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Meet The Woman Behind The Josephine Butler Parks Center

Written By Alexandra Gilliland

This April, EcoWomen and its founding chapter, the DC EcoWomen, will be celebrating its 10th Anniversary, and holding an amazing 10 Year Gala to commemorate this occasion! There can only be one place for the location: The Josephine Butler Parks Center.

The Josephine Butler Parks Center is the perfect location for the event. Not only, is it a gorgeous piece of 1927 Renaissance revival architecture, designed by George Oakley Totten Jr., but the center’s mission is to advance the revitalization of diverse community green spaces across the metropolitan area. This alone would make the location great for the event, but what really makes this location ideal is that it was named for one of Washington D.C.’s very first EcoWomen: Josephine Butler.

Here’s a little bit more about the woman behind the park…

Josephine Butler was born on January 24, 1920. The daughter of sharecroppers, and the granddaughter of slaves, Butler would grow into one of D.C.’s most respected community leaders. At a young age, Jo (as she was known) suffered from typhoid fever. To receive medical treatment, Butler moved from the sharecropper farm, where her father worked in Brandywine, Maryland to Washington, D.C. There she would flourish into one of D.C.’s greatest advocates of social initiatives.

Butler had the admirable habit of turning every instance of her life into a cause to champion. She began a career in laundry, and was able to organize her fellow workers into the first union for black women launder workers. This would be the start of her life-long commitment to labor unions and women’s rights.

Following the historic Brown v. Board of Education ruling, she helped to lead the effort to peacefully integrate the white-attended John Quincy Adams Elementary School and the black-attended Thomas P. Morgan Elementary School in 1955. The neighborhood of Adams Morgan, a combination of the schools’ names, now stands as a reminder to honor racial and cultural differences.

Continuing her trend of turning life’s instances into causes to champion, after a bout with tuberculosis in the late 1950s, Butler became a volunteer for the D.C. Lung Association. There, she would become the association’s community health educator, where she would educate thousands of children on the hazards of air pollution, long before air pollution was became a prominent environmental or health concern.

Community was especially important to Jo Butler. She believed children needed a safe outdoor space to develop community. To help create this type of community, Butler campaigned for the revitalization of the Meridian Hill Park, also known as Malcolm X Park. This area had previously been known as one of the most violent parks in the Washington metropolitan area and as a breeding ground for vandalism and drug dealing. Butler and fellow community organizations worked tirelessly to transform this park. They organized nighttime patrols to combat crime, planted trees to beautify the property, and held community arts and educational programs in the park for residents. Gradually the park became the sort of community that Butler had envisioned. In 1994, Butler and the other members of the Friends of Meridian Hill (a community organization partnership) received the National Partnership Leadership Award from President Bill Clinton, to recognize the work that they had done to transform this once crime-ridden and dangerous park into a safe community park that is used and enjoyed by the local residents.

A holistic activist, Butler fought for a sustainable community way before it was trendy. She dedicated her life to economic, environmental and social justice, and believed in the self- determination of all. She was a true DC EcoWoman, a lover of the great outdoors, and a believer that change can happen with hard work and passion.

The festivities, including a keynote speaker, a silent auction, a DJ, unlimited beer and wine, and even a signature cocktail(!),  will take place on April 24th Josephine Butler Parks Center. Get your ticket today!