“Contrabands” African American Refugees in Washington During the Civil War

An estimated 40,000 to 50,000 enslaved African Americans fled from Virginia and Maryland to Washington during the Civil War. They were originally called “contrabands.” This was a term coined by the press after General Major General Benjamin Butler’s decision in 1861 to not return three fugitive slaves who had come to Fort Monroe, Hampton Roads in Virginia. Rather than sending them back to their owner—where they had been building a Confederate artillery position—Butler opted to hold them as contraband war loot. Ironically, this legal loophole allowed Union soldiers an opportunity to grant escaped slaves a type of freedom by continuing to treat them as property.

In Washington, these new arrivals were first thrown into jail by the city’s authorities and later taken under the care of the military and interned in a sequence of camps. Subjected to crowding and unsanitary conditions they were decimated by contagious diseases such as tuberculosis, smallpox, typhoid fever, diphtheria, and cholera. Infants died due to fevers, diarrhea, and convulsions.

Children often were separated from their families. Some of them were taken in by the military and served as servants for the officers. Others were sent to the Orphan Home located in Georgetown where conditions were as bad as they had been in the camps. Still others were hired out to people who promised to provide education, health care, housing and clothing in exchange for their service, but who, in some instances, mistreated them badly.

Out of these desperate circumstances emerged after the Civil War a population, often identified as “Freedmen,” who made their home in Washington determined to live a new life as free people. In 1860, the African American population of Washington was 14,316, by 1870 the number had raised to 35, 455, an increase of over 200%. These newcomers were the first wave that would make of Washington a majority African American city in mid-20th century.

Today, 150 years after the Civil War, Washington is changing again. Fast-paced gentrification, which has brought into the city a number of young, affluent residents of many ethnicities, has reversed the trend and Washington is no longer a majority African-American city.

 

 

 

 

African American refugees at Camp Brightwood

African American refugees at Camp Brightwood

DC Government asks you to Nominate a Ward 7 Woman of Excellence

JOIN THE EAST RIVER FAMILY STRENGTHENING COLLABORATIVE IN ITS ANNUAL 7 WARD 7 WOMEN OF EXCELLENCE AWARDS LUNCHEON ON MARCH 26, 2015 AT NOON.  FOR MORE INFORMATION OR TO NOMINATE A WOMAN ENTREPRENEUR OR SMALL BUSINESS OWNER FOR THIS YEAR’S CEREMONY VISIT:  

www.ward7womenofexcellence.eventbrite.com

2015+WARD+7+WOMEN+OF+EXCELLENCE

Smithsonian 2015 Latino Museum Studies Program Seeking Applicants! Deadline April 17!

Scholars in Wards 7 & 8 and beyond: Please consider applying to the Smithsonian’s 2015 Latino Museum Studies Program.  The program seeks scholars and emerging leaders in the fields of Latino history, art, and culture. You can come to Anacostia and use our resources to broaden your understanding. More information can be found bellow or by visiting www.latino.si.edu.

 

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Throwback Thursday: Footsteps from North Brentwood

Brentwood30North Brentwood community member conducting tour of exhibition, 1996.  Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution.

Footsteps from North Brentwood, an exhibition which documented the growth and development of the first municipality in Prince Georges County, Maryland incorporated by African American citizens, opened on July 12, 1996 at the Anacostia Community Museum.  The show was developed by the museum in collaboration  with the North Brentwood Historical Society.  It included a collection of photographs, documents, and artifacts collected by the North Brentwood Historical Society over a three year period.  In addition, the exhibit featured oral history interviews with community members which speak to individual remembrances of growing up in North Brentwood.

Besides historical photographs and documents, Footsteps from North Brentwood exhibition records also contain portraits of community members taken by museum photographer.

 

It’s Our River

It’s Our River

Our cities and towns are situated along rivers and streams. Often these waterways mark the geographic boundaries and set the physical identity for the places where we live and work. We expect our rivers to be streams of fresh, flowing water. We look for natural beauty along the riversides, with birds wheeling overhead, fish swimming and jumping in the waters, and lovely flowers and trees along the riverbanks. We think our urban waterways will provide peace and solitude in the midst of our hectic daily lives in the already big—and in the still developing—cities that we call “home.”

It’s Our River.

We fish for perch and catfish and sometimes eat the fish, but most of the time we throw them back. We boat and paddle, in yachts, canoes, and kayaks, and we race in dragon boats and racing sculls. We go bird watching, and we seek out special flowers and orchids along the shore. We bike and hike and sit and meditate along the banks this river. The river calls us, and, guided by the river’s spirit, we commune with nature in the midst of urban hustle and bustle.

