The best books about how DC became the most gentrified city in the country

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a White person who grew up in a primarily Black DC neighborhood in the 1980s. Growing up in a Black community in DC at a time when the city was experiencing a cascade of crises – from the spread of crack to an AIDS epidemic to a failing school system – has fundamentally shaped my life and my view of the world. When I returned in the early twenty-first century to my city to find it had significantly changed and that many of my Black neighbors had been pushed out, I was compelled to learn more about DC before gentrification and to understand the path the city I love had taken.


I wrote...

Before Gentrification: The Creation of DC's Racial Wealth Gap

By Tanya Maria Golash-Boza,

Book cover of Before Gentrification: The Creation of DC's Racial Wealth Gap

What is my book about?

This book shows how a century of redlining, disinvestment, and the War on Drugs wreaked devastation on Black people and paved the way for gentrification in Washington, DC. In Before Gentrification, Tanya Maria Golash-Boza tracks the cycles of state abandonment and punishment that have shaped the city, revealing how policies and policing work to displace and decimate the Black middle class.

Through the stories of those who have lost their homes and livelihoods, Golash-Boza explores how DC came to be the nation's "murder capital" and incarceration capital, and why it is now a haven for wealthy White people. This troubling history makes clear that the choice to use prisons and policing to solve problems faced by Black communities in the twentieth century is what made gentrification possible in the twenty-first.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Black in Place: The Spatial Aesthetics of Race in a Post-Chocolate City

Tanya Maria Golash-Boza Why did I love this book?

Read this book if you want to understand the nuances of blackness in the nation’s capital.

Brandi Thompson Summers argues in her book, Black in Place, that gentrification along the H Street Corridor in DC has involved the embracing of blackness as an aesthetic alongside the displacement of actual Black people. Summers explains how blackness came to be valued as a prized aesthetic at the same time that Black people experienced the heavy policing, predatory lending, and displacement that both make possible and accompany the gentrification of Black neighborhoods.

By Brandi Thompson Summers,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Black in Place as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

While Washington, D.C., is still often referred to as "Chocolate City," it has undergone significant demographic, political, and economic change in the last decade. In D.C., no place represents this shift better than the H Street corridor. In this book, Brandi Thompson Summers documents D.C.'s shift to a "post-chocolate" cosmopolitan metropolis by charting H Street's economic and racial developments. In doing so, she offers a theoretical framework for understanding how blackness is aestheticized and deployed to organize landscapes and raise capital. Summers focuses on the continuing significance of blackness in a place like the nation's capital, how blackness contributes to…


Book cover of Race, Class, and Politics in the Cappuccino City

Tanya Maria Golash-Boza Why did I love this book?

This is a great book if you want to understand how some expressions of blackness can be valued while Black people are being displaced.

Derek Hyra describes gentrification and racial change in the Shaw neighborhood of Washington, DC which went from 90 percent Black in 1970 to 30 percent Black by 2010. Shaw’s status as the cultural epicenter of the Black community in the early twentieth century has become a selling point: many of the new establishments highlight this Black history, with odes to Marvin Gaye, Langston Hughes, and Duke Ellington in their names and featured artwork.

Hyra argues many of the White newcomers to Shaw embrace its Black history while ignoring the needs and preferences of contemporary Black residents. Thus, Black residents are experiencing both political and cultural displacement as they have lost political and economic power in the neighborhood.

By Derek S. Hyra,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Race, Class, and Politics in the Cappuccino City as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For long-time residents of Washington, D.C.'s Shaw/U Street, the neighborhood has become almost unrecognizable in recent years. Where the city's most infamous open-air drug market once stood, a farmers' market now sells grass-fed beef and homemade duck egg ravioli. On the corner where AM.PM carryout used to dish out soul food, a new establishment markets its $28 foie gras burger. Shaw is experiencing a dramatic transformation, from "ghetto" to "gilded ghetto," where white newcomers are rehabbing homes, developing dog parks, and paving the way for a third wave coffee shop on nearly every block.Race, Class, and Politics in the Cappuccino…


Book cover of African Americans and Gentrification in Washington, D.C.: Race, Class and Social Justice in the Nation's Capital

Tanya Maria Golash-Boza Why did I love this book?

This book offers insight into how Black DC residents think about their changing city.

For many Black long-term residents, DC has long been a “Chocolate city,” a city where Black people held both the demographic and political majority, and where Black people created their own spaces of belonging, pride, and self-reliance.

This book draws from oral histories and ethnographic data with long-term African-American residents of DC to explain both how gentrification has enhanced the vulnerability of low-income residents and how Black residents of DC are reclaiming spaces in their city.

