DC

Ethel Payne: First Lady of the Black Press

Black female journalist Ethel Payne stands with a smile on her face amidst a crowd in Shanghai, China while she was abroad reporting for the Chicago Defender in the 1970s.

One of just two Black women in the White House Press Corps during the 1950s and 1960s, Ethel Payne repeatedly demonstrated her determination to deliver the truth to her readers -- informed by her experience. Responding the criticism that she should be more objective, Payne responded, “I stick to my firm, unshakeable belief that the black press is an advocacy press, and that I, as a part of that press, can’t afford the luxury of being unbiased…when it comes to issues that really affect my people, and I plead guilty, because I think that I am an instrument of change.” 

This is a black and white photograph of a woman wearing a mask, she wears a hat with the familiar plus sign associated with the Red Cross. Despite the mask covering most of her face, she wears a serious expression.

The Perils of Pandemic and War: Spanish Flu Brings D.C. to its Knees

It was the start of October and the dog days of summer in the nation’s capital had officially come to an end. The crisp autumn air, a relief to most Washingtonians in years past, was an ominous foreshadowing of the days and weeks to come. There would be no more open windows in homes, streetcars, or workplaces for the foreseeable future. With an invisible killer hanging in the air, Washington would soon find itself in crisis — and transplanted war workers bore the brunt of it.

Mighty Yet Stubby: A Four-Legged War Hero Takes D.C. By Storm

A black and white photo of Stubby. He stands on all fours and stares past the camera. He wears his chamois n blanket with numerous medals pinned on.

Stubby, the World War I war dog looms large in animal and American military history. By no means a professionally trained canine, Stubby was smuggled from Connecticut to France where he first served in a morale position. He took on a greater role as he got used to warfare, aiding the troops any way he could. When he came back to America, he became a celebrity, especially in Washington, DC.  

Encore: How the Tivoli became the Epicenter of a Debate over Urban Renewal

The revitalized Tivoli Theater in Columbia Heights, with tan walls and a red roof in an Italian architectural style. There is a large marquee, and signs with the word "Tivoli."

The Tivoli Theater's grand opening in 1924 was heralded by a grand parade and a carnival which attracted hundreds of Washingtonian's to the Golden Age movie theater. Yet, just over 50 years later, the Tivoli had its windows bolted up and doors closed, no longer the shining light in the Columbia Heights neighborhood. What followed afterwards was a dramatic decades-long fight over the fate of the Tivoli, bringing up questions surrounding urban renewal and the future of the neighborhood, which had suffered greatly after the 1968 riots following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Grant Us More Jazz on the Radio: How Felix Grant Brought Jazz to the D.C. Airwaves

An up close shot of Grant talking into a microphone (1960).

Shock rippled through the steamy streets of Washington, DC, in early August 1979. The source of the buzz was not the result of back-to-back testing of nuclear weapons by the United States and the Soviet Union. It was not even the sale of the nearby Baltimore Orioles to D.C. lawyer Edward Bennett Williams for the grand sum of $12.3 million. The source of the city’s consternation involved the smooth timbre of a DMV staple – or the lack thereof. Felix Grant – one of Washington’s most beloved radio deejays for a generation – was being pulled from the airwaves.

A view of Southwest from above. This is from pre-urban renewal circa 1939. Crowded streets full of buildings are in the foreground and the Capitol building is visible in the background.

The Cost of Urban Renewal in Southwest DC

After World War II, Southwest Washington, DC, underwent a bout of complete urban renewal to clean up the blighted neighborhood. But was it worth it? New buildings went up, but a community was torn apart, economic segregation ensued and the project failed to deliver on many of the promises that were made.


 

Can you hear me now? The Birth of Wireless Communication on L Street

Illustration of the Photophone’s Receiver, Originally From: 1881 1880. http://www.bluehaze.com.au/modlight/ModLightBiblio.htm. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Photophony1.jpg.

Of all the great minds to inhabit Washington, D.C. through the years, perhaps one of the most consequential yet often overlooked, was Alexander Graham Bell. Though his famous 1876 telephone experiment took place in Boston, Bell moved to the District shortly thereafter and worked on what he considered to be his greatest inventions in several Northwest labs over the next few decades. Of his many D.C.-based achievements, perhaps the most significant occurred at his small lab on L Street and led to the eventual birth of fiberoptic communication.

GALA Hispanic Theatre: Celebrating Latin American Culture in the Arts

A closeup on the marquee of the Tivoli theatre. A vertical red sign reads "GALA" and the words on the marquee advertise ticket sales.

The 1970s and 1980s saw increased Latin American immigration to the United States, and to D.C. in particular. At the time, there was limited access to Latin American performing arts, something that Rebecca Read and Hugo Medrano sought to fix when they founded Grupo de Latinoamericanos Artistes (GALA) in 1976. They never expected, though, that GALA would take off and eventually become the National Center for the Latino Performing Arts. Their journey to becoming cultural icons in D.C. also coincided with the changing Latin American community in the District.

The City That Was... And The City That Never Was: A Tale of Two Paintings at the GW Museum

“The Indispensable Plan: 1791”  A painted portrait of what DC would have looked like if the city was laid out  exactly to L’Enfant’s plans. The image has red painted curtains framing  a familiar DC but with key differences. The colors are vibrant but there are a lack of people.

Walk up the spiral staircase at the GW Museum, take a right into the first gallery, and you will be met with a pair of large (5’ x 6’) bird-eye's-view paintings of Washington, DC. Both represent the capital city in the 1820s and, at first glance, the two works look very similar, with comparable coloring, landscape, and style. That’s not suprising as both were done by the same artist and, significantly, the two pieces share the same view – looking down on the District from Arlington Heights. But, upon closer examination, it becomes clear that the paintings represent different perspectives of the fledgling national Capitol – one aspirational, the other more realistic.

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