Photo Essay - African Americans and Washington D.C.

Anna Julia Cooper signRoad memorializing Anna Julia Cooper. Deborah Willis/AASC

Washington's memorials include tributes to educator, clubwoman, writer, and leader Anna Julia Cooper (1853–1964). Anna Julia Cooper Way is located in Northwest D. C. in LeDroit Park, on the circle of her home located at 201 T Street. In her autobiography, A Voice from the South, Cooper wrote that black women were a strong political and social force and could serve as spokespersons for their race. Cooper co-founded the Colored Women’s League in 1892, and attended the World’s Congress of Representative Women, held in Chicago in 1893 during the Columbian World’s Fair. There, she spoke during a session called "The Intellectual Progress of Colored Women of the United States Since Emancipation.” In 1900, Cooper attended the first Pan-African Conference. She was the first and only woman to be elected to the American Negro Academy, and later was one of the founders of the Colored Women’s YWCA and the Colored YMCA. In 1925, Cooper earned her Ph.D. and became the fourth African American woman to receive a doctorate. Her dissertation title was "The Attitude of France toward Slavery in the Revolution.”

National Museum of African American History and CultureThe National Museum of African American History and Culture, under construction in November 2014. Deborah Willis/AASC

In November 2014, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, part of the Smithsonian Institution, was under construction on Constitution Avenue and 14th Street, N.W. The photograph shows the museum in stages of development. The mission of the museum is to document, visualize, interpret, and celebrate African American history and culture by giving a visual experience to a broader American story—a story of hope and resiliency, struggle and pain, success and triumph. In 2016, the museum will provide exhibitions and resources for visitors and scholars. This idea—preserving African American history at the national level—continues from an earlier effort. During the last half of the nineteenth century, a time of pervasive racial discrimination in America, black communities established their own cultural centers, businesses, churches, news organizations, schools, and towns. Black business and religious leaders, orators, teachers, writers, artists, and scholars gained national attention by resisting negative depictions and the systematic denial of their civil rights and fighting for equality.

Spirit of Freedom sculptureThe Spirit of Freedom sculpture. Deborah Willis/AASC

The Spirit of Freedom sculpture, Civil War Memorial, is located at 10th and Vermont Streets in Washington's northwest. It was completed in 1998 by Louisville sculptor Ed Hamilton. The memorial opened in 1999. The Spirit of Freedom is a tribute to the United States Colored Troops, Soldiers and Sailors of the Civil War.

Emancipation MonumentThe Emancipation Monument, unveiled in 1876. Deborah Willis/AASC

The Emancipation Monument, called the Freedmen’s Memorial at its unveiling in 1876, is located in Lincoln Park on East Capitol Street between 11th and 13th, northeast Washington, and was sculpted by Thomas Ball. In the wake of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, a former slave woman named Charlotte Scott gave her former master $5 with the understanding that he would work for the creation of a monument in Lincoln’s honor. Newspapers quickly picked up the story, and other black people followed Scott’s lead and the movement soon gained national attention. Donations from black soldiers constituted a large percentage of the funds raised for the desired memorial. Thomas Ball’s sculpture depicts Lincoln standing above a kneeling, semi-clad black man who reaches out with one hand that is finally unchained. Ball used the photographic image of a self-emancipated man named Archer Alexander as the model for the freed slave in the sculpture and one of Mathew Brady’s photographs of Lincoln to create the statue. Frederick Douglass read the Emancipation Proclamation at its dedication.

Ben's Chili BowlBen’s Chili Bowl, formerly a nickelodeon movie theater. Deborah Willis/AASC

Ben’s Chili Bowl was opened in 1958 at 1213 U Street NW, near to the Lincoln Theater by Ben and Virginia Ali. Actors, singers, comedians, politicians, musicians are known to have visited the restaurant along with members of the D.C. community for the "Finest Hot Dogs and Chili Served with a Touch of Class." Noted as a Washington, D.C. landmark, it is also known for its unique menu of half-smokes and milk shakes. Built in 1910, it was Washington, D. C.’s first silent movie house, the Minnehaha Theater. The theater was originally a nickelodeon, a modest neighborhood movie theater with a sloped floor and a projection booth high on the back wall of the auditorium. It was owned and operated from 1913 until 1920 by Sherman H. Dudley, who earlier had a career as a leading vaudeville performer. It was converted as a pool hall by Harry Beckley, one of D.C.’s first black police detectives.

