A Passion for Justice

by Ralph D. Fertig

XI. Life in Washington D.C.

Making a new home;
History of Black oppression in D. C.;
Jim Crow lingered after Brown Board of Education;
Running a Settlement House in Anacostia;
Training Residents to Become Organizers

I appeared in D.C. in August 1962, looking for permanent lodging. I loved the way its avenues wound about circles that branched off into streets, and trees arched overhead everywhere. Noel Naisbitt, my co-chair of the Farmers Field Committee in Kenwood, had directed me to her sister, Nan Robinson. She had heard of my proclivity for large houses and knew the perfect one. In the moonlight, she showed me the Shepherd Park mansion. It loomed as an eyesore with its peeling paint and neglected double lot. But it seemed structurally sound. We moved into 7714 13th St. NW, an abandoned, run-down thirteen-room house in an intentionally interracial neighborhood.

Shepherd Park organized as Neighbors, Inc., dedicated to interracial harmony. Our new house had once served as a summer home of Alexander Shepherd. In about 1871, President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Shepherd to be Governor of the District of Columbia, the nation's capital. The house had become an eyesore with hanging yards of wallpaper and neglect apparent in each of its large, thirteen rooms. However, it was structurally sound, with twelve-foot rafters and thick stucco over brick on top of lumber insulated walls. Here, again, was a fine commodious house in a “changing neighborhood” available for less than its true value. I found pictures of how it looked at the D.C. Historical Society and restored it to its Reconstruction era splendor. With a fine contractor who did the heavy work at a huge discount for the publicity, I refurbished the house and set about integrating the struggle for civil rights with social work.

Its guest quarters provided space for civil rights activists who visited the Capitol to lobby, picket, and meet with one another. Its cavernous living room welcomed meetings and fund raisers where we housed Carolina Sea Island singers and Guy Carawan brought the Freedom Singers. The Washington Post featured the house, its renovation, its history, and its future on the front page of its section on the Arts and Architecture. From the number of phone calls received, it was clear that we had scored a couple of points in the continuing struggle for integration.

XI. Life in Washington D.C., A Passion for Justice: One Man's Dedication to Civil Rights, by Ralph D. Fertig, Jun 11, 2018, Pages 107-108.

Sharlene Kranz remembered Ralph Fertig and his old house in Washington on May 2, 2019 in the Civil Rights Movement Archive. “This was 1963-64, and there weren't that many places in D.C. at that time for a ‘mixed’ group of young people to gather, safely, and have a good time. Ralph's house was a refuge for young people. Ralph and his wife were warm, hospitable and loving to us.” “…I took Bob Dylan to a party to Ralph's. Bob's first words upon entering Ralph's house were ‘what have you got to drink?’.”