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).
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.
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.
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.
For our first #Transcribe Tuesdays, help us discover more about the early graduates of Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Washington, DC. Known as the M Street High School from 1891 to 1916, the school quickly became the most highly rated secondary school for blacks in the country.
This 1923 Dunbar autograph book belonged to Ella B. Howard Pearis (1905-1998). Mrs. Pearis was a fourth generation resident of Anacostia, Washington, DC. She came from a family of community activists and carried on that tradition through her work for organizations such as the Anacostia Historical Society and the Anacostia—Congress Heights Red Cross Service.
Transcribe the Paul Lauence Dunbar High School Autograph book, here!
It is a word we use often. It is in our museum name: Anacostia Community Museum. So how does this new exhibit tie into what we do here in Anacostia?Bridging the Americas: Community and Belonging from Panama to Washington, D.C. presents stories from diverse DC area residents — many of Panamanian descent, some from the Panama Canal Zone — and asks you directly to think about your community and where you feel you belong.
One of the truest lines in the exhibition, in my humble curatorial opinion, is: “emotional connection is much more important than a legal one. Anyone who feels they belong probably does.” The underlying themes of this show are human diversity and connections. The spaces in which we reside are multiple… and connected!
The show holds a lot of information. When you walk through the exhibition, you are hearing DC stories. But they are also national stories and international stories. It is up indefinitely and I very much look forward to elaborating on themes, events, and stories through our public programming.
So what do we want people to take away from this exhibition?
Acknowledgement that people carry multiple identities always
Appreciation for diversity in Panama, the U.S. , and the DC metro area.
Understanding of important events that have created a profound relationship between the nations of Panama and the U.S.
Awareness of the Panama Canal Zone and the complexity of place based “Zonian” identity
Recognition that the Panamanian population in the D.C. area has a strong history and presence
Thoughtfulness about their own communities and reflective responses to the exhibition’s reflection questions on our public response wall.