DC

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

Elvis Presley and President Nixon in the Oval Office, December 21, 1970. (Source: National Archives)

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.

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.

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

Washington Post headline

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.

Woody Guthrie, 1943 (Library of Congress)

How Washington Saved Folk Music

Sure, it seems a bit counter-intuitive. How could the favorite subject of protest music also be its greatest protector? Well, believe it. If it wasn't for Alan Lomax and the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress there might not be a Woody Guthrie — and thus by extension — a Bob Dylan or a Bruce Springsteen, and well … you get the rest. In March 1940, Lomax arranged for Guthrie to travel to Washington, D.C. to record traditional ballads and his original songs at the Department of the Interior recording lab. What emerged from three days of sessions is one of the purest documents of Americana ever released.

Mail Your Christmas Cards Early

The holiday season is pretty busy for the United States Post Office -- lots of letters and packages going all over the country, from coast to coast. And we're all familiar with the warnings that tell us to mail our items early if we want to guarantee delivery by Christmas. Well, apparently D.C. residents weren't heeding the warnings back in 1921. So the U.S.P.S. called in the big fella to get the point across.

See the full size photo »

The photo for the Grammy award-winning album cover of Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits was taken at the Washington Coliseum on November 28, 1965. (Source: Wikipedia)

Bob Dylan's Greatest Pic

Washington doesn't usually get mentioned in the pantheon of great American music cities but we've had our moments. One of them was Sunday, November 28, 1965, when Bob Dylan played the Washington Coliseum.

Curiously, details about the concert itself are scarce — the Washington Post didn't bother to write a review (kind of surprising since Dylan was very well known by 1965), and Dylan's own website doesn't have a setlist from the show. But the singer's visit to Washington was significant for one now-famous image the concert produced.

Portrait of Yarrow Mamout by Chales Wilson Peale, 1819.

Yarrow Mamout's Place in History

Yarrow Mamout was the most prominent African American in early Washington.  He was a Muslim, educated in West Africa to read and write in Arabic.  He and a sister arrived in America from on a slave ship in 1752. After forty-five years as a slave of the Beall family of Maryland, Yarrow (his last name) gained his freedom and settled in Georgetown. In 1800, he acquired the property at what is now 3324 Dent Place and lived there the rest of his life.

The house on Yarrow Mamout’s old lot in Georgetown is scheduled for demolition, but efforts are underway to save any artifacts from his occupancy as well as his mortal remains from the bulldozer.

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