Elizabeth Chase: Barry Farm/Hillsdale Self-Made Suffragette

Amanda Hergenrather is a writing major at Eastern Mennonite University interning at the Anacostia Community Museum, helping with research for the forthcoming book History of Place: Barry Farm/Hillsdale, a Postbellum African American Community in Washington, DC 1867-1970. Here Amanda tells the story of Elizabeth Chase one of the first settlers in the newly created African American community.

Elizabeth Chase was already free before the Civil War. Later she became an entrepreneur by trade and a suffragette by conviction. Born in the early 1840s, Elizabeth Chase likely led a life of privilege compared to many African American women in her day. Elizabeth’s mother, Caroline Chase, lived in Ward 2 where she and Elizabeth worked as washerwomen. Elizabeth’s two brothers were laborers. It was this work that likely contributed to her ability to purchase land and lumber for the house she would soon construct, east of the Anacostia River, in Barry Farm/Hillsdale. She bought a plot of land in the late 1860s, and by 1871 her newly built home stood on the corner of Elvans and Stanton Roads. Not only did Chase live alone in the home she was able to personally finance, she pursued self-employment all through her life in Barry Farm/Hillsdale. By 1874, she was running a restaurant in Uniontown, until she began a catering business based out of her home in 1884.
To run her businesses, Chase would have had to be proficient in reading, writing, and arithmetic; skills few other African American women could boast at the time. Elizabeth Chase took advantage of the opportunities she had been afforded, but she didn’t stop there. In 1877 Chase joined 33 African American Barry Farm/Hillsdale residents, male and female, including her mother Caroline Chase, in signing a petition penned by Frederick Douglass Jr. in favor of women’s suffrage. Rather than being content with her own good fortune, Chase recognized the need to give all women the autonomy to live their lives as they saw fit; autonomy that could one day be attained through gaining the right to vote. In signing the petition, Elizabeth and Caroline Chase left a mark in history. Even though the right to vote wouldn’t be afforded to American women for nearly half a century, the Chase women helped lay the groundwork that would be instrumental in attaining that right.
We honor the memory of Elizabeth Chase, an entrepreneur, homeowner, and independent suffragette, a most extraordinary and inspirational African American woman of the 19th century.

Elizabeth Chase and her mother Caroline signed this petition to Congress requesting the right to vote for women. Frederick Douglass Jr. and his wife were the first signers.

A Picture of Resolve: Frances Eliza Hall’s Dedication to Her Students in A Newly Established Community East of the Anacostia River

Amanda Hergenrather is a writing major at Eastern Mennonite University interning at the Anacostia Community Museum, helping with research for the forthcoming book: History of Place: Barry Farm/Hillsdale, a Postbellum African American Community in Washington DC, 1867 – 1970. Here Amanda tells the story of the first years of Miss Frances Eliza Hall, a white, missionary teacher in the newly created African American community.

