Many tourist destinations in the US capital are steeped into the olden times, and history buffs visit such places time and again during their private tours Washington DC. Below are 5 places, which people visit during their DC tours for an insight into the US African American history.
Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial
A stone likeness of the civil rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr., emerges from the iconic “Stone of Hope”. In the distance, a granite boulder, which is split in two, stands for the “Mountain of Despair”. Based upon Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, this monument’s symbolism is poignant, as one takes a figurative walk through it.
The national memorial came with its fair share of controversies. Chinese stonemasons carved it out of granite at the direction of sculptor Lei Yixin. Dr. King’s family defended the sculptor’s choice by stating his resemblance is accurate than any others they saw. However, the greatest uproar came with a famous quote of one of America’s favorite sons being edited to the simplistic version, “I was a drum major for justice, peace, and righteousness.” The American poet, Maya Angelou, said those words made Dr. King sound akin to an “arrogant twit”. However, after much storm, they were erased.
The adjacent wall features quotes excerpted from his speeches. They are stirring messages of guidance and hope to a country that was grappling with racial issues at the time. At the adjacent Lincoln Memorial, there is a plaque marking the step where Martin Luther King Jr. stood to deliver the 1963 speech that stirred the nation.
Frederick Douglass National Historic Site
Frederick Douglass worked as an abolitionist in an unswerving way. Born a slave and escaped to freedom, Frederick Douglass’s motivation to talk Abraham Lincoln into signing the Emancipation Act was obvious. He worked as a writer, newspaper editor and lecturer and moved to this Victorian home upon Cedar Hill, which was predominantly white back then.
There is a guided tour that takes you through his former house, which contains the belongings of the Douglass family. Tiny details such as his cane and eyeglasses make it appear as Frederick Douglass has left it for a moment. The inside of the building still has that lived-in feel about it, thanks to the preservation of such items.
African American Civil War Museum and Memorial
At the African American Civil War Memorial, soldiers made of bronze stand tall with guns and at the ready. The nearby “Wall of Honor” features the names of over 200,000 soldiers, who joined the army during the American Civil War. In addition to being the only national memorial honoring African-American soldiers who fought in the war, the statue is the first major piece of art by the sculptor of color, namely Edward Hamilton, to be placed upon federal land in Washington DC.
The words of Frederick Douglass encapsulate the message – “Better even to die free, than to live slaves.” A nearby museum gives context with photos, newspaper articles, as well as with reproductions of the Civil War period arms, clothing, and uniforms.
Prior to the Harlem Renaissance, the US capital thrived as a hub of African-American culture, and at the center of it all was this theater on the U Street Corridor. Constructed in the year 1922 as a performance venue cum movie palace, it showcased luminaries such as Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway, plus Washington DC natives Pearl Bailey and Duke Ellington. The performances were so acclaimed that the segregation of races was often ignored, as white audiences mixed in with people of color in the venue.
The Lincoln Theatre was forced to close as the 1968 riots destroyed parts of the capital city, following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., and the building remained downtrodden for years. It reemerged in the year 1994 following restoration. Now, it is a popular place for comedy shows, theater, dance, and jazz performances.
Ben’s Chili Bowl
Many of those who visited the above-mentioned theater on tours of Washington DC, and stars who performed there, also headed to this restaurant on the U Street Corridor. Made instantly recognizable thanks to the murals upon its exterior, the hot dog joint and its cheese fries and half-smokes still have that luring power. Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, and Duke Ellington have all came for the delicacies here.
Even Barack Obama paid a visit to Ben’s Chilli Bowl when he was chosen as the American President, but was yet to take up the office. Many of the murals were removed from its exterior walls a couple of years ago and old ones have been replaced by new ones, including that of the civil rights leader Jesse Jackson. The civil rights activists also congregated here; even Dr. King popped in a few times. It has expanded to H Street, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, as well as the Nationals Park.