Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Reflecting on the Life of Lawrence Guyot

Civil Rights Legend Was a Recent HCWDC Program Panelist

By: Priya Dadlani

Lawrence Guyot, who endured violent beatings as a young civil rights worker during the early 1960’s fighting for black suffrage, died November 23 at his home in Mount Rainier, MD. Guyot 73, had long battled illness.

Lawrence Guyot, Image Credit: wamu.org
Born in Pass Christian, Mississippi on July 17, 1939, Lawrence Thomas Guyot Jr. grew up with his father who was a contractor. Guyot attended Tougaloo College in Tougaloo, Mississippi. This historically black college had a few white faculty members but welcomed white students to attend. He graduated with a degree in chemistry and biology in 1963. While still in college he became concerned with human rights and equality so he joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and traveled around Mississippi drumming up support for the civil rights cause through meetings and conventions.

During his fight for black suffrage Guyot was defied, incarcerated and beaten as he led fellow members of SNCC and other  student volunteers from around the country in helping African Americans in Mississippi vote. He then gained publicity and pushed more blacks to fight for their suffrage when he began serving as chairman of the integrated Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. This party was formed to replace the all-white state Democratic Party. Although it didn’t succeed in its primary goal, the party’s efforts paved the way for the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The physical violence Guyot endured did not deter him or defeat him, and today he is known for his unwavering dedication to his cause. While incarcerated at the Mississippi penitentiary Parchman Farm, he was brutally beaten and went on a 17-day hunger strike during which he lost 100 pounds.  “It was a question of defiance,” Guyot said during an interview with NPR in 2011. “We were not going to let them have complete control over us.”
                Later in life, Guyot was pro same-sex marriage when it was illegal everywhere in the United States. Many times he reflected on the fact that he married a white woman when interracial marriage was illegal in some states, and he gave tremendously inspiring speeches on the meaning and the goal of the civil rights movement. In 2011, Guyot again lent his wisdom and experience to the public as a panelist for a 2011 Humanitini program on gentrification.

Although Lawrence Guyot has passed on, his perseverance and dedication to civil rights and human equality will never be forgotten. He has been, and will always be a true inspiration to people all over the world, fighting for a cause.  “There is nothing like having risked your life with people over something immensely important to you,” he said in 2004. “As Churchill said, there’s nothing more exhilarating than to have been shot at — and missed.” 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

DC Public Library Reads Reading Lolita in Tehran

Blogger Priya Dadlani Wraps DCPL's 2012 City-Wide Read

By Priya Dadlani

This year, the DC Public Library city-wide reading program, DC READS, showcased the novel Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi. Published in 2003, this novel was on the New York Times bestseller list for 100 weeks and was later translated into thirty-two languages. It is a memoir of the author who travelled back to Iran, her birth place, during the height of the 1979 Revolution where she routinely faced cultural conflicts. Nafisi reflects on how she taught at the University of Tehran, but was later expelled due to her refusal to wear the veil at work. She also lived in Iran through the Iran-Iraq war and later returned to teaching at the University of Allameh Tabatabei. Her personal story is beautifully woven together with the stories of her book club members, seven of her female students, who met weekly at her house to discuss forbidden works of Western literature including the controversial Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov.

The DC Public Library DC Reads program kicked off on October 15th and offered an array of exciting public programs through November 15th.  Programs included book club discussions on Reading Lolita in Tehran at the Chevy Chase Library, and Carver 2000 Senior Mansion, located at 4800 East Capitol Street NE. On November 13th, at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in the Great Hall, Elisabeth Mehl Greene's chamber opera brought a musical perspective to Azar Nafisi's novel with performances by Natalie Barrens, Carolyn Black-Sotir and Michael Langlois.

On November 15th the Takoma Park Library held an Adult Book Group for a discussion on Reading Lolita in Tehran, followed by another discussion on the novel Lolita by Nabokov. There were no shortage of opportunities to discuss Nafisi’s work, but Takoma Park offered participants the chance to have a conversation about the novel that inspired it.

 Nafisi’s novel is famous for its captivating portrait of the Iran-Iraq war viewed from the perspective of a woman scholar in Tehran; a rare glimpse of extraordinary courage in an extraordinary situation. 

The Humanities Council will sponsor DC’s next city-wide read, Live to Read, this Spring! This year’s selection will be Christopher Paul Curtis’ The Watsons Go to Birmingham! 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Kent Boese Believes Historic Preservation Can Promote Respect and Progress Within a Community

Recent DC Community Heritage Project Grant Recipient Discusses Community History and his Forthcoming Park View Walking Tour

By Priya Dadlani

Kent Boese is a DC Community Heritage Project grantee, who created the Park View Walking Tour project and gave the Park View neighborhood a prominent voice in the DC community. Boese moved to the neighborhood in 2007, not knowing much about the community, but after getting to know his neighbors and conducting some research, he found out that this small neighborhood is very unique and holds interesting stories unknown to most of the District. Boese grew up in Harvard, Illinois,a small town of about 5,000 residents. Boese says, “I've discovered in many ways each neighborhood within D.C. operates like a small town. I guess that's why I fell in love with my neighborhood and why I am an effective advocate for it.” Like small towns, communities in the District function better when people work together. Helping neighbors, calling officials and assisting the community are common actions for Boese and others living in communities like Park View.

Boese quickly realized that other local blogs often distorted Park View or fostered their own bias about it. To properly represent the neighborhood, Boese created a blog where he shares information about Park View to anyone who wants to learn more about the community. “I wanted the community to have an equally strong voice as surrounding neighborhoods. I also wanted to create a place where local news and articles on history, development, crime, etc. could be shared and foster discussion within the neighborhood,” says Boese.

