D.C. League of Women Voters president Ruth Dixon, wearing a navy blue suit and a string of pearls, stood yesterday in a church hall on an Anacostia hilltop and conceded that for most of the last 60 years, the organization has had an image problem.
"I don't have to tell you and you don't have to tell me. Our image is white, upper- and middle-income. That's not what we're aiming to be," she said. "This year we're going to focus more on learning about different areas of the District of Columbia. This is our first step into a different part of the city."
And different it was yesterday when more than 125 league members ventured into the Panorama Room at our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, 1600 Morris Road SE, for a $7.50-per-plate luncheon designed to launch the league's annual activities calendar and draw attention to Anacostia.
Unlike the league, Anacostia's image is black and poor.
Anne Weinberg, who wore a pair of scrimshaw earrings carved, she said, by Alaskan eskimoes from petrified walrus tusk, had never been to Anacostia or the Far Southeast area since World War II. She lives in Southwest. Her closest contact with the area has come through counseling young girls who are graduates of the Job Cops program. She was glad to find out what is being done to improve the area, Weinberg said aboard a chartered bus that transported some league members to yesterday's affair.
Helen Pryor, who lives near Thomas Circle in downtown Washington, had not been to the area since she retired from St. Elizabeth's Hospital 15 years ago. "It's an education," she said; "We're lilly-white and most of us don't get to Anacostia."
The luncheon was not billed as an exercise in race relations, Instead, according to Dixon and a flyer advertising the meeting, it was a chance to take in some of the history of the area, including the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum on Martin Luther King Ave. SE and the home Frederick Douglass, on W Street SE.
The Panorama Room, a nine-year-old church hall with a wide-angle view that allows a picturesque look over not only most of Washington's monuments, but parts of Maryland and Virginia as well, is more accustomed to weekend disco, cabaret and wedding reception crowds made up primarily of blacks.
Lauretta Sullivan, who books engagements at the 700 capacity hall, said most of the white crowds come during the day because of the fear of crime in the area. "It's what they think will happen [that scares them away]," she said, "Not what they know."
The highlight of yesterday's meeting was a half-hour speech by Mayor Marion Barry, who catalogued his administration's programs to deal with the problems of the area -- including high infant mortality, housing, unemployment and low levels of home ownership.
"It may be divided [from the rest of the city] by the Anacostia River, but that does not mean . . . we have to divide our thoughts about Anacostia," Barry said. "When Anacostia gets great, our city is even greater."