True Reformer Building: Still a catalyst for change

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email

By Alice Thomas-Tisdale

JA Publisher Emerita

John A. Lankford (1874-1946) was the official architect for the African Methodist Episcopal Church and many other distinguished organizations. In 1905, Lankford, the first Black registered architect in Washington, DC, spearheaded the organization of the DC branch of the National Negro Business League, a self-help association first established five years earlier by Booker T. Washington at Tuskegee Institute while Lankford was a student there. The establishment of the group emanated from Washington’s belief that the key to social equality lay in economic development and was consistent with Lankford’s own interest in pursuing racial equality.

Lankford was the architect for the True Reformer Building, a civic and cultural Washington, DC, landmark designed for community conversations, conferences, and reform. It was the first building in the United States to be designed, financed, built, and owned by the African American community after Reconstruction. Located at 1200 U Street NW, it still remains a vital symbol of self determination 

The building was commissioned by the Grand United Order of True Reformers in 1902 and was dedicated on July 15, 1903.

Over the years, the building has housed numerous civic and cultural institutions, including the Washington Conservancy, the DC Chapter of the National Negro Business League, the Boys Club of the Metropolitan Police of the District of Columbia and the First Separate Battalion, an African American branch of the DC National Guard.

The building was used by a host of community organizations, musical groups, and societies for events, celebrations, and concerts. The legendary jazz musician Duke Ellington gave performances here. 

Public Welfare Foundation purchased the True Reformer Building in 1999 and carefully renovated the building as its new headquarters to better suit the needs of the community.

In 2019, vibrant murals by artist Kaliq Crosby depicting the building’s history were dedicated. Assisting with the installation were Candice Taylor, Darius Hill, and Nabeeh Bilal, all graduates of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, DC.

The Foundation is committed to keeping the spirit alive by hosting various events, convenings, and celebrations. “We also share our space with the nonprofit community who are looking for event space free of charge,” stated Candice C. Jones, President & CEO. DC Justice Lab is one of several nonprofits housed there. 

“The True Reformer Building is the perfect place to house a modern-day Black liberation movement. It is hallowed ground.

“We benefit tremendously from working alongside our closest partner organizations in the space Public Welfare Foundation gave us to share,” said Attorney Patrice Sulton, Founder/CEO, DC Justice Lab and this year’s recipient of the Greater DC Urban League’s Champion of Justice Award. 

Public Welfare Foundation was founded in 1947 by Charles Edward Marsh to make “gifts for education, charitable or benevolent uses in accordance with a plan which shall meet the changing need for such gifts with flexibility….”

The Foundation’s first grant was made in 1948. As the Foundation grew, Marsh built a network of “agents” assigned to find worthwhile recipients.

Since its founding, the Foundation has made over 5,700 grants totaling more than $700 million. With current assets of more than $620 million, Public Welfare Foundation looks for strategic points where its funds can make a significant difference. 

The Foundation focuses its grant making in some difficult, and often overlooked, social justice areas where it believes it can serve as a catalyst for reform in adult and youth justice.

Besides serving communities in the nation’s capital, the Public Welfare Foundation is anchoring its work in the Midwest with concentration in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; the West in Colorado and Oklahoma; and the Southern part of the country in Georgia, Louisiana, and the city of Jackson, Mississippi.

“The Public Welfare Foundation has been a critical partner in ushering in a new moment and movement for social justice in the state of Mississippi,” stated Rukia Lumumba, co-founder/executive director of the Peoples Advocacy Institute. “Their partnership has helped to create many firsts in Mississippi, including, but not limited to, Mississippi’s first community led and driven public safety initiatives, Violence Intervention Programs, Credible Messenger Programs, community driven rapid response programs and participatory design programs. Their partnership has provided the resources to make our communities more educated, mobilized, and organized to attain change in the material conditions that keep families well. We at the People’s Advocacy Institute thank the Public Welfare Foundation for its unwavering support of Mississippi and the organizations that fight for Mississippians every day.” 

Republish This Story

Copy and Paste the below text.

True Reformer Building: Still a catalyst for change

By Jackson Advocate News Service
February 26, 2024