Category Archives: Community History

Douglass Dwellings: Collection Spotlight

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.

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.

Throwback Thursday: Revisiting Black Mosaic

Installation shot of Black Mosaic exhibition. The groundbreaking show was organized by the Anacostia Community Museum and held there from August 21, 1994 to August 7, 1995.

For our very first throwback, an installation shot of Black Mosaic: Community, Race, and Ethnicity among Black Immigrants in Washington, DC exhibition.

The exhibition explored the immigration of people of African descent from Central and South America and the Caribbean to the Washignton Metropolitan  area. The show focused on several issues including: Identity; the African Diaspora in the Americas; memories of home; race and color at home; migration/immigration; music;  and community life in Washington.

To view the exhibition and research records from this exhibition contact:





Percival Bryan: An Unlikely Autograph Collector

This image of Bryan was probably taken during Attorney General Cummings golf tournament in 1948.

Percival Bryan was a leading autograph collector from Jamaica who settled in the northeast section of Washington, D.C., east of the Anacostia River.  In 1941 Mr. Bryan became a United States citizen and started his career as a driver.  His interest in collecting autographs began while serving as chauffeur for U. S. Attorney General Homer S. Cummings.  F or Bryan, his autograph books provided a record of  the “pulse of the public” and contributed to the nation’s history.

The Percival Bryan collection at the Anacostia Community Museum contains 298 of his autograph books.  Within these books are the signatures of known and unknown individuals, poems, sketches, and a few watercolors.  By the end of his career Bryan was a D.C. cab driver and had collected over 160,000 signatures.  He encouraged everyone from members of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s cabinet to participants in the 1963 March on Washington to make their mark in his books.  Bryan even sought the “John Hancock” of everyday passengers in his cab.  You can help us identify the famous and not so famous signatures in Bryan’s collection by transcribing his very first autograph book.  Select the link  below to look inside  and transcribe!



Urban Change: Panama 4 years later

I am just back from over a week in the beautiful nation of Panama.    It has been four years since I was last there and the changes are astounding (more on that in other posts).

I went with our photographer, Susana Raab, to do photo documentation for the upcoming exhibit Bridging the Americas. The framework for Bridging the Americas is the relationship between the nations of Panama and the United States. The Panama Canal and the former U.S. territory, The Panama Canal Zone, are literally and figuratively at the center of this bond.

One of the spaces I was most excited for Susana to document was the ascent at Cerro Ancon, or Ancon Hill.

Ancon Hill is the highest point in Panama City. It is home to lush vegetation and wildlife, provides spectacular views of Panama City and the Panama Canal, and has historical significance.

When the U.S. controlled the Panama Canal Zone (1903-1979/1999) multiple levels of U.S. authority existed in and around Cerro Ancon – political, medical, and military. The area held the residence of the U.S. Canal Zone Governor, the U.S.  Gorgas Hospital, and also parts of U.S. Southern Command.

On my first journey to the summit in 2010, I was greeted in route by fellow hikers and the reclamation of public space via nationalist art. I loved them! It felt like the perfect visual goodbye gift on the final day of my research year in Panama.

Here are just a few of the many pictures I took on my ascent in 2010.

cerroancon2 in August 2010
painted bench in Cerro Ancon, August 2010
Photo by Ariana A. Curtis
painted bench in Cerro Ancon, August 2010
Photo by Ariana A. Curtis
the style looks like Rolo de Sedas
painted cement block in Cerro Ancon, August 2010
Photo by Ariana A. Curtis
painted bench in Cerro Ancon, August 2010
“Centro del Mundo, Corazon del Universo”
translation: Center of the World, Heart of the Universe
Photo by Ariana A. Curtis


Four short/long years later, the hike up Cerro Ancon was much less colorful.  Gone are the benches formerly painted with Panamanian symbols – ladies in polleras, the Bridge of the Americas, the Panamanian skyline, the gold frog. 

Now the benches are a standard dismal gray. There are small remnants of color and nationalist symbols near the top of the hill like this one:


Rana Dorada (Golden Frog)
Cerro Ancon August 2014
Photo by Susana Raab


And though gray the benches,  even on a cloud day in Panama City,  the views of the city, the bridges, and the Panama Canal are still spectacular and well worth the hike!

Panama City, Panama from Cerro Ancon
August 2014
Photo by Susana Raab
Bridge of the Americas from Cerro Ancon August 2014 Photo by Susana Raab
Bridge of the Americas from Cerro Ancon
August 2014
Photo by Susana Raab