Last week was the 105th anniversary of the dedication of True Reformer’s Hall in Washington, D.C.
The building’s second-floor gymnasium was the site of many early games between African American basketball teams, including the Washington 12 Streeters led by Edwin B. Henderson.
True Reformer’s Hall was the first building in the post-Reconstruction period to be designed, financed, and built entirely by African Americans.
Significantly, the site was in the middle of the bustling black community known as the Shaw District. Within a year of its dedication, the building became the center of the region’s African American basketball scene, and remained so for more than a decade.
The structure is still standing today at the intersection of 12th and U in the N.W. section of D.C. It’s been nicely renovated and now houses the Public Welfare Foundation.
Across the street is Ben’s Chili Bowl, a favorite lunchtime stop for local business people and a favorite after dark hang out spot for nearby Howard University undergrads (it’s open ’til 4am). Just next door to Ben’s is the historic Lincoln Theater.
The United Order of the True Reformers, a black self-help organization, commissioned and owned the $46,000 five-story building as their headquarters.
The second floor contained a dance hall that doubled as a basketball court. The same space was used by musician and composer Duke Ellington to gave his first public performance.
This was the court on which the 12th Street Colored YMCA basketball team achieved national prominence among blacks, with undefeated seasons in 1909-10 and 1910-11.
“It can be said without any exaggeration,” the Washington Bee said upon the structure’s completion, “that it is the best office, store, hall, and lodgeroom building that the Negro owns in the United States.”
For the dedication ceremony, President Theodore Roosevelt wrote a letter, in which he declared:
No one can watch with more interest than I do the progress of the colored race; and with the colored man as with the white man, the first step must be to show his ability to take care of himself and those dependent on him.
Well OK! Make history now!
(Photos courtesy of the United States Library of Congress.)