Boese’s blog, Park View, D.C., includes reports on the “collective memories and experiences of DC citizens”. Boese believes these details are important because Park View, with the rest of DC, is going through many changes. But the Park View Boese fell in love with is the one that he moved to, not “some mythical future neighborhood”. So for him, it is important to preserve the deeply rooted history of the community and its citizens and make these stories available to newer residents so they will be able to more thoroughly understand what Park View is and make stronger connections to the history of the community. Boese says that, “one of the greatest assets of the neighborhood is the long-established residents. It is in the community’s best interest for the contributions of all previous generations to be known if we are to value and respect each other and continue to move forward as one community.”

The love Boese has for DC comes from a very rich history and to him the District is interesting because it has both “deep roots” and a “transient population”. It also has both a national and a local presence. After many years of relative stability, the city is undergoing a lot of growth and demographic changes. “How we as Washingtonians respond to these changes - preserve, document, and make our history accessible - successfully fight and minimize displacement - and move together as a city will determine our worth to the country and the world,” says Boese. DC has great potential for a better future , but it can only be realized if newer residents and older residents are able to work together and learn more about one another’s history . Boese believes that preserving the history of the city and passing it on to new generations will help District citizens in achieving this goal.

Kent Boese has done something great for DC by giving Park View a voice just as loud as those of its’ neighboring communities. The walking tour project Boese is working on is nearing completion, and a draft was recently sent to the printer. The next step is to distribute all the brochures throughout the District and get the word out about where copies can be found. The Humanities Council is excited about Boese’s walking tour, and we hope the Park View community will be too.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Face to Face With the Ancient Mayans

HCWDC Intern Reviews the Mexican Cultural Institute's Current Exhibit, Hina Jaina: On the Threshold of the Mayan Underworld

By Priya Dadlani

This past Saturday, I had a chance to visit the Mexican Cultural Institute in Washington, DC which is hosting an art exhibit called Hina/Jaina: On the Threshold of the Mayan Underworld from May 16th- September 22nd. The exhibit is three rooms large and filled with over 50 Jaina style figurines, which were discovered on the man-made island of Jaina off the northern coast of the Yucatan peninsula in the state of Campeche.  From 600-900 AD, this specific location was an extremely important Mayan ritual and religious site, where many sacrificial burials took place. The Jaina style figurines were some of the most interesting artifacts included in the burials on the island, although scientists have proven that the figurines were made in Jonuta, Tabasco- a well-known pottery center over 275 miles away.

The very intricately detailed figurines gave me a chance to get a little bit closer to the daily life of the Mayan people by illustrating their activities, dress as well as strong mythical and religious customs. The insight to the ancient Mayan civilization obtained from these fine clay figurines is unparalleled to any other Mayan artifacts from this time period. The Jaina figurines in the exhibit are especially telling because they depict the Mayans’ relationship between their man-made island, Hina/Jaina,  the underworld and their ancestors. The statuettes also depict life as it revolves around corn cultivation and water. Many of the burials, which included the Jaina figurines, were sacrificial infant burials, believed to bring food and water for all the people.

The Mexican Cultural Institute houses this exhibit on the first floor, and includes many photographs representing Mayan culture. All of the rooms contain many different styles of the Jaina figurines and no two in the exhibit are the same. Each sculpture is displayed beautifully in its own little section with informative plaque that tells the gender, meaning, and dress of the statuette. Unlike some art exhibits that have so many artifacts and paintings clumped together that you can’t stop and focus and really take in the richness of each small statuette, this exhibit gives each it’s well-deserved attention.

Each statuette has a unique face, dress and expression that is somewhere between  horrifying or peaceful depending on which you are looking at. From massive headdresses to jewelry to facial expressions, these little figurines bring the Ancient Mayan culture to life right here in Washington DC. I would recommend that anyone interested in Mayan culture or even in artifacts or art to visit this exhibit because there is none quite like it in our area. These Jaina sculptures are extremely rare and the traveling exhibit came directly from the INAH Regional Museum of Campeche, Mexico.

Apart from the amazing Hina/Jaina exhibit the rest of the floors in the Mexican Cultural Institute house murals painted by Roberto Cueva del Rio, a student of Diego Rivera, in the 1930s. The murals cover all the walls around the staircase on all the levels of the building. Painted with vibrant colors and depicting daily life in Mexico, these murals add to the experience of the Jaina sculptures on the lower level.

DC area residents should take advantage of this opportunity and visit the Mexican Cultural Institute before September 22nd, when the exhibit closes. When most people, including me, think about Mayan culture their minds may go straight to December 21st 2012, the end of the world as predicted by the Mayans' ancient calendar. But instead of connecting the Mayans only with their calendar readings, we could all benefit from learning more about the daily life of the people, their religious traditions, and cultural attributions. Their rich culture surrounding birth, death, reincarnation, corn cultivation, water, gods and ancestors is right at our finger tips at 2829 16th street, in an exhibit that can be explored in less than an hour. And if the world is really going to end in four months, the opportunity to learn more about the people who wrote our fate should be seized by everyone.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Soul of the City at the Department of Human Services


The Humanities Council's Soul of the City program gives young people valuable leadership and communications skills using the humanities disciplines and the city of Washington, DC as teaching tools. This year's participants were the Summer Youth Employment Program employees at the DC Department of Human Services. The program was facilitated by a local poet, spoken word artist, and motivational Speaker Kavon Ward, and two dedicated interns from the University of California DC semester program. This post was written by one of the intern facilitators, recapping SOTC, and his own experiences leading the group.

By Barrett Doo

Looking back, this year’s Soul of the City was a major success not just because of the noticeable impact it had on the program’s participants, but because of what I got out of it as well. The theme of this year’s Soul of the City was “past and present challenges to obtaining equal citizenship.” Using that lens, we were able to create a program that was highly inspiring and exceptionally enjoyable. After the first week it was clear we had a dedicated group of students that were eager to learn and ready to be challenged. It was truly a pleasure getting to know this group over the course of the program and they helped make my summer a memorable one.