Most of what we know about Frances Eliza Hall as a teacher comes from the monthly reports she kept during her time at Mt. Zion School, where she came to teach midway through her life. Here, Hall began working as a teacher miles away from the comforts of her childhood home in Auburn, NY. Hall, at not quite 40, came to the District an unmarried white women with plans to spend the remainder of her adult life teaching and living in a recently established settlement for newly freed people in Washington, DC. Miss Hall began teaching at the Mt. Zion School in 1867. Her classes started small, and often students were absent, but Hall was positive about the abilities displayed in her students. As time went on, her class sizes grew, no doubt in response to her warm and encouraging teaching style. Hall was fairly radical for a woman of her time. Even if Hall’s church was supportive of her teaching aspirations, as an unmarried, middle-aged woman moving into a community of mostly former slaves, Hall must have had a fair deal of explaining to do to all her friends and family in Auburn, NY. Many must have worried about her safety, but Hall was determined to do what she knew to be right, regardless of the taboo it may have presented to her community. In her time at Mt. Zion School, Frances Hall faced hardships that would have dissuaded less resolved school teachers. Hall was tenacious in her determination to provide an education for the African American children of the Barry Farm/Hillsdale community east of the Anacostia River. She reported that between April and June of 1868, the total amount of students in the first class she taught had increased from 30 to 53, with most students attending regularly. Hall’s hand written reports on her classes each month show her dedication to her students. Though Hall’s June report was positive, and she left for the summer with every intention of returning, come October the Freedman’s Relief Association, which paid Hall’s salary, withdrew its funding, allowing only Hall’s colleague to return to Mt. Zion that year. Thankfully, Hall’s time away from the school was brief, as the Freedman’s Relief Association was persuaded to provide a $20 monthly salary, half what she had been making previously. Hall accepted her old position at half pay, and double the students. During her absence, many students had been sent away “for want of room,” and upon her return the classroom was overflowing once again, with a total of 66 students. It was a trying school year for Hall and her students. In 1869, an outbreak of measles came to the Barry Farm community. In Hall’s monthly report for February, she attributed the “low average attendance compared with enrollment,” to illness among students, which left some out of classes for nearly the entire month. Hall noted that for three days, she herself was too ill to teach. In the next month’s report, Hall notes that a greater part of the month was lost due to her own illness. In June, after returning to health and continuing the semester’s lessons, Hall noted the increase in student attendance, and that the school was filled to repletion, and could scarcely hope to house more students the following year. After her experiences in Mt. Zion School, Hall went to teach at Hillsdale School the second school built at Barry Farm/Hillsdale. One of her students was Georgiana Rose Simpson who would become the second African American woman to obtain a PhD. Hall stayed living in the community after retiring from teaching and nearly until the end of her life. In 1909 she sold her house and moved back to Auburn, NY. She was 82 years old, and would live another 10 years with her brother and his wife. This Women’s History Month we remember Frances Eliza Hall who used her position of privilege as an educated woman with no marital ties to move into a community that some may have considered dangerous, but that she viewed with hope. Frances Eliza Hall left her mark on the lives of the numerous African American children she taught during her time in Barry Farm/Hillsdale. Dedicated and tenacious, she refused to abandon her vocation until she felt her work was done.

Writing on the Wall

A couple of months ago, the Museum received a call from the owners of a house in the historic Anacostia neighborhood. The Reeves family was beginning renovations when they discovered writing on a bedroom wall. In faded letters, they could make out the words “Clark Womer Teates,” among a series of other names. Looking in the DC Historical Building Permits Database, they discovered Teates was the first owner of the house when it was built in 1905.

Intrigued by their discovery, the Museum’s staff photographer and I headed over to see for ourselves. The Museum strives to document and preserve local history, and our photography collection targets sites, people, and events that shine a light on our communities. This sounded like an opportunity to learn about the residents, past and present, who have made historic Anacostia home.

Photo by Susana Raab, Anacostia Community Museum, Smithsonian Institution

We soon discovered that the writing on the wall was a family tree of the Teates nuclear family. The patriarch, Clark Teates, appears at the top, next to his wife, Rosann. Below them are their three daughters in order of birth, Agnes, Ruth, and Alice. Both Clark and Rosaan names are followed by birth and death dates. Barely legible to the right are the names of the husbands and children of the Teates daughters.

Returning to the Museum, we searched Census records and Washington, DC newspapers. Born in Pennsylvania in 1876, Clark Womer Teates came to Washington, DC during the 1890s by way of Fauquier County, VA, where he received accreditation to serve as an attendant in a hospital. By 1897, Clark found employment at the Government Hospital for the Insane (St. Elizabeth’s Hospital) in the southeast quadrant of Washington, DC. The 1900 Census records him as living at the hospital.

Clark Teates listed in the 1897 Washington, DC City Directory.

In 1901, Clark married Rosann Smith. Four years later, in 1905, the couple welcomed their first daughter, Agnes, the same year they moved into their new home in Anacostia. Daughters Ruth and Alice were born soon after. By 1910, Clark had changed employment to the United States Government Printing Office (The United States Government Publishing Office), where he worked as a caster operator. Rosann also worked for the Federal Government in the Internal Revenue Service as late as 1940.  Clark and Rosann continued to live in their Anacostia house for the rest of their lives, marking a half century of Teates ownership and occupation.

Sometime after Clark’s death in 1948, someone decided to write the family tree on the wall. It is possible that it was one of the Teates daughters, before the house left the family for good after Rosann’s death in 1958. They left behind a small piece of personal history for future occupants of the house to discover, decades later.

When the Reeves bought their home in historic Anacostia, they knew that they were settling in a community steeped in history. Little did they know, their house has a rich history of its own recorded on the bedroom wall, with the names of the first family to make memories there. A photograph of the wall is now part of the Museum’s Community Documentation Photography collection, for others to discover and enjoy, while the house itself continues to be a cherished home for an Anacostia family over a century later, a space where the Reeves will make family memories for years to come.

