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Welcome to the Anacostia Community Museum Community Documentation Initiative

The Community Documentation Initiative (CDI) is an ongoing research and documentation initiative to gather, organize, and make accessible to the public information and material on the cultural, social and economic life and contemporary community life in the Washington, D.C. Metro area. While we maintain a focus on the Washington, D.C. Metro area, we are expanding our research and collecting activities to include urban communities in the U.S. and around the world.  The CDI brings the resources of the museum, particularly research and documentation materials and museum collections, directly to constituents through public programs, on-line and gallery exhibitions, web content, and special programs, and builds and enhances interactive dialog with museum audiences based upon museum collections and research. Using these research and collections materials, the CDI builds collaborative, community-based networks of neighborhood organizations, cultural institutions, and individuals; and works with our audiences to better understand the ways that the museum can help advance issues of social change.

Curator’s Choice: Photos that make you feel

“You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.”
― Ansel Adams

A woman in a pollera and tembleques at a Latin American Festival in Washington, D.C. Anacostia Community Museum Black Mosaic archives. Photographer: Harold Dorwin

A woman in a pollera and tembleques at a Latin American Festival in Washington, D.C. Black Mosaic Collection, Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution. Photographer: Harold Dorwin

This woman de la tercera edad, as we would say in Spanish, is a quiet representation of pride.  In her pollera, the national costume of Panama, with her gold hair pieces and tembleques, the white hair ornaments, she is intently working on another hair adornment, seemingly unperturbed by the men around her in t-shirts. She isn’t in Panama. She is in Washington, D.C.

The first time I saw this picture in the Anacostia Community Museum Archives, I felt.

As the opening quotation alludes, every viewer brings something unique to the photographs they view. Viewing pictures is not passive; it is an active interpretation. Sometimes we can articulate why we like an image or why we do not. But other times, images just touch you.  They simply make you feel.

This picture touched me for various personal reasons, related to the quotation by Ansel Adams.  Of the thousands of pictures in the Black Mosaic archives, this image would of course catch my attention.

I look at this, as you do, through multiple lenses. For example:  as a woman, the daughter of a Panamanian father, someone that was very close to my grandmothers, someone who works directly in visual representation, as an anthropologist concerned with the politics of the quotidian, as a scholar that studies international representation in U.S. spaces, as someone that loves polleras… the reasons I am drawn to this image are countless.

Often times, nation and pride are visually represented by flags and/or children.  This picture has neither. And yet, to me, perhaps because of what I’ve seen, read, the music I’ve heard and the people I’ve loved, this is a strong and sweet representation of love, nation, and pride.

*This image will be included in the upcoming exhibition: Bridging the Americas: Community and Belonging from Panama < — > Washington, D.C. , opening at the Anacostia Community Museum in April 2015.

Wee Wee: Our Neighborhood Santa!

It’s Holiday season, and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate it here at the Anacostia Community Museum than remembering our very own Santa – Wee Wee (Milton Jones) from the 1970s and 80s.  Back in the ”old days of the 1970s,” we had our own Santa Claus in the neighborhood of Anacostia.  Santa came to see the children and bring them toys and goodies by way of parade car, in the jitney bus, walking, and even by helicopter.

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Wee Wee (Santa) arrives in helicopter, circa 1971. Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution. Photo taken by Zora Martin Felton.

Wee Wee was the Santa Claus for the museum for over ten years. He was a member of the Smithsonian Anacostia Neighborhood Museum’s Exhibition Department, and also ran the gift shop at the museum.  The neighborhood had a Christmas parade, featuring our neighborhood Santa.  The streets were lined with people all the way down Martin Luther King Jr., Ave. (then Nichols Avenue) and children and parents were lined up at the Anacostia Museum door to go talk to Santa about their Christmas wishes and receive a toy.

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Here comes Santa in the Parade, December 1971. Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution. Photo taken by Zora Martin Felton.

Anacostia's Own Santa, circa 1970, Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution. Photo taken by Zora Martin Felton.

Our Santa had helpers too!  YAC (Youth Advisory Committee) members would assist Santa with the toy giveaways and goodies.  As a member of YAC in the later years, I was not present during our Santa years, but I vividly remember working with Wee Wee in  our gift shop. Wee Wee (Milton Jones) was a real pillar in our community and museum.

 

 

Anacostia Community Museum Young Citizen Scientists Explore Lower Beaverdam Creek with State Farm

State Farm agent Lynn Heinrichs helps the students with their data collection.