Our first field trip was to the Smithsonian Museum of American History. I had personally put off visiting this museum on my own time knowing that I would be coming with the program. It was certainly a pleasure to tell my roommates later that I spent all day at a museum while they sat at a desk answering phone calls. Although Soul of the City is about the students, I began to realize on this trip just how much I would be learning as well.  The “Slavery at Jefferson’s Monticello: Paradox of Liberty” exhibit that we toured was fascinating, and something that I admittedly knew very little about. It was gratifying to see many of the students were engaged and asking the same questions that I too was wondering about. The highlight of the day was our chance encounter with an impromptu performance and recreation of the Greensboro civil rights sit-ins, in which one of the students got to portray one of the activists!

Participants at a Spoken Word Workshop at the Department
Of Human Services
Empowerment through spoken word was another major theme of the program, and the students  got the chance to observe professionals in the art. These poets served as role models and showed the students the direct results of hard work and determination. I’ll be the first to admit that I was as captivated as they were by each performance. A fictional skit that re-imagined a conversation between Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. took the entire room back to the Civil Rights movements of the sixties, stressing each leader’s different approach towards achieving the same goal. Local poet I-Empress came in and delivered a number of awe-inspiring poems she had written based on subjects that all of the students could relate to, including one aptly titled, “Adolescent Lessons.” However, no speaker captivated the students more than their very own program coordinator, Kavon Ward, whose deeply moving poem about Trayvon Martin became the highlight of the entire program, returning for numerous encores.

Other program field trips that I felt absolutely privileged to participate in were our trips to DCTV and WPFW. While transporting a big group of students to each location was a challenge, the end result was more than rewarding. Seeing real television and radio stations in action was fascinating, and not only did the DJ at WPFW give a shout out to Soul of the City, but a documentary showcasing the program will later be featured on DCTV!

Our last field trip was to our nation’s capitol, where afterwards the students were able to meet with Washington, DC Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton. Although the meeting was brief, it allowed the participants to see that there are people working towards creating the legal equality they had been learning about throughout the program. The opportunity to actually meet DC’s lone representative was a truly monumental moment. 

The awards ceremony at the end of the program was admittedly bittersweet, but watching the students speak and present on what they had learned over the course of the program was profoundly satisfying. Since I had been there every step of the way, hearing the participants talk about how much they had grown was really rewarding, and an acknowledgment that they had had just as great of an experience as I did. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

Public Screening of "African American Pioneer Muslimahs in Washington, DC Part One!"

A Fascinating Look at the Lives of Muslim Women in DC

From a Press Release...

This one-hour screening is a fundraiser for POI television featuring the 50 + years journeys of three women (Sisters Baseemah Beyah, Aidah N. Sabir, and Shukriyyar T. Nisar) in their 80s and 90s. They each left South Carolina for Washington, DC as members and singers in the church and transposed their lives by joining the Nation of Islam and later all making their pilgrimage to Mecca as Muslims. These extraordinary, three ladies will be our featured guests for a question and answer segment after the viewing.

A donation of $20.00 per person over 10 years old and $10.00 per person over 65 years old is requested. However, If you cannot attend this exciting event, contributions can be made payable to the African-American Holiday Association, the fiscal agent and 501©3 organization financially handling this POI project. Please send c/o Z Productions, P.O. Box 77344, Washington, DC 20013. We have begun to work on Part Two, so we can continue to tell our stories.

Refreshments will be served before the screening and several, women business vendors will be available before and after the showing. Please try to RSVP and for further questions, directions and/or information call 202-302-4708 or contact zasha121@yahoo.com.

At the Rumi Forum, 1150 17th Street, NW, Fourth Floor,

Near M Street, NW across the street from the National Geographic Bldg.

On Sunday, June 10, 2012, 3:00 to 6:00 pm

Monday, May 21, 2012

Zion Baptist Church Oral History Project

Narrators Reveal a Southwest Centered On Neighborhood Churches, Schools, and Businesses

During the 1930s and 40s, despite the fact that Washington, DC's population was well on it's way to reaching 700,000 people, the city's Southwest quadrant retained the appearance and feel of a small town. The narrators of Zion Baptist Church's "Spoken Memories" oral history project recall this slow-paced, civic-minded community from the shadows of the hulking concrete highrises that now line Maryland and Virginia Avenues. 

One interviewee remembered, "I missed the church in Southwest because we had strong family ties. All of us had friends and family members at the different churches. My grandfather and one uncle were members of Mt. Moriah Baptist Church. I had cousins who went to Friendship, and friends who attended the Catholic Church, St Vincent De Paul. Southwest was a community because its residents were always together. We all went to Randall Junior High, and we socialized in the neighborhood together. Zion always had church sponsored summer trips to the beach for us. We went to Carr's Beach, Sparrows Beach and a beach in New Jersey. We went on hay rides to the outskirts of Maryland, and we had summer-long Vacation Bible School. Southwest was a meeting place." 

Other narrators also speak of the close link between Southwest's religious community. It was a neighborhood of many churches, and many different religions, but all were bound together through service to their congregants. Long term social bonds, and a general sense of steadiness seem to have contributed to the narrator's memories of Southwest as a tight-knit neighborhood. "I don't see Zion as the family and community church that we had in the past," observed one narrator. "Now, new members join Zion and leave before you can get to know them. In earlier times, Zion had more stability and folks got to know each other. We were a true family and we looked out for one another." 

But old Southwest's character was not to be found solely in it's thriving religious life, but also in the school system and it's ever-observant teachers. One narrator remembered, "Mrs. Peterson was my Principal at Randall Junior High School, so seeing her at church was like seeing her at school. Many of our teachers were also members of Zion. There was Mr. Herbert, who taught at Randall and was a member of Zion. The teachers knew the 153 families of Southwest, so nobody got away with bad behavior. They always made us aware of our conduct." Some years later that same Mrs. Peterson became Assistant Superintendent of the DC Public School system, but her students and neighbors still remembered her fondly for all she had done in Southwest. "She knew the Southwest families," recalled one narrator, "and often assisted them in their struggles."

