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Photo Essay: Howard University’s Campus Renovations, Changes

With a $287 million campus improvement project underway, Hilltop photographer Keith Golden Jr. takes readers through the changes Howard’s campus has endured from 1867 to 2024.

The Howard University Inn, photographed in 1989. (Photo Courtesy of the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University)

On the corner of Georgia Avenue and Bryant Street Northwest, the building that houses Starbucks, The Howard University Barnes & Noble Bookstore and the Axis residence hall was once a vibrant, sought-out hotel destination for Black people visiting Washington, D.C.

It began as the Harambee House when it was built and leased from the federal government by Ed Murphy, an African American entrepreneur, in 1979. According to the historical marker planted directly across the street, the hotel donned “African decor and high-end amenities” for notable guests such as Louis Farrakhan and Jesse Jackson. Stevie Wonder and Nancy Wilson played its infamous supper club, and Muhammed Ali, Coretta Scott King and Carl Stokes were just a few of the figures to host press conferences in the hotel’s Kilimanjaro Room. 

The university closed the hotel, which was turned into a dormitory for students and outfitted with a Starbucks and a Barnes & Noble bookstore. (Keith Golden Jr./The Hilltop)

Howard acquired the hotel from the Federal Economic Development Administration for $1.3 million two years later, and it became known as the Howard University Inn. However, the university never earned a profit from the hotel and closed it in 1995. 

In an article from the Washington Post published that year, Murphy described his disappointment in the hotel’s closing.

“It was as if we were doomed from the start,” he said.

Freedmen’s Hospital in 1941. Before its rooms held classes for communication and nursing students, it was one of the first places to offer medical care to formerly enslaved people in the district. (Photo Courtesy of the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University)

Around the corner from the former Howard-owned hotel is a sprawling brick complex known as the C.B. Powell Building. Before the pandemic, the building housed the School of Communications, but in 1862, it was a hospital for the formerly enslaved. 

When President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation the next year, freed slaves moving from the American South were considered “contraband.” They found refuge and medical treatment in what were called “contraband camps.” Camp Barker, near present-day Logan’s Circle, was one of them. Freedmen’s Hospital, where the C.B. Powell Building now stands, replaced the swampy plot of land Black people in the city went to for housing and healthcare. 

In the late 1860s, Freedmen’s Hospital became a teaching school for Howard’s College of Medicine, where Powell graduated in 1920. He went on to practice medicine in New York City and later became publisher of one of the oldest Black-owned newspapers in the country, New York Amsterdam News. 

When he died in 1977, Powell left about $6 million, the value of his estate, to the university. Two years later, the school named the building in his honor. 

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The C.B. Powell Building is mostly unused, though WHUR and WHUT, Howard’s two broadcasting units, still operate there. In 2022, the university announced plans to renovate the site to house a new STEM Center

The new STEM Center will replace the building and is part of a $785 million real estate investment proposed to radically develop Howard’s facilities on campus. (Keith Golden Jr./The Hilltop)

In 1929, word spread that a new building would be built on campus. Congress approved $1 million in funds—$17 million in today’s terms—to go towards the project. The plan was to demolish the Main Building and build a library in its place. It took seven years before construction broke ground and an additional three before Founders Library was complete and open to the public.

People gathered in front of Howard’s Main Building in 1870. (Photo Courtesy of the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University)

Rising to a peak of 167 feet, the Georgian-style building was one of several campus structures built by African American architect Albert Cassell. 

According to the library’s website, Founders garnered national attention, was described as “a palace of books” and was the “most comprehensive library” of any HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) at the time. 

Former U.S. Secretary of the Interior and advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harold Ickes, spoke at the library’s May 25, 1939 dedication ceremony. 

“A library is more than a building, it is more than the volumes that rest upon its shelves…They constitute perhaps the most important single agency for the perpetuation of civilization,” he said.

Founders Library stands where the Main Building once was. It has been a popular study spot for decades and houses the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, the world’s largest repository of records on the Black experience. (Keith Golden Jr/The Hilltop)

The pathway from the Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts to Founders Library used to be lined with trees. Today, most of the trees are gone, but the walkway that bisects the Yard is still known as “The Long Walk.” 

“The Long Walk” in the 1920s. (Photo Courtesy of the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University)

When students graduate in May, it is tradition to walk “The Long Walk” in full regalia, symbolizing the completion of their Howard journey.  

The Yard is located in the middle of Howard’s main campus and serves as a central converging spot for students, faculty and university visitors. (Keith Golden Jr./The Hilltop).

Copy edited by Jalyn Lovelady

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