Southwest has a rich history of civic engagement. SWNA’s direct predecessor organization, the Southwest Citizens’ Association, which was found in 1886 was known to be one of the most active associations of its type in the city. Meanwhile, an all-black Southwest Civic Association emerged and focused on Southwest’s substantial black population.When Southwest’s built environment was redeveloped in the mid 20th century, a group of prominent citizens lead by Neal Pierce decided it was important to reshape Southwest’s social environment. Resting on the principles of openness and inclusiveness, this group established the Southwest Neighborhood Assembly in 1963. To jump-start their efforts, they started the Southwester newspaper and created task forces that focused on several issues: including, education, health and welfare, recreation and employment. Neal Pierce recounted this formative period in a recent Assemly meeting.
SWNA eventually determined a Southwest community center would best advance its goals. To facilitate the process, they formed a companion organization, the Southwest Community Council. The Council’s board featured many prominent civic leaders including Walter Washington community center, who would later become D.C.’s first African-American mayor, Charles Horsky, a distinguished advisor to President Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Ravitch, a successful developer who later chaired New York City’s transit agency.