Schulman's Market at N and Union Streets, SW
Image Courtesy: Library of Congress
Though Southwest is currently experiencing a resurgence in business activity, the urban renewal of the 1950s transformed many of the commercial corridors into residential streets, and many of the storefronts into government office buildings. But in the 1930s and 40s, a thriving small business community contributed to the cohesiveness of the neighborhood. One narrator remembers, "Many members had businesses located in the Southwest. Everything we needed was in our community. We had restaurants, cleaners, barber shops and stores." Another interviewee is more specific; " A lot of our members had businesses on Third Street, F Street, and Fourth Street... ... Someone had a shoe shop. Mr. James Brown had a print shop and used to do all of Zion's bulletins. The Barnes & Matthews Funeral Home was located on Fourth Street. I also remember the drug store, Campbell's Funeral Home, John T. Rhines Funeral Home, Bruce Wahl's Night Club, and a restaurant. Everything we need was within the Southwest community."

Zion Baptist Church's oral history project is valuable to Washington, DC not just because it preserves the history of a venerable religious institution, but because the words of its narrators breathe life into interpretations of archival records. The housing stock, church buildings, storefronts, an d school buildings of neighborhoods such as Georgetown, Capitol Hill, and Shaw serve as visible reminders of what those neighborhoods once were. But in Southwest, where there are only shadows and glimpses of the neighborhood's historical city-scape, we must try to rebuild it in our minds through the memories of those who were there. The next post in this series will examine Zion, and its congregants' transition from Southwest to it's current home on Blagden Avenue, NW.

To view the edited transcript of the Zion Baptist Church "Spoken Memories" Oral History project, visit the Humanities Council's DC Digital Museum

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Remembering the Godfather of Go-Go

Chuck Brown, Champion of the Humanities

Joy Ford Austin and then HCWDC Board Chair, Don
Murray with Chuck Brown in 2009.
In September 2009, Chuck Brown spoke to the graduating class of Soul of the City at the German Historical Institute about his coming of age and his love of music.  I can still see clearly how the audience of young people, their friends and families listened to his every word and clamored up after to take photographs with him. He was genuine and wise speaking about his values without pretension. He had a story to tell of overcoming adversity and he told it well. His wife, Jocelyn Brown, was with him and he talked about his sons with pride and joy, mentioning his son who played football.  He talked about his life in the city, which he loved, and to whom he gave his greatest gift, his musical genius, bestowing on all of us, the wonderful, infectious rhythms of Go-Go, our homegrown, hometown music that we have and will enjoy forever.

That evening, the Humanities Council of Washington, DC was pleased to give him its Champion of the Humanities Award for his tireless efforts to preserve Go-Go recognizing his creativity and his work with young musicians as well as his accessibility to audiences all over the city and the world.  

Chuck Brown, our Champion left us yesterday but as long a there are people who listen to and love great music,  and who will share and build on his tradition, he will be remembered and appreciated. 

- Joy Ford Austin, Executive Director, Humanities Council of Washington, DC

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

DC Murals Project will be Featured as Part of Lumen8Anacostia

One of Many Great Projects Featured in Ward 8 Between April and June

As part of Lumen8Anacostia, American Dreams & Associates, Inc. will present a program showcasing the public art that is transforming Wards 7 and 8. Local artists Rik Freeman, Byron Peck, Cory Stowers, and Roderick Turner will display recent works and discuss the creative process.

This program is part of the continuing project to document the contemporary public murals of Washington, D.C. The current work includes a website developed by American Dreams and Associates, Inc., and City Arts, Inc., with partial funding by the Humanities Council of Washington, DC, and the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. (Website in progress: http://www.dcmurals.info)

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Critical Exposure Announces Spring Exhibit

The Show Will Highlight the Work of DC's Student Photographers!

Visit http://criticalexposurespringexhibit.eventbrite.com/ to RSVP for the opening reception with a suggested donation of $35.

Critical Exposure has been nominated for a 2012 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award. Congratulations to this recent Humanities Council grant recipient!

Monday, April 30, 2012

In DC, Church History is Neighborhood History

Zion Baptist Church Oral History Offers Unique Perspective on Urban Renewal

Southwest Washington may be one of the most enigmatic neighborhoods in the district. During the 1950s, homes and businesses that had stood in the area for decades were razed as part of the Federal Government's plan to revitalize the neighborhood, and provide office space for government agencies. The story has been written time and again by Washington historians, and a documentary film was produced that emphasized the human cost of the wholesale relocate, raze, rebuild, and return process that left out that final step for many families. A 2009 DC Community Heritage Project examined that disruptive and traumatic experience through an entirely new lens - that of the Zion Baptist Church Congregation. 

The oral history project, led by church historian Sarah J. Davidson, captured the stories of 46 longtime congregation members and former pastors. A group of professional and volunteer oral historians asked the narrators a set list of questions, that generally focused on church life and community. The oldest person interviewed was born in 1916 and had become a church member in 1928, but most of the interviewees were old enough to remember when Zion moved from Southwest to a temporary home in the YWCA on Rhode Island Avenue, NW.  One narrator recalls, "We moved from Southwest because the city took over that community to rebuild. The address of the old Zion was 337 F Street, SW. It was in the middle of the block. The freeway is there now, behind the Market Inn Restaurant." 

Some of the interviewees could trace the history of the church back even further because their families had been members in the 19th century. Zion's archives reveal ties to a group of Freedmen who were brought to Southwest Washington with the Union Army during the Civil War, and who constructed the first church in 1867. One of the narrators, recalling family traditions handed down through generations, said "my ancestors were members of Zion Baptist Church. .. They remodeled the feed store, when the church was located there." In 1870, that remodeled feed store was replaced by a new building on the same site at 337 F Street, SW where it became a major focal point in the lives of many Southwest DC residents. 

