Across D.C., statues honor African Americans


Mary McLeod Bethune, a champion of education and civil rights, is memorialized at East Capitol and 11th Streets SE. (Juana Arias/The Washington Post)
August 23, 2011

In a city crowded with memorials and monuments, a few represent the individual struggles of African American pioneers or salute the contributions of black citizens. None is as prominent as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial. But they mark some underrecorded chapters of our history. The bust of Sojourner Truth in the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center has the same stern likeness seen in photographs of her. The faces on the statue dedicated to the black troops who served in the Civil War resemble those in family scrapbooks and history texts. Most important, these artworks flesh out the story of the nation.

1 A. Philip Randolph

What it looks like: A large bust of Randolph in a business suit situated on a black marble column. Sculpted by Ed Dwight.

Why it is interesting: Randolph fought for workers’ rights in the early 20th century and founded the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, a union of the famous black Pullman porters who worked on the railroads. He was the chief organizer of the 1963 March on Washington.

Location: Union Station at the Amtrak and MARC departure level.

2 Emancipation Monument

What it looks like: A towering Abraham Lincoln holds the Emancipation Proclamation in his right hand. By Lincoln’s side is a newly freed slave.

Why it is interesting: The statue was created in 1874 by Thomas Ball and paid for by freed slaves in Lincoln’s memory.

Location: Lincoln Park, East Capitol and 11th streets NE.

3 Here I Stand: The Spirit of Paul Robeson

What it looks like: An abstract tribute to the singer, actor and activist by Allen Uzikee Nelson.

Why it is interesting: Nelson has dedicated a number of abstract works to education and legal pioneers, as well as black activists. He created one for educator Cleveland Dennard at 16th Street and Arkansas Avenue NW, another for former Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall at the Anacostia Community Museum and one for Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X at 1440 Belmont St. NW.

Location: Georgia and Kansas avenues NW.

4 Josh Gibson

What it looks like: Gibson, one of the greatest hitters and catchers in baseball history, is looking toward the bleachers, where he hit many home runs. The full-size statue is by Omri Amrany and Julie Rotblatt-Amrany.

Why it is important: Gibson was a phenomenal player, spending his career with the Homestead Grays, Washington’s Negro League baseball team, and other teams. One of his favorite parks was Griffith Stadium, where the Grays played when the Washington Senators weren’t scheduled.

Location: Nationals Park, Center Field Plaza.

5 Lady Fortitude

What it looks like: An abstract form more than 12 feet tall represents the strength of African American women.

Why it is interesting: The sculpture by James King was a gift to Howard University by the Delta Sigma Theta sorority, founded on the campus in 1913.

Location: Howard University, Sixth Street and Howard Place NW.

6 Martin Luther King Jr.

What it looks like: A bust by John Wilson shows King in a suit and tie in a restful, nonspeaking pose.

Why it is interesting: It wasn’t until 1986 that King joined the gallery of notables in the Capitol. The bust is one of a few representations of African Americans, who helped construct the building.

Location: U.S. Capitol Rotunda.

7 Mary McLeod Bethune

What it looks like: A full-size statue of Bethune, in a billowy dress, holding her legacy out to two children. It was created by Robert Berks.

Why it is interesting: Bethune spent her life working for education and civil rights. She was a founder of the National Council of Negro Women, a member of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Black Cabinet and president of Bethune-Cookman College.

Location: Lincoln Park, East Capitol and 11th streets SE.

8 Negro Mother and Child

What it looks like: A stoic black mother, standing six feet tall, and her son, who reaches up to her.

Why it is interesting:

Maurice Glickman’s 1934 piece is an example of the monumental artwork done during the Works Progress Administration, a government program started by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Location: Interior Department basement courtyard, C and 18th streets NW.

9 Spirit of Freedom — African American Civil War Memorial

What it looks like: Life-size statues of three soldiers, one sailor and a family. Made by Ed Hamilton.

Why it is interesting: Among all the markers and tributes to Civil War history in the region, this statue, with its apt depiction of black men faced with a grim task, is noteworthy. The memorial also provides a record that is often overlooked: Surrounding the statue is a wall with the names of all the black troops who served in the war.

Location : 10th and U streets NW.

10 Sojourner Truth

What it looks like: Her gaze is steady, her expression brightened with a slight smile; she is wearing a bonnet and a shawl. Created by Artis Lane.

Why it is important: The only African American woman in the Capitol galleries, Truth was a slave who went on to fight for abolition and women’s rights. The bust was unveiled in 2009.

Location: Emancipation Hall, Capitol Visitor Center.

11 St. Martin de Porres

What it looks like: A wooden statue by priest Thomas McGlynn depicts the saint in his cassock.

Why it is interesting: De Porres has been an object of devotion by African American Roman Catholics for decades. He was born in Peru to a Spanish father and a Panamanian free woman. De Porres is the patron saint of barbers.

Location: Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church, 1600 Morris Rd. SE.

12 The Progress of the Negro Race

What it looks like: A terra cotta frieze by Daniel Olney that follows the journey of African Americans from slavery to the migration North around World War I.

Why it is interesting: Its site, Langston Terrace, was the city’s first federally funded housing development and was designed by African American architect Hilyard Robinson.

Location: Langston Terrace, 21st Street and Benning Road NE, center courtyard.

13 The Shaw Memorial

What it looks like: An enormous relief of Col. Robert Gould Shaw and the men of the Massachusetts 54th Infantry, the first African American infantry unit to fight for the Union in the Civil War.

Why it is interesting: From an art perspective, the work by Augustus Saint-Gaudens is monumental and breathtaking, considered one of the best sculptures of the 19th century. From the perspective of history, it records the deeds of the 54th, and the faces are hauntingly realistic.

Location: National Gallery of Art, West Building.

Representations of African Americans are also included in:

●The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, by Frederick E. Hart.

●The Korean War Veterans Memorial, by Frank Gaylord II.

●The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, overall design by Lawrence Halprin.

●The Vietnam Women’s Memorial, by Glenna Goodacre.

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