City Landmarks to Black History: Trials, Triumphs of Descendants of African Slaves Are Memorialized Here

By Butters, Pat | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 8, 1996 | Go to article overview

City Landmarks to Black History: Trials, Triumphs of Descendants of African Slaves Are Memorialized Here


Butters, Pat, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


With the Civil War near an end and his second inaugural address just delivered, an excited President Lincoln searched the receiving line at the Executive Mansion for one particular face.

He found it: that of abolitionist Frederick Douglass.

"There is no man in the country whose opinion I value more than yours," he said, eagerly seeking his opinion of the March 4, 1865 speech.

"Mr. Lincoln," said the famed black orator, "that was a sacred effort." Since August 1861, he had fought to get black men into the Union army. "Why does the government reject the Negro?" he asked. "Is he not a man?"

Douglass looms (1817-1895) as a giant in American history - not just black history. In fact, the contributions of greats such as educator Mary McLeod Bethune and mathematician Benjamin Banneker, honored particularly during Black History Month, have been woven into the tapestry of American achievement.

To focus on this special area of U.S. history, sightseeing companies such as Tourmobile and Gold Line offer tours to celebrate Black History Month in February.

High on a hill with a spectacular view of Washington, the Frederick Douglass Museum (Cedar Hill) is the centerpiece of the Tourmobile (202/554-5100) excursion. During February, the tour departs every Saturday at noon from the Washington Monument and Arlington National Cemetery. The African-American History Month Tour is in its second year.

"People get to see another side of Washington on this tour," says spokeswoman Greta Crossley. "On the other tour, you see more of the monuments and museums, strictly on the federal Mall.

"Here you see residential areas, Eastern Market and a number of buildings that existed in Frederick Douglass' times. It's all historcial."

The tour heads up Capitol Hill, passing these sites:

Lincoln Park

Located where East Capitol Street, North Carolina Avenue, Tennessee Avenue, Kentucky Avenue and 11th and 13th streets intersect, this rectangular park is dedicated to black history.

Mary McLeod Bethune Statue

Sculpted in the immediately recognizable, stippled style of Robert Berks - who did the Einstein Memorial, John F. Kennedy's bust at the Kennedy Center and Robert F. Kennedy's bust at the Department of Justice - this bronze statue is dedicated to the daughter of freed slaves who went on to become an educator and civil rights activist. She was president of the National Council of Negro Women. The statue depicts Bethune with her trademark cane - which was given to her by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, under whom she served in organizing the National Youth Administration and directing the Division of Black Affairs. Bethune is shown handing two children her will. "Let her works praise her" reads the inscription below.

The statue was dedicated in 1974.

The Emancipation Monument

This sometimes misunderstood statue shows 16th president Lincoln standing over a newly freed but bowed slave, whose chains have been severed. Lincoln holds a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation in one hand; the other hand is reaching out in benediction.

"[The boy's] sensitive face, filled with emotion, looks up into the future," writes photographer David Finn, author of "How to Look at Sculpture." "His stance reflects his transition from bondage - with his chains broken, he is poised to rise to freedom.

"Lincoln's figure is a bit stiff from some angles, but his face has the character of a prophet as he looks with compassion at the youth."

According to Washington travel writer Laura Bergheim, legend has it that the model for the slave's face was none other than a photo of Archer Alexander, the last man captured under the Fugitive Slave Act.

Charlotte Scott, a former slave from Virginia, began the collection for the statue the day of Lincoln's assassination. The first $5 she made as a free woman went to the project. …

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