Archive for February, 2017

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New School Baptist Church

I almost always go for an extended bike ride on long holiday weekends.  And although this weekend was not a long one, when it’s February and the temperature is in the upper 70’s here in the D.C. area it’s impossible to stay inside.  So I took one of my recumbent bikes and went for a long, leisurely ride this weekend.  And during the ride I happened upon the historic site of the New School Baptist Church, which is located along The Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail at 15557 Cardinal Drive (MAP) in Dale City, Prince William County, Virginia.

According to the historic marker it was the site where slaves from plantations in the area “gathered between 1861 and 1865.  They built a brush arbor church, worshipped God and became a faithful congregation.  On December 5, 1881, Reverend John L. Bell and four other church leaders purchased one acre of this land for eleven dollars and called themselves the New School Baptist church.  George W. Thomas helped erect a wooden, steepled church which was renamed Neabsco Baptist Church.  The building was used also to educate children of former slaves and free persons of color.  This church has undergone two renovations.  Hand-hewn timbers below the flooring of the present church are silent reminders of the toll of many persons who held a dream during troubled times.”

While I was there I also ventured behind the church where the church’s historic cemetery is located.  There are headstones there that are so old that the names and dates are worn away.  The cemetery also proudly has the grave of a World War I veteran, Owen Thomas, whose family members still attend the church.

Neabsco Baptist Church has undergone many changes throughout its history and is about to undergo another major change.  On six acres of recently-purchased land adjacent to the existing church building they are curretly building a new and much larger sanctuary to accommodate its growing and dynamic congregation.  Even with its long history it’s pastor, Pastor Joshua Speights, Jr., feels some of the best days for the church are still ahead.  So it appears that the 156 year-old church will continue to make history well into the future.

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The Afro-Columbian Mural

The Afro-Columbian Mural, also known as Currulao y Desplazamiento, is a public mural that celebrates the Afro-Colombian culture of D.C., while at the same time increasing public awareness about the widespread displacement and other human rights violations related to the ongoing armed conflict in the South American country of Colombia.

Located in an alley at 1344 U Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s U Street corridor, the mural was funded by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and created by internationally recognized muralist Joel Bergner and his organization, Action Ashé! Global Art & Social Action Initiative, who also painted a number of other mural throughout the city, including Release Your Burdens and Be Free, Cultivating the Rebirth, “My Culture, Mi Gente” and A Survivor’s Journey.

According to the artist, he designed this mural with guidance, input, and inspiration of many of my close friends in D.C.’s Afro-Colombian community, many of whom have been granted political asylum in this country due to the severe human rights violations.  For additional inspiration, he also traveled to the Pacific Coast region of Colombia where the conflict is often most severe to visit his friends’ families, do research, and learn more about the political situation.

The colors of the mural are vibrant, intriguing and welcoming, while the mural’s complex content is depicted by several different scenes.  The size of the woman in the mural and the people underneath her portray the importance of Afro-Colombian traditions and culture.  These encouraging images are in a paradox with the depiction of the Colombian paramilitary, with people running from the forces, while a group of Afro-Colombians being exiled to huts is in the foreground.  And while working with a green field, Bergner also paints an airplane hovering above releasing ammo on the people below.

The mural was completed in 2009, and unveiled at a public event featuring speeches from the Afro-Colombian activist Marino Córdoba, as well as live music, traditional Afro-Colombian food, and a traditional dance presentation by the local Afro-Colombian dance group Tangaré.  The event was co-sponsored by TransAfrica Forum and the U.S. Network in Solidarity for Afro-Colombian Grassroots Communities.

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Alexandria City Hall

Alexandria Market Square and City Hall

On days when I want to go on a longer than usual lunchtime bike ride, one of my favorite destinations is Old Town Alexandria.  And that is where I rode to today.  And it was during this ride I visited the Alexandria Market Square and City Hall, located at 301 King Street (MAP).

The site of the Alexandria Market Square and City Hall originally began as a market beginning in 1749.  Then in 1752, lottery proceeds funded the building of a town hall and courthouse on the site. George Washington served as a justice in this court.  Later, in 1817, a new three-story brick building was constructed, including a town clock tower designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe.  But an extensive fire in May of 1871 gutted the building.  Given the importance of the building, the townspeople raised enough money to pay for an exact replica of the former building.  And that building, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in March of 1984, is still standing today.

The current Second Empire-style building was designed by Adolph Cluss, was a German-born American immigrant who became one of the most important architects in the D.C. area, in the late 19th century.  He was nicknamed the “Red Architect” based on red brick being his favorite building material, and his early communist sympathies, though later in life he became a confirmed Republican.  Cluss is responsible for designing scores of major public buildings in the D.C. area, including at least eleven schools, as well as markets, government buildings, museums, residences and churches.  His designs include the Franklin School and the Sumner School, as well as other notable public buildings in the capital, including the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Building, Calvary Baptist Church, and two of the city’s major food markets, Center Market and Eastern Market.

