The Home of Black History

The connection between the month of February and African American history is a well-established tradition throughout the country.

But few Washingtonians probably know that it had its start nearly a hundred years ago here in the District – at 1538 9th Street in Shaw, to be exact.

That’s where you’ll find the home and office of Dr. Carter G. Woodson, often called the “Father of Black History.”

In this unassuming row house, Woodson researched, wrote, and published some of the most important works of African American scholarship in the beginning of the Twentieth Century.

Carter G. Woodson's house at 1538 Ninth Street, NW.
Carter G. Woodson’s house at 1538 Ninth Street, NW. (Photo: HD)

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Something’s Brewing in Blagden Alley

Most people’s instincts are to avoid alleys. At least in fiction and film, nothing good ever comes from taking a wrong turn into one.

But when it’s the opening of a new coffee shop in an old District alley way, you can’t keep me away.

Saturday morning I ventured into Blagden Alley in the historic Shaw neighborhood for a first taste of La Colombe. It’s a trailblazing coffee company from Philadelphia, with cafes also in New York, Chicago, and Seoul. They’ve recently been supplying coffee to some notable D.C. restaurants, and have finally opened an outpost here in the District.

La Colombe, D.C.'s newest coffee shop in historic Blagden Alley.
La Colombe, D.C.’s newest coffee shop in historic Blagden Alley.

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Shaw’s Memorial

There have been a lot of significant Civil War anniversaries as we pass through the sesquicentennial (that would be 150 years) of America’s greatest conflict.

Today marks one of those – the failed assault on Fort Wagner by the 54th Massachusetts regiment, one of the first African-American infantry units to fight in the Civil War.

If you’ve seen the movie Glory, then you’re probably familiar with the story and its significance.

But what does that distant battle off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina have to do with Washington, D.C.?

For me, this anniversary hits close to home – literally. I live in D.C.’s Shaw neighborhood, an historically African-American part of the city near U Street.

The neighborhood is named after Colonel Robert Gould Shaw from Boston, who was the commander of the 54th Massachusetts (and played by Matthew Broderick in the movie).

NPR had a story today on the influential Shaw Memorial by sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens – an amazing piece of bronze sculpture depicting not only Shaw, but his regiment of soldiers marching out of Boston and off to war.

Shaw Memorial's plaster sculpture at the National Gallery.
Shaw Memorial’s plaster sculpture at the National Gallery.

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Capital Coffee

Anyone who knows me knows that my love of history is perhaps only matched by one other abiding past time – finding and drinking really good coffee.

Shaw's newest coffee shop, The Coffee Bar.
Shaw’s newest coffee shop, The Coffee Bar.

The District used to be a veritable desert for quality java, but the past few years has seen the birth of a serious coffee community in the nation’s capital.

And while I used to have to travel far to get my fix, now I have a number of great choices in my own backyard – the historic district of Shaw.

Yesterday morning I had the chance to visit the newest addition to the neighborhood with the soft opening of The Coffee Bar.

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The District’s Godfather of Go-Go

The District lost a music icon today when Chuck Brown – known as the Godfather of Go-Go – died at the age of 75.

Chuck Brown Way, dedicated to the Godfather of Go-Go in 2009.

Brown developed and popularized the go-go sound in Washington in the 1970s, combining funk, soul, and rhythm and blues with a steady drumbeat that kept the music going and going for hours. Brown was famous for his live shows and interaction with the crowds in historic D.C. venues like the Uline Arena and the Howard Theatre.

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Royal Fever in the District

Royal fever continued unabated in the District this week, as Washingtonians had the opportunity to bask in a small bit of reflected glory from Will and Kate’s wedding.

Fresh off his son’s nuptials, Prince Charles was in D.C. promoting something a little less glamorous – sustainable agriculture and community gardening.

Prince Charles touring the Community Good City Farm in LeDroit Park
Prince Charles touring the Community Good City Farm in LeDroit Park (Photo: Robert Yule)

The historic neighborhood of LeDroit Park had the honor of a prince in its midst (watch out, Prince of Petworth) when Charles visited Washington’s only urban farm on Tuesday.

I managed to see him with a few dozen other onlookers, as we gathered behind the fence of the Community Good City Farm to catch a glimpse of British royalty in our back yard.

LeDroit Park isn’t a neighborhood you’d normally expect to find a royal – although it was formerly home to a Duke (jazz royalty Duke Ellington lived here for a year).

It was also one of the first suburbs and exclusive gated communities in Washington.

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The Douglass-Lincoln Debates

Two iconic Americans – and former District residents – celebrated birthdays in the past few days: President Abraham Lincoln on February 12th, and abolitionist Frederick Douglass on February 14th.

Both men played integral roles in bringing about the ending of slavery. And though they often were at odds, they developed a unique friendship toward the end of Civil War, which began 150 years ago in April.

I recently traveled across the Anacostia River to visit Frederick Douglass’s home, Cedar Hill.

Cedar Hill
Frederick Douglass’s home, Cedar Hill, in the Anacostia neighborhood.

It’s in the neighborhood of Old Anacostia, and I’ve been meaning to take a tour of the house for about as long as I’ve lived in the District.

Cedar Hill is in a part of the city that many Washingtonians and most tourists never visit – east of the river.

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