Last Saturday a group of intrepid young Citizen Scientists from the UPO POWER college prep program hopped on a bus departing from the Anacostia Community Museum to monitor biological and chemical markers in a tributary to the Anacostia Watershed, the Lower Beaverdam Creek in Cheverly, Maryland. Also attending were representatives from State Farm, Dwayne Redd and Lynn Heinrichs. State Farm supports the Anacostia Community Museum Citizen Scientist program through a grant.  Afterwards the group gathered for lunch back at ACM where State Farm presented the group with a giant check, literally. The Citizen Scientist program encourages environmental stewardship by training and supporting citizen volunteers to monitor and report back on their local ecology.

The ACM Citizen Scientist team pose with State Farm's Dwayne Redd and Lynn Heinrichs at the end of their data collection field trip.

Students from the Anacostia Community Museum's Citizen Scientist Program explore Lower Beaverdam Creek, a tributary of the Anacostia River during a field trip with State Farm staff, who support the program.   Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

 

Biologist Alison Cawood, of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) helps the students conduct their data collection. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

Biologist Alison Cawood, of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) helps the students conduct their data collection.
Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

 

 

Dwayne Redd, of State Farm, right, poses with David McIntyre of Ballou High School and Anthony Lawson of Ideal Charter School, during the visit to Lower Beaverdam Creek. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

Dwayne Redd, of State Farm, right, poses with David McIntyre of Ballou High School and Anthony Lawson of Ideal Charter School, during the visit to Lower Beaverdam Creek.
Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

State Farm agent Lynn Heinrichs helps the students with their data collection.

State Farm agent Lynn Heinrichs helps the students with their data collection.

 

Diamond Carter of National Collegiate PCS records the data for future reference.

Diamond Carter of National Collegiate PCS records the data for future reference.

Wading boots were mandatory during this early December visit to the Lower Beaverdam Creek. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

Wading boots were mandatory during this early December visit to the Lower Beaverdam Creek.
Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

 

 

“A Mind is a Terrible thing to Waste”

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Frederick D. Patterson (1901 – 1988), 1940s portrait.

“A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Waste” is the well-known campaign slogan for the United Negro College Fund (UNCF). The fund was established in 1944 by Frederick Douglass Patterson, the third president of Tuskegee Institute, who was initially seeking financial support for the school (now Tuskegee University). Realizing other private black colleges encountered hardship in garnering funds, Patterson decided that a combined fundraising effort would benefit all universities and colleges involved, thus forming the UNCF. The founding of UNCF and his other contributions to the field of higher education earned Patterson the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1987.

Patterson was born on October 10, 1901, in the Buena Vista Heights area of southeast Washington, D.C., near Historic Anacostia and the home of his namesake, abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Patterson’s parents died of tuberculosis, leaving him an orphan before the age of two. Patterson lived in Anacostia with a family friend until the age of seven when his older sister moved to Texas and took him with her.

Frederick Douglass Patterson papers at the Anacostia Community Museum include correspondence, manuscripts, research material, published writing, photographs, and other materials documenting his personal life and professional career. Researchers will find of interest a scrapbook commemorating Patterson’s founding of and involvement with UNCF. The correspondence in the papers includes a note from George Washington Carver to Mrs. Patterson which accompanied a bottle of peanut oil with instructions to “use the same as “mothers [sic] friend, (as a massage).” Most of the photographs in the collection were taken during Patterson’s tenure as president of Tuskegee and include dignitary visits to the institute. There are also images by official Tuskegee photographer and renowned portrait photographer P. H. [Prentice Herman] Polk, as well as images by Arthur P. Bedou, who is celebrated for his photographs of Booker T. Washington and jazz musicians. You can learn more about this native Washingtonian in Chronicles of Faith: The Autobiography of Frederick D. Patterson.

This entry originally featured on the Smithsonian Collections Search Center blog, January 21, 2011.

Providing a Space

Image- From left to right. Crystal Sandoval, Nnamdi Anomnachi, Kofi Henderson, Mike Brown, and Tony Thomas explore the Potomac River on the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Susquehanna. Susana Raab ACM

Image- From left to right. Crystal Sandoval, Nnamdi Anomnachi, Kofi Henderson, Mike Brown, and Tony Thomas explore the Potomac River on the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Susquehanna. Susana Raab ACM

A reoccurring question faced by the collaborators on the Urban Waterways Project has been “What are the end products?”  “What will be the outcomes of your research?”   While the project has produced an exhibition, citizen scientist program, a survey on local attitudes towards the Anacostia, a newsletter, a collection of oral histories and documentation, a surprisingly overlooked and misunderstood component of the project has been to provide a space.