The original city hall was something of a complex, containing the court facility, both the principal police and fire stations of Alexandria.  The Alexandria-Washington Masonic Lodge also had its headquarters located in the building until 1945, when it moved out of City Hall and into the new George Washington Masonic National Memorial on nearby King Street.  Today the City Hall building houses many of the Alexandria government offices, including the City Council Chambers on the second floor.

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Nelson Mandela Statue at the South African Embassy

On this bike ride I stopped outside the South African Embassy, located at 3051 Massachusetts Avenue (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Embassy Row neighborhood, to see a statue of Nelson Mandela.  Mandela was a South African activist and former president of that country who helped bring an end to apartheid, a system of segregation or discrimination based on race, and went on to become a global advocate for human rights and for AIDS awareness and prevention.

Born with the name Rolihlahla into a royal family of the Xhosa-speaking Thembu tribe in the village of Mvezo, Transkei, on July 18, 1918, the name means “to pull a branch off a tree” and “troublemaker.”  The man who would come to be know as Nelson, a name given to him at the age of seven by his teacher on his first day of elementary school, grew up in a rural area where he engaged in herding animals.  His father passed away when he was 12 years old. Afterwards, wealthy relatives had custody of him, and he attended boarding school.  He later attended Fort Hare Missionary College, but was eventually expelled for organizing a strike against the white rule of the college.

A member of the African National Congress party beginning in the 1940s, he was a leader of both peaceful protests and armed resistance against the white minority’s oppressive regime in a racially divided South Africa. His actions landed him in prison for almost three decades and made him the face of the antiapartheid movement both within his country and internationally.  While in prison, he was told in 1985 that if he stopped his acts of violence, he would be allowed to go free.  He did not agree to this provision and remained incarcerated for another five years.  Finally released in 1990, he participated in the eradication of apartheid which culminated in 1994 when he became the first black president of South Africa, forming a multiethnic government to oversee the country’s transition.

After retiring from politics in 1999, he remained a devoted champion for peace and social justice in his own nation and around the world until his death in 2013 at the age of 95.

The statue resembles Mandela’s pose, his right arm extended into a fist above his head, on this day 27 years ago today (1990) when he was released from over 27 years of incarceration.  And the statue is in an ideal D.C. location, because it is on the same spot where daily anti-apartheid demonstrations took place, led by Randall Robinson, the noted author and activist, Georgetown professor Eleanor Holmes-Norton, civil rights activist Mary Frances Berry, and former D.C. Congressional Delegate Walter E. Fauntroy, beginning in November of 1984.

“We entered this building nearly 29 years ago,” Robinson said, with the belief that the struggles for justice in the United States and South Africa were inextricably “bound up together.”  At one point, Robinson recalled in his remarks, Norton left the meeting to speak with those waiting outside. Then the others announced they were not leaving until the government began to dismantle apartheid and released political prisoners, starting with Mandela.

They did leave, but under arrest and in handcuffs.  Their arrests were followed by more than 4,000 others as the protests continued day after day, month after month, until apartheid in South Africa finally ended a decade later, and Mandela became president of that country.

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The Trylon of Freedom

During this lunchtime bike ride I came across an unusual free-standing column in the plaza in front of the E. Barrett Prettyman United States Courthouse, located on Constitution Avenue east of John Marshall Park, between 3rd and 4th Streets (MAP), not far from the Sir William Blackstone Statue and directly across the street from The George Gordon Meade Memorial in Downtown D.C.

The 24-foot three-sided granite obelisk is entitled The Trylon of Freedom, and  was dedicated along with the courthouse in 1954.  The work was designed by Carl Paul Jennewein, a German-born American sculptor.  Best known for sculpting architectural elements in buildings, his work appears throughout the United States.  Locally, Jennewein’s works include two panels in The White House, sculptures in the Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice building, monumental figures in the Rayburn House Office Building, The Darlington Memorial Fountain, and monumental eagles at the entrance to Arlington National Cemetery and on the Arlington Memorial Bridge.

The Trylon of Freedom features base relief representations of the freedoms exemplified by the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, with the three sides symbolically representing the
the division of power among the three branches of the Federal government: legislative, judicial and executive.

The southwest side represents the executive branch and depicts freedom of the press, speech and religion.  It is adorned with relief carvings of a men at work on a printing press to illustrate the right to freedom of press; a man giving a speech to illustrate the right to freedom of speech; and a woman kneeling in prayer and a man standing in front of a cross to illustrate freedom of religion.

The southeast side, which represents the legislative branch, is adorned with relief carvings of a courtroom with a defendant standing before a judge and jury to illustrate the right to trial by jury; a man mediating between a prisoner and his executioner to illustrate protection against cruel and unusual punishment; and a wharf with confiscated goods to illustrate illegal search and seizure.

