‘Chocolate City’ explores history of race relations in the District

Arlington event features art exhibit on slave buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Photo courtesy of The University of North Carolina Press

“It not only tells the story of the District, but of the region and our whole country,” Annette Benbow, part of the Arlington Historical Society staff, says of Chocolate City: A History of Race and Democracy, a book about race relations and activism in D.C.

The book is the subject of the society’s monthly talk for February, a discussion set to take place Feb. 8 at 7 p.m. at the Reinsch Library auditorium at Marymount University (2807 N. Glebe Road, Arlington).

George Derek Musgrove / Photo courtesy of The University of North Carolina Press

Co-author George Derek Musgrove, associate professor of history at the University of Maryland, wrote Chocolate City with Washington History journal editor and Colby College history professor Chris Myers Asch. The book examines the wide swath of racially charged conflicts the District has faced, from slavery to the war on drugs to modern-day gentrification, exploring how Washington was transformed from a majority-black city, or “Chocolate City,” to one with a falling African-American population.

Benbow says she knew the story was important to share, one of several that the Arlington Historical Society and Marymount University’s Department of History and Politics are covering during their series of monthly public programs. “We discovered Chocolate City at a roundtable event, and we really wanted to cover it. It’s an amazing story and a book that I thought could speak to issues we see now, as well as the history of the area,” she says.

Visitors to the book talk can stop by the Lay of the Land art exhibit prior to the event, which will be open in the Reinsch Library. The show features pieces by African-American artists that visually share the story of former slave James Parks, the only slave buried in Arlington National Cemetery who was also born on the lot, and later worked there as a grave digger.

Copies of Chocolate City: A History of Race and Democracy will be available for purchase and author signature at the event.