Anthony Bowen, YMCA
Greater U Street Heritage Trail
A Place to Grow
You are standing at the fourth home of the Anthony Bowen YMCA, named for the formerly enslaved minister who founded the nation's first independent "colored" YMCA. As the YMCA opened in Washington in 1853, slavery was legal. Yet the majority of the city's African Americans were free and faced daily segregation and exclusion from public facilities. These city dwellers needed a place to develop positive spiritual, physical, and social lives.
At first the YMCA operated in Reverend Bowen's Southwest Washington home, rented rooms, donated spaces, and a building owned briefly on 11th Street, NW. Then the Reverend Jesse E. Moorland incorporated the club in 1905 as the "colored" branch of the YMCA of the City of Washington. Moorland led the fundraising for the YMCA building that welcomed the community at 1816 12th Street, NW in 1912. For 50 years, it was the only YMCA in the District serving African Americans.
Educator and civil rights champion E.B. Henderson introduced basketball to African Americans in DC at the YMCA in 1907. He led the Washington 12 Streeters to victory in the 1910 World Colored Basketball Championships. Future NBA star Elgin Baylor found pick-up games at the Y during the 1940s. Scores of workers, athletes politicians, artists, professionals, and young people found support within the YMCA's halls and gyms. Future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall developed strategies to fight segregation there.
The Bowen YMCA (renamed in 1972 to pay homage to its founder) closed its historic Twelfth Street facility in 1982 when the rundown building was declared unsafe. The branch re-opened in 1987 in the former Hillcrest Children's Center on this spot to continue providing education, refuge, from troubled times, development of the mind, body, spirit, and community — the same services first offered by Reverend Bowen in his home.