And finally, the north side represents the judicial branch and is adorned with a relief carving of the Great Seal of the United States, and is inscribed with quotes from the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution and Article V of the Bill of Rights.  The inscriptions read, “We hold these truths to be self-evident. That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.  [Declaration of Independence]; “We the people of the United States in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves & our posterity, do ordain & establish this constitution for the United States of America.” [Preamble to the Constitution], and; “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without the due process of law.”  [Article V of the Bill or Rights]

Interestingly, the Federal courthouse where the Trylon of Freedom is located was renamed in 1997 in honor of E. Barrett Prettyman, the former Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.  And it was Prettyman who 43 years earlier had advocated for the installation of the artwork in front of the new courthouse.

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Another Anniversary

Posted: February 6, 2017 in Events
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Today this blog is three years old.  And on this anniversary of when I began writing about the daily bike rides I take during my lunch breaks at work, I find myself still having as much fun as I did when I started.  In fact, I’m having as much fun as when I was a kid riding my first bike, which was a bright green Schwinn Stingray coaster bike with a vinyl banana seat, U-shaped handle bars, a medium height sissy bar, chrome fenders and white-wall tires.  The bikes I ride now are different than the one I rode then.  And so am I.  But the enjoyment is still the same.

My original goal when I began this blog was to try to find and write about at least 365 different monuments, statues, memorials, and other places and events in D.C. that I think are interesting.  I thought that number would make it a compilation of one year’s worth of daily attractions for people to visit in the D.C. area.  But the D.C. area has so much to offer that even after I reached my goal I continued riding and writing.  As of today there are blog posts about 441 bike rides to different places.

And there is no end in sight.  There are literally hundreds of more monuments, memorials, statues, places or events that I have either already visited and not yet written about, or have identified and am planning to visit in the future.  In fact, I already know of more places I still want to ride to than the number I have already written about.  So I should be able to keep writing for the foreseeable future.  I just hope to be able to go to all of them before I retire, because I am eligible in only 571 days.

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Wilkes Street Tunnel

During all of my lunchtime bike rides over the past several years I have been able to enjoy hundreds of aspects of the city and surrounding area.  From monuments and memorials to churches and cemeteries, there is always something interesting to discover and learn about.  But on this ride I happened upon something that up until this point I had not seen before.  As I was riding in Old Town Alexandria I happened upon an old underground tunnel.

Located near the eastern end of Wilkes Street (MAP), with an entrance to the west of Windmill Hill and Shipyard Parks, it turns out that it is the Wilkes Street Tunnel, which originally was a railroad tunnel used by Union troops during the Civil War to ship supplies from Alexandria to Richmond and points south.  And I didn’t even have to wait until after my ride to learn about it because there is a plaque on the wall at the western end of the tunnel that provides its history.

The plaque reads, ” The Wilkes Street Tunnel was part of the Orange & Alexandria Railroad, founded in 1848 to promote trade with western Virginia. The Orange and Alexandria inaugurated its track in Alexandria on May 7, 1851 with a run to the north end of Union Street to the Wilkes Street Tunnel. Thus, the tunnel linked the railroad to warehouses and wharves along the waterfront. Located nearby, the Smith and Perkins foundry manufactured locomotives for the Orange and Alexandria and other railroads.

Wilkes Street Tunnel is typical of cut-and-cover tunnel construction. Presumably, the tunnel was cut through the bluff overlooking the Potomac River and covered to continue the streets above. After the sides were built up with stone, the arch probably was constructed over wood falsework from both sides using a centering technique to form the brick barrel vault. The tunnel was deepened after World War I to accommodate higher boxcars.

The Orange and Alexandria line was one of the many Alexandria railroads taken over by Union forces at the onset of the Civil War. While this northerly section of the railroad was incorporated into the U.S. Military Railroads, the length of track south of the Rappahannock River remained in Confederate hands.

Both sections played an major role in the strategies of North and South, as well as a decisive element in the Confederate victory at the Second Battle of Manassas or Bull Run. The Wilkes Street Tunnel gave Union Army access to the wharves for shipping military supplies on car ferries south of Aquia Creek, terminus of the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad.

Shortly after the Civil War, the old Orange & Alexandria line was incorporated into the Washington City, Virginia Midland & Great Southern Railway controlled by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. Wilkes Street Tunnel played a part in the rivalry between the Baltimore & Ohio and Pennsylvania Railroads for supremacy in the north-south trade across the Potomac River. The Pennsylvania Railroad acquired Congressional authorization for exclusive use of Long Bridge (14th Street). To maintain a competitive position, Baltimore & Ohio offered trans-Potomac service by way of carfloats linking Wilkes Street with Shepherd’s Ferry on the Maryland shore until about 1906.

The Wilkes Street track continued in operation until 1975 when declining industrial activity along the waterfront no longer warranted rail service. The tunnel is significant today as Alexandria’s only 19th century transportation site surviving intact.”

The interior of the tunnel consists of dry-laid grey sandstone vaulted walls.  Its dimensions are approximately 170 feet long with exterior stone and brick surfaces, and an interior consisting of grey sandstone masonry, with a 15-foot deck and an arch with a vertical clearance of 17 feet.  The city completed a structural refurbishment of the tunnel in March of 2008, and a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held on March 11th.  Today the tunnel is open to pedestrians and bike riders like me.

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