BARRY FARM: INTERESTING FACTS
Barry Farm in Southeast originally was Barry Farms, a Reconstruction-Era neighborhood by the Anacostia River.
Barry Farms began in 1867 after the U.S. Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands — or the Freedmen’s Bureau — bought the 375-acre farm of white landowners David and Julia Barry for $52,000. The government then sold one-acre lots to free blacks, former slaves and squatters — many of whom made a simple request when asked by bureau commissioner Gen. Oliver O. Howard what they needed to become self-sufficient. “Land,” they said. “Give us land.” The new landowners built homes and tended their farms.
While parts of the neighborhood today include single-family homes, the public housing development Barry Farm Dwellings has redefined the area. The government began turning the former homestead into a 432-unit development in 1943 for the poor and the working poor. Mostly occupied by blacks, the dwellings are set for another reconstruction.
Early Barry Farms residents included Solomon G. Brown, a free man born to slave parents in 1829.
A Republican and a Christian, Brown was a three-term member of the D.C.
House of Delegates (pre-city council), a trustee at Wilberforce University and the first black employee at the Smithsonian Institution, where, among other things, he helped Samuel Morse build the installation for the first telegraph.
Go-go music, the Grammy-winning percussion-driven sound, has roots in Barry Farms. While the late guitarist-songwriter Chuck Brown is the undisputed godfather of go-go, the youths of the Barry Farm community busted loose in 1980. Unable to buy new instruments, the talented 8- to 13-year-olds created their stylized go-go sound with pots and pans, buckets and hubcaps.
Like elsewhere in the country, the nation’s capital was rocked by violence and destruction following the April 4, 1968, assassination of Martin Luther King. And like civic leaders elsewhere, D.C. officials decided to name or rename a street in the civil rights leader’s honor. They chose the poorest political area of the city, Ward 8, and the street in Southeast that housed the federal Government Hospital for the Insane (now St. Elizabeths Hospital).