Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton is scheduled host a town hall meeting tonight regarding D.C.’s urban parks that are owned and maintained by the National Park Service.
The community meeting begins at the African American Civil War Museum (1925 Vermont Ave. NW) at 6:30 p.m. this evening.
Meridian Hill Park, Dupont Circle, Logan Circle and the National Mall are just a few examples of D.C.’s NPS-owned parks.
“In a rare opportunity to speak to regional NPS leadership, Norton will be joined by National Park Service (NPS) National Capital Region Regional Director Bob Vogel and four regional NPS superintendents to hear from D.C. residents on how NPS can work with the community to maintain D.C.’s NPS-owned neighborhood parks located in all eight wards,” says a statement about the meeting.
Read more in the Oct. 31 press release from Norton’s office:
From Allison Acosta. Email her at allison[AT]borderstan.com.
Many neighborhood residents know about U Street’s historic past as a vibrant community of African-Americans during the first half of the 20th Century. Commonly referred to as “Black Broadway,” the U Street neighborhood was a hub for African-American entertainment venues, businesses, civil organizations and homes.
But why did U Street become such a center for African-American life in the early 20th Century? According to Dawn Chitty, education director at the African American Civil War Museum, part of the answer may lie beneath the field of Garrison Elementary school on S Street NW.
At the beginning of the Civil War, this area of DC was essentially rural. When the federal government bought property along Vermont Avenue NW near Logan Circle, the site was home to only a small church and a few graves.
Camp Barker Comes to a Rural Area
On this land, the federal government built Camp Barker as a barracks for Civil War soldiers. But as the war progressed, the government determined there was a more pressing need for Camp Barker.
The Confiscation Acts of 1861 and 1862 authorized the confiscation of any Confederate property, including slaves, by Union forces. As seized property, the formerly enslaved were considered contraband, and these people needed somewhere to go.
In the late spring of 1862, Camp Barker became one of a few hundred “Contraband Camps” that were built to house formerly enslaved persons. At its height, Camp Barker housed roughly 4,000 people and was one of the largest Contraband Camps in the area.
Growth Through the Civil War
The camp had at least one large building, a hospital area, and, of course, housing. Many people living in the camp found work in the city as domestics and laborers. When the Union began forming regiments of “Colored Troops” in 1863, they recruited from the Contraband Camps.
President Lincoln often passed by Camp Barker on his way to the Soldier’s Home, and in the fall of 1862 he visited the camp. This photograph of children singing during the visit is the only known photograph of the site.
“The significance of the camp is in what becomes of the inhabitants afterwards,” says Chitty. “Many of the inhabitants bought property and built homes, and many of them built homes around the Camp Barker Site. This became U Street.”
Camp Barker did not have sufficient clean water and adequate sewage, and an outbreak of cholera forced the government to shut it down in late 1863. When the camp closed, many of the inhabitants relocated to another contraband camp on the site of what is now Arlington Cemetery, but others bought property and stayed nearby.
“There was one woman in particular who wrote to her family to say she was not coming back to Virginia,” says Chitty. “She said she was going to stay here because her son had built a good home for them on Boundary Street, which is what they called what is now Florida Avenue and U Street.”
Archaeological Dig at Garrison School
In July 2012, The African American Civil War Museum conducted an archaeological survey of the field behind Garrison Elementary school. The survey is part of a larger project meant to take the study of these Contraband Camps to the next level, to understand how many of them became communities and what became of the people living there.
The Museum brought in an archaeologist to perform magnetometry, which detects metal underground, and ground-penetrating radar. The results of the survey show the different time periods when the site was most active. Most recently, in the 1930s to 1950s, you can see the imprint of where 12th Street NW used to run all the way through what is now the Garrison Field, the remains of the old Garrison school building which faced 12th Street and imprints of where houses used to be located.
The survey also found several areas, marked in blue on the map shown here, where objects from Camp Barker would likely be found.
If you dug in these areas, you would likely find objects that people lost or threw away. You would find the privies, which can give a good sense of diseases and food ways. You might find more permanent structures built on the site, although it is unclear from the maps of the time exactly where Camp Barker’s main building stood.
There are no plans at present to do any digging on the site, but it is a possibility for the future. For now, the goal is to chart these sites and encourage others to work collaboratively to learn more about them. Many people can trace back their family histories to these Contraband Camps, and they played an important role not only in the Civil War, but also in what happened in the communities after the War.
Says Chitty, “I knew that Camp Barker was there, but over the course of the project I see more how the history of the site is important not just to Garrison Elementary, but to the community as well.”
This is the first King Day that the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial is open — and it is worth visiting if you have yet to do so (and is still worth a return visit this weekend.) The Post’s Going Out Guide offers a range of activities and events for the weekend. I’d wager all are more appropriate than using the holiday to sell more beer, ahem — you know who you are.
In the neighborhood: At the African American Civil War Memorial and Museum, 1925 Vermont Avenue NW: Martin Luther King Jr. Remembrance Program. Commemorate the contributions of this dynamic Civil Rights Activist at the African American Civil War Museum. This event is free.
For those of you who have Monday off, I’d check out Bobby McFerrin’s “Let Freedom Ring” concert at the Kennedy Center. However you choose to honor Dr. King and his legacy, it will almost certainly be an improvement over how Virgina schoolchildren of my particular age grew up knowing the holiday… as Lee-Jackson-King Day.
Yes, as in Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, Confederate generals in the Civil War. Their birthdays fell close to the day and I believe the particular story I was told was that it was already a holiday for them, and happened to coincide with the new King holiday so they just tacked it on – nothing personal (Wikipedia indicates I was lied to as a child.) I’ll close with noting it is now known on Virginia school calendars as Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Sigh.
From Mike Kohn. Got some news for Mike? Drop him an email or find him on Twitter @mike_kohn.
Temple Garden Open House
We reported a few months back that the Temple Garden, “a local community garden on property owned by the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry at 1733 16th Street NW, will be closing after the 2011 harvest.” The Temple Garden will be hosting an open house next Saturday, July 16 and is inviting the whole neighborhood to come out for tours and samples of the garden’s produce. It’ll be a family friendly event too, so bring the kids. All of the proceeds from the event will go toward the effort of saving the garden. You can learn more about how the community is striving to work with the Temple to preserve the garden on their Facebook page.
I’m going to miss a lot as I traipse around Italy, but I’ll miss you the very most of all. Tell me about it @MichLancaster.
Happy Emancipation Day, D.C.!
I love that most DC workers have today off for D.C. Emancipation Day (officially the day is tomorrow), yet we are still filing our taxes without representation today. Alert Alanis Morissette, we have actual irony for your comeback song, Irony (I mean it this time). Oh well, at least your taxes aren’t due until April 18!
Why do we celebrate April 16 in D.C.? In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln freed about 3,100 slaves in the District. Lincoln’s more famous Emancipation Proclamation — which freed slaves in the Confederate States — was signed January 1, 1863.
Emancipation Day Ceremonies on U Street
Each year there are Emancipation Day ceremonies at the African American Civil War Memorial and Museum at 10th and U Streets NW. The museum just moved to 1925 Vermont Avenue NW, directly across from the memorial (the grand opening of the new location is Monday). Celebrations begin today at the museum at noon and then move to the memorial. There is a wreath-laying ceremony on Saturday at 10 am at the memorial. Museum hours are Monday through Friday 10 am to 5 pm and Saturday 10 am to 2 pm.