I was recently gifted a selection of Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum exhibitions and other DC History brochures. On the surface, these are simply brochures but take a closer look, and you’ll find that they are little windows to the past. Join us as we explore these brochures throughout Black History Month.
The Deanwood History Project brochure – published in 2005. The project interprets the history of the Deanwood neighborhood located in Northeast Washington, DC.
Image 2: video clip from “Deanwood Oral History Project – A Self Reliant People” produced by HumanitiesDC (full-length video is available on YouTube).
Founder of the National Training School for Women and Girls (1909), Nannie Helen Burroughs is one of several notable African Americans that lived in the Deanwood neighborhood.
One of Washington DC’s oldest African American communities, Deanwood, comprises “Victorian, neoclassical, colonial, revival, prairie, and craftsman” houses. These homes were designed and constructed by African American architects.
Architect H.D. Woodson, for whom a DC High School is named after, resided in the community. Along with a few other investors, H.D. Woodson founded the Universal Development and Loan Company. The group designed and established Suburban Gardens Amusement Park, which catered to African Americans during segregation.
Join the National Park Service and the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, Inc. (ASALH) as we celebrate the 146th anniversary of the birth of Dr. Carter G. Woodson with an online, Virtual Symposium on Saturday, December 18th from 9:30 am to 3:00 pm. This year’s theme for the birthday celebration is “A Bold Vision: Revisiting the Life and Legacy of Dr. Carter G. Woodson and What it Means Today”, and will feature remarks and presentations from NPS officials and community leaders.
Washington, DC, capital of the United States, is a compact city of 68 square miles and 700,000 residents nestled on the Potomac River and bordered by the states of Maryland and Virginia.
Washington, DC, is not a state. It possesses no voting representation in Congress, but in 1973, Congress did enact the District of Columbia Home Rule Act, providing for an elected mayor and thirteen-member council for the district. Segregation, poor housing, unemployment and low funding for the public-school system plagued the city. It’s not surprising that discontent surrounding racism and disenfranchisement erupted in 1968 following the assassination of MLK Jr., when four days of riots and civil unrest blazed through the city leaving it scarred but standing.
I am a native Washingtonian who grew up fully aware of our politically and racially charged predicament. But as with most DC natives, I have always been fervently proud of my “Chocolate City” (an affectionate name signaling our then predominantly African American population). After all, contributors to the “New Negro Renaissance” of the 1920’s and the Black Arts Movement of the 60’s and 70’s hailed from DC, a fact that helped shape my artistic spirit and endeavors.
DC has long been considered a cultural center. In 2018 nearly 22 million domestic tourists arrived ready to see the Lincoln Memorial, the cherry blossoms, The White House, the Kennedy Center, the world class Smithsonian Museums, and a plethora of historic landmarks. But just as important as these notable attractions are the opportunities to explore Black History in DC.
With DC in Phase Two of its reopening in recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, Museums, galleries and other cultural sites may be open, but with limited capacity. In case you’re not quite ready to venture out, Lindsay Hill of Destination DC, the official destination marketing organization for the city, has created the Black History DC Virtual Itinerary, a robust four-day virtual travel experience that introduces the 400 year-long struggle for freedom and equality through the region’s hallmark institutions. The Itinerary provides links to virtual historic site tours, lesson plans, audio clips, artworks and more, that immerse you into the Black history of the city. Parents, educators, students, travel buffs and culture enthusiasts will find it a valuable resource for virtual discovery and exploration!
According to Elliott Ferguson, President and CEO of Destination DC, “During the coronavirus pandemic, Destination DC aims to keep Washington, DC top of mind and provide inspiration for future travel. It is key to ensure potential visitors feel connected to the city and to introduce opportunities to learn about the city’s vibrant historical footprint. The itinerary allows us to cater to students and teachers and facilitate a “travel” and educational experience. While DC is in the spotlight for First Amendment protests while people call for social justice, it is also important to provide an opportunity to showcase Black history. Our tourism team assembled a list of important attractions, tours and topics while researching virtual options that are available.”
Near U Street NW, the African American Civil War Memorial is included in Day 4 of the Civil Rights DC Virtual Itinerary. The memorial commemorates the more than 209,000 African-American soldiers and sailors who fought in the Civil War. Their service helped to end the war and free over four million slaves. The memorial includes a 9-foot-tall bronze statue, finished in 1997, just outside the entrance to the neighborhood’s Metro station.
