DC

The Great White Hope at 50: Making All D.C. a Stage

The cast of The Great White Hope at Arena, 1967 (Credit: Arena Stage Records, C0017, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.)

It’s Washington in 1967, and the District’s old reputation as a sleepy, southern city is being squashed by the feet of Vietnam War protesters and the voices of Washingtonians calling for racial equality. That same year, local theatre Arena Stage announced that, on December 12th, it would be putting on the world premiere of Howard Sackler’s play, The Great White Hope. At the time of its production, the play was completely unknown. No one would have imagined that 50 years later, the production of the now-Tony-winning show would go down in history as one of the most influential moments in shaping the political and cultural landscape of Washington in the 1960s. 
 

Eat Anywhere! Mary Church Terrell, the Lost Laws, and the End of Segregation in D.C. Restaurants

Washington Afro American headline from June 9, 1953.

On Friday, January 27, 1950, Mary Church Terrell met three friends for a late lunch in downtown Washington. Terrell, then 86, entered Thompson’s Restaurant on 7th Street NW around 2:45pm with Rev. William H. Jernigan, Geneva Brown and David Scull. Their party was integrated – Scull was white while the others were black – however, Thompson’s Restaurant was not. Like most other D.C. eating establishments at the time, it was whites only.

As the group went about selecting entrees along the cafeteria line, Manager Levin Ange emerged and informed them that Thompson’s did not serve “colored” people. Terrell clarified, “Do you mean to tell me that you are not going to serve me?” When Ange confirmed that was the case, the group left the restaurant.

The chain of events was, of course, entirely expected. As a leader of Washington’s civil rights movement for half a century, Mary Church Terrell was well aware of Thompson’s policy. But she and the others didn’t go to the restaurant to be served. Rather they went with the expectation of being turned away – the necessary, if also demeaning, first step toward bringing a new sort of legal challenge, which they hoped would topple segregation in the nation’s capital.

When Carl Bernstein Reviewed 'Sgt. Pepper'

The Beatles outside manager Brian Epstein's house at 24 Chapel Street, London, during the press launch for their new album, 'Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band', 19th May 1967. (Photo by Mark and Colleen Hayward/Getty Images)

June 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the release of the Beatles' groundbreaking Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, lauded as the first "concept" album and perennially on critics' lists of the best of all time. There has also been a good deal of recent reflection on the Watergate scandal and the role of Washington Post journalists Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, who broke the story that brought down an American president in 1974. But did you know there is a local connection between these seemingly disparate yet historically-significant events?

The Party Doesn't Stop...Until a Revolution Happens

Barbara Streisand with Ambassador Zahedi

When a person walks past the abandoned embassy of Iran, the first thought that comes to mind probably isn’t that this is a place where politicians routinely danced on couches. But, fifty years ago, 3005 Massachusetts Avenue was infamous among the social elite of Washington D.C. as the go to party place for fancy champagne, expensive caviar, and lots of drugs. As Barbara Walters remembered, “it was the number one embassy when it came to extravagance”. Drivers dropped off the political elite and celebrities including Elizabeth Taylor, Liza Minelli, and Redskins coach George Allen. Guests in grand designer gowns and fashions let loose as, in the words of one local woman, “there were limousines double parked all over the place” outside.

Eleanor and Diana's Victory Garden

Diana Hopkins hoes her victory garden at the White House as her parents look on. (Source: AP)

Though it’s certainly the most famous now, Michelle Obama’s iconic White House garden is not the first of its kind. Throughout the centuries, the presidential mansion has hosted crops and sheep and all manner of landscaping. But by World War II, the White House lawns were considered purely decorative. A First Lady would have had to fight hard to install a garden by the White House. Luckily Eleanor Roosevelt was up to the task.

A button from the march, featuring a quote from Harvey Milk, one of the earliest openly gay politicians. Image courtesy of Wikimedia

The Numbers Game at the National March for Lesbian and Gay Rights

When organizers from the National Gay Mobilizing Committee approached him in 1973 about a gay rights march in Washington, Larry Maccubbin was skeptical. A poor turnout, he feared, could undermine the hard work that he and other local activists had done to advance LGBT rights in the nation’s capital.

“We do not want to receive any setbacks at this time due to a poorly conceived, hastily planned, and shabbily supported demonstration,” he replied.

Stevie Wonder in 1973 (Source: Wikipedia)

The Human Kindness Day That Wasn't

Promote neighborly goodwill and the arts with a free concert on the National Mall? It sounded like a great idea to Stevie Wonder when he was approached by Compared to What, Inc. a non-profit D.C. arts education group in 1975. What could go wrong? As it turned out, a lot.

Literary Neighbors: The Folger and the Library of Congress

The lot where the Folger would eventually be built, with the Library of Congress in the background. Image courtesy of LUNA: Folger Digital Image Collection

After years of acquiring important books and manuscripts, and a few more years planning and acquiring land, the Folger Shakespeare Library was almost bumped out of Washington thanks to a bill to expand the Library of Congress. But instead of fighting the other library, the two would work in close cooperation to ensure the Folger Shakespeare Library came to Washington and flourished.

To Duck the Scold: One of Anne Royall's Washington Incidents

Anne Royall's headstone in the Congressional Cemetery

When Anne Newport Royall went to court in 1829 for being a “public nuisance, a common brawler and a common scold,” there were mixed feelings. Some celebrated the news that she was finally getting what she deserved, like the Aurora & Pennsylvania Gazette, which said, “All decent people will be happy to hear that the imprudent virago, Anne Royall, is at last in a fair way to meet her deserts.” (A virago, for reference, is a loud overbearing woman. This wouldn’t be the last time she’d be chastised for unladylike behavior.) Others likened her trial to the persecution of Galileo by the Catholic Church, claiming that she will never surrender.

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