Don Folden is the founder of Capital Buddy Tours (dcblacktours.com). Folden, 65, ran unsuccessfully for D.C. mayor in the 1990s. He lives in Fort Dupont.
We all know there’s a Frederick Douglass house and places where Duke Ellington played, but what’s something people see only on your tour?
Right at Sixth and Pennsylvania, where the Newseum stands, that’s the site of the 1835 Snow riots. That was the first race riot in Washington, D.C., but most tour companies drive by it every day and never acknowledge. Schools and churches that were African American were burned down. You can get a tour of the Capitol or Arlington Cemetery a dime a dozen. I take you in Mount Zion Cemetery, where runaway slaves hid on the underground railroad. In a vault. You didn’t know about that, did you?
No! What made you realize you needed to start giving black history tours of D.C.?
I’m watching the [National African American History and Culture] museum come out of the ground, and I started saying, “What daily tours do we have? People from all over the world are going to come here.” We talk about gentrification in D.C., and one of the ways I think you can ease the tensions is, more white people need to learn black history of D.C. Because they only get the monuments from the U.S. Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial, maybe Iwo Jima. But this was a community. It had people, it had values, folks fighting. They were alive. They were human. Our black history seemed to be just dying on the vine, and this is a billion-dollar tourism market. Learn the history of where you are.
How did you develop your tours?
I knew I wanted to start at the Anacostia Metro. I came here in October of 2016. I said, “Lord, with the limited black history knowledge that I [have], if this is really what you want me to do, show me a tour.” And I just started driving. And I came to the house where Marion Barry was living before he died.
Tell me about your rogue advertising methods.
That was my guerrilla warfare marketing move. That actually started the night Trump got elected president. I had a sign [advertising the tour], and I went down to Trump’s hotel because I knew it was going to be press from everywhere there, and that’s just the idea that came to me. When Mike Flynn was arraigned in court I went down with a sign. It’s free advertising all over the world. You’ll see my dcblacktours.com sign. Next indictment, I’ll be right there at the federal courthouse.
Why do you think black history is so covered up? Why is it so easy not to know it?
Because you have to answer questions. You have too many questions to answer. We have some very painful, ugly history. It’s easier to forget it than to explain it.