Winding through the historic neighborhood in Wasington D.C. known as Anacostia, my host Paul and I watched the road signs for directions to one of the hidden gems in the nation’s capital.
Turning off of MLK Boulevard onto Morris, we eventually found our destination tucked away in the Southeast quadrant of the city.
Just in front of us was the Anacostia Community Museum (ACM). A community museum in the Anacostia neighborhood, ACM is one of nineteen museums that are sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution.
It was the first federally funded community museums in the United States. Founded in 1967, the original intent was to bring the feel of the Smithsonian museum located far away on the National Mall to the neighborhood hoping to bring members of the neighborhood back to the main museums.
In 1966 the Smithsonian hosted a conference and an idea was born to start “community centric” museums. The idea became a reality in March, 1967 when the old Carver Theater was bought.
A leading community supporter was John Kinard. A pastor and civil rights activist, Kinard was deeply involved in the Anacostia neighborhood and he was appointed the first director of the museum in 1967.
Opening on September 15, 1967, the museum was originally called the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum. While boasting a staff of eight, only one was permanent. With no curators or researches, the museum would not become a part of the Smithsonian Institution’s federal budget until 1970.
With funding coming from the Carnegie Corporation in 1970, the museum hired its first historian, Louise Daniel Hutchinson.
Growing rapidly, by 1972 the museum had ten full-time permanent staff members. Despite financial, political and neighborhood challenges, the museum eventually was successful in incorporating the community into its planning as it grew.
Eventually the former theatre became too small to house the museum and the current building – named The Fort Stanton building – was opened in 1987. Designed by Keyes Condon Florance, Architrave, and Wisnewski Blair Associates, the design, based on the cultural expressionism style, aimed to make use of the natural setting it resides in. The building exterior is made of red brick motifs reflecting kente cloth. Cylinders made of concrete with glass blocks and blue tile sit in the facade of the building. The cylinders pull influence from the ruins of Great Zimbabwe.
With rotating exhibits occurring every quarter, there are always fascinating stories told with attention to historical accuracy.
Currently there are two exhibits being shown at the museum.
“Reclaiming the Edge explores a variety of issues about human interaction with natural resources in an urban setting. Exploring the history of the Anacostia River from which the neighborhood gets its name, this exhibit looks at densely populated watersheds as well as how rivers can serve as barriers to racial and ethnic integration. Once one of the most polluted rivers in the country, the exhibition also examines civic attempt s to recover, clean up and re-engineer urban rivers for community access and use.
The other exhibit, “Separate and Unequaled: Black Baseball in the District of Columbia” appeared two years ago at the museum and has been brought back by popular demand. During its hiatus from ACM, this exhibit had a successful run at the Historical Society of Washington D.C.
The exhibit which explores baseball as played in Washington D.C. on segregated fields. Following the sport from Reconstruction to the second half of the 20th century, “Separate and Unequaled” looks at the enormous popularity the Negro Leagues enjoyed.
Featured are Josh Gibson and “Buck” Leonard, star players of the Negro Leagues most celebrated team, the Washington Homestead Grays.
Because of the high regard of this exhibit, special viewing hours and tours are available by calling 202-633-4844.