If you have a story or history that you would like to share, please contact us.

The Hills of Anacostia Are Alive…with the Sound of Music

The February birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln inspired the timing of Black History Month. Anacostia Community Museum Collections Researcher Jennifer Sieck goes beyond the birthdays and behind the scenes in the archives:

Abolitionist, activist, ambassador, author . . . All describe Frederick Douglass (circa 1818-1895), but did you know he was a musician, too? In the photograph below, Douglass’s violin rests beside him as he works at his desk in Anacostia, a neighborhood in southeast Washington, D.C.

Douglass in his library
Frederick Douglass in his library at Cedar Hill, 1411 W Street, SE, Washington, DC. Circa 1893. Courtesy of National Park Service, Frederick Douglass National Historic Site.

In his three autobiographies, Douglass recalls listening to “tones loud, long, and deep” sung by African Americans with whom he was enslaved.[1] The songs “breathed the prayer and complaint of souls boiling over with the bitterest anguish.”[2] He credits these songs with his “first glimmering conception of the dehumanizing character of slavery.”[3] Biographer James M. Gregory recounts that “while [Douglass was] an exile in Scotland . . . in a despondent mood he saw a violin . . . at a store door, and . . . bought it. He then went home, shut himself up, [and] played for three days until he was in tune himself and again went out into the world—a cheerful man.”[4]

NMAAHC-A2010_26_29_8_1_002
Joseph Douglass with violin, and Frederick Douglass in Boston, MA, May 10, 1894. Photo by Denis Bourdon. Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Dr. Charlene Hodges Byrd A2010_26_29_8_1_002

Douglass shared his love of music with his family, especially grandson Joseph, who became a concert violinist. Born in Anacostia in 1869, Joseph Douglass studied at the New England Conservatory of Music and often performed before and after his grandfather’s lectures. They posed for this photo, for example, in Boston, Massachusetts, where Frederick Douglass spoke and Joseph Douglass played at the People’s Church (Methodist Episcopal) on May 10, 1894.[5] It was among the last photographs for which Frederick Douglass sat; he died on February 20, 1895.

Joseph Douglass
Joseph Douglass. Evans-Tibbs Collection, Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution, gift of the Estate of Thurlow E. Tibbs, Jr. ACM-acma_PH2003.7063.174

Joseph Douglass considered himself a musical ambassador. He toured abroad and in the United States, “particularly throughout the South and in Southern colleges” to reach African American audiences.[6] The renowned Howard University educator also directed community music schools, which provided music education and social services to immigrant families in New York City and Washington, D.C., respectively.

Joseph Douglass lived with his family in the U Street Corridor of Washington, D.C., a neighborhood also called the “Black Broadway” for its thriving arts scene. It was home, for instance, to composer Duke Ellington and opera singer Madame Lillian Evanti (Lillian Evans). The Anacostia Community Museum’s portrait of Joseph Douglass is part of the Evans-Tibbs Collection, named for Lillian Evans and her husband, Roy Tibbs, a music professor at Howard University. Joseph Douglass contracted pneumonia and died at age 66 in 1935.

Did You Know?

  • Frederick Douglass’s violin is on display at his home, Cedar Hill, a National Park Service site approximately one mile from the Anacostia Community Museum.
  • Frederick Douglass taught his son, Frederick Douglass, Jr., and grandson Joseph Douglass to play violin.
  • At age 22, Joseph Douglass performed at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair in collaboration with artists such as poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar.
  • On February 14, 1896, Joseph Douglass gave a concert to benefit a “home for friendless girls” at Metropolitan A.M.E. Church in Washington, D.C.
  • Joseph Douglass was the first violinist to record for the Victor Talking Machine Company (1914) and the first African American violinist to tour internationally.
  • Like his famous grandfather, Joseph Douglass appeared regularly at the White House. He gave concerts for Presidents McKinley, [Theodore] Roosevelt, and Taft.[7]

[1] Douglass, Frederick. Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, Written by Himself. 1892. Boston: De Wolfe and Fiske Co., p. 14.

[2] Douglass, 14.

[3] Douglass, 14.

[4] Gregory, James M. Frederick Douglass, The Orator. Containing an Account of His Life; His Eminent Public Services; His Brilliant Career as Orator; Selections from His Speeches and Writings. 1893. Springfield, Mass.: Willey and Co., p. 211.