We will continue to examine this remarkable oral history project for what its narrators can tell us about life in Southwest before the 1950s, and the traumatic experience of the Federal Government's early experiment in urban renewal there. The next post will focus on the interviewees memories of Southwest as a village within the city, including relationships with neighbors, business-lined streetscapes, and, of course, the centrality of church life.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Author Reading at The Arts Club of Washington

Don't Miss This Enlightening Grantee Event


Date & Time:  
Wednesday, May 9th at 7:00pm

The Arts Club of Washington / 2017 I Street, NW / Washington, DC / 20006

Yaël Tamar Lewin, winner of the Sixth Annual Marfield Prize National Award for Arts Writing, will present a free public reading from her prize winning biography, Night's Dancer: The Life of Janet Collins (Wesleyan University Press: 2011) . Night's Dancer chronicles the career of Janet Collins (1917-2003), a classical and modern dancer who in 1951 became the first African-American prima ballerina with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet. She also worked with influential Lester Horton and Katherine Dunham; taught at George Balanchine’s School of American Ballet; and appeared in films and on Broadway for Agnes de Mille and Hanya Holm.

Beginning with Collins’ unfinished memoir detailing her early life, Lewin continues the fascinating portrait of the pioneering dancer, drawing on her own extensive research and interviews with Collins and her family, friends, and colleagues. Lewin is a dance historian, writer, and dancer living in New York. This program was funded in part by a grant from the Humanities Council of Washington, DC. Book signing and reception to follow. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Today in the Humanities... A History Resource for Students, Cambodian Archaeology, and Pulitzer History

Humanities Stories from Around the Globe to Pique Interest and Spark Conversation!

Patrick Awuah makes the case that a liberal arts education is critical to forming true leaders.

A major stop for runaway Southern slaves, Washington, DC, attracted large numbers of blacks after the Civil War. By 1960 the city had a majority black population. The presence of black political organizations and the large marches in the 1960s made Washington a major center of the civil rights movement. Today it is one of the largest and most prominent black-dominated communities in the United States.

Count Basie and Bob Crosby
at the Howard Theatre,
Gottlieb Collection, Library
of Congress
George Clinton surveyed the crowd Tuesday night and let out a soulful sigh: “Boy, do I have memories in this joint!” The legendary purveyor of funk, looking notably tidier sans his equally legendary Technicolor dreadlocks, took the Howard Theatre stage at the historic venue’s VIP grand opening concert and celebration following a $29 million renovation.

A team of young archaeologists from the Faculty of Archaeology at the Royal University of Fine Arts and from the Royal Academy of Cambodia initiated a yearlong project that combined: excavation, cultural resource management and the construction of a museum in order to preserve, document and disseminate information about the rich cultural heritage of the Sre Ampil site.

The Humanities Council [of North Carolina] has been revisiting the notion of The American Dream. During this process we decided to take the conversation outside (literally) and engage folks in conversation around this broad but universally relevant topic. 

“Pulitzer history, of sorts, was made this year when the Pulitzer Board announced that no prize for fiction would be awarded this year,” says Corrigan, who has been published in the New York Times, written a book and writes a mystery book column for the Washington Post.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Don't Let the History of Your Neighborhood be Lost

Apply for a DC Community Heritage Project Grant

For the past five years, the Humanities Council of Washington, DC (HCWDC) has made over 80 grants to citizens and organizations interested in preserving the heritage of the city’s unique neighborhoods, landmarks, and culture through the DC Community Heritage Project (DCCHP). The DCCHP is a collaborative effort of the Humanities Council of Washington, DC, the DC Historic Preservation Office, and the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. This year, HCWDC will maintain its commitment to preserving local history and culture, by investing in neighborhoods that have not yet had their stories told.

In recent years, D.C. has become a renaissance city, through an influx of buildings, monuments, and newly minted Washingtonians. With all this change, struggles in reconciling the old with the new are inevitable. As such, we are encouraging residents, long-time or newly-arrived, to preserve the histories they have come to appreciate.

Communities can have a powerful connection to the local school house, or the neighborhood church because of the powerful memories associated with these structures. A particularly cruel teacher or benevolent pastor are experiences shared by a group of people and talked about for years, that can eventually be raised to the level of local legend. When those memories are tied to a historic structure, the very character and culture of a neighborhood can seem to hinge on that building’s preservation. In 2009, Deanwood Heights Mainstreets produced their first walking tour of Deanwood's churches entitled “Faith and Foundation.” The group has received subsequent grants to document more houses of worship, and has added other historic Deanwood landmarks to the tour.

In 2010, Historic Mt. Pleasant Inc. combed the local archives to produce a survey of their neighborhood's historic storefronts from 1901-1938. The database they compiled includes ownership transfers, businesses operated, and architectural changes. The data reveals a past Mt. Pleasant dizzy with change and population growth, but it is open for interpretation, and available in full on Historic Mt. Pleasant's website.

But it is not just in the bricks and mortar of the cityscape that collective memory resides. In fact, the most powerful, yet ephemeral local histories reside in the minds of those who have lived them. These are the types of histories best preserved through oral history interviews. In 2007, Empower DC organized an oral history project that captured the memories of long time residents of Ivy City. The tapes revealed strong remembrances of the historic Crummell Elementary School, an endangered historic landmark and the focal point of the community. Empower DC has since expanded the oral history project and has produced a draft documentary film.

In 2009, Tendani Mpulubusi and Helping Inner City Kids Succeed produced an extraordinary documentary film on Barry Farm that explored the community's history and examined its present-day challenges. Barry Farm: Past and Present used interviews with scholars, community historians, students, and community leaders to tell a thoughtful and textured story about one of Ward 8's most historic neighborhoods.

The DCCHP seeks to preserve both the physical and the intellectual heritage of Washington’s neighborhoods. Last year, students and educators from John Eaton Elementary School used a grant from the DC Community Heritage Project to fund a study of the school's past. Students used architectural clues, oral history interviews, and archival research to piece together the history of Eaton Elementary and the surrounding portions of the Cleveland Park neighborhood. The project coordinators used the experience to create a lesson plan that they hope will be replicated by other schools in the District and across the country! The student history detectives were invited to present their findings at last year's 38th Annual DC Historical Studies Conference.

