real estate, Campbell family

How the Campbell Family Built Generations Of Property Ownership And Community Building

An ad in the "Washington Herald" advertised that homes could be made available for “reliable” Black buyers, which led to Campbell's grandparents settling at a home on Walter Street.

A Washington, D.C. family has built a legacy through holding its properties for generations.

The New York Times profiled the Campbell family, whose members can trace their emphasis on ownership either of land or buildings back to an ancestor who was a former sharecropper in Maryland. In 2020, Christine Campbell and her two brothers bought a bed and breakfast inn in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania—yes, that Gettysburg—and became the first Black hospitality proprietors in the town’s history. 

Black people, by the numbers, face historic discrimination in housing, going back to the redlining and stretching to today, where both Black homebuyers and sellers often face discrimination all along the homeownership process. Still, Campbell points to a directive from her great-grandfather. “My great-grandfather wrote his will such that the Maryland property needed to stay in the family as long as any of his children were alive, so they would always have a home to go to,” she told the Times.

“In the meantime, there was a migration of sorts from Southern Maryland to D.C.,” Campbell added. “Through word of mouth, families decided where to settle, tending to move together to certain parts of the city. My family initially settled in this part of D.C.”

Once the family arrived in the city, they found a climate that seemed amenable to Black home buyers. An ad in the Washington Herald advertised that homes could be made available for “reliable” Black buyers, which led to Campbell’s grandparents settling in a home on Walter Street, almost a mile away from the Capitol and the Supreme Court.

Campbell’s grandparents ended up paying $4,000 for the home, but found that though they were in D.C., they were still in Virginia. Campbell’s father, Plater, told the New York Times, “Despite the conditions, we were very happy. The neighborhood was congenial, very personable. The kids put together a baseball team. Most of my friends did very well in life, we kept in touch for years. I’m one of the last ones left.”

In 1952, Plater’s parents bought a house two blocks away, on Kentucky Avenue, but kept the Walter Street house to rent out to relatives and friends. They would go on to own four homes in the District, and even sell the original Walter Street home to Plater.

Plater returned from college at the University of Maryland and married Joan Cross, a mathematician. Plater took a job as a soil scientist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, eventually becoming the Director of the Conservation Planning Division and a member of the Senior Executive Service, becoming one of the first Black people to get that high up in the organization. 

Even though the family moved around often due to Plater’s work, the family never sold the Walter Street home. Plater and Joan purchased the home from Plater’s parents in 1984, and set about renovating it, using their son Stephen’s recently acquired degree in architecture to provide him with his first commissioned job. After Joan died in 2000, Plater remarried and moved with his new wife, Faye, to Laurel, Maryland. Christine bought the house on Walter Street and her brother Stephen purchased the home on Kentucky Street.

However, during the pandemic, the Campbell siblings, Christine, Stephen, and Patrick, wanted a space large enough for the family to gather, so they began exploring the idea of purchasing a bed and breakfast, which Christine had long wanted. Patrick and Christine took a class on running a B&B, hired a consultant, and began searching for B&B properties in the area.

“When we walked into the Keystone Inn, we felt it — this was the one,” Christine Campbell told The New York Times. “The age of the building, the beautiful woodwork, the location —five blocks from the center of town but a little bit away from things was attractive to us siblings.”

Data on bed and breakfast establishments owned by Black people are hard to get, but the Times reports that most estimates place Black ownership at around 1%.

Once the Campbells purchased the B&B for $745,000, they began renovations, spending $400,000 in the process.

Back in Washington, D.C., the Walter Street in Lincoln Park residence would have seen more gains in property value if it were surrounded by more white residents. According to a 1937 Federal Housing Authority map, the residence was 63% surrounded by Black residents, and as a result, a separate map graded areas where Black people in D.C. tended to live as F, which the map described as “declining rapidly into very undesirable sections.”

As more white people moved into the neighborhood, the value of the Campbell Family’s Lincoln Park increased, in keeping with a Brookings Institute study that found homes in Black neighborhoods are valued at about half the value of homes in residential areas with no Black residents.

The value of the Campbell’s Lincoln Park houses appreciated with the influx of white residents. In 2012, the ZIP code of their neighborhood made it onto the list of the 50 ZIP codes in the United States that saw the highest growth in the white population.

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