It’s Our River.

Dennis L. Chestnut, founding executive director of Groundwork Anacostia River DC, is a passionate advocate for education, nature conservation, and restoration of the Anacostia River. A mentor to young people in his Ward 7 northeast DC neighborhood and the region, Chestnut loves the outdoors and is a shining example of what one man of vision can inspire others to do. Photograph by Susana A. Raab, Anacostia Community Museum

Dennis L. Chestnut, founding executive director of Groundwork Anacostia River DC, is a passionate advocate for education, nature conservation, and restoration of the Anacostia River. A mentor to young people in his Ward 7 northeast DC neighborhood and the region, Chestnut loves the outdoors and is a shining example of what one man of vision can inspire others to do.
Photograph by Susana A. Raab, Anacostia Community Museum

David Saunders goes out early in the mornings on his days off to relax and fish for sport. An avid fisherman for more than 25 years, he often catches catfish (as well as rockfish in the Potomac), but he doesn’t eat them; he lets the fish go. Photograph by Susana A. Raab, Anacostia Community Museum

David Saunders goes out early in the mornings on his days off to relax and fish for sport. An avid fisherman for more than 25 years, he often catches catfish (as well as rockfish in the Potomac), but he doesn’t eat them; he lets the fish go.
Photograph by Susana A. Raab, Anacostia Community Museum

Charles “Bob” Martin has been an enthusiastic boatman since he was a boy. He built his first boat at age 12. The past commodore (leader) of the historic Seafarers Yacht Club in Washington, DC, Martin continues to inspire young people to love and respect the water and to take up boating.  Photograph by Susana A. Raab, Anacostia Community Museum

Charles “Bob” Martin has been an enthusiastic boatman since he was a boy. He built his first boat at age 12. The past commodore (leader) of the historic Seafarers Yacht Club in Washington, DC, Martin continues to inspire young people to love and respect the water and to take up boating.
Photograph by Susana A. Raab, Anacostia Community Museum

Xia Garner, as a third-grader at Maury Elementary School in northeast Washington, DC, and her classmates went to Kenilworth Park and Marsh to plant wild rice seedlings they grew in the classroom. The class participated in the Anacostia Watershed Society’s Rice Rangers program to help restore wetlands along the Anacostia River.  Photograph by Susana A. Raab, Anacostia Community Museum

Xia Garner, as a third-grader at Maury Elementary School in northeast Washington, DC, and her classmates went to Kenilworth Park and Marsh to plant wild rice seedlings they grew in the classroom. The class participated in the Anacostia Watershed Society’s Rice Rangers program to help restore wetlands along the Anacostia River.
Photograph by Susana A. Raab, Anacostia Community Museum

 

 

 

Art & Culture Along the Anacostia – Festivals & Concerts

Festivals are wonderful ways to bring people together in celebration and recreation. While great strides had been made in cleaning up the Potomac River, then-Mayor Marion Barry saw the Anacostia River as the great social divide in Washington. In 1984 he inaugurated an annual river festival to get people from all walks of life to come down to the water and see the potential of the Washington riverfronts along the Potomac and the Anacostia.

Since that time, the river fest idea has evolved into the development of a park-like venue near the baseball stadium, “The Yards Park,” and a schedule that includes river clean-up celebrations, the Kingman Island Bluegrass and Folk Festival, and the Anacostia River Jazz Festival sponsored by the National Park Service. During the course of the year the Anacostia waterfront at the “Yards” plays host to numerous ethnic festivals such as the Global Nepal Fest and art shows and contests along the riverfront. All of these activities help the District celebrate in many ways the revitalization of the Anacostia River.

 

LUMEN8 Festival Photo Collage Photographs Corianne Setzer, Anacostia Community Museum, 2013

LUMEN8 Festival Photo Collage
Photographs Corianne Setzer, Anacostia Community Museum, 2013

Fat de Tour Bike Tour at Yards Park Photograph Corianne Setzer, Anacostia Community Museum, 2012

Fat de Tour Bike Tour at Yards Park
Photograph Corianne Setzer, Anacostia Community Museum, 2012

Poster for The Bluegrass & Folk Festival which takes place on Kingman Island

Poster for the Kingman Island Bluegrass & Folk Festival

 

 

Boating in the Anacostia

Boating on the river has become increasingly popular. This recreational use provides a marvelous opportunity to learn respect for nature and the river and to value the river as a celebrated place. On the Anacostia, the Seafarers Yacht Club and the Capital Rowing Club have been instrumental in helping to develop public awareness of the Anacostia River as a place for kayaking, rowing, and pleasure-boating.

