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 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:

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.