June 2014

Freedom Summer volunteers and locals canvassing. (Credit: Courtesy of Ted Polumbaum provided courtesy of Newseum)

D.C.'s Ties to Freedom Summer

In 1964, SNCC focused efforts on black voter registration and education in Mississippi, which had the lowest percentage of African-Americans registered to vote in the country (a startling 6.7% as of 1962). The group recruited hundreds of volunteers from college campuses across the nation to come to the state to canvass.

The 1964 Freedom Summer movement in Mississippi does not generally conjure up images of the nation’s capital. But a few of the organizers had strong ties to the District.

Sit-ins Come to Arlington

Shortly after 1pm on June 9, 1960 a biracial contingent of college students entered the People’s Drug Store at Lee Highway and Old Dominion Dr. in Arlington and requested service at the store’s lunch counter. Less than a mile away, a similar group sat down at the counter at the Cherrydale Drug Fair.

Both lunch counters promptly closed.

Still, the students did not move. In fact, they remained seated for hours, calmly reading books and Bibles until well after dark, in protest of the stores’ refusal to serve African American patrons at their lunch counters.

First Statue Representing D.C. Unveiled in U.S. Capitol

It was a long wait for sculptors and local politicians.

Since 2008, a seven-foot tall, 1,700 pound bronze statue of abolitionist Frederick Douglass stood in the lobby of a building called One Judiciary Square. It remained there for five years while Washington officials fought to move it to another building less than a mile down the road: the U.S. Capitol. 

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the unveiling of Douglass’ statue in the Capitol Visitor Center’s Emancipation Hall. The ceremony was the culmination of a fight spanning over a decade. 

Remembering Len Bias

The court was closed off to students like it always was after basketball season was over. A sign over the floor read “Keep Off” and there was a still darkness inside of Cole Field House.

Students sat quietly in the top rows of the yellow seats in the arena, thinking, wondering. While some stared down at the court with wide eyes, others leaned back in their seats with their eyes closed.

Raw emotion spread across the arena as they came to remember the Maryland Terrapin legend, Len Bias.

Just a few days before, Bias had been on top of the world, the second pick in the NBA draft by the famed Boston Celtics.

Leonard Bernstein (Photo source: Library of Congress)

The Night 'West Side Story' Opened in Washington

When West Side Story premiered in the summer of 1957, Felicia Montealegre wanted to be in Washington.

Felicia, wife of composer Leonard Bernstein, had come down with the flu while on a trip to Chile and was missing the August 19 premiere of Bernstein’s show at The National Theatre. A contemporary retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet that takes place in New York’s Upper West Side, the show was scheduled to open in Washington for a three-week pre-Broadway tryout.

"Well, look-a me. Back to the nation’s capitol, & right on the verge,” Bernstein wrote to Felicia days before the premiere. “This is Thurs. We open Mon. Everyone’s coming, my dear, even Nixon and 35 admirals. Senators abounding, & big Washington-hostessy type party afterwards.”

The World Cup is in Brazil, but the Bossa Nova Craze Started in DC

Brazil, the site of this month's FIFA World Cup, is known for transforming the game of soccer with the free-wheeling offensive style that its great players pioneered. But Brazil also has another creative export that's nearly as famous as soccer virtuosos Pele or Ronaldo — bossa nova, a hybrid of jazz and Brazil's own African-influenced Samba music. Oddly, though, it was an album recorded in Washington, DC in February 1962, that helped popularize bossa nova as an international sensation.

DC Hosts the Civil War of Horse Racing, 1822

In the 19th century, the North and South waged an important battle. No, not the Civil War- horse racing! Before the war between the states with military and espionage there was a stirring contest fought with the finest horses that either side could breed, and the first battle took place right in the heart of Washington D.C., at the National Course somewhere around 14th Street, north of Euclid Street and south of Columbia Heights.