The Alleyways

The McMillan Plan effectively evicted slum tenants, mostly poor blacks, from the downtown space. As African Americans felt pushed from visibility, they turned to resourcefulness and took to the alleyways and courts of the city for housing. They served as a contrast to the grandeur that city planners desired for the capital city. African Americans had emerged as a threat to the order of noble society after the demise of slavery and the influx of African Americans to the cities changed dynamics in a way that upset many (Borchert 2). It is clear that migrations of African Americans from the south had concerned the white citizens and the white response to that migration set the context in which the alley housing flourished. Even before formal declarations of planning like the McMillan Plan, these alleys had emerged to house those that mainstream society wanted to keep on the outskirts. A type of folk culture arose out of these back alleys, though outsiders would not see it as legitimate and would use beautification as a means to legislate them away.


"Youngsters in doorway of alley dwelling"

These “alley dwellings housed a substantial number of the city’s working-class black population” (Borchert 1). They were mini-ghettoes, unlike former slum arrangements, that were very close to the city’s grandest and most expensive homes by their nature as alley dwellings. That posed an even graver threat to the middle and upper classes because they were not out of sight. They were also unique to Washington, DC, because whereas other cities “focused on improving immigrant quarters, Washington critics pointed largely to the lot of poor black residents in the city’s black alleys” (Gillette 112). The citizens of Washington, DC would find their own ways to deal with these communities they saw as eyesores. 

"Alley Dwelling near Union Station, showing crowded, tiny backyards, Washington, DC"