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What Is the Anacostia Museum?

Dan Harkins
Dan Harkins

The Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., is renowned for corralling the most diverse collection of museums in America, each focused on a particular facet of the American experience. Anacostia Community Museum presents the country's history of urbanization and suburbanization from the perspective of the first major suburb that was welcoming toward and affordable for ethnic minorities, Anacostia's historic Uniontown district. Due to this connection and the area's near-complete African American population, the museum has become a repository for a more localized view of African American history.

Located at 1901 Fort Place, S.E., in the nation's capital, the Anacostia museum opened in 1967 at the urging of the Smithsonian. Its original mission was to present the cultural shifts that have occurred in American communities throughout history. According to the museum, however, its geography and demographic situation led to a mission of recording and presenting a more intimate story of black perspectives.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

Perhaps the fact that Frederick Douglas, a former slave and a famed civil-rights intellectual, lived for much of his life in Anacostia had something to do with the perception that the museum focuses exclusively on African American issues. Douglas is memorialized at this museum with a comprehensive display that dubs him the "Lion of Uniontown." Overlooking the district called Cedar Hill, at Douglas' former home is a museum devoted exclusively to the abolitionist and his message of unity and educational attainment.

The Anacostia museum houses more than just the Douglas and other black-centric displays. It also features numerous displays that are focused instead on the various ecological, social and job changes brought on by the suburbanization and gentrification of various areas throughout modern history. This is largely accomplished by presenting the history of the Anacostia region and illustrating trends that have largely occurred in urban areas nationwide.

The Anacostia museum touts that it is the only of the Smithsonian's 20 galleries and museums that has a year-round connection with local students. Museum leadership and curators also line up a regular regimen of guest displays, speeches and themed showings for students and adults alike. Since the community is more than 90 percent African American, and the facility is named Anacostia Community Museum, many of these efforts have a local and African American bent.

Two other Smithsonian museums focus more exclusively on the chronology of the black experience than the Anacostia museum. Much vaster are the National Museum of African Art and the African American History and Culture Museum. The former is dedicated to the display of new and old art from the continent of Africa. The latter focuses on artifacts that trace black culture's path from slavery up until 2008, when the nation elected its first black president.

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