Citizens Kick Off Black History Month at Holy Trinity

“Let us remember their names. Let us remember their lives,” said Bernard Cook from the pulpit of Holy Trinity Church on 36th Street in Georgetown on the first day of Black History Month.

In celebration of Black History, the Citizens Association of Georgetown presented stories of the African American history along the C&O Canal, the development of Holy Trinity Catholic Church as well Epiphany Catholic Church. Along with CAG President Tara Parker, Neville Waters, president of the Mt. Zion Female Union Band Historic Memorial Park, Inc., greeted the audience and introduced the speakers.

The oldest Catholic parish in Washington, D.C., Holy Trinity has posted its historical research in the form of articles, vignettes, brief biographies of early parishioners and clergy, and events and episodes in their lives for several years now. The church invites parishioners and others to learn more about the role of slavery, segregation and race in Holy Trinity’s history. “We hope that, in throwing more light on our parish’s past, our work will open doors to reflecting on that past and on its implications for our present and inspire our daily interactions with others,” the parish notes.

Cook, along with Peter Albert and Paul Maco who are part of the church’s history group, told the tale of Holy Trinity’s Black parishioners as well as those who left the west side of Georgetown 100 years ago to found their own church on the east side — Epiphany Roman Catholic Church on Dumbarton Street. It is a sort of exodus story not without its share of pain.

Albert spoke of faithful Black Catholics, Lucy and Liddy Butler, whose family lived on 36th Street for decades. One of Holy Trinity’s most famous Black parishioners was educator Anne Marie Becraft – most certainly, “a pathmaker” — who founded a school for girls on Dumbarton Street. She later left to become a nun. Her grandmother was a free Black, who worked for Charles Carroll, the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence and wealthiest man in America. Due to a chronic respiratory condition, Becraft died at the age of 28 in 1833.

Maco recounted that Holy Trinity parish was 40 percent Black in the 1830s — and later had 139 pews for Whites, 42 in the balcony for Blacks. He pointed to where a balcony — crammed with Black worshippers — once stood on the side of the north wall as well as the present back balcony of the church and thanked those lost families. Such shabby treatment led to the split that gave birth to Epiphany.

S. Rex Carnegie of Georgetown Heritage, champion of the C&O Canal, conjured images of life along the canal for certain years: 1939 with those working for the Civilian Conservation Corps; 1878 with women captains and as well as Black captains helming the canal boats; 1837 while traversing the towpath in an escape from slavery and 1828 with Irish and German immigrants digging the waterway, along with help from freed and enslaved African-Americans. Educator, actor and social media personality, Carnegie wanted to tell the unexpected stories of the past to enlarge the diversity of history. He added that boat tours begin in April.

A musical performance brought the feeling home in the open air of the historic church. With Ronald Walton at the piano, soloist Cheri Jackson from the Voices of Zion sang out, “How many more, before you get it?”

The program, sponsored by the Georgetown Business Improvement District, brought about 100 in attendance at the church and almost the same number in live-steam viewers.


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