The Collegian recently had the opportunity to speak with author and journalist Briana Thomas following the release of her first book, “Black Broadway in Washington, D.C.” Thomas received her bachelor’s degree in English and communication studies at Greensboro College while also serving as editor for “The Collegian.”
After receiving her master’s in journalism from the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, College Park, Thomas completed an internship at the “Washingtonian” magazine. A piece she wrote about the African-American history of U Street, aka Black Broadway, caught the attention of a publisher who wanted her to expand the article into her first book.
When most people think of Broadway, they think of New York City. However, Washington, DC, has a Broadway history of its own. Thomas wrote “Black Broadway” about the African-American community that turned Washington’s Greater U Street into a hub for nightlife, business and political activism. At that time, Jim Crow laws were in effect that prevented African Americans in D.C. from frequenting public places outside of Black Broadway. As Thomas describes, many significant figures, such as jazz musician Duke Ellington, grew up in this community.
Thomas hopes that “Black Broadway” will inspire readers in the present day. She addresses the issues that large cities face with gentrification.
As gentrification took place on U Street, the property value went up, but it came at a price: much of the history of the area was removed in the process. Thomas writes that out of the approximate 300 black-owned businesses that existed there in the early 1900s, only three remain today. She hopes that her book will bring awareness to the changes that are taking place and preserve the history of U Street.
Asked about the experience of publishing her first book, Thomas says that “publishing something you are passionate about is very fulfilling and makes it an enjoyable process.” She adds that Greensboro College was instrumental in helping her achieve her goals.
While at GC, she kept busy in various student activities including student government, the UAAS, cheerleading and “The Collegian,” among others. Throughout her undergraduate years at Greensboro, Thomas discovered her passion for journalism and started on the path that ultimately led to the publication of her first book.
“Black Broadway in Washington, D.C.” by Briana Thomas is available for purchase at local bookstores as well as Amazon, where it recently made Top 10 on their Best Sellers list in Artist and Architect Biographies. You can also hear from Thomas herself as she will be the First Citizens Bank Global Communication Center Visiting Writer at Greensboro College later this semester. Furthermore, she is looking forward to her upcoming book talk at Politics and Prose Bookstore, which will be recorded and will air on PBS.
As a final thought, Thomas offers these words of encouragement to current GC students: “Whatever you are passionate about, stick with it! Make connections and be a good person, and you will be surprised what doors will open for you.”
By Carly Uhlir