The intersection of Seventh and T streets, NW, has been an important site of entertainment, business, and working-class culture since the early 20th century. This area is located one block inside what was the northernmost boundary of the new City of Washington as laid out in 1791. It began to take shape as a neighborhood during and after the Civil War (1861-1865) when formerly enslaved persons were drawn to Washington and settled near Union Army encampments, especially around Seventh and P (Wisewell Barracks) and on Florida Avenue between Fifth and Sixth streets (Campbell Hospital). Because Seventh Street was an important early commercial street, it was among the first to have public streetcars, beginning in 1862. A decade later the paving of streets and subsequent housing construction led to residential development.
Seventh and T was best known in the 20th century as the location of the Howard Theatre and the Dunbar Theater. In addition nearby pool halls, nightclubs, and restaurants attracted customers from all over the city. Frank's Billiard Room (624 T Street) and Cecelia's Restaurant (613 T Street) were two popular spots. The area's street culture has inspired many artists, including Langston Hughes, Gordon Parks, and Jean Toomer. Hughes memorialized Seventh Street in The Big Sea. Jean Toomer, in Cane, captured the multiple meanings of Seventh Street during World War I (1914-1918) and Prohibition (1917-1933 for Washington, DC). Gordon Parks took photographs of men on Seventh Street during World War II.
Changes at Seventh and T reflected the impact of both World Wars and subsequent migrations and riots. Men, women, and children from southern states migrated to Washington during and after World War I and many of them settled here. The influx of new migrants heightened expectations for racial justice, and white racism increased tension in the city. This tension flared in the 1919 race riot, when African Americans repelled rioting white servicemen. Migration during and after World War II was even larger, adding more pressure to already crowded conditions. With the end of legal race-restrictive covenants on housing, middle-class African Americans left this area for newer neighborhoods. By the 1960s this area was rundown and apparently abandoned by a federal government that had lost interest in inner city neighborhoods.
In 1968 the assassination of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., and subsequent riots changed much of Seventh and T. Buildings were burned and businesses suffered. In 1991 the Howard University/Shaw Metro station opened, signaling a revival of the area as a business and residential center.