By Sabiyha Prince,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked African Americans and Gentrification in Washington, D.C. as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book uses qualitative data to explore the experiences and ideas of African Americans confronting and constructing gentrification in Washington, D.C. It contextualizes Black Washingtonians' perspectives on belonging and attachment during a marked period of urban restructuring and demographic change in the Nation's Capital and sheds light on the process of social hierarchies and standpoints unfolding over time. African Americans and Gentrification in Washington, D.C. emerges as a portrait of a heterogeneous African American population wherein members define their identity and culture as a people informed by the impact of injustice on the urban landscape. It presents oral history and…


Book cover of Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America

Tanya Maria Golash-Boza Why did I love this book?

To understand how a majority-Black city became the epicenter for the War on Drugs, destroying Black communities in the process, read this book. Although Washington, DC has long had Black leadership, it remained subject to the whims of majority-White federal authorities and thus to a governing body that has long been anti-Black.

James Forman, Jr. explains in his book, Locking Up Our Own, that the city’s Black leadership fully supported the coercive anti-crime policies implemented beginning in the 1980s. And, while some members of the Black community requested improved schools, drug rehabilitation clinics, and better city services, the federal government responded to these pleas by funding more policing and prisons.

Despite Black leadership, Black police officers, Black judges, and Black teachers, the city remains embedded in a broader context of White supremacy and anti-Blackness that have stymied efforts to support Black people in meaningful ways.

By James Forman Jr.,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Locking Up Our Own as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction

Longlisted for the National Book Award

One of the New York Times Book Review's 10 Best Books of 2017

Former public defender James Forman, Jr. is a leading critic of mass incarceration and its disproportionate impact on people of colour. In LOCKING UP OWN OWN, he seeks to understand the war on crime that began in the 1970s and why it was supported by many African American leaders in the nation's urban centres.

Forman shows us that the first substantial cohort of black mayors, judges and police chiefs took office amid…


Book cover of Chocolate City: A History of Race and Democracy in the Nation's Capital

Tanya Maria Golash-Boza Why did I love this book?

Chocolate City covers the last few centuries of history in DC.

This tome provides an in-depth overview of the history of race in Washington, DC from its founding to the present. It traces the history of race and democracy in the nation’s capital – from its days as a trading post for enslaved persons to its emergence as a booming metropolis.

By putting racial dynamics, tensions, and demographics at the center of the narrative, the authors develop a cohesive narrative that helps us to understand the multiple and consistent ways that Black DC residents have been disenfranchised and dispossessed. 

By Chris Myers Asch, George Derek Musgrove,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Chocolate City as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Monumental in scope and vividly detailed, Chocolate City tells the tumultuous, four-century story of race and democracy in our nation's capital. Emblematic of the ongoing tensions between America's expansive democratic promises and its enduring racial realities, Washington often has served as a national battleground for contentious issues, including slavery, segregation, civil rights, the drug war, and gentrification. But D.C. is more than just a seat of government, and authors Chris Myers Asch and George Derek Musgrove also highlight the city's rich history of local activism as Washingtonians of all races have struggled to make their voices heard in an undemocratic…


You might also like...

The Others

By Evette Davis,

Book cover of The Others

Evette Davis Author Of Woman King

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve worked in journalism, politics, and public policy for 30-plus years and watched as the extreme voices gained the most traction on either side of a debate. On social media, these minority views often dominate the discussion. 48 States is a stand-alone novel highlighting the problems of extremist viewpoints in a civil society. I also have another book series that features a political consultant who discovers she's a witch and joins a secret society that uses magic to manipulate elections to protect humanity. Bottom line: if I can’t fix political discourse for a living, I can write science fiction novels that contemplate how to do it.

Evette's book list on dystopian stories for the bada** feminist in us all

What is my book about?

True Blood meets Supernatural in the kickoff of this urban paranormal fantasy series from an acclaimed author. Readers enter a dystopian San Francisco filled with empaths and vampires embroiled in political unrest—and Book 1 is just the beginning.

Much as she wishes otherwise, superstar political consultant Olivia Shepherd was born a powerful empath. It’s a legacy she walked away from long ago—but when she wakes up one morning to find Elsa, a tenacious time-walker, standing in her kitchen, she realizes she can no longer ignore her gifts. She is quickly plunged into the hidden world of powerful “Others” and drafted…

The Others

By Evette Davis,

What is this book about?

True Blood meets Supernatural in the kickoff of this urban paranormal fantasy series from an acclaimed author. Readers enter a dystopian San Francisco filled with empaths and vampires embroiled in political unrest—and Book 1 is just the beginning.

Much as she wishes otherwise, superstar political consultant Olivia Shepherd was born a powerful empath. It’s a legacy she walked away from long ago—but when she wakes up one morning to find Elsa, a tenacious time-walker, standing in her kitchen, she realizes she can no longer ignore her gifts. She is quickly plunged into the hidden world of powerful “Others” and drafted…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in gentrification, African Americans, and race relations?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about gentrification, African Americans, and race relations.

Gentrification Explore 24 books about gentrification
African Americans Explore 760 books about African Americans
Race Relations Explore 253 books about race relations