was also a United States Army veteran, having served in World War II and upon his death in 2005 was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Lewis Jefferson was an early 20th century entrepreneur who, among other business ventures, ran steamboat lines from the Southwest waterfront to nearby beaches and picnic grounds. He was one of the first and most successful African-American entrepreneurs in Washington, DC. He had significant land holdings in Southwest, several riverboats, and acquired a substantial stake in a Prince George’s County amusement park and resort originally known as Notley Hall. Jefferson made a number of improvements to the resort and renamed it Washington Park, attempting to establish a family-friendly destination for black Washingtonians near present-day National Harbor. His office was at one point listed as 1910 First St. SW, with his residence nearby along First St.
Mark Johnson of Southwest was a successful boxer and lifelong resident of Washington, DC. He graduated from Eastern High School before moving into his boxing career following his winning the National Golden Gloves Light Flyweight championship in 1988. Johnson would go on to win several titles, including the United States Amateur Light Flyweight championship and the inaugural Word Boxing Board Flyweight championship. In 1996 Johnson claimed the International Boxing Federation Flyweight title, and went on to defend it seven times before moving up to claim the Junior Bantamweight title, which he successfully defended twice. After hanging up his gloves, Johnson joined the DC Department of Parks and Recreation’s Roving Leaders program as a mentor to at-risk youth, and expressed interest in one day returning to the ring as a referee. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame at age 40 on June 10, 2012, making him both the youngest boxer and the first from Washington, DC to earn induction.
Joseph Owen Curtis
Joseph Owen Curtis, a lifelong DC resident, was born in 1915 in old Southwest DC and lived in the area until passing in 2005. He served in the Army in World War II, where he served as first lieutenant special services officer with the Army Corps of Engineers in France, the European Theatre, and Greenland. He ultimately earned the rank of major while working at the Naval Research Laboratory, prior to retiring from the service. Curtis was an avid reader, historian, and photographer. His remarkable photos capturing life in old Southwest provide an irreplaceable window into the neighborhood’s past. Much of the Joseph Owen Curtis photographic collection, circa 1910 to 1989, has been donated to the District of Columbia Public Library, with many available at the Southwest Library. The entire collection is housed in the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library’s Washingtoniana Collection, and much of it has been digitized and made accessible online at http://digdc.dclibrary.org. Curtis was also actively involved in many social, charitable and educational organizations throughout the DC metropolitan area. Notably, he was active with the Southwest Civic Association, serving as chairman of their Redevelopment Committee beginning in 1949.
Charlotte Brooks (Author/Educator [primarily sourced from The Southwester, July 1992, p. 12])
Charlotte Brooks, a DC native, was raised in Northwest, close to Howard University. She lived in every quadrant of the city before settling in Southwest. She had a special fondness for Southwest because of its convenience and proximity to so many different attractions. Brooks began her career as a teacher in the DC Public School system, progressing to supervisor at the old Randall Junior High School before eventually joining the faculty at American University in the Continuing [Adult] Education Department, teaching English composition and literature. While at American University, Brooks served for six years as director of the Community Studies Department. Brooks has also written extensively on many topics. She worked primarily with the National Council of Teachers of English, and traveled extensively lecturing and working with educators. Among her writings can be counted Tapping Potential—English and Language Arts, Tapping Potential—English and Language Arts for the Black Learner, and A Brooks Chronicle, in which she traced back seven generations of the Brooks family. This work is noteworthy for providing an important view of history from people who were enslaved. Brooks devoted a great deal of her time to the Southwest Community at-large, and was active in the Southwest Neighborhood Assembly (SWNA) and the Youth Activities Task Force, which helps find jobs and provide training to young people.
Yvonne Price (Civil Rights Activist, Clerk Of Records)
A lifelong DC resident, Yvonne Price was an early proponent for home rule in the District and was active nationally and locally with the civil rights movement; holding leadership positions in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the National Urban League, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), and the National Women’s Committee for Civil Rights. In the 1970s, she was executive director of the LCCR and served as legislative assistant for the NAACP. She was a strong organizer who worked to educate the public and lobby for major changes in the country’s laws, especially those related to the rights of minorities and women. During her later career Price also served on the DC Apprenticeship Council, which established standards and maintained affirmative action policies for apprentice programs, and worked with the DC Council, the DC Health Department, and several local organizations, including SWNA.
Dr. Louise E. Taylor
Dr. Louise Taylor received her Doctorate of Philosophy in Public and International Affairs from the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania. In 1976, Taylor began working for the Department of Housing and Urban Development in Washington, DC. She later joined the staff of the Joint Center for Political Studies where she served as research director. Taylor additionally worked as an adjunct professor at George Washington University. She also served for a period as director of the Delta Research and Educational Foundation for Delta Sigma Theta sorority. Taylor was especially interested in education, social justice, and health disparities, and was dedicated to her community and social concerns throughout her life. She was also known for her work with students at Jefferson Junior High through programs aimed at increasing the students’ civic awareness and political participation, and active engagement with the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Southwest.
By: Ryan Pierce
SWNA History Task Force