The centerpiece of The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorialis a 30-foot statue of Dr. King, featuring his likeness carved into the Stone of Hope, which emerges powerfully from two large boulders, known as the Mountain of Despair. Visitors enter through the Mountain of Despair and tour the memorial moving through the struggles that Dr. King faced during his life highlighted by a 450-foot long inscription wall which features quotes from his speeches, sermons, and writings. The MLK Jr. Memorial is one of several monuments included in Day 2 of the Civil Rights DC Virtual Itinerary.
The Frederick Douglass National Historic Site preserves and interprets Cedar Hill, where Frederick Douglass lived from 1877 until his death in 1895. The centerpiece of the site is the historic house, which sits on top of a 50-foot hill and eight acres of the original estate. Restored to its 1895 appearance, the house is furnished with original objects that belonged to Frederick Douglass and other household members. The Frederick Douglass National Historic Site is included in Day 1 of the Civil Rights DC Virtual Itinerary
The U street Corridor is anchored by the famed Howard University. Founded in 1867 Howard University is a leading Historically Black University (HBCU) that counts among its talented alumni: E. Franklin Frazier (sociologist), Kwame Ture (activist, chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), born Stokely Carmichael), Phylicia Rashad (American Actress and Director), Chadwick Boseman (Actor), Kamala Harris (US Senator) and so many more accomplished African Americans! At the end of the 19th century and for the first half of the 20th century despite segregation, D.C.’s historic Black greater U Street community prospered and built a self-reliant economic, social, civic, and cultural existence. During the height of the Jim Crow era, this influential Black U Street neighborhood of extraordinary achievers once known as “Black Broadway” birthed D.C.’s Black Renaissance and served as a prominent symbol of black culture and sophistication amid racial and political tension in America. The U Street Corridor is included in Day 3 of the Civil Rights DC Virtual Itinerary.
No visit to the U Street Corridor would be complete without a visit to Ben’s Chili Bowl. For 62 years Ben’s has provided an informal gathering place for local residents, tourists, artists and politicians who gather to break bread, talk business and feast on their famous half-smokes. The restaurant fed attendees of the 1963 March on Washington and remained open and unharmed through the 1968 riots. Ben’s is the ultimate example of DC’s ability to endure while remaining a tight knit, supportive community.
Since its opening in September 2016, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, whichchronicles A People’s Journey ~ A Nation’s Story, has attracted more than 5.5 million visitors. The artifacts inNMAAHC’s vast collection span several generations of African American history and culture from Harriet Tubman’s shawl and Emmett Till’s casket to costumes from the Broadway musical The Wiz. NMAAHC is included in Day 1 of the Civil Rights DC Virtual Itinerary.
On June 5, in support of the predominantly peaceful protests surrounding George Floyd’s tragic murder, DC’s Mayor Muriel Bowser became the first to introduce a new mural and rename a two-block section of 16th Street NW Black Lives Matter Plaza. On the street leading to the White House, one encounters a 40-foot high street mural that spans 580 feet and in bright and bold yellow letters reads “Black Lives Matter.”
Of the mural Mayor Bowser said: “As Washingtonians, we simply all want to be here together in peace to demonstrate that in America, you can peacefully assemble, you can bring grievances to your government, and you can demand change”. The Mayor sees Black Lives Matter Plaza as “a place for healing, strategizing protest and redress.”
Commending Mayor Bowser for her efforts, Elliott Ferguson remarks “Destination DC is incredibly proud of DC’s Black history and culture, and we make a concerted effort to share ways for visitors to experience it, like the virtual itineraries. I’m proud that our mayor, Muriel Bowser, led the nation in creating Black Lives Matter Plaza, which has been replicated and earned worldwide attention.
As a proud Washingtonian, I encourage you to use Destination DC’s Black History Virtual Itinerary to experience the historical backdrop that DC is and has always provided for the nation.
Murals That Matter: Activism Through Public Art will open on Friday, August 28, 2020, at 9:00 am. The National Building Museum, in partnership with the P.A.I.N.T.S. Institute and the DowntownDC Business Improvement District (BID), is pleased to present the exhibition that is free and open to the public. The exhibition will be housed on the National Building Museum’s west lawn (5th Street NW, between F and G streets). It will be open to the public 24-hours a day for the next three months.
A National Building Museum representative stated the outdoor exhibition is a response to challenges faced by their desire to reopen the Washington, DC museum during COVID-19 pandemic. It features “D.C. street art created earlier this summer in response to social justice protests in the nation’s capital and elsewhere. The murals speak to the impact that art can have on the built environment as well as the nation’s urgent need for dialogue and reflection.”