The ultimate goal of the project is to provide the skills and financial means for every neighborhood in Washington, DC to make its history known. We welcome new concepts from neighborhoods already reached by the DCCHP, but we need proposals from communities such as Trinidad, Lamond-Riggs, Lincoln Heights, Brightwood, and others that have not received a grant. Any DC resident with a story to tell about their community is encouraged to apply.

We strongly encourage first time applicants to attend one of our grant workshops. To register for a DCCHP Grant Workshop, please visit http://www.wdchumanities.org/grants/deadlines

Friday, March 30, 2012

City Government to Sponsor a Host of Emancipation Day Commemorations

City Officials Meet at African American Civil War Museum to Talk Sesquicentennial

Wednesday afternoon, Frank Smith stood before a class from Washington Christian Academy in Akron, Ohio and let them in on DC's secret about the Emancipation Proclamation - ours was first. Slavery was abolished in Washington, DC by the DC Compensated Emancipation Act nine months before Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation that declared an end to slavery in all Confederate held territories. Smith, a former city councilmember, and current Executive Director of the African American Civil War Museum is an expert on the subject, which is likely why, after he'd answered the last of the Ohio students' questions, he was chosen to introduce Mayor Vincent C. Gray and Councilmember Vincent Orange as they kicked off the city's 150th Anniversary Celebration of Emancipation Day. 

Events are planned throughout the month of April, and Councilmember Orange ran through the list at yesterday's meeting, but there are too many to list here. Check out the DC Government's Emancipation Day website at emancipation.dc.gov to explore the many ways the community will bring people together around this historic occasion. Highlights include: lectures from historians C.R. Gibbs and Kate Masur; a Jazz Concert at the Lincoln Theater; a commemorative wreath laying ceremony; an authentic Civil War encampment; and a BET sponsored debate featuring Rev. Al Sharpton, and Michael Eric Dyson.

Gray presents certificate decreeing the 150th Anniversary of
Emancipation in Washington an official city holiday to Smith
and Orange.
The auditorium at the African American Civil War History Museum was packed with program partners, media members, and the interested public as Smith, Gray, and Orange took their places on the stage. Smith set the tone for the event by recounting the story of Robert Smalls; a man, born into slavery who escaped during the height of the Civil War, and whose famous service in the Union forces landed him a seat in Congress during the period of radical reconstruction. The inspirational story served as a reminder that, though we celebrate an act of compensated emancipation, true freedom cannot be given, it must be won.

Mayor Gray sought to link the remembrance of the 3100 slaves who were freed in on April 16, 1862, with the District's present struggle over home rule and voting rights. "We are still fighting this battle," offered Gray, meaning that, though slavery was abolished first in DC, a lack of representation still renders it's citizens less free than they should be. Gray hopes that the celebration of Emancipation Day will continue to grow, and will one day hold new meaning for Washingtonians as they city gains voting rights and increased autonomy from Federal authority.

Councilmember Orange spoke next announcing highlights from the incredible list of programs pulled together by the DC government and community partners. Take a look at the list of activities and let us know how you plan to celebrate this momentous anniversary. 

Thursday, March 29, 2012

DC's "Native Son" returns to the Howard Theatre

Check Out Footage From This Morning's Statue Unveiling

As the opening for the historic Howard Theatre nears, a 20-foot tall, 10,000 pound statue of American Jazz legend, Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington arrived Thursday morning. The statue was installed on a granite base in the shape of a piano, and serves as the marquee for an aptly named Ellington plaza that fronts the restored Howard Theatre.

Sculptor Zachary Oxman, a DC native is the artist who was commisioned to create the sculpture by the D.C. Commision on the Arts and Humanities. Zachary named the sculpture "Encore," and it is certainly an appropiate and permanent encore indeed.

Check out reporter Will Thomas of Fox 5 DC interview Zachary here:

Duke Ellington Statue Set into Place in DC Neighborhood: MyFoxDC.com

Monday, March 26, 2012

Today in the Humanities... Architects, Exhibits, and Public History

Scattered Humanities Stories From DC and Around the Country

What makes the U.S. Capitol "symbolically important"? Presented with a variety of archival documents, your students can answer that question for themselves. Working in small groups, the students will uncover and share the Capitol's story. The primary sources are presented to the students as mysteries, with a challenge to tie together the information in the documents or images through research.

Our program contains an array of history and public history sessions designed to satisfy a variety of tastes. We have constructed thematic threads that will especially appeal to teachers at all levels, and we offer sessions of particular interest to those who live and work in Wisconsin as well as to those who want to understand the historical roots of contemporary issues. We have invited senior historians to offer challenging interpretive papers, and younger scholars and public history practitioners eager to try out new work.

How could the author of the Declaration of the Independence own slaves? How could twenty percent of the population of the new United States, founded on the principles of liberty and equality, live in bondage? What was life like for enslaved people in the early republic? This online exhibition uses Monticello as a lens through which to examine these questions. 

The current president of George Washington University spent most of the day Thursday delivering some very good news to nine high school seniors in Washington: each of them won a full, four-year scholarship.

The Octagon is open for self-guided audio tours Thursdays and Fridays from 1:00 - 4:00 pm. The museum may be closed for private events so please call or email ahead if you are planning to visit. The following audio tours are available and may be downloaded to any mp3 player:

Friday, March 16, 2012

From the DC Digital Museum... Howard Theatre: A Class Act

1985 Film Illustrates the Historic Howard Theatre's Prominence in the Shaw Neighborhood's Collective Past

In just a little less than a month, the famed Howard Theatre at 620 T Street, NW will reopen its doors for the first time since the 1980s. The venue was once the site of performances by the likes of Pearl Bailey, Roberta Flack, and Washington's native son -- Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington. 

The theater was founded in 1910 and contributed to the Greater U Street area's emergence as a hotbed of nightlife and entertainment. The Howard was DC's answer to Philadelphia's Pearl and New York's Apollo, and during the theater's heyday, U Street famously became known as "Black Broadway."  