[5] Stauffer, John, Zoe Trodd, and Celeste-Marie Bernier. 2015. Picturing Frederick Douglass: An Illustrated Biography of the Nineteenth Century’s Most Photographed American. New York: Liveright Publishing Co., p. 61.

[6] “Joseph Douglass, Abolitionist’s Grandson, Dies.” Baltimore Afro-American, December 14, 1935, p. 22.

[7] “Joseph Douglass, Noted Violinist, Dies.” The Washington Post, December 8, 1935, p. 17.

Processing the Fractious Family Papers

The Anacostia Community Museum offers unpaid internships year-round to students enrolled in undergraduate and graduate programs who wish to learn and gain professional experience in various fields including archival science. Here, our 2017 summer intern, Shannon Wagner shares her experience processing the Fractious Family papers.

Fractious Family Papers, Blanche Queen Fractious

Fractious Family Papers, Robert Fractious

I spent my internship processing  a collection of papers that document the lives and achievements of several generals of the Fractious family of Washington, DC.

The collection was minimally processed using some suggested guidelines in the archival science article “More Product, Less Process: Pragmatically Revamping Traditional Processing Approaches to Deal with Late 20th-Century Collections” by Mark A. Greene and Dennis Meissner (2004). The authors suggest a processing strategy that takes less time while focusing on the most important parts of the collection to reduce backlogs and provide faster access to archival collections. Using the museum’s processing guidelines and in accordance with Frederic Millers’ processing suggestions, I removed “metal fasters such as rusting staples. . .” and other harmful elements to the collection. Photocopies and folded papers were flattened, certificates were placed in protective mylar sleeves to prevent tearing or bending, and photographs were separated from papers.

Processing this collection was a great way to enhance my understanding of preserving archival materials and the technical side of archival work, while also learning about  life in the the Anacostia neighborhood in the 1940s and beyond. I found the correspondence in the collection by far the most interesting; it includes over 100 letters written between 1917 and 1948. Most of the letters were written during WWII (1939-1945) between Blanche Queen and her future husband, Robert Fractious.

Fractious Family Papers, bundle of correspondence pre-processing. Photo by  Shannon Wagner.

At the time she wrote the letters, Blanche Queen (Fractious) was approximately 21 years old, and Robert Fractious was serving his third year of duty overseas. The letters reference several pivotal events in the country during the course of WWII. Blanche writes to Robert about the lack of cigarettes in the US in December of 1944, the citizen curfew in March of 1945, and President Roosevelt’s death on April 16, 1945. She states:

“Everybody here is very much broken up about the death of our President. We had Saturday off and I don’t think the US will ever go into complete mourning for any one [sic] else as they did for him. There were no places of amusement open, all the leading chain stores were closed, all the department stores, infact [sic] everything was closed. Sunday was a day of nation wide [sic] memorial services in churches army camps and the radio. All programs of entertainment were completely cut out. The whole thing was indeed the sadest [sic] affair I have ever witnessed. The streets of the White house were so full of people it was almost impossible to pass. Everybody who could went to the processional that took place at 10:00 am on Conn. Ave. That was truly an occasion I have never seen so many people crying in all my life.”

Besides documenting momentous events in her letters, Blance describes daily life and events such as weddings, deaths, church gatherings, and various happenings in the community.

Fractious Family Papers, collection post-processing. Items organized in acid-free folders in archival boxes.  Photo by Shannon Wagner.

The Fractious Family papers offers a wealth of information about the everyday life experiences of Washingtonians during WWII.  The correspondence is fascinating but there are also photographs and other materials in the collection that document family and community life.

I’m happy I had a role in making this collection accessible to the public!

References:

Greene, Mark A. and Dennis Meissner “More Product, Less Process: Revamping TraditionalArchival Processing,” The American Archivist, Vol. 68 (Fall/Winter 2005) : 208–263. http://www.archivists.org/prof-education/pre-readings/IMPLP/AA68.2.MeissnerGreene.pdf

Miller, Fredric. Arranging and Describing Archives and Manuscripts. Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 1990

Big Day For the Big Chair

Fifty-nine years ago today, Curtis Brothers Furniture Company declared July 25, 1959 Big Chair Day to celebrate the oversized chair that stood as a conspicuous advertisement in front of their showroom at the corner of V Street and Nichols Avenue (now Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue) in southeast Washington, DC. A piece of the original Big Chair is in the Museum’s collection, bearing testimony to one of the Anacostia neighborhood’s most famous landmarks.