The public is invited to join the Museum, the P.A.I.N.T.S. Institute, and the DowntownDC BID on Friday, August 28, and Saturday, August 29, from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm, for two days of reflection, activism, and enjoyment for everyone. See the murals and meet their creators; watch artists at work; register to vote or volunteer at a polling place; partake in family-friendly art activities; and enjoy “Good Trouble”–themed cuisine from local vendors.
“I didn’t know there were Black bartenders outside of T.G.I. Fridays or that bartending could be a viable career.” – Andra “AJ” Johnson, hospitality entrepreneur and co-founder of DMV Black Restaurant Week
Over the years, craft cocktails have gained popularity because consumers are becoming more educated on what’s in their glass and how it’s all made. Whiskey varietals (i.e., Bourbon, American, Canadian, Irish, and Scotch whiskeys) aren’t just associated with older men anymore. With brand stories becoming increasingly influential in purchasing decisions, various distilled spirits have regained popularity among younger drinkers. DC’s Black residents have been active participants in Black bar culture for quite some time. Still, many are unaware that the history of Black bar culture and bartending in DC dates back to at least 1898.
Last December, I attended a discussion called “The Beginnings of Black Drinking Culture in DC” at Allegory, a forward-thinking speakeasy inside the Eaton Hotel. The discussion was led by Andra “AJ” Johnson, co-founder of DMV Black Restaurant Week and co-owner of the newly-opened Serenata. The 18-year hospitality veteran gave attendees a bevy of Black drinking history. Here are a few of my take-aways:
Juke Joints, which were around during slavery but became more prevalent during the Reconstruction era, were mostly Black-owned
It is believed that the word Juke derives from the Gullah word joog or jug, meaning “rowdy or disorderly”
The Cotton Club in Harlem was initially Club Deluxe before heavyweight champion boxer Jack Johnson sold it to British-immigrant gangster Owney Madden in 1923.
Most Black customers did not patronize The Cotton Club. Preferring more welcoming spots like the Savoy Ballroom, Lenox Lounge, and Renaissance Ballroom instead
R.R. Bowie and J. Burke Edelin formed DC’s Black Mixologists Club in 1898
During segregation, Black people in Washington, DC, made their own party. Opening businesses such as Club Crystal Caverns, The Howard Theater, and the Whitelaw Hotel all located in what was known as “Black Broadway,” now the present-day U Street Corridor
“Soul Brother” was a safe word placed on black-owned DC businesses, in areas directly impacted the city’s 1968 Riots
Black bartenders experienced career and personal success in the years following the emancipation of enslaved persons.
The final part of AJ’s presentation was about a black-owned members-only club that opened in DC’s Logan Circle neighborhood called The Foxtrappe Towne Club. Operating out of the National Association of Colored Women’s R Street building, “The Foxtrappe” (1975-1984), was founded and ran by Malcolm Beech, Bill Lindsay, and Claude Roxborough, Esq. – two C&P Telephone Company managers and an attorney. The three men sought out to create a sophisticated place for Black people to unwind while opening the doors to people of all races. The Foxtrappe’s clientele was made up of the “Who’s-Who” of Black DC, including current Ward 7 Councilmember Vincent Gray and former councilmember and Mayor Marion Barry, Sr. We also learned of Don Baker, a photographer who captured hundreds of moments between 1973-1980 and experienced The Foxtrappe Towne Club in its heyday. He’s currently raising money for the production of a documentary on the history and social landscape that took shape inside “The Trappe.”
Throughout the evening, we were served variations of classic cocktails, each influenced by the time periods discussed. Our first drink was a “Black Manhattan” with the variant ingredient being Averna Amaro (a traditional Manhattan is made without the Italian herbal liqueur). The base spirit was Uncle Nearest 1856 Premium Aged Whiskey, appropriately used with the brand’s namesake being Nathan “Nearest” Green, a once-enslaved Black man who showed Jack Daniel the ropes to whiskey distilling.
Our next cocktail was an Ambrosia Spritz, made with the DC-based Don Ciccio & Figli’s Ambrosia Aperitivo instead of Aperol.
The final cocktail was AJ’s very own creation called Night Flights, an “Aviation-meets-Vesper” blend that would make vodka haters recant their disdain – I’m one of them. This cocktail is featured on Liquor.com and Allegory’s BLKNWS menu, in conjunction with the art installation of the same name created by Kahlil Joseph (now on view at the Eaton Hotel Library).
