Diego Aleman, Rebecca Jacobs, and Sara Phillips

Prior to the early 1960’s, Suitland’s main “cash crop” was tobacco. However, the rise of housing development quickly replaced tobacco as the main source of income for Suitland, though tobacco is still cultivated in the area That shift changed Suitland from a historically agricultural community to a suburban one. New suburbs were being erected farther outside of the city than their pre-existing counterparts. According to Alan Virta, historian and author of Prince George’s County: A Pictorial History, claims that there were “two distinct phases” to the suburbanization of Prince George’s County as a whole, and that the “contrasts between these two phases are stark ones, but together they tell the story” (Virta, 212).

Virta attributes the increase from 60,000 residents in 1930 to 660,000 in 1970 to “the growth of the federal government” (pg 212). There was enormous job growth in Washington D.C. during that time, and people could commute to the district to work via car from Suitland’s affordable housing - at the time there still was no metro stop. Additionally, the beltway that circles DC connects suburban Prince George’s County to the more urban areas, and before the Beltway was built, residents would have to take a lengthy trip through the Capital to reach Suitland (Virta, 239).

Prince George’s County as a whole played an active role in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s. Prince George’s Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) was instrumental in housing equality in the area, and when the Belair housing complex refused to sell a house to a black couple, Prince George’s County CORE organized sit-ins demanding an end to the discrimination (Virta, 240). Protesters sat outside of the Levitt and Sons sales office until police arrived and eight people were arrested. More sit ins occurred after the initial protest, one turning into a “sleep-in” when protesters spent the night in front of the Levitt and Sons office.  

Furthermore, though the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education declared school segregation unconstitutional in 1954, Prince George’s County maintained a dual school system until 1965. This was not just because of who resided in the school’s communities, as many were racially separated neighborhoods, but also because of direct opposition to integration. One segregationist group, called Taxpayers Against Busing, kept their kids at home to protest the integration. HEW (Department of Housing, Education, and Welfare) issued the county with noncompliance to the integration standards, though they did not stop their funding.  

From Brown until 1965, the county participated in a “Freedom of Choice” program in which a small handful of Black children were transported into White schools. This program was very unsuccessful and resulting in a return to assigning children to schools in their areas. Pressure from the federal government and black residents resulted in a desegregation plan, which was resisted by the board (Thornton and Gooden, 148). Since Suitland is near the University of Maryland, it witnessed considerable uprisings in protest of the Vietnam War. When hundreds of students blocked Route One, the National Guard was sent in to try and keep the road open, eventually resorting to tear gas to make the protesters disperse (240). Suitland participated in ‘busing’ their students to promote integration in 1973.  Judge Frank Kaufman ordered the school busing in response to this, and it transported children to schools miles away from their neighborhoods. This affected some 33,000 students, and made Prince George’s County the first large city to use busing (Virta, 241).