Modeled in the Duncan Phyfe style and crafted out of mahogany, the 19 ½ foot, 4,600 pound chair was installed atop a four foot high concrete pedestal with a plaque touting it as the “World’s Largest Chair.” It took skilled laborers from Bassett Furniture Industries 900 hours to construct it in late 1958, and once erected, it became an immediate attraction, drawing visitors from all over the city.

January 16, 2018 – Bolivian dance troupe Tinkus Tiatako dances near the Big Chair sculpture during the annual Martin Luther King Jr Day Parade in historic Anacostia.
Photo by Susana Raab, Anacostia Community Museum, Smithsonian Institution

The Curtis Brothers Furniture Company capitalized on people’s curiosity and celebrated Big Chair Day extravagantly with a carnival-like atmosphere. The company gave away furniture and other prizes, offered pony rides for children and orchids for women, hosted live music by The Buckskins, and offered free photographs of customers with the Big Chair. The crowning moment of Big Chair Day 1959 was the coronation of Maureen Reagan, daughter of future President Ronald Reagan, as Miss World’s Largest Chair.[1]

The Curtis Brothers continued advertising their company as the “Home of the World’s Largest Chair” until it folded in 1975. Just months after hosting Big Chair Day, the company celebrated the Christmas holiday with advertisements calling on Washingtonians to “come and see the World’s Largest Santa sitting on the World’s Largest Chair.”[2] Another marketing gimmick featured a 9×10 foot furnished glass house placed atop the chair. A young woman named Rebecca Kirby, a model who went by the name Lynn Arnold, lived in it for forty-two days. The event was widely advertised by the furniture store and covered by the local press.[3] Local residents who witnessed it talked about it for decades[4]

Chuck Brown performing atop the Big Chair.
Photo by Steven M. Cummings, Anacostia Community Museum, Smithsonian Institution

Since its construction, the Big Chair has functioned as more than an advertisement for furniture. It has served as a gathering place for local residents, a way-finding marker for those giving directions, and a focal point of Washington, DC’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade. Even after the Curtis Brothers Furniture Company closed in 1975, the chair remained at the same street corner, unchanged for decades save for repairs and painting by its caretaker, John Kidwell.  George Curtis III, son of the original furniture store owner, stated in 1986 “There’s no difference between that and the Washington Monument. It’s a landmark.”[5]

As befits a landmark, the Big Chair has shown great longevity. Although the original mahogany frame had to be dismantled in 2005 due to weathering, a new Big Chair was quickly erected in the same location, largely funded by the Curtis Investment Group. It was unveiled on April 25, 2006, in front of 250 invited guests, civic leaders, and politicians, including then-Washington, DC Mayor, Anthony A. Williams. The new Chair is cast proportionately to the original, but made of 2,600 pounds of painted aluminum, which requires less maintenance and lasts infinitely longer than wood. It continues the tradition of anchoring the community and standing as a landmark of Anacostia.

Souvenir block from the original Big Chair. Object no. 2006.0007.0001

As to the remainder of the original Big Chair, the discarded mahogany was cut into souvenir blocks, one of which was eventually donated to our Museum. Though a simple wooden block, it carries the weight of a neighborhood’s history – conveying some of what the Big Chair has meant to Anacostia in the six decades since the Curtis Brothers Furniture Company crafted it to draw in customers.

[1] The Evening Star (Washington, DC), July 24, 1959, sec C, 20. Newsbank Inc., (accessed July 17, 2018).

[2] The Evening Star (Washington, DC), December 21, 1959, sec A, 4. Newsbank Inc., (accessed July 17, 2018).

[3] “Model Gets Her Feet On the Ground Again,” The Evening Star (Washington, DC), September 24, 1960, sec A, 8. Newsbank Inc., (accessed July 17, 2018).

[4] Paul Schwartzman, “The Return of the Big Chair: A Very Big Deal,” The Washington Post, April 26, 2006, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/04/25/AR2006042501682.html (accessed July 17, 2018).

[5] Sandra Fleishman, “It May Not Be the Biggest but It’s Ours,” The Washington Post Magazine, November 23, 1986, 17-18. Proquest Historical Newspapers: The Washington Post (1877 – 2001), (accessed July 17, 2018).