We ended the night with a Q&A, examining a range of questions about the presence of craft cocktails and bar culture in the lives of DC’s Black residents. A discussion ensued that was relevant to both Black bartenders and consumers. Together we discussed the possibility of reviving the sophistication of DC’s Black bar culture, once experienced at places like The Foxtrappe Towne Club, in a town where African-Americans are no longer the majority. Although this discussion was focused mainly on DC’s bar culture of yesteryear, I’m sure a similar story can be told for American cities that were once home to large Black populations. While I feel continued research on the history of Black bar culture is needed, it is equally vital that we spread the word about today’s Black bartenders. They continue the legacy established by pioneers like John Dabney and Cato Alexander. Many with the goal of not only educating consumers but also demonstrating what it takes to make a great cocktail.
Ingredient list for craft cocktails mentioned above:
The Anacostia Community Museum, located in Southeast Washington and one mile from Frederick Douglass’s home, hosted its grand reopening celebration on Saturday, October 12th after a seven-month-long, $4.5 million renovation. The renovation adds new greenery, seats, lights, and murals to make the museum more communal. It was also the reopening of “A Right to the City,” a photo exhibit highlighting the economic and landscape changes of six DC neighborhoods – Adams Morgan, Anacostia, Brookland, Chinatown, Shaw, and Southwest – over five-plus decades. A Right to the City” is on view at the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum through April 20, 2020.
Washington, DC has experienced the highest intensity of gentrification of any U.S. city in the 21st century, which forced most of the city’s low-income black and Latinx populations to relocate to the far north- and southeastern neighborhoods or into DC’s suburbs. Add the preceding years between the post-1968 riots in response to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination and the crack era of the 1990s which saw many middle-class blacks moving to the suburbs at an annual rate of 1 percent of DC’s population, A Right to the City gives a look into what got the ball rolling long before contemporary audiences came to know the G-word.
Each neighborhood featured in the exhibit tells the oft-heard history of each, along with the moments created by local heroes known only by those who lived through these times or culture-keepers. Visitors can also listen to stories from Washingtonians about this bygone era. Here are some key takeaways for those least familiar with DC’s history:
The Adams Morgan Organization was founded in 1972 by several neighborhood advocates and took up the mantle of self-government and community control.
The New Thing Art & Architecture Center was established in 1967 by Collin “Topper” Carew. It was here, young people took classes in creative writing, photography, painting and drawing, filmmaking, and African drum and dance.
Southeast Neighborhood House started its work in 1929 as a social services organization and played a major role in the founding of the youth-led Rebels With A Cause and a tenants association of self-proclaimed welfare mothers living in the Barry Farm Dwellings called the Band of Angels. Eartha Kitt was the Rebels’ most well-known supporter and testified in Congress on the group’s behalf.
“A white man’s road through a black man’s bedroom” was the phrase created during the resident-led fight to stop construction of the North-Central Freeway through Brookland, a neighborhood in Northeast DC. The freeway opposition was led by a truly odd couple – a young black man who worked for the General Services Administration named Reginald H. Booker and an older white man of Syrian descent who worked as a graphic designer and labor organizer named Sammie Abbott.
DC’s Chinatown in its current location (between 5th and 9th streets NW to the east and west, with G Street and Massachusetts Avenue to the north and south) has existed since 1931 and was thriving Chinese community for decades. Because the 1968 riots negatively affected the section of Massachusetts Avenue inhabited by Chinatown residents, many began moving to the surrounding Maryland and Virginia suburbs thus kickstarting Chinatown’s decline. In 1990, the neighborhood was still 66 percent Asian. Once the MCI Center, later the Verizon Center and now Capital One Arena, was built in 1997, Chinese-owned businesses and residences were replaced with national chains such as Ruby Tuesday’s, Legal Sea Foods, and Starbucks. By 2017, only 300 Chinese residents remained in DC’s Chinatown.
Model Inner City Community Organization (MICCO) was founded in the 1960s by Reverend Walter Fauntroy of New Bethel Baptist Church in Northwest DC’s Shaw neighborhood. MICCO’s plan of “Renewal with the people, by the people, and for the people” was implemented to empower the business, community, political, and spiritual leaders of Shaw with resources to make it an economically viable neighborhood.
The federal government’s urban renewal project, deemed by many as the Negro Removal Project, which began in the 1950s had a lasting effect on the smallest quadrant of DC. To make way for federal buildings and the southward extension of downtown DC, 99 percent of the buildings in Southwest were leveled thus forcing 4,500 black families to move to other parts of DC. Only 310 of the 5,900 newly-constructed buildings were moderately-priced housing. This displacement greatly impacted the social fabric of the affected families.
“A Right to the City” is on view at the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum through April 20, 2020.