The Plan (Washington, D.C.)

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The Plan is a conspiracy theory in Washington, D.C. that since the District of Columbia Home Rule Act in 1973, white people have had a "plan to take back" the black-majority city and the offices of the local government.[1][2] The theory asserts that the decline of low-income black residents and their replacement by wealthier whites from outside of Washington, D.C. is intentional through the calculated use of gentrification and urban renewal.[3] The Plan is generally regarded as false within Washington, D.C., while some believe it has quiet but considerable support among black residents and influences local elections.[4]


It appears that Lillian Wiggins, a columnist for the Washington Afro American newspaper, was the first to "articulate" the conspiracy theory. In 1979, she wrote: "Many residents believe that the Marion Barry era may be the last time Washington will have a black mayor. If negative programming and characterization of black leadership are allowed to continue in the city of Washington and especially the black community, there is a strong possibility of the 'master plan' which I have so often spoken about maturing in the 1980s." Believers note that the Federal City Council, an organized group of civic and corporate leaders, mostly white, meets in secret and uses its power to influence the city's direction.[1] The theory particularly gained sway in the 1980s and early 1990s, as the city became increasingly unaffordable to low-income minorities. Urban renewal was also seen as intended to push out minority populations.[5]

Anti-theorists note that instead of an organized conspiracy, there are market forces, demographics, and gentrification—which is happening quickly in the District of Columbia—at work. Black residents have left the District, just as many whites moved to the suburbs beginning in the 1950s. Both groups left a decaying city, its crime, and its failing schools seeking "a better, safer life. . . . One could argue that middle-class blacks abandoned the city. Was that part of 'the plan'?"[1] Others counter that the existence of the theory reflects "the fears of a black community that already feels under attack in a city whose rising cost of living makes hanging on difficult . . . . if such paranoia seems laughable, it reflects a reality that's easily illustrated in bright colors",[6] although the theory has been around longer than the city's changing demographics.

Recent developments[edit]

Census figures show that between 2000 and 2010, the District lost about 39,000 black residents while over 50,000 whites moved in. The black population declined by 11.1%, while the white population saw a 31.4% increase.[7][8] "The District, once 'Chocolate City', is becoming, as the saying goes, 'Vanilla Village'."[4] As of 2010, the city was about 51% black and 39% white[7]—compared to 61%–34% in 2000. The black population peaked in 1970 at 71%. If trends continue, the city would get a white majority any time from 2014 to 2020.[9] This has been attributed to The Plan.[10] In 2013, the black population of Washington D.C. dropped below 50% to 49.5%.[11]

Efforts to improve the District of Columbia Public Schools have been linked to the purported conspiracy, as the improvements have tended to increase enrollment of white children. Although shifting demographics are broadening school demand, these are seen as either the effectuation or the result of The Plan.[4] Similarly, rising real estate values, increased business, more abundant night life and other factors which "would otherwise be viewed as a positive becomes evidence" of the scheme, even to those who benefit from the improvements.[12] One commentator opined "Don't ask [Mayor] Fenty or [Schools Chancellor] Rhee whom this world-class school system will serve if low-income black residents are being evicted from his world-class city in droves" and went on to claim "The scheme was odious: re-create a more sophisticated version of the plantation-style, federally appointed three-member commission that ruled the city for more than a century until 1967."[13]

The Plan, and related fears, are said to have contributed to the defeat of incumbent mayor Adrian Fenty in the 2010 primary election.[1][14][13] One observer noted: "A vote for [challenger Vincent] Gray, admirers of the D.C. Council chairman imply, stops The Plan dead, putting all those whiny newcomers in their place."[14]


  1. ^ a b c d Harry Jaffe, So-called "plan" for white supremacy lives on in D.C., Washington Examiner, August 30, 2010.
  2. ^ Jeffrey R. Henig and Wilbur C. Rich, Mayors in the middle: politics, race, and mayoral control of urban schools. Princeton University Press, 2004, pp. 204–207.
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b c Jonetta Rose Barras, Recruiting Diversity: Michelle Rhee's campaign to diversify DCPS means wooing white parents. Washington CityPaper, August 27, 2010.
  5. ^ Mikaela Lefrak, "Conspiracy theories: Bad for democracy but good for a politician turned novelist", Washington Post Magazine, Feb. 10, 2019, pp. 4-6.
  6. ^ Rend Smith, Pretty Map Answers Ugly Question, Washington CityPaper, Sep. 21, 2010, 6:06 pm.
  7. ^ a b U.S. Census, "DC" 2010 Census Results: District of Columbia.
  8. ^ Carol Morello and Dan Keating, Number of black D.C. residents plummets as majority status slips away, The Washington Post, March 24, 2011.
  9. ^ Erika Niedowski, D.C. Is Continuing to Whiten, WashingtonCityPaper, Jan. 7, 2010.
  10. ^ E.g., Comrade Al Gonzales, Comment #10 to D.C. Is Continuing to Whiten, January 8, 2010, at 4:05 pm. Accessed 2010.09.23: "'The Plan' is working. White people are pushing black people out of the District - that's 'The Plan'".
  11. ^ US Census: "State & County QuickFacts - District of Columbia" Archived 2011-08-23 at WebCite retrieved January 27, 2015
  12. ^ William Raspberry, "Toward 2028" The Washington Post, February 1, 1998.
  13. ^ a b Courtland Milloy, "D.C. election didn't just unseat abrasive Mayor Fenty. It was a populist revolt." The Washington Post, September 16, 2010.
  14. ^ a b Editorial, Adrian Fenty: The Jerk D.C. Needs, Washington CityPaper, September 10, 2010.

Further reading[edit]

  • Keith B. Richburg, Out of America: A Black Man Confronts Africa, BasicBooks, New York, 1997, especially pp. 144–148.