Douglass Dwellings: Collection Spotlight

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Tom Thumb wedding at the Frederick Douglass Recreation Center. Frederick Douglass Dwellings Collection, Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution, gift of members of the Southeast Voices.

Anacostia Community Museum Archives recently acquired two collections donated by Southeast Voices relating to the Frederick Douglass housing projects: Henry Bazemore Collection of Frederick Douglass Dwellings Photographs and the Frederick Douglass Dwellings Collection. The Douglass Dwellings were built in Southeast Washington, D.C., as World War II-era temporary housing for African American workers. Celebrated African American architect Hilyard R. Robinson designed the complex, and renowned photographer Gordon Parks documented the community for the Farm Security Administration.

Both collections contain photographs of social activities in the community sponsored by the local recreation center. Among the charming activities for the children were “Tom Thumb Weddings,” where children played the roles of bride, groom, minister, wedding party, and guest. Other activities documented in the collections are dance recitals, sporting events, hobby shows, and the annual soap box derby. The images challenge perceptions of life in public housing during the 1940s by illustrating the positive aspects of life in the projects.

This entry originally posted on the Smithsonian Collections Blog on Friday, April 23, 2010.

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In 2009 members of Southeast Voices gather at the Anacostia Community Museum to share old pictures including “Tom Thumb Wedding” images, and photos of family and community. They also attend a workshop on the Preservation of Photographs and participate in video interviews. Photograph by Henry Bazemore.

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