On summer evenings the Anacostia Community Boathouse is awash with dozens of groups of rowers, young and old, who come to test their mettle on the river. Local interest in canoeing on the Anacostia River brings people out in the late spring and summer to the Anacostia Watershed Society’s “Paddle Nights.” As anyone who has ventured forth on the river in a canoe will tell you, the Anacostia is a waterway of exceptional beauty teaming with birdlife and other animals.

Canoeing
The canoe has been a major medium of transport and commerce throughout human history. In North America native peoples, then European explorers, settlers, fur traders, and missionaries, used the canoe to carry goods and people far and wide in all kinds of weather and conditions.

Kayaking
Kayaking is a popular recreational exercise and sport. Participants paddle in closed deck boats as they sit forward and move the boat with a paddle that has a blade on each end.

Organization for Anacostia Rowing and Sculling (OARS)
Robert “Coach” Day began the Organization for Anacostia Rowing and Sculling (OARS) in 1988 to bring crew (rowing as a sport and recreation) to underserved teens from local high schools and at-risk youth along the Anacostia River. On the original site of OARS, ten (10) member rowing clubs and four (4) high school crews now call the Anacostia Community Boathouse home base.

Anacostia Invitational Regatta
In May 1992 OARS initiated the Anacostia Invitational Regatta; community activist Carl Cole made the banner and named the first single rowing scull donated to OARS. The scull is the Dr. Frederick Douglass Patterson, Sr., named for a former Anacostia resident, who was the third president of Tuskegee Institute (now University) and the uncle of local historian Dianne Dale.

Seafarers Yacht Club
Since 1945 the Seafarers Yacht Club has been an African American presence on the river. In addition to encouraging boating on the Anacostia, the club, considered the oldest black yacht club on the East Coast (if not in America), has been a pioneer in cleaning up 150 tons of debris along the river’s shore line. Seafarers also participate in community projects like financial aid to distressed flood victims and baskets of food for the poor at Christmas time.

Dragon Boat Paddle
DC Dragons, the adult dragon boat team of the National Capital Area Women’s Paddling Association, practices out of the Anacostia Community Boathouse on the Anacostia River. Dragon boat racing is an increasingly popular international sport, with 20 paddlers in 10 rows facing front, a drummer to set the pace, and a steersperson to navigate.

Sculling
Gabe Horchler, a law librarian at the Library of Congress, regularly commutes to work via the river: “Why not commute by boat, I thought . . . in less than one hour in my rowing shell? . . . March through November, my routine has been to bicycle from our home in Cheverly [Maryland] to the Bladensburg waterfront, row my boat to the Anacostia Community Boathouse adjacent to the Pennsylvania Avenue Bridge, and then ride my second bike the 1.5 miles to the Library of Congress.”

Jon boat (or johnboat)
A jon boat is a small, flat-bottomed boat with square ends, made of aluminum or wood and suitable for use on calm bodies of water, especially on urban waterways. Jon boats are favored by fishermen and hunters.

Photograph; Corianne Setzer, Anacostia Community Museum 2013

Photograph; Corianne Setzer, Anacostia Community Museum 2013

Gabe Horchler, an employee at the LIbrary of Congress, begins his evening commute home to Bladensburg Waterfront Park via  the Anacostia Community Boathouse on the Anacostia River in Southeast Washington, DC.

Gabe Horchler, an employee at the LIbrary of Congress, begins his evening commute home to Bladensburg Waterfront Park via the Anacostia Community Boathouse on the Anacostia River in Southeast Washington, DC.

Section One  #36

Practicing with DC Dragons, a group of Dragon Boat Racers based out of the Anacostia Community Boathouse on the Anacostia River in Southeast Washington, DC.

Practicing with DC Dragons, a group of Dragon Boat Racers based out of the Anacostia Community Boathouse on the Anacostia River in Southeast Washington, DC.

Ryan Crowley, kayaks in his inflatable orange kayak along the Potomac River in Washington, DC.

Ryan Crowley, kayaks in his inflatable orange kayak along the Potomac River in Washington, DC.

 

Stewardship of the Anacostia

We are becoming more aware of how important a healthy Anacostia River is to the well-being of this region are taking charge and taking better care of the Anacostia. Locally, in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia, ordinary residents—along with more than 50 advocacy groups, governmental agencies, and other stakeholders—are reaching out to neighborhoods and organizing to clean up urban rivers and streams. These communities strive to achieve the goals of swimmable, fishable, and sustainable waterways for their cities and citizens—goals common to urban situations everywhere. To achieve a cleaner and more useful river we have to expect that District and Maryland governments will enact new laws to address stormwater pollution from private properties currently under real estate development.

