The Location: The Story Behind U Street's "Black Family Reunion" | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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The Location: The Story Behind U Street's "Black Family Reunion"

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G. Byron Peck’s classic mural, the Black Family Reunion, is expected to be obscured by new development within the next year.
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G. Byron Peck’s classic mural, the Black Family Reunion, is expected to be obscured by new development within the next year.

There's an iconic mural on the corner of 14th Street and Florida Avenue NW that's become a fixture of the U Street Corridor. But sometime this year, G. Byron Peck's 'Black Family Reunion,' which he painted in 1994, will be no more.

The mural shows a collage of photographs of a local African-American family, and is just one of Peck's masterpieces around town. But while many still remain, such as the Duke Ellington mural on the True Reformer building, many have disappeared, due to urban development. And that's what's about to happen with the Black Family Reunion. Douglas Development is planning to build a six-story apartment building in the lot next to the mural, thereby obscuring Peck's painting.

Kim Bender, of the blog, The Location, says when she asked Peck how he feels about so many of his murals being torn down or covered up, "he said you never get over the feeling of 'Oh, it's not there anymore,' but it's just the fact of urban development."

"He also pointed out something that I thought was really interesting," Bender says. "The reason why he's been able to do his murals on the sides of buildings is because the buildings next door, in lots of cases, were burnt out during the riots, and came down, so they were empty lots. And now you had brick walls that he could use and create his art."

But of course, she points out "it's those same empty lots now that the neighborhood is changing, and maybe more economic development is coming in, and developers want those same lots, and that will obscure his artwork."

With the Black Family Reunion, passers-by often wonder whether there's an actual Black Family Reunion event, and Bender says there is.

"It's celebrated 26 years," she says. "It's sponsored by the National Council of Negro Women. They describe it as celebrating the enduring strength and traditional values of the African American Family. And they gather down on the mall every year. It's a big celebration."

Something else people wonder about, says Bender, is the McDonald's logo in the corner of the mural. It turns out the National Black McDonald's Operators Association sponsored the mural, and while it selected the theme, Peck was free to decide how to bring that theme to life. But as Kim Bender says, it's only a matter of time before the Black Family Reunion's life will be over, as more new development comes to the U Street Corridor.


[Music: "Turn Your Face" by John Davis from Title Tracks / "Family Affair" by Various Artists from Drum Nation, Vol. 2]

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