On Wednesday, June 19, Pepco and Living Classrooms will officially open the James C. Dent House Community Center. Originally built in 1906, the home represents much more than a future community center. The survival of this historic residence is a representation of the abolishment of slavery and the remarkable contributions of James C. Dent.
Born a slave, James C. Dent left the tobacco fields of Maryland, gained employment, married a seamstress from Virginia, and purchased a lot in Southwest, D.C. He and his wife Mary subdivided the lot in three and built a modest home on one portion.
Through hardwork and perseverance, Dent became an influencial member of his community. In 1885, he and his wife became early members of the Mount Moriah Baptist Church. A year later, the congregation quickly expanded under the direction of Dent, who took the helm following the departure of the church’s first pastor. The church became a prominent fixture in Washington’s black religious community, adopting an advocacy role and being regularly quoted in local papers on issues regarding race and politics. The Dent House was later renovated and became the church parsonage. In 40 years, Dent gained freedom, grew a congregation, gave back to his community, fought for equality, and fostered a refuge for worship, the exchange of ideas, and a sense of belonging.
While many of the residences of Southwest befell to the region’s rash of development in the 1950s, the Dent House remained standing, but suffered from disrepair.
Over the last several years, we worked in partnership with Living Classrooms to renovate this historic home, which will now serve as a community center for Ward 6 residents. The James C. Dent house will host workforce development classes for adults during the day and youth arts and education programming in the afternoon, filling a longstanding need among the community.
While Washington’s ever-changing landscape and community are part of the city’s draw, we must also work to preserve the important lessons of the past. Today we’re proud to celebrate the legacy of James C. Dent by returning his former home to the community he once served.