Restoration efforts on the Anacostia River have been piecemeal so far without a coordinating authority with resources and legal strength to prioritize actions across political boundaries. Many of the river’s toxics (chemicals, poisons, and other pollutants) are “fixed” in the streambed of the Anacostia River as part of the river soil and cannot be easily removed from the river and its waters. The Environmental Protection Agency alone cannot compel cities and companies to clean up “legacy toxics.” Successful cleanup of legacy toxics will require broad-based community efforts and continuing scientific research.

Volunteers creating a chain-gang to remove trash from the river’s edge at Diamond Teague Park Photograph by Corianne Setzer, Anacostia Community Museum, 2013

Volunteers creating a chain-gang to remove trash from the river’s edge at Diamond Teague Park
Photograph by Corianne Setzer, Anacostia Community Museum, 2013

Volunteers using kayaks to clean trash in the Anacostia River at Diamond Teague Park Photograph Courtesy of Margaret Boehm, 2013

Volunteers using kayaks to clean trash in the Anacostia River at Diamond Teague Park
Photograph Courtesy of Margaret Boehm, 2013

Volunteers at an Earth Day Clean-up event at Bladensburg Park, MD Photograph by Corianne Setzer, 2014

Volunteers at an Earth Day Clean-up event at Bladensburg Park, MD
Photograph by Corianne Setzer, 2014

 

Reclaiming the Edge Exhibition

Our exhibition, Reclaiming the Edge- Urban Waterways and Civic Engagement, dealt with issues affecting waterways throughout the world, as well as in our own backyard.  The primary themes covered in the exhibition were as follows:\

Issues of densely populated watersheds: The Anacostia River is one of the most densely populated watersheds in the country with major problems arising from upriver communities in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties in Maryland. The exhibition addressed issues and impacts that have turned rivers from pristine waterways of fresh water into rank sewers creating challenges for public health.

Urban waterways and diverse populations: In our research, we found, rivers often become belts or barriers of racial and ethnic segregation. Pollution and industrial development of riverfronts has historically had a disproportionate negative impact on poor and ethnically diverse populations. The exhibition explored the impacts urban wastershed neglect has had on minority and low income populations.

National rivers and urban development:  The exhibition showcased new experiences in city planning and building, specifically in waterfront development along rivers in Pittsburg, Louisville, Los Angeles, London and Shanghai.  These cities have all worked to restore their waterfronts as places of congregation and recreation. By using these waterfronts as models, the vision of a rehabilitated Anacostia River then can become a reality.

Development and river ecology: This theme explored human attempts to tame or engineer urban rivers through the mechanisms of state power and planning, risk assessment, and zoning. It also assessed the role the river plays in wildness and an environmental “place” within the urban experience.

Reclaiming the Edge Exhibition

Reclaiming the Edge Exhibition

Reclaiming the Edge Exhibition

Reclaiming the Edge Exhibition

Reclaiming the Edge Exhibit

Reclaiming the Edge Exhibit

Reclaiming the Edge Exhibition

Reclaiming the Edge Exhibition

Reclaiming the Edge Exhibition

Reclaiming the Edge Exhibition

 

 

 

 

Urban Waterways Newsletter Spring 2014

Water and Faith

Water plays an integral role in our spiritual lives. It serves as a purifier to prepare the worshipper and sacred space for communion with a higher power. It anoints the believer as he prepares for his final journey. For some, water serves as a manifestation of the divine worthy of reverence itself. Despite the varied ways in which we incorporate water into our beliefs and expressions of faith, the common trait shared by various faiths is an instinctual understanding of the sanctity of water and other aspects of the natural world.

As communities face the issues in the growing debates and battles over the definitions and practices of environmentalism, the responsibilities and rights of residents, and the practicalities of creating healthy, sustainable neighborhoods, towns, and cities, the role of faith communities has come into focus.

What is our obligation to the natural word? Do we have dominion, or are we meant to be stewards? How can faith communities who have had a role as the leading moral forces in our communities make their environmental messages blend seamlessly into their moral teachings? Are faith communities an under-tapped source of authority in the efforts to “green” our communities?

The contributors to this issue have taken the teachings of their faiths and used them as a source of authority to participate in the movement for healthier communities, economic and social justice, and the reclamation of a natural world in which residents can find
a source of renewal and pride. For some it requires reigniting a lost reverence for the natural world that has been lost, while others find themselves awakening the members of their faith communities to their roles as caretakers. Regardless of the ways in which faith communities help to lead the fight for environmental protection and change, the possible futures remain the same: global communities in which residents are leading healthy lives.

 

Urban Waterways – Newsletter 2

 

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