December 2012

Celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation

This is one of the most powerful images I have seen in a long time. It is a 1947 photo of Sally Fickland, the oldest living former slave in the country at the time, looking at the Emancipation Proclamation, which ordered that slaves in the South be freed in 1863.

Can you imagine the emotions that she must have been feeling in that moment?

From Sunday, December 30 through Tuesday, January 1, the National Archives is celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the document with a special display in the East Rotunda Gallery.

An Elvis Sighting at the White House

On December 21, 1970, Elvis Presley showed up unannounced at the northwest gate of the White House with a handwritten six page letter to President Nixon. The letter iterated Elvis's desire to become a "Federal Agent-at-Large" in the war on drugs.

After a brief discussion with Elvis and his body guards, Nixon aide Egil Krogh became convinced the singer was sincere, and thought he might be helpful in reaching out to young people about the dangers of drug abuse. Elvis and Nixon met later than same day and were photographed in the Oval Office. Years later, that picture is one of the most popular holdings in the National Archives.

Francis Blackwell Mayer's painting of the burning of the Peggy Stewart during the Annapolis Tea Party in 1774. (Source: Maryland State Archives)

The Annapolis Tea Party of 1774

Today marks the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party on December 16, 1773. Over 200 years after it happened, the incident remains one of the most popular images of the Revolutionary period. That’s no surprise. After all, there’s a certain romanticism to the story of costumed colonists dumping crates of valuable tea into Boston Harbor.

But, while the Boston protest remains the most famous demonstration against the British taxation measures, it was not the only one. There were protests throughout the colonies and one of the most dramatic played out in our own back yard — Annapolis, Maryland — in 1774.

John Phillip Sousa Junior High School. (Source: Wikipedia user Dmadeo)

D.C.'s Own "Brown vs Board"

Ask most people what Supreme Court case ended public school segregation and (perhaps after checking their smartphone) they will say, “Brown vs. Board of Education.” That is would be correct… for most of the country. But, for citizens in the federally-controlled District of Columbia another case was more important.

Sixty years ago this week — on December 10, 1952 — the Supreme Court heard the first arguments in Bolling vs. Sharpe, a case filed on behalf of eleven African American parents whose children had been denied enrollment at D.C.'s John Phillip Sousa Junior High School on the basis of race. The court would issue its decision two years later alongside the more famous Brown decision.

The Langley Aerodrome

Nowaways nearly everyone knows that Orville and Wilbur Wright were the “First in Flight,” but that wasn’t always the case. A local scientist almost knocked them out of the history books... twice. In 1903 a team under the direction of Smithsonian Institute Secretary Samuel Langley attempted a manned flight of a motor-powered airplane from a houseboat in the Potomac River. If successful, it would be the world’s first flying machine.

The flight was a spectacular failure, but for 30 years the Smithsonian recognized Langley's Aerodrome -- and not the Wright Brothers' flyer -- as the world's first manned aircraft capable of flight. Needless to say, Orville and Wilbur were not pleased.

Joe Namath talks with Jets coach Weeb Ewbank during Namath's professional debut in Alexandria, Virginia, August 7, 1965. (Source: Alexandria Gazette)

Before He Was Broadway Joe

So where do you think Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Namath made his professional football debut? Shea Stadium in New York? Wrong. Fenway Park in Boston? Wrong again. D.C. Stadium in Washington? Nice try, but no.

The correct answer is George Washington High School in Alexandria, Virginia. Say what? Yes, it’s true.

On August 7, 1965 Namath and the New York Jets played the Houston Oilers at GWHS in the first preseason game of the 1965 AFL season. The game was a charity benefit sponsored by Kena Temple, the local Shriners organization, and was wrapped into the city’s annual “Alexandria Days” summer festival.

Happy Repeal Day, Maryland and Virginia! (Sorry, D.C.)

Repeal Day, December 5, 1933, was a day of wild celebration. The 18th Amendment was repealed, ending the great experiment known as Prohibition. Booze could finally start flowing again (legally) across the country and Americans were eager to imbibe. But, as kegs were tapped and bottles were uncorked from coast to coast, one place was left out of the party: Washington, D.C.

Fairlington: Built to Last

The year is 1943. You’re new to the area and looking for a place to live that’s close enough to the city that the commute to your government job won’t be completely terrible. Maybe you’ve got a dog. Maybe you’re starting a family. It’s a busy time. The war is going on, after all, and Washington is buzzing with activity. Where are you going to live?

Well, if you were looking in Arlington, there’s a good chance you might end up in the new Fairlington neighborhood…  That is of course, if you could get a spot -– easier said than done in those days.