A space for what?  The Anacostia Museum, through our projects, exhibitions, and programs, provides a space in which personal experiences can be shared, frustrations and fears voiced, solutions explored, and victories celebrated.

The Urban Waterways’ exploration of the relationships of communities to local waterways is not confined to one city.  Efforts to restore the Anacostia River, shape East of the River Development, reconnect residents to their river and surroundings, while taking place in DC, have much in common with efforts in Baltimore, Honolulu, L.A., London, Pittsburgh, and Turkey Creek. The seven cities in the Urban Waterways Network share similar histories and face similar challenges.  Through the exchange of their experiences, the stakeholders in the communities along the seven rivers which make up the Urban Waterways network are reminded they are not alone in their efforts and answers may be found by looking at communities in similar situations.

Raul Macias, founder of The Anahuak Youth Soccer Association in Rio de Los Angeles State Park June 2013

Raul Macias, founder of The Anahuak Youth Soccer Association in Rio de Los Angeles State Park June 2013 Katrina Lashley

The work of Raul Macias and the Anahuak Youth Soccer League highlights the importance of ensuring all communities provide safe, active, green spaces which serve as a focus of healthy, connected communities. Led by Irma Munoz, Mujeres de La Tierra serves as a reminder of the changes that can be wrought when residents are reminded of the power they can wield by giving voice to their demands for the communities they want for themselves and their children.

The respect for the natural world taught at the Hālau Kū Māna School in Honolulu will continue to influence how students define their places in the world and their responsibilities to the environment.  Such values are echoed in the work of educator Tony Thomas, as he leads DC students in an exploration of the interconnectedness of the Anacostia Watershed and the possibilities that await them as they contemplate their next steps into the future.  Patrick White’s memories of growing up in Turkey Creek are central to his commitment to protecting it from the pressures of development just as Dennis Chestnut’s experiences of learning to swim and ice-skate on the Anacostia River inspired a career in which he dedicated himself to the protection of the river and its environs and to the education of neighborhood youth through his work with Groundwork Anacostia.

Students at the Hālau Kū Māna School in Honolulu converse with Doug Herman of the Smithsonian Institution

Students at the Hālau Kū Māna School in Honolulu converse with Doug Herman of the Smithsonian Institution
Katrina Lashley

If the stories of the partners in our network remind us of the commonalities in the experiences of those living along the nation’s urban rivers, their actions and successes can serve as examples.  Robert Garcia’s efforts through The City Project in LA championed Environmental Justice as a civil rights issue and were essential in ensuring the development of green spaces along the LA River.  Derrick Evans’ work with the Turkey Creek Community Initiative highlights the power of harnessing a place’s historical value to protect its environmental present.   The successes of David Karem  and the Waterfront Development Corporation and Lisa Schroeder and Riverlife, in redeveloping the Louisville and Pittsburgh waterfronts, serve as points of comparison and contrast to the successes of former Mayor Tony William’s vision of a redeveloped southeast waterfront in DC.

By providing a space for the histories, present, and futures of the various partners in its network, the Urban Waterways project is continuing the Anacostia Community Museum’s commitment to active engagement with communities both local and national.  By celebrating the work and accomplishments of residents and organizations such as The City Project, Mujeres de la Tierra, The Anacostia Watershed Society, Groundwork Anacostia, the Turkey Creek Community Initiative, and the Waterfront Development Corporation, the project reminds communities of what can be accomplished and the next possible steps in efforts to reclaim urban waterways for the benefits of all living along them.

A young girl and paletera at Rio de Los Angeles State Park, June 2013

A young girl and paletera at Rio de Los Angeles State Park, June 2013

The resulting communities that can evolve out of such engagement were made evident to me on a research trip to LA in the summer of 2013.  On a June afternoon after school the Rio de Los Angeles State park was the scene of a vibrant, healthy community.  Parents and siblings cheered on Atlan and Los Santos as they faced each other in a soccer match. Other residents strolled or jogged by on paths.  A paletera’s bells chimed in the distance and the basketball courts became crowded. Had it not been for the efforts of community members, leaders, and local politicians the scene could have been very different. The sound of cheers of encouragement, the chimes, and children at play…the vibrancy of community life could have easily been replaced by rows of warehouses. For many such a future would have been a poor substitute.

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