On a cold, overcast Tuesday morning in February 1981, something caught the eye of a museum technician as he walked through the “We the People” exhibit on the second floor of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History: The silver pen of President McKinley’s Secretary of State John Hay was missing. The 7 ¼-inch Parker Jointless pen had been used to sign the 1898 Treaty of Paris, ending the Spanish-American War.
But now, to the technician’s horror, its case was empty -- and there were more alarming discoveries to come.
In June 1981, Black Deaf leaders gathered in Washington to sew the seeds of an organization that would have a profound impact on the Black Deaf community. After centuries of exclusion in both Black and Deaf spaces, organizers came together to make a space of their own. With goals to educate, empower, and strengthen the community, this conference led a call for Black inclusion and leadership in Deaf organizations locally and nationally.
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.
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.
In addition to tours of the Great Wall and the Ming Tombs, former D.C. mayor Marion Barry’s trip to China in May 1984 involved talks with Beijing mayor Chen Xitong about constructing a symbol of the friendship between the two capital cities in the form of an archway in D.C.’s Chinatown.
Against the backdrop of the city, Gallaudet University students, faculty, and alumni transformed their campus protest into a national fight for civil rights, refusing to accept anything less than a “Deaf President Now.”
When Julius Hobson ran for the District Delegate seat under the banner of the new Statehood Party in 1971, his proposal to secure democracy in the nation’s capital was very similar to today’s H.R. 51. However, this now mainstream policy was a fringe idea for much of the past fifty years.
In December of 1986, parents were rushing to the stores to snatch a Cabbage Patch Kid, G.I. Joe or Teddy Ruxpin off the shelf before they were all gone. That same month, the generosity of a local benefactor was a touching reminder of what the holiday season is really about. On Dec. 21, 1986, Robert Alfandre welcomed 30 people infected with AIDS into his home in northwest Washington for a Christmas party.
“I personally want to try and change the stereotype of what somebody in a wheelchair is like… I want to be judged not on my disabilities but on my abilities. I think people get frightened by the wheelchair… It’s a powerful visual symbol, but it’s not a symbol of defeat. It’s a tool I use to help me accomplish my goals. Just by climbing into the wheelchair, I don’t have to surrender my sexuality, my sensuality, my good sense of humor, or anything," said Kit Kamien, a Bethesda musician who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at the age of 26, to The Washington Post in 1987.
A mafioso walks into a restaurant in D.C. — and sets up an international crime syndicate in the FBI's backyard. Two arsons, a faked murder, and hundreds of thousands of dollars-worth of cocaine later, the FBI got their man.