Juneteenth Resources

Juneteenth celebration in Galveston, Texas, June 19th, 2002. Photograph by Steven M. Cummings. ACMA_03-055_GT0097

Across the nation last week various communities celebrated Juneteenth with a parade, festival, or both. The holiday is the best-known emancipation celebration in the United States, commemorating June 19, 1865, the day that Union troops under the command of General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas with the announcement of the abolition of slavery.  Until Granger’s arrival, some enslaved Texans were unaware of the end of slavery.

Growing up in a military family, I fondly recall attending Juneteenth celebrations in most of the States I called home. The festivities included speeches and actors recreating events in the life of historical figures, such as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman. There were also games, music, arts and crafts, and great food!    The holiday brought together a diverse population of my local community to commemorate this event and celebrate African American heritage and culture.

Juneteenth celebration in Galveston, Texas June 19th, 2002. Photograph by Steven M. Cummings. ACMA_03-055_GT0064.

Years later when I started working in the Archives at the Anacostia Community Museum, I was thrilled to discover the museum held Juneteenth community festivals from 1989 to 1998.  In addition, the museum documented Juneteenth in Galveston, Texas for its 2005 exhibition: Jubilee: African American celebrations exhibition.

Juneteenth celebration in Galveston, Texas, June 19th, 2012. Photograph by Steven M. Cummings. ACMA_03-55_GT0140

Our archival holdings consist of a sizable collection of contemporary Juneteenth materials, from photographs and programs to video recordings.  We are now hard at work on an onwill be more accessible as we move towards making our collections more publicly accessible online.

Juneteenth ’91, “freedom revisited” publication by Betty Belanus and the Anacostia Museum.

A Fashionable Journalist

On this day 36 years ago, Mayor Marion Barry Jr. declared June 12, 1982 Ethel Lois Payne Day in Washington, DC. Collections Researcher Bailey Ferster commemorates the day by digging into the museum’s collections for a personal look at this grande dame of journalism.

Known as the “First-Lady of the Black Press,” Ethel Payne earned a reputation as a no-nonsense journalist who asked some of the most challenging questions. We’ve written about her accomplishments before in this blog, and today we reflect on her personal sense of style.

Ethel Payne, Portrait commissioned by Miller Brewing Company, 1987

In line with her fearless journalistic practice, Ethel Payne was a bold and charismatic dresser, unafraid to stand out in a crowd. Photographs show her wearing bright colors and eye-catching prints, and a 1987 painting portrays her elegantly attired in a loose-fitting multicolored dress with a long bead necklace, pendant earrings, bracelets and large rings. The background is painted in muted tones that accentuate her strong presence.

Some of her personal effects in the museum’s collection include a set of patterned deer hide suitcases and fur trimmed capes she used while traveling. Many of the clothes she donned were custom-made outfits from overseas, tangible connections to the cultures she experienced while traveling for work. One of her most treasured accessories, however, was a wide-brimmed green hat decorated with artificial flowers, leaves, and berries. Wide-rim hats as well as floral hats were popular during much of her career, from the 1940s to the 1970s, and Ethel’s pistachio green hat took the fashion to its zenith. More eccentric and expressive than most, the hat was decorated by hand, each flower, berry, and leaf stitched into place with green thread that is visible on the inside and underside of the brim. This hat, and Ethel’s other eye-catching fashion choices, lend credence to historic tales of her commanding presence on the media circuit.

Ethel Payne’s Floral Hat, Anacostia Community Museum

An ongoing museum project to document objects in our collection is adding depth and texture to our understanding of important community leaders. Ethel Payne’s hat and other personal accessories speak to her unique style and provide a sense of her striking personality. Her fashion choices offer an intimate look at the remarkable woman who earned a national reputation for her trailblazing work in journalism.

 

Say Their Names: The Walter Pierce Park Cemeteries Commemoration

From the Collection: Last year on Memorial Day weekend, descendants and friends of the Walter Pierce Park Cemeteries gathered to commemorate the people who are buried in this busy urban park in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, DC. The Museum’s photographer was on hand to observe and document the ceremony.

The park’s history is not widely known. Long before it acquired a dog park, soccer field, basketball court and children’s play area, the land served as the city’s only Quaker cemetery, the Friends Burying Ground (active 1807-1890), and a large African American cemetery, Mt. Pleasant Plains Cemetery (active from 1870-1890).

May 27, 2017 – The Reverend Segun Adebayo of Macedonia Church addresses the audience during the commemoration of a historic African American and Quaker burial ground located underneath Walter Pierce Park in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, DC.
Photo: Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution (triptych photograph).

