Willard Andre Hutt never gave up.
When he was 17 and a Boy Scout in Temple Hills, he started an Eagle Scout project that was supposed to be completed within nine months. Yesterday, nearly a decade later and after thousands of phone calls and letters, his project, a black history trail in the District, became a reality.
The 7 1/2-mile trail was dedicated at a ceremony attended by more than 700 at the Washington Convention Center, and Hutt, now 26, was honored for his tenacity and determination.
Hutt, who sells law books in Minneapolis, was forced to remember his father's teachings many times as his project turned into a long bureaucratic struggle.
Hutt said the National Park Service agreed on the merits of the plan at the time and assured him it could be completed in nine months, by Hutt's 18th birthday, the cutoff age for work toward Eagle Scout rank.
"I made 3,265 calls, walked 2,300 miles and mailed over 3,285 letters," Hutt told those gathered. "And stamps were only 10 cents when I started," he added jokingly, as most of the audience broke into laughter.
"I attended 75 business and planning sessions that changed the plan seven times," he said. Over and over, Hutt said, he was asked why he continued. "The reason why I carried on is because my parents taught me I must finish what I start, to never say 'I can't' and to never give up," he said.
Although there are several other black history trails in the District, including those that focus on Anacostia, Howard University and Georgetown, Hutt's trail is the only historic route in the District that has been designated by the National Trail System. It is the system's only path linking black historic sites in the country. Trails designated by the National Trail System are in urban areas and are designated by either the secretary of the Interior or the secretary of Agriculture.
The trail was dedicated in the memory of Carter G. Woodson, the longtime Washington resident, scholar and historian who founded "Black History Week," which was later expanded to "Black History Month" and is celebrated in February.
Rather than following a specific route, Hutt's path directs visitors to nine magnet sites within historic neighborhoods that illustrate aspects of black life from slavery days to the New Deal era. Brochures on the trail are available at all National Park Service bookstores, generally found at monuments and memorials and other popular tourist sites.
Among the points on the trail are the Mount Zion Cemetery and the Female Union Band Cemetery in Georgetown, thought to be the city's oldest burial grounds for blacks; the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church on M Street NW, one of the most prominent 19th century black churches; Cedar Hill, the former home in Anacostia of Frederick Douglass, the ex-slave who became a leader of the abolitionist movement, an author and statesman; and the Carter G. Woodson home, a national historic landmark not far from Logan Circle.
Hutt hopes the trail will be "a continuous and living legacy to the achievements of black Americans. This is a very good day for me and a very good day for all of us."
Although Hutt never received his Eagle Scout badge, he was a hero yesterday in a room packed with prominent elderly black activists, high school students, government officials and historians. He was praised as a "visionary" by Mayor Marion Barry and compared by other speakers to black pioneers of the past.
Millicent Hutt, an Alexandria elementary school teacher, said her son has always had a sense of his own history. "We exposed him to Dr. King, the civil rights movement, and talked about Malcolm X in our home," she said. "His daddy took him on marches and later they walked the trail together, trying to map it out."
"We are very proud of our history," said William Hutt, a financial analyst with the federal government. "And it is true," he said, "I never allowed the words 'I can't' in my house."
In his keynote speech filled with poetry and imagery, Del. Walter E. Fauntroy (D-D.C.), also a Baptist minister, took the audience on a grim journey that began with slaves captured "on a moonlit night on the beaches of Senegal" and ended with blacks living today.
Fauntroy cited Hutt's achievement as an example of a positive accomplishment of a determined youth. "We have come too far to die on drugs," Fauntroy said to thundering applause. "We have come too far to kill each other on the streets."