The Washington Post

Uncovering the artifacts of black history in D.C.


View Photo Gallery: The vestiges of the African American experience can’t always be found in statues and memorials. Quiet treasures abound in Washington. Make it a point to see them all.

Seek out the nation’s black history, and you’ll find it scattered across Washington, which was a magnet for African Americans practically from its inception.

But the most awe-inspiring markers? They won’t always be found in memorials. Some vestiges of the African American experience require a stop, a second look, and maybe a third, to understand their resonance.

We’ve singled out eight such quiet treasures. Check them out in our Black History Month photo gallery, and read their full stories here. Then, make it a point to see them all.

Two objects that made our list:

“The Death of Cleopatra” at Smithsonian American Art Museum

In a sculpture-filled hall of the American Art Museum, there’s a work that tour guides like to stop and point to: Cleopatra.


“The Death of Cleopatra” was carved by Edmonia Lewis, a sculpture of African American and Native American descent. (Gene Young/Smithsonian American Art Museum)

But the sculpture didn’t arrive at the American Art Museum in style. Shortly after its early exhibitions, it turned up at a Chicago-area racetrack, where it was a grave marker for a horse and remained for nearly a century.

The “I have a dream” etching at the Lincoln Memorial


An etching marking the spot where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech was added in 2003. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

It wasn’t until 2003, on the eve of the 40th anniversary of the march, that local stone carver Andy Del Gallo was enlisted (after a law was passed by Congress allowing the addition) to etch the words that stretch no more than two feet wide.

Lavanya Ramanathan is a features reporter for Style.
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