african american history in washington d.c

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87-year-old visits slave cabin she was born in, now at African-American History Museum

  • On Tuesday, Isabell Meggett Lucas, 87, visited the home where she was born in Edisto Island, South Carolina. Except she had to go visit it in Washington, D.C. That’s because Lucas’s childhood home was a slave cabin on display at the African-American History Museum. 
  • According to local television station WRC, the Edisto Island slave cabin is the only one remaining of 10 such cabins that were built on a patch of land owned by Charles Bailey, who became wealthy through slavery.  
  • Lucas told WRC that, though she was born there, she did not know it was a slave cabin when she was growing up. Read more. (4/13/2017 11:30 AM)

Dorothy Height U.S. Postal Stamp


Born in Virginia in 1912, Dorothy Height was a leader in addressing the rights of both women and African Americans as the president of the National Council of Negro Women. In the 1990s, she drew young people into her cause in the war against drugs, illiteracy and unemployment. The numerous honors bestowed upon her include the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1994) and the Congressional Gold Medal (2004). She died on April 20, 2010, in Washington, D.C.

On This Day: The Assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Photo:  Martin Luther King, Jr. Funeral: King Family and Friends, © Burk Uzzle, Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.  

On this day in 1968, shortly after 6 p.m., Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated by James Earl Ray while standing on the balcony outside the now memorialized Lorraine Motel room 306.

Photo: SCLC pallbearers stand over casket of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., at Morehouse College on April 12, 1968, Atlanta, GA, © Ernest C. Withers Trust, Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Anthony Decaneas, Decaneas Archive, and Ernest C. Withers Trust.

In the early months of 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. worked on a campaign to lobby on behalf of the poor. While planning a march in Washington, D.C. to urge Congress to pass further Civil Rights legislation, King was called to Memphis, Tennessee to assist in a sanitation workers’ strike. African American sanitation workers were protesting for equal pay and improved working conditions. On April 3rd, after his flight to Memphis was delayed due to a bomb threat, King spoke at Mason Temple, headquarters of the Church of God in Christ. Here he gave his last speech, known as the “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” sermon. King stated the famous words:

“…I’m not worried about anything, I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

King’s death evoked sadness nationwide and many African Americans were not only in mourning, but were outraged. A series of riots followed in more than 100 cities. Subsequently, the Civil Rights Act of 1968, known as the Fair Housing Act, was passed and signed on April 11th.

Photo: Memorial March after assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Main Street, Memphis, TN, April 8, 1968, © Ernest C. Withers Trust, Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Anthony Decaneas, Decaneas Archive, and Ernest C. Withers Trust.

Watch Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. make his famous last speech:

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QUEENS OF THE BALL [Click Image To Enlarge]

Portraits of debutantes of The Links, Incorporated, Chapter of Washington, D.C., circa 1960′s. The Links are one of the nation’s oldest and largest volunteer service organizations of extraordinary women of color, who are committed to enriching, sustaining and ensuring the culture and economic survival of African Americans and other persons of African ancestry.

Happy Birthday Michelle Obama! Take a Look Back at 15 Intimate Photos Of the Obama’s Love Story


Barack Obama and Michelle Robinson went on their first date in 1989. In homage to one of the world’s most famous couples, we welcome you to have a look at their history with a collection of tender and historical photographs, which document their love story.

Keep reading

Marian Anderson Sings at the Lincoln Memorial

Photo: American contralto Marian Anderson performs in front of 75,000 spectators in Potomac Park. Finnish accompanist Kosti Vehanen is on the piano.

“She carried herself in the way she wanted to be seen.“ - Dwandalyn Reece, Curator of Music and Performing Arts, NMAAHC 

Marian Anderson was the first African American soloist to sing at the New York Metropolitan Opera on January 7, 1955. During her long career, Anderson broke many barriers as an African American opera singer, and was often denied performance venues due to racial segregation during the mid-twentieth century. #OnThisDay in 1939, Anderson famously sung on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., to a crowd of over 75,000 people, when she was denied permission to sing at Constitution Hall.

Photo: Shantung silk jacket (redesigned in 1993) and black velvet skirt worn by Marian Anderson. Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Ginette DePreist in memory of James DePreist.

Learn more about Anderson’s historic moment and the artifacts in our collection: bit.ly/2mCKud0  

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African-American women have been wearing fancy hats to church for generations. That tradition is being celebrated at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, which officially opens in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 24. Vintage turbans, caps and fascinators that span a half-century are on display — all from the shop of one woman. Her name is Mae Reeves.

“I feel that I have the right to have just as much as a man. There is a great stir about colored men getting their rights, but not a word about the colored women; and if colored men get their rights and colored women not theirs, the colored men will be masters over the women, and it will be just as bad as it was before,” the abolitionist Sojourner Truth said in 1867.

I am thinking about Truth, and so many other African-American female freedom fighters, because of the imminent release of the film Suffragette, starring Carey Mulligan. If that movie chronicles the struggle for the vote in Britain, it also brings to mind our own suffrage story. But though we may have vague notions of the American women who fought so heroically for the ballot on this side of the Atlantic, they are, in our minds, in our imaginations, in the photographs and first-person narratives that have come down to us, uniformly white people.