Lincoln TheaterLincoln Theater, part of Washington's former Black Broadway. Deborah Willis/AASC

The Lincoln Theatre is located at 1215 U Street, dubbed Washington’s Black Broadway in its heyday, the 1920s through the 1940s. The theater included a movie house and ballroom, and headlined big band performances, stage dances, and theatrical performances. Performers included Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton, Ella Fitzgerald, Pearl Bailey, Billie Holiday, Cab Calloway, Sarah Vaughan, and Louis Armstrong, among others. It was restored and reopened in 1994, and hosts a variety of performances and events. The theater has been placed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

Howard TheaterHoward Theather, added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. Deborah Willis/AASC

The Howard Theater is located at 620 T Street NW and opened in 1910. It was added to the U. S. National Register of Historic Places in 1974. Known for its shows and performances by African American artists, dancers, and musicians, the Howard Theater opened its doors to the black community and offered them an opportunity to see talented performance in the early part of the twentieth century. The Howard Theatre’s company cast included the Howard Players and the Lafayette Players. In 2010 the theater was restored, and it reopened in 2012.

Founders LibraryFounders Library at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Deborah Willis/AASC

Howard University’ Founders Library, opened in January 1867, is located at 2400 Sixth Street NW in the LeDroit Park area. The university is named after Civil War General Oliver O. Howard, and was established for black freedmen after the Civil War. The Library opened in 1939 and is named after the seventeen men who founded the university. The library also is the home of the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, which holds over a million archival documents, including photographs of African American life and portraits of noted black Americans from writers to activists to educators to politicians. The Center remains a central place for family collections of photography in the Washington, D.C. area, as well as a place to find images of musicians, dancers, and artists.

U.S. CapitolThe United States Capitol. Deborah Willis/AASC

The United States Capitol has long been a highlight for visitors to the city. Completed in 1826, the original building was made of brick clad in sandstone. The north and south wings and connecting corridors, added in the mid-19th century, and the replica of the East Front, constructed in the 20th century, are made of brick clad in marble; the dome is made of 8,909,200 pounds of cast iron. Keith Melder writes about visitors in the 1850s, "The U. S. Capitol was a welcome sight to those making the trip down Pennsylvania Avenue. It seemed as beautiful as the town below it seemed incomplete. The hill on which it sttod was covered with trees and lawns. The building struck visitors as being "imposing” in size and in its "exquisite whiteness.” This photograph shows the Capitol in renovation, the Dome and the terrace with scaffolding. The overlooked role of black workers was acknowledged recently by Congress when a plaque memorializing the roles of enslaved black workers was placed in the building. To commemorate the role of enslaved laborers "House Concurrent Resolution 135 was passed by Congress directing the Architect of the Capitol to design, procure and install a slave labor marker in a prominent location in Emancipation Hall.” The marker features a single block of Aquia Creek sandstone, which was originally part of the Capitol’s East Front Portico, presented on a platform clad in Cedar Tavernalle marble. The original chisel marks on the sandstone are in view so visitors can see the physical effort required to hew the stone. A hole in the top of the stone was cut to receive a lifting ring used to raise the stone out of the quarry. A bronze plaque is centered on the presentation wall, with an inscription approved by Congress, acknowledging the efforts of all who worked on the Capitol Building. The inscription reads: THIS SANDSTONE WAS ORIGINALLY PART OF THE UNITED STATES CAPITOL’S EAST FRONT, CONSTRUCTED IN 18-24-1826. IT WAS QUARRIED BY LABORERS, INCLUDING ENSLAVED AFRICAN AMERICANS, AND COMMEMORATES THEIR IMPORTANT ROLE IN BUILDING THE CAPITOL. It is noted that "One of the most significant contributions by an African American slave was made by Philip Reid, who deciphered the puzzle of how to separate the five-piece plaster model of the Statue of Freedom.". The marker is located towards the western end of the northern wall of Emancipation Hall where it is bathed in sunlight for a portion of each day and will not interfere with visitor flow.