In the early 2000s, neighbors were concerned about development plans that risked disturbing the burials. They joined forces with Howard University anthropologists and spearheaded efforts to document the park’s historical significance. Over the course of three years, the Walter Pierce Park Archaeological Team documented the artifacts and remains of over 8,000 people buried in Mt. Pleasant Plains Cemetery and the Friends Burying Ground. In 2015, the National Park Service named the Mt. Pleasant Plains Cemetery at Walter Pierce Park a National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Site.

May 27, 2017 – African American Civil War Memorial Founder Frank Smith (right) and Patricia Tyson of FREED (Female Re-Enactors of Distinction) (left) read names together during the Memorial ceremony. Photo: Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

Local resident Mary Belcher has been active in organizing The Walter Pierce Park Cemeteries Organization and commemorating the park. Last year, on Memorial Day weekend, participants recited the names of those buried in the park, and some told the stories of their interred ancestors. African American Civil War Memorial Founder Frank Smith and Patricia Tyson of FREED (Female Re-Enactors of Distinction) sat close together as a light rain cloistered the groups. Descendants T.J. Thomas and the Reverend Joanne Braxton addressed the crowd and told of their respective interred ancestors’ stories, and how they discovered their relationship to the ground. It is estimated that around a million people have ancestors in the Walter Pierce Park Cemeteries.

May 27, 2017 – The crowd reading names during the commemoration of a historic African American and Quaker burial ground located underneath Walter Pierce Park in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, DC. Photo: Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

The Walter Pierce Park Cemeteries Organization will be hosting the commemoration this Memorial Day weekend on Saturday May 26, 2018 at 11 am at Walter Pierce Park.

Celebrating Good Friday at Shrine of the Sacred Heart, Columbia Heights, DC

From the Collection: As part of the Museum’s documentation of communities of faith, museum photographer Susana Raab photographed the Good Friday Procession at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart on April 14, 2017.

Members of the Shrine of the Sacred Heart wait in front of the church before beginning their procession through Mt. Pleasant and Columbia Heights on Good Friday. Photograph by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

If you spend any time in Latin America around Easter you may be familiar with the ritual of Good Friday processions just prior to the celebration of Easter Sunday.  Every year, penitents and clergy gather to reenact the crucifixion, on the path known as the Via Dolorosa, or “Way of Grief” in Latin.  Processing on foot, and bearing biers with images of Saints, the Virgin Mary, and Jesus, the marchers perform this act of penance in commemoration of Jesus’ sacrifice of his life for mankind’s sins.

A young parishioner dressed as a Roman soldier waits to begin the procession outside the Shrine of the Sacred Heart on Good Friday. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

Here in Washington, DC, perhaps no other parish is as identified with carrying on this tradition as the Shrine of the Sacred Heart.  Established in 1899, this Roman Catholic church in the Mount Pleasant/Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, DC has a long history of social justice ministry.  Run by the Franciscan Capuchin Order, it is the spiritual home to many Latin American families, including a large population of Salvadoran-Americans.

A penitent reenacts the role of Jesus Christ on the Via Dolorosa, his last walk with the cross before being crucified. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacosita Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

In 2017, the procession began at the church at 3211 Sacred Heart Way, moving past townhomes on Park Road before entering Mount Pleasant Street, continuing on Irving Street NW to 14th Street NW in Columbia Heights, and forming a loop that ends at the church.

Numbering several hundred people, the procession travelled in a wide loop, traversing through the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood before reaching 14th Street in Columbia Heights on Park Rd. Various songs and hymns were sung in different languages within the procession, representing the Latin American, Vietnamese, and Haitian immigrants who have found a spiritual home at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart. A Haitian man held his hand to his heart as he brought the Virgin Mary back to the Church at the end of the procession. Over an hour later, the parishioners return the Shrine to say Mass on after the Good Friday Procession.

The procession walked past row houses on the streets of Mt. Pleasant before heading through the central commercial district on Mt. Pleasant Avenue.
Photo by Susana Raab/Anacosita Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

The youngest penitents in the procession dressed as shepherds.
Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

A life-size Jesus in a coffin was borne on the backs of a group of men, who carried their heavy burden while singing hymns in unison with the crowd that grew in numbers  as they approached the heart of Mt. Pleasant on Mt. Pleasant Street.
Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution