DC Black Pride at Fort Dupont Park

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4 minutes, 27 seconds

Rayceen Pendarvis shares what it was like to experience the first DC Black Pride in Banneker Feild on Memorial Day Weekend in 1991. DC Black Pride moved to Fort Dupont Park in the mid 2000s and has been celebrated there ever since.

Posters from DC Black Pride and Memorial Day Picnics
Posters from DC Black Pride and Memorial Day Picnics

The Washington Blade

DC Black Pride was the first Black Pride celebration in the country. Originating in NW DC, Black Pride shifted to Fort Dupont Park in the mid-2000s. Over the past thirty years, the celebration has grown and evolved. It has created a safe place for Black queer folks to come together to be proud and celebrate as a community.

DC Black Pride was started by dedicated volunteers who wanted to raise money for members of their community suffering with HIV/AIDS and was the result of a lingering need for a safe space for the district’s Black LGBT community. Black Pride’s creation filled the void left in the city by the closing of The Clubhouse in 1990. The Clubhouse was a well-known space for the area’s Black LGBT community to be open and safe. One of the most popular events held there was known as “The Children’s Hour”. The Children’s Hour was a costume event held annually on the Saturday before Memorial Day. The event had a different theme every year and always featured festive decorations and entertainment. Black LGBTQ+ people from around the country would travel to Washington DC for the Children’s Hour. The Clubhouse eventually closed, creating a need for a new event on Memorial Day weekend.

DC Black Pride was started by Welmore Cook, Thedore Kirkland, and Ernest Hopkins. They were members of an organization called Best Friends, which was an group that supported Black queer people living with HIV/AIDS. Before the event, Cook said, “The planned celebration represents an attempt on the part of black gays to help themselves and not ask anyone for a handout.” They decided to host the event on Saturday, May 25th, 1991, on Banneker Field, in the heart of one of DCs predominantly black neighborhoods. Almost 800 people came to the first event, raising around $3,000 for organizations serving the Black LGBTQ+ communitie's fight against AIDS. Kirkland said, “It was obvious to us there were AIDS service organizations that needed funds. And there were specific needs that weren’t being addressed.” Sadly, Welmore Cook died due to AIDS related complications less than a year after the first Black Pride.

That same year, Robyn Holden hosted a celebration called Picnic in the Park in Rock Creek Park on Memorial Day. This was a day to host people in the park to celebrate the holiday and Black Pride. This celebration continued after Black Pride each year.

Many people have been involved in DC Black Pride since its inception. People like Donald Berch, Abdur-Rahim Briggs, Genise Chambers and Courtney Williams have volunteered and helped to make DC Black Pride a success. Courtney Williams says, “With Black Pride, you had the spiritual part, you had the educational part, and you had the cultural part. All of these different elements of our community – it’s the only event that I think brings them together.”

Activists and performers from through out the community came to help organize the first black pride and keep the legacy going. Rayceen Pendarvis was one of the first MCs at the first DC Black Pride. Rayceen’s activism extends from the 1963 March on Washington to decades of community advocacy. Rayceen has participated in DC Black Pride for decades, whether as MC, performer, community organizer, and story teller.

DC Black Pride continued through the years and became bigger with larger turnouts. Earl Fowlks took over management of the event in the late 90s. More Black Pride celebrations began popping up all over the country and the world. In 1999, Earl Fowlks was a founder of the Federation of Black Prides. This was a way for all Black Pride celebrations to stay connected.

After a few years of bad weather, the Sunday Black Pride Festival was moved to the Convention Center in 2001. Robyn Holden also moved Picnic in the Park to Kenilworth Park. The Black Pride celebration moved around, inside and outside, to different hotels and educational spaces. Picnic in the Park on Memorial Day was first hosted in Fort Dupont Park in 2005. This event was eventually taken over by the organization Us helping Us by 2011.

The Black Pride Festival continued to be held on Sundays for many years, until in the mid 2010s when Memorial Day became the official day for the festival and Fort Dupont its official location. Now people from all over the country flock to DC to celebrate Black Pride, with the grand culmination happening at Fort Dupont Park.

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Last updated: December 6, 2023