Mary Church Terrell home.Home of Mary Church Terrell, 326 T Street, N.W. in LeDroit Park. Deborah Willis/AASC

The home of Mary Church Terrell is located 326 T Street NW in the LeDroit Park neighborhood. Terrell was the first African American woman to be named to the Washington, D.C. Board of Education. She was married to Judge Robert Terrell and was a feminist, educator, and civil rights activist. Terrell was part of Washington’s Black Elite. Her home was noted for entertaining and holding reception for writers, race leaders, historians, activists and socialites. She (1863–1954) held lectures and meetings for clubwomen in her home. She was a president of the National Association of Colored Women (1896–1901), held a position on the school board, and was an active member of the NAACP.

Mary McLeod Bethune MemorialMary McLeod Bethune Memorial, located in Lincoln Park. Deborah Willis/AASC

The Mary McLeod Bethune Memorial is located in Lincoln Park on East Capitol Street NE between 11th and 13th Streets. Educator Mary McLeod Bethune (July 10, 1875 — May 18, 1955) was an educator and advisor to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. During the New Deal era (1930s), Mrs. Bethune consulted with President Roosevelt on political and educational matters important to the black community. Bethune founded the National Council of Negro Women and Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach, Florida in 1904 where she educated former enslaved children. Depicting Bethune with two children, the statue, the first monument honoring a black woman in Washington, D. C., was erected July 10, 1974 by the National Council of Negro Women, Inc. Robert Berks sculpted the bronze monument, completing it in 1973 after the NCNW raised $150,000 following thirteen years of fund raising for the memorial.

Frederick Douglass National Historic SiteFrederick Douglass National Historic Site. Deborah Willis/AASC

The Frederick Douglass National Historic Site is located at 1411 W. Street SE in the Anacostia area of Washington. In 1877, activist, abolitionist, and author Frederick Douglass (1818–1895) purchased "Cedar Hill”, as he named his home. The property consisted of nine acres at the time, and included a modest house built on a high, steep hill overlooking the Anacostia River. The Capitol building a few miles away could, and can still be, seen from the front porch. Initial renovations, including the construction of additional rooms and the purchase of adjacent land, were completed in 1877–1878, allowing Douglass and his wife Anne Murray Douglass to move into the house during the autumn of 1878. After the unfortunate death of Anna a few years later, Douglass continued his work in various government posts, including ambassadorial and consulate positions in the Federal Government. Douglass conferred with President Lincoln and later with President Andrew Johnson on matters pertaining to black men serving in the Civil War and black suffrage during Reconstruction. In 1884 Douglass married Helen Pitts Douglass and they lived at Cedar Hill together until his death in 1895. Douglass continued to work on the property over the years and upon his death the house had grown into a mansion with over twenty rooms on a fifteen acre estate. Upon Helen’s death in 1903, the Frederick Douglass Memorial and Historical Association received the property. This association, with assistance from the National Association of Colored Women and later the federal government via the National Park Service, has maintained the home over the years. Cedar Hill has now been completely restored and a new visitor center completed.

Martin Luther King, Jr. MemorialMartin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. Deborah Willis/AASC

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial was dedicated on August 28, 2011, on the 48th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and unveiled in October of 2011. Located at 1964 Independence Avenue, near Washington, D.C.'s Tidal Basin between the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials, the thirty-foot granite sculpture of the iconic civil rights activist stands near the National Mall. Large walls surround the imposing stature with fourteen excerpts from Dr. King's most remarkable sermons and speeches. The monument was initially conceived in 1984 by Alpha Phi Alpha, the African American fraternity of which Dr. King was a member. Congress authorized the memorial in 1996, and two years later the Alphas set up a foundation to raise $120 million to design and build the memorial. The sculptor for the Stone of Hope was Chinese-born Lei Yixin.