The story of Anacostia's history has a busy beginning - tales of tobacco farming and slave breeding that kept Anacostia, then a part of Prince George's County, a thriving marketplace.
Then comes the end of slavery and the purchase of the Barry Farm tract in Anacostia (part of which is now a low-income housing development) by the Freedman's Bureau. Barry Farm was where freed slaves built their homes at night by candlelight after working all day.
These and similarly eyecatching bits of history are found throughout "The Anacostia Story: 1608-1930," an exhibit now on display at the Anacostia neighborhood Museum of the Smithsonian.
An Anacostia slaveowner's manifest of his property includes several slaves, all with different values - "Inez - 5 pounds; Charity - 60 pounds " Carolyn Margoilis of the Smithsonian's Anacostia branch explains: "After the tobacco crops drained Anacostia's land, it couldn't be used for any other crops. So, Anacostia became the center for slave trade and slave breeding, sending slaves north to Maryland and south.
"Charity was probably a child-bearer and Inez was not," Margolis said. "That is what the value was in a woman slave in Anacostia."
After World War I, veterans called Bonus Marchers descended on Washington to demand benefits. At night, they camped out in Anacostia. The Army drove the protesters away by closing off the 11th Street Bridge and bombarding the veterans' Anacostia camps with tear gas.
A proposed Potomac-Anacostia canal system, planned to link the two rivers and allow goods from southern Maryland to be quickly shipped off to Europe, was never completed because of rivalries between sections of the city. Debate delayed the canal's construction until silt from the abused Anacostia tobacco farms slid into the river, making it too shallow for ocean-going ships.
"The purpose of this exhibition," said margolis, "is to let the people who live here (Anacostia) know the history of this area. Anacostia's history could help her today by giving its present residents pride in the area.
"There is too much talk of Anacostia as a problem area these days," she added.
The Anacostia story exhibit is the resuit of a Carnegie Foundation grant to the Smithsonian to study Anacostia's history.
The first product of the study was a 1972 exhibition - "The Evolution of a Community" - which was created from the oral histories of Anacostia's residents as preserved in interviews with the Smithsonian's researchers.
"The initial idea for this exhibition came from the oral histories," said Margolis. That started us on a search to document what we had been told. We searched the National Archives, records of deeds in the District land titles. We looked at wills, business records, and in the Freedman's Bureau's records in the archives.
"Then we went back to the people who are the descendants of Anacostia residents that we heard mentioned in the interviews, and they were helpful," she said.
In 1974, urban planning students who were working in the area founded the Anacostia Historical Society, adding 400 members to the team researching the Anacostia area.
The current exhibit is the result. It features such treasures of Anacostia's past as the gold handled cane of Anacostia's first black lawyer, John A. Moss. "Lawyer" Moss, as he was called, was given the cane after he defended a white metropolitan policeman, who was charged with murder, and won his acquittal.
The exhibit also includes the black clarinet that belonged to Elzie Hoffman, who started a series of summer concerts throughoutthe District.