POWER AND PROBITY IN A DC COOPERATIVE: The Life and Death of Sursum Corda

John C. Hirsh
New Academia Publishing, 2018
320 Pages, 32 photos
ISBN 978-0-9986433-8-0 Paperback

For BULK ORDERS, order directly from New Academia Publishing.
Queries: orders@newacademia.com

About the Author

John C. Hirsh is Professor of English and American Literature at Georgetown University in Washington D.C., where he teaches courses in Medieval English Literature, Urban Pedagogy, and Nineteenth-Century American Literature.  He has been a Visiting Fellow at two Oxford and one Cambridge colleges, and for the past twenty-seven years directed an urban tutoring program for Georgetown students in a Washington community known as Sursum Corda.

About the book

This book recounts in detail the negotiations, internal and external struggles, and the outcome of an attempt by HUD, the City of Washington, and several developers to acquire a Washington, D.C. apartment complex known as Sursum Corda. The book begins with an account of a particularly horrific murder that took place in Sursum Corda in 2004, and shows how it was used, in the press and elsewhere, to attack the Community as a whole, and to use it as a reason that the Community should be disbanded, and the land on which it stood be dedicated to other purposes.

It proceeds as a journal, kept intermittently between 2005 and 2017, by Professor John C. Hirsh of Georgetown University, who during that period directed an undergraduate tutorial program there in which Georgetown undergraduates travelled twice a week to instruct the K-6 children who live at Sursum Corda in the Language Arts, primarily in reading and writing.  Because of his long association with the community he was appointed a non-voting (because non-resident) member of the Board that directs the Community affairs, as was his former student and friend Shiv Newaldass, a Georgetown graduate, whose family has long lived there.

Such take-overs as the one described here have become common across the country in recent years, and part of the interest of the book lies not only the story of what happened to Sursum Corda, but also in the implications it exposes as to how such negotiations are actually carried on, and the relative power of those who are involved.


“In this eloquently told history of a tutoring program and a public housing complex, we learn much about poverty, power, and ourselves as a national community. Hirsh in journal form brings voices and issues to life. The result is a book that teaches us about home, displacement, and the political bureaucratic practices that effectively guaranteed the end of affordable housing in one Washington, DC area. This is a cautionary tale. What happened to Sursum Corda is happening in many American cities where social justice is sacrificed to profit.”

—Valerie Babb, Franklin Professor of English; Director, Institute for African American Studies, University of Georgia

“J.C. Hirsh’s is a fascinating memoir combining the compelling dynamics of the three micro-histories: Sursum Corda as a community vs HUD and DC, GU’s tutoring program there, and his own career as professor-pedagogue-activist.”

—David Goldfrank, Professor of History, Georgetown University

“It is a personal, non-polemical, scrupulously recorded narrative of the planned destruction of an urban community, in which the author has run a charitable educational program promoting literacy among the children of the resident families of the area in DC called Sursum Corda… Although Professor Hirsh recounts the saga of a single development, his story reaches beyond its self-imposed specifics of time and place, to the universal and timeless.”

—Ann Pasternak Slater, former English Fellow at St Anne’s College, Oxford