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Washington, D.C. - Southeast
By Wayne A. Young

For many Washington, D.C. tourists, a visit to the White House and the monuments along the National Mall are a priority. Seeing the White House is understandable, especially now that the Obamas live there.

The Douglass’ home. He called it Cedar Hill.
The Douglass’ master bedroom.
 
 

However, when my guests visit the nation’s
capital, our tour begins in southeast Washington at the Frederick Douglass Historic Site, also known as Cedar Hill. At the ground level Visitor Center, you want to watch the short film on Douglass’ impressive record of achievements in freedom fighting for himself, his people and as he says, “when self is out of the question.”


From the Center there is a hearty climb of 85 steps to his home at the top of Cedar Hill. This was a trek Douglass made even as a senior citizen! The two story, 21 room wooden frame home is the same as it was when the abolitionist died in 1895. Most of the artifacts inside the house, including dishes, clothes and Haitian artifacts were his personal belongings. Interesting tidbits such as how he slept sitting up in his bed, and his refusal to allow his second wife to alter his deceased first wife’s bedroom are part of discovering more about his life. (To preserve the home, the National Park Service restricts the number of visitors so it is best to purchase tickets on-line in advance.)


A few blocks from the Douglass home is Union Temple Baptist Church. While the depiction of Jesus Christ surrounded by fellow justice seekers Douglass, Sojourner Truth and Rosa Parks on the pulpit was not designed for tourists, the church receptionist often allows visitors to view the sanctuary when the church is not in service.


Next on our descent from Cedar Hill and Union Temple is the Big Chair, a generational landmark. This huge fixture once belonged to a furniture company whose building was converted into office space along Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue.


Also within walking distance from Union Temple is America’s Islamic Heritage Museum. Newly opened, this site has astounding information to share, including the history of Estanvanco (a.k.a. Stephen the Moor), who was the first recorded African to arrive in the present-day continental United States. Also, material on Salem Poor and Peter Salem (a.k.a. American Revolutionary War heroes Saleem Poor and Peter Saleem) is included here.

“There is nothing that we have found that clearly says that they (Poor and Saleem) were practicing Muslims, but they had Muslim names. However, from Census Records we know that there were practicing Muslims in early America. One early American practicing Muslim was Mahmout Mohamed who petitioned for his freedom in 1753,” explains curator Amir Muhammed. The $7 adult admission fee is well-worth the cost.

(Left) Muslims have used the pointed finger symbol since the 1400s to symbolize the oneness of God. Curator Amir Muhammed found images of the pointed finger on tombstones in various places with Islamic connections including this tombstone of Sambo Swift (1811–1884) in Darien, Georgia amongst the Gullah people. He also found the symbol on tombstones in Midwestern cities with Islamic names including Mahomet, Illinois and
Mecca, Indiana.

(Right) A picture of my father (center) and several of his buddies, including one of my maternal uncles, in a Baptist gospel group in Forest City, Arkansas, employing the pointed finger symbol.

Before leaving the King corridor, I recommend stops at the contemporary art space of Honfleur Gallery and the photographic and digital exhibition space of Gallery at Vivid Solutions. If during this portion of your tour a break for lunch, dinner and/or late drinks are in order, the casual, low-key and upscale Union Bar and Grill would be a perfect place.


As the guide, I take my guests next to Morris Road, S.E. from King Avenue. It stretches through hills and valleys towards the Smithsonian Anacostia Museum. Along the way, the hilltop parking lot of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church provides a breathtaking view of Washington and Virginia. With this panorama one understands how this was the original designated locale for the nation’s capital until politics and economics relocated the center across the river in a swamp. Further on the drive, we arrive at the community museum whose exhibits now focus on historical and contemporary social issues in urban communities.


Within walking distance of the Museum is the eclectic Anacostia Art Gallery and Boutique. Housed in an amazing Ndebele inspired, brightly colored two-story house, you will find more than a hundred items from the African world.


After leaving D.C.’s Anacostia neighborhood and crossing the Anacostia River, we usually take Pennsylvania Avenue to 13th Street, S.E. and then to East Capitol Street. Straddling East Capitol Street is Lincoln Park. In this small park are two statues: Mary McLeod Bethune, educator and founder of the National Council of Negro Women, and President Abraham Lincoln.


While in the Capital Hill neighborhood, we stroll through Eastern Market. On weekends, vendors and artists create a festive atmosphere along 7th Street and at the Market. After a little shopping and fresh produce sampling, we walk to the U.S. Capitol.


Congress named Emancipation Hall at the Capitol building in honor of the enslaved Africans who, ironically, built one of the world’s structures most closely associated with freedom. Within this hall, are the city’s most diverse, but not inclusive enough, selection of statues and busts, including one of Sojourner Truth.


By car, we leave southeast and venture into more “touristy” northwest Washington on our way to the White House. Parking is difficult, but it’s hard to imagine coming to the nation’s capital without seeing the house our beloved President and his wonderful family call home. Along the way, we stop at 633 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW to view the National Council of Negro Women’s pink building, the only building sitting between the U.S. Capitol and the White House owned by African-Americans.


The new King Memorial is also in northwest Washington. The stone of hope is the only memorial on the National Mall dedicated to a descendant of an enslaved African and is situated within sight of two deceased owners of Africans - Presidents Washington and Jefferson - and the man who reluctantly freed the enslaved in states he did not control - President Lincoln.


By the time we complete the tour of places on and off the traditional tourist trail, my guests and I are tired and pleased knowing we have had a unique capital adventure.



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