When segregation ended in Washington, and many middle-class African American families began patronizing downtown businesses for the first time, the popularity of the Howard began to wane. The theater's decline quickened following the 1968 Riots in the wake of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. The Howard closed its doors in 1970, but the Howard Theater Foundation, a group dedicated to restoring and reopening the venue, was organized just three years later; an eagerness that seems to demonstrate how large the theater loomed in the memory of the community.

The Foundation was briefly successful, and the Howard reopened and played host to a number of significant R&B acts and became very important to DC's local Go-Go scene throughout the 1970s and into the 80s, but was eventually forced to close again. But even as it's once great facade began to crumble and fade, it remained an important symbol of pride for the longtime residents of the Shaw and Greater U Street communities. 

In the mid eighties, the Humanities Council funded a documentary film entitled, "The Howard Theater: a Class Act." The documentary traced the history of the venerable old building and outlined contemporary efforts to restore it. The film is now part of the DC Digital Museum and is available for loan. 

In 2010, the longtime mission of Howard Theater Restoration Inc. became was realized. Then DC Mayor Adrian Fenty was on hand as the group broke ground on a multimillion dollar restoration project headed by Ellis Development and Whiting & Turner Construction. The recently completed renovations included a full reconstruction the 1910 facade giving the theater the same majestic appearance it had when it opened its doors over 100 years ago.

On April 9, 2012, the Howard Theatre will hold a community day during which they hold a ribbon cutting, officially opening the restored facility. That event will be free and open to the public. The festivities will continue with a grand opening gala and benefit concert on April 12th to raise funds for the Howard Theatre Culture and Education Center. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Today in the Humanities... Civil War Music, Historic Woodlawn Cemetery, and the Poetry Out Loud DC Finals

Humanities Bites from DC and Beyond!

The exhibition features selections from a recently acquired collection of music published in the Confederacy during the Civil War. Sheet music lyrics and imagery are documentary sources that provide insight into the mindset, values, and beliefs of their creators and consumers. 

Commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day with a special evening of spoken word and music.  Poet and writer, Davi Walders, accompanied by cellist, Douglas Wolters, present a unique collaboration of story portraits of women resisters intertwined with music by composers whose lives were interrupted tragically during the Holocaust.

Nestled in the heart of Ward 7 in Washington, DC, historic Woodlawn Cemetery sits on 22.5 acres, serving as the final resting place for more than 36,000 individuals.  While walking through the rolling hills of Woodlawn Cemetery visitors will find many recognizable individuals who contributed to local and national history.

Housed in a building directly across the street from Ford’s Theatre and acquired by the Ford’s Theatre Society in 2007, the Center features two floors of permanent exhibits addressing the immediate aftermath of Lincoln’s death and the evolution of Lincoln’s legacy; a Leadership Gallery floor to be used for rotating exhibits, lecture and reception space; and two floors of education studios to house pre- and post-visit workshops, after-school programs and teacher professional development; and a distance-learning lab outfitted with state-of-the-art technology that will allow Ford’s to engage students and teachers nationwide and around the world.

Join the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities as we host the D.C. finals of Poetry Out Loud at Arena Stage. Eleven D.C. Public School, D.C. Public Charter School and Private School students will compete for a chance to represent the District at the National Finals.

All lectures begin at 6:30 pm (refreshments will be served from 6:00 to 6:30 pm) and will be held at the German Historical Institute, 1607 New Hampshire Avenue NW (Directions). Please RSVP (acceptances only) by Tel. 202.387.3355, Fax 202.387.6437 or  E-mail. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

From the DC Digital Museum Archives... The City Museum Talks Archaeology

What Secrets do the Streets Beneath Downtown Hold?

In 2003, the staff of the short-lived Washington, DC City Museum, won a grant from the Humanities Council to produce a short film on the archaeological history of the 7th Street Downtown neighborhood the new institution would occupy when it opened at the Carnegie Library on Mt. Vernon Square. The film, narrated by Okolo Thomas-Toure, introduced its audience to the ordinary people who lived in downtown Washington from the city's founding to the early 20th century when the area became known as a red light and nightlife destination.

A series of vignettes introduce the neighborhood's immigration history, medical history, architectural history, and entertainment history. Check out the film and tell us what's missing! How would you alter or add to the historical narrative of bustling Downtown Washington?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Have You Met TEDxWDC?

Join us for This Exciting New TED Conference Celebrating Creativity in Washington, DC!

On Saturday, March 24, THEARC in Ward 8 will be awash in exciting new ideas thanks to a local TED event entitled The Creative City: Entrepreneurship, Creativity, and Innovation. TEDxWDC is dedicated to promoting communication between the creative economic clusters in the city of Washington, DC!

Tickets for the event can be purchased at http://tedxwdc2012.eventbrite.com

THEARC DC is located at 1901 Mississippi Ave, SE, Washington, DC 20020

The ticket price includes:

A full day of incredible speakers from the DC creative community
Lunch provided by Busboys & Poets
Cocktail Reception and live entertainment after the event
Coffee and pastries throughout the day
Shuttle to and from the Congress Heights Metro Station

For information on discounted block ticket purchases please email TEDxWDC@gmail.com.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Looking for the Grant Application?

Apply Online for an HCWDC grant Today!

The Humanities Council has gone green, streamlined, digital, and efficient! Our current grant cycle will be the first ever here at the HCWDC to use our new online grants system. The online application will make things easier for us at the office, our reviewers, and also for prospective grantees. Gone are the days of assembling large quantities of paper, multiplying them, and then toting them to the HCWDC office by 5pm on the day of the deadline, now all materials can be written, saved, returned to, attached, uploaded, sent, and verified online!

To begin an application visit our home page at http://www.wdchumanities.org

Click on "Grants" in the main navigation menu

Click "Apply for a Grant Online"

And then click "Create a New Account" to start the registration process

The deadlines and important dates for Cycle I 2012 are:

Feb 10th - All prospective applicants for a Major Grant ($1500 to $5000) must submit a preliminary application which will be reviewed by our Director of Grants. The Director will suggest improvement or updates, and decide which prospective grantees will be invited to apply.

