By Saraya Wintersmith
If you’re just visiting, or still exploring your way around the district, you might find The Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum a little hard to get to. It’s accessible via public transit; you have to take a bus and a train to get there. The building sits on a hill behind a group of apartments and is surrounded by grassy National Park grounds in Southeast DC. But, hidden just beyond a curve of the Suitland Parkway, the Anacostia Community Museum is something akin to a jewel in the desert; it’s the smallest of all the Smithsonian museums and once you’ve made the trek to discover it, you’ll never forget that it’s there.
Since its inception, the museum has been both a symbol and advocate of the kind history that recognizes and includes perspectives outside the mainstream. The museum began in what used to be a “colored” theater (the George Washington Carver Theater on Nichols Avenue), a relic from the nation’s segregated past. Then, when Smithsonian officials wanted to expand the institution’s outreach, they took the rundown theater and transformed it into the nation’s first, federally funded community museum – The Anacostia Neighborhood Museum. Community lore has it there were almost a hundred people on its advisory board and, after a year, the staff began developing exhibitions centered on African American culture, history and issues.
Much of the museum has changed since its’ beginning in 1967. The museum moved to its current location on Fort Place in 1987. It took on the former National African American Museum Project, changed and re-changed its name and broadened its focus to the history and culture of urban communities. The museum now collects objects and artifacts in three categories – neighborhoods (local), arts (national and international) and legacy (historic and cultural) and researches to present relevant exhibitions and more than 100 programs to the community each year. But, according to Anacostia Community Museum spokesperson Marcia Burris, and Director of Education Paul Perry, the goal and message of the institution is the same – to tell stories. And with the museum’s current exhibitions and a roster of free public programs, there’s no better way celebrate Black History Month than to visit and connect with stories you may not learn about otherwise.
Anacostia Community Museum: Current Exhibitions
Home Sewn: Quilts from the Lower Mississippi Valley
Open through September 21, 2014, this exhibit features items from the museum’s permanent collection. There are four quilts – handmade by women trained in the tradition in rural Mississippi – as well as audio and visual components.
Separate and Unequaled: Black Baseball in the District of Columbia
On view in the museum’s program room “indefinitely,” this exhibit traces the history of African-American baseball in the district. Although it is a condensed version, this exhibit features more than 50 photographs that date as far back as the mid-1800s.
Ubuhle Women: Beadwork and the Art of Independence
Also open through September 21, 2014, this breathtaking exhibit features beaded art pieces from South African women. The splendid colors and shapes are formed through intricate work with beads as small as a grain of rice.
Anacostia Community Museum: Programs for February
Kicking off Black History Month on Saturday, February 1 the museum will host “The Wynton Triangle Off-Site Tour” a lecture with Historian Marvin T. Jones on “the history of three communities in Eastern North Carolina” as part of its community history series. Paul Perry, the museum’s Director of Education, says this lecture will have particular significance to antebellum era history buffs. The event begins at 2:00 p.m.
On Saturday, February 8, the museum and National Park Service present the Frederick Douglass Day gallery talk and tour. Perry says this program ties the famous abolitionist’s love of baseball to the museum’s current exhibition “Separate and Unequaled: Black Baseball in the District of Columbia” This exhibition was developed by the museum and examines the popularity of African American baseball.
On Thursday, February 27, the museum will show “Brother Outsider,” an award-winning documentary on civil rights era worker Bayard Rustin, “the openly gay architect of the 1963 March on Washington.” Perry says that when it comes to the civil rights era, many people focus on the obvious and oft promoted figures like Martin Luther King Jr. “[He] certainly was an important part of that march, but sometimes we have people who work in the background who history doesn’t give their due justice.“ Perry says Rustin’s sexuality may have contributed his overshadowing, but the film features several prominent people – including Democratic DC delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton – who knew Rustin and shed light on his life and contributions.
The Anacostia Community Museum is located at 1901 Fort Place, SE. The museum is open from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily. Admission is free.