Who would blame you if you thought there were no African-American women who lent their hearts and minds, their intellects, their bodies to the suffrage cause! Rendered invisible in so many accounts, they were in fact doubly brave, fighting a dual oppression—marginalized, trivialized, humiliated, and dismissed for being both black and female.

Women like Naomi Anderson, a suffrage activist who gave a fiery, controversial speech at the first Women’s Rights Convention in Chicago in 1869, and Mary Ann Shadd Cary, the second black female attorney in the country, renowned for her tough oratory, who organized the Colored Women’s Progressive Franchise Association in 1880. Or Anna Julia Cooper, who once announced, “The old, subjective, stagnant, indolent, and wretched life for woman has gone. She has as many resources as men, as many activities beckon her on. As large possibilities swell and inspire her heart.” Or the educator Nannie Helen Burroughs, who asserted: “When the ballot is put into the hands of the American woman, the world is going to get a correct estimate of the Negro woman. It will find her a tower of strength of which poets have never sung, orators have never spoken, and scholars have never written.”

Or Elizabeth Piper Ensley, who fought for—and won—full suffrage for women of all races in Colorado in 1893. And what of Sarah Massey Overton, fighting for the vote in California in the early years of the 20th century? And Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, who had the prescience to state, “I do not think the mere extension of the ballot a panacea for all the ills of our national life. What we need today is not simply more voters, but better voters.” (Could there be truer words, with our own presidential election looming?)

Alas, while black women fought and fought hard, many of their Caucasian sisters remained locked in the racist conventions of the day. When the stunningly accomplished Ida B. Wells, who founded the Chicago-based Alpha Suffrage Club, arrived in Washington, D.C. to participate in the 1913 suffrage parade, organizers asked the black women if they would mind very much marching at the end of the demonstration.

http://www.vogue.com/13363234/african-american-suffragists-women-voting-rights/

Painter Alma Thomas (1891–1978) is perhaps best known for her contributions to the Washington Color School. But we love her even more because generations of D.C.’s African American families knew her as the art teacher at Shaw Junior High School where she worked between 1924 and 1960.

Alma Thomas in her studio, ca. 1968 / Ida Jervis, photographer. Alma Thomas papers, 1894-2000, bulk 1936-1982. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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The First National Black History Museum Is Here

There were plenty of powerful moments during Saturday’s dedication of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

But one stood out: The first black president and the first black first lady helping Ruth Bonner, the 99-year-old daughter of a man born a slave in Mississippi, ring a bell to open the first national museum of black history. Read more on that here.

You can also read President Barack Obama’s dedication to the museum here.

(All photos by Getty Images)

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African-American women have been wearing fancy hats to church for generations. That tradition is being celebrated at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, which officially opens in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 24. Vintage turbans, caps and fascinators that span a half-century are on display — all from the shop of one woman.

Her name is Mae Reeves.

In 1942, a time when few women were becoming entrepreneurs, Reeves opened what would become a Philadelphia institution with a $500 bank loan. Her hat shop, Mae’s Millinery, helped dress some of the most famous African-American women in the country, including iconic singers Marian Anderson, Ella Fitzgerald and Lena Horne.

Reeves hung her hat above the store, raising her family in the same building — first in downtown Philadelphia and later West Philadelphia.

“You do what you got to do,” she said, reflecting on the early years of running her business in an interview with the Smithsonian recorded after the museum acquired a collection of her hats. “I had to work with my family and make a living too. So I did it, and I’m very proud of it.”

Mae Reeves’ Hats Hang At National Museum Of African American History And Culture

Photos: Ariel Zambelich/NPR and Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift from Mae Reeves and her children, Donna Limerick and William Mincey, Jr.

Jayne Kennedy (née Harrison; October 27, 1951) is an American actress, beauty pageant titleholder, and sportscaster. She won a 1982 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture award for her performance in the 1981’s film Body and Soul co-starring alongside her then-husband Leon Issac Kennedy.

Born Jayne Harrison in Washington, D.C., to machinist Herbert Harrison and his wife, Virginia. She was crowned Miss Ohio USA in 1970 (she was the first African American woman to win the title), and was one of the 15 semi-finalists in the Miss USA 1970 pageant. It was rare for an African American woman at that time to be in the contest.

African American Women @ Howard University

Six African American female students crossing street on the campus of Howard University (Washington D.C.) on the first day of class. 1940’s. Addison Scurlock, photographer.

 

Source: Scurlock Studio Records, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution

 

Vintage African American photography courtesy of Black History Album, The Way We Were.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, or #NMAAHC, opened this weekend in Washington D.C. It features several artifacts of African-American history, moments of historic black achievements and excellence throughout the years. Here are a few things you will find at the museum. (📸:GettyImages)

Andrew Carnegie reading in library.

Carnegie donated $300,000 to build Washington, D.C.’s oldest library — a beautiful beaux arts building that dates back to 1903. Inscribed above the doorway are the words: Science, Poetry, History. The building was “dedicated to the diffusion of knowledge.” It opened in 1903 to women, children, all races — African-Americans remember when it was the only place downtown where they could use the bathrooms. During the Depression, D.C.’s Carnegie Library was called “the intellectual breadline.”