March 9th - All applications for small grants (up to $1500) due. Grantees invited to apply for the Major Grant must submit their final proposals.

April 7th - Grant review panel meets to make final funding decisions.

April 25th - Cycle I grants awards ceremony.

For more information email grants[at]wdchumanities[dot]org.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Today in the Humanities... Wikification; Neighborhood Names; and "The Father of Black History"

Kick off Black History Month With a Healthy Dose of Humanities From Around DC and Beyond!

Like most scholars, I was skeptical about Wikipedia when Jimmy Wales first launched the site back in 2001. The notion that unvetted volunteers cooperatively contributing to an online encyclopedia might produce a reference work of any real value seemed at best dubious—and, more likely, laughably absurd. Surely it would be riddled with errors. Surely its coverage would be ridiculously patchy. Surely it would lack the breadth, depth, and nuance of more traditional reference works like the venerable Encyclopedia Britannica.

To some, Anacostia can also include a cluster of surrounding neighborhoods, including Fairlawn to the northeast and Barry Farm -- sometimes called Barry Farms -- to the southwest. To others, Anacostia is just, well, Anacostia, the neighborhood with the big chair.

Known as the “Father of Black History,” Woodson (1875-1950) was the son of former slaves, and understood how important gaining a proper education is when striving to secure and make the most out of one’s divine right of freedom. Although he did not begin his formal education until he was 20 years old, his dedication to study enabled him to earn a high school diploma in West Virginia and bachelor and master’s degrees from th University of Chicago in just a few years. In 1912, Woodson became the second African American to earn a PhD at Harvard University.

To start the workshop off with a shared understanding of the DPLA[Digital Public Library of America] initiative, Maura Marx, Director of the DPLA Secretariat, gave a brief presentation covering the events and ideas informing the development of the DPLA. The project was born from a relatively straightfoward need: to digitize materials, both historical and current, and make them widely available to the public. In 2010, The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation promised to offer funding to any group that could work toward that goal, and the DPLA arose shortly thereafter as a sort of "network operation center" to articulate and plan such a project.

On the second night of the Slam!, the poets of Beers Elementary School put on an impassioned performance with lines such as "We'll eliminate all distractions and change our ashes"; "Go to school, you can still be cool"; and "We can all make change for the better."

Dr. Ira Berlin, author and professor of history at the University of Maryland, will discuss the connections between slavery and the building of the university.

Col. Benjamin O. Davis, Jr.
In reality, the Tuskegee Airmen placed a premium on discipline, precision, order and military bearing. After all, they were under the command of Benjamin O. Davis Jr., a black man from the District, whose rank as an Air Force general and whose education — 35th out of 276 at West Point, class of 1936 — was awe inspiring.

As a middle or high school student you have had plenty of experiences to shape your ideas and perspectives about cultural and global issues in our city, from your travels, or where you come from.  Wouldn’t it be great if other students could learn what you know? With One World Education’s Culture & Global Issues Writing Program you have a chance to become a published writer – whose writing will be read by thousands of other students.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

"Personal Reflections on Malcolm X - Master Teacher"

The Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Neighborhood Library is pleased to present a talk by Shaw neighborhood resident A. Peter Bailey

From a press release distributed by the Watha T. Daniel Neighborhood Library...

When: Monday, February 6, 2012 at 6:30 PM
Where: Watha T. Daniel Shaw Neighborhood Library
1630 7th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20001
For more information:
(202) 727-1288

Professor A. Peter Bailey was a founding member of the Organization of Afro-American Unity which was founded by Malcolm X in 1964 after his separation from the Nation of Islam. He was editor of the OAAU's newsletter and was in the Audubon Ballroom on February 21, 1965 when Brother Malcolm was assassinated. He was a pall-bearer at his funeral.

Bailey, once a strong supporter of the mainstream civil rights movement, has said: "My awareness of Brother Malcolm was strictly as the bogeyman that you read about in the newspapers...All of that changed in the summer of 1962 when I heard him speak for the first time."

Bailey knew, worked with, and supported Brother Malcolm before joining Johnson Publishing's New York office where he wrote for Ebony and Jet. Mr. Bailey was the 2010 Visiting Playwright in residence in The Department of Theatre Art at Howard University.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Humanitini Comes to Axum Restaurant and Bar!

Happy Hour Conversations On Today's Hot Topics

Our signature think-and-drink event is back starting Tuesday, February 21st and then every Tuesday after until March 13. The Humanitini is a relaxed discussion between a panel of experts and a happy hour audience on topics of timely interest or importance. Topics will include:
The final two programs will take place at Axum Restaurant and Bar at 1934 9th Street, NW!
  • Caps, Nats, Wiz, and 'Skins: Finding Community Identity Through Sports - We'll take a humanities spin on local sports fandom. Our panelists and the audience will explore the District's unique sports identity. Can a city with a large transient population attract dedicated home-team supporters? Confirmed panelists include Brian Tinsman from The Redskins Blog, Kyle S. Yeldell from National Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation, Howard University Soccer Head Coach, Michael Lawrence, American football tight end Leonard Stephens, and Edwin Henderson from the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation. The panel will be moderated by Amy Saidman of SpeakeasyDC. This Humanitini will also feature Demont “Peekaso” Pinder, local artist well known as being the art director for JIVE recording artist Raheem DeVaughn. He will paint a sports themed piece during the panel discussion and it will be auctioned off at the end of the program.
  • Occupy DC: What is the Price of Freedom? - This program will take a street-level look at the Occupy DC protest, examining its origins and goals as well as the effect it has had on local businesses and city agencies. Confirmed panelists include community activist and lobbyist Erik Jones, and Sinclair Skinner, Legba Carrefour, and Megan Brett from Occupy DC Media team. This panel will be moderated by Andy Shallal, founder of Busboys and Poets.  
  The events are completely free and open to the public (donations accepted).

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