Posts Tagged ‘Eleanor Holmes Norton’

Two of the most well known murals in the city are located on either side of the iconic restaurant Ben’s Chili Bowl, located in northwest D.C.’s Shaw/Uptown neighborhood, next to The Lincoln Theatre, in an historic building at 1213 U Street (MAP).  The one on the east side of the building, entitled “Alchemy of Ben Ali,” depicts the restaurant founders, Ben and Virginia Ali.  But it is the other one that became controversial, leading to its removal.

In 2012, the Ali family commissioned its first mural with backing from the city’s graffiti prevention initiative, MuralsDC.  A few years later, however, public pressure to redo it started to grow as sexual assault allegations began to accumulate against one of the prominently featured people depicted in the mural – comedian Bill Cosby, who was accused and has subsequently been convicted of sexual assault.  Last year, the mural was first whitewashed, and eventually replaced.

The old mural featured local disc jockey Donnie Simpson, D.C.’s Chuck Brown – the Godfather of Go-Go, President Barack Obama, and Cosby.  Three of those men returned on the replacement mural.  Cosby, who had been a longtime friend of Ben’s, did not.

The newer mural, entitled “The Torch,” painted by D.C. muralist Aniekan Udofia, who also painted the original mural, celebrates D.C. history and black culture.  The mural depicts abolitionist and political activist Harriet Tubman holding a lantern that spreads light onto the other figures in the mural.  In addition to the three holdovers from the previous mural, those figures, who were chosen through a public voting process on the restaurant’s web site, are:  boxer and activist Muhammad Ali; former D.C. mayor-for-life Marion Barry; comedian and D.C. native Dave Chappelle; singer Roberta Flack;  comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory; actress and singer Taraji P. Henson; D.C.’s non-voting Delegate to the House of Representatives, Eleanor Holmes Norton; the late singer Prince; longtime local newscaster Jim Vance; D.C. rapper Wale; local radio disc jockey Russ Parr, and; former First Lady Michelle Obama, who now accompanies her husband.

But Virginia Ali, Ben’s widow, says the decision to repaint was based on the state of the mural alone, which she contended had become so soiled, damaged and weather-beaten.  Which means, years from now the mural may need to again be replaced.  So despite not making the cut for the current mural, I still have a chance.  I’ll just have to be patient and wait.

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Original Mural

The Whitewash

The Torch

         

         

         

         

         
[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

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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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[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

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National Bike to School Day

I took my lunch hour at work early today so that I could go for a bike ride this morning because today is National Bike to School Day.  And on this morning’s bike ride I rode to Lincoln Park, located at 13th and East Capitol Streets (MAP) in D.C.’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, to attend a party to kick off the day.  Billed as an annual “party on wheels,” there were hundreds of students and their parents at this year’s event, which included fun activities, breakfast snacks of fresh fruit and granola bars, and a performance by the jazz dancers from Brent and Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan.

The event also included remarks from Councilmember Charles Allen, Department of Energy Director Tommy Wells, Deputy Secretary of Transportation Victor Mendez, and D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton.  However, I don’t think the children were as interested in the remarks of the visiting politicians and officials as they were in the activities and the food. 

In coordination with the League of American Bicyclists’ National Bike Month, the first National Bike to School Day was celebrated on May 9, 2012.  For the inaugural event there were close to 1,000 local events in 49 states and D.C. that joined together and encouraged children to safely ride a bike or walk to school.  By 2013 there were more than 1,700 schools in all 50 states and the D.C. participating in events which took place throughout the month.  Celebrated annually, the day necessarily varies from year to year in order for it to fall on an actual school day.

This morning’s ride and the party an Lincoln Park brought to mind a quote of the American novelist Tom Robbins, who said, “You’re never too old to have a happy childhood.”  This morning’s ride made me feel that the statement is true.  And it was particularly relevant inasmuch I am another year older today.  It’s my birthday.

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

East Potomac Park and Hains Point

East Potomac Park and Hains Point

East Potomac Park is a section of Potomac Park located south of the Jefferson Memorial and the 14th Street Bridge, and sits on a peninsula that drives a grassy wedge between the Washington Channel and the Potomac River on the south side of the Tidal Basin (MAP). The 328-acre finger of land is bordered on the east by the Washington Channel, on the west by the Potomac River, Hains Point at the southern end, and is separated from West Potomac Park by the iconic Jefferson Memorial.

The peninsula on which the park is located was created by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  After a disastrous flood in 1881, the Corps of Engineers dredged a deep channel in the Potomac and used the material to create the current banks of the river and raise much of the land near the White House and along Pennsylvania Avenue.  Much of the dredged material was also utilized to build up existing mudflats in the Potomac River as well as sandbars which had been created by resultant silting, including the peninsula which led to the creation of Potomac Park on March 3, 1897.

In addition to providing terrific views of the city, East Potomac Park also features many of Washington’s famous Kanzan cherry trees.  These double-blossoming cherry trees line Ohio Drive and bloom about two weeks after the single-blossoming Toshino variety that attracts throngs of tourists to the cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin during the National Cherry Blossom Festival each spring.

Ohio Drive, which is a six-mile loop that runs the perimeter of East Potomac Park, is a popular route with bicyclists, runners and walkers, and inline skaters.  And a scenic riverfront sidewalk, which winds around the park’s shoreline, remains a popular place for fishing, despite falling apart and literally sinking into the river in places.  The park is also home to one 18-hole and two 9-hole public courses at the East Potomac Park Golf Course, a driving range and a miniature golf course, a public swimming pool (the East Potomac Park Aquatic Center), tennis courts, picnic facilities, a playground, and a recreation center.

The southern end of the park at the end of the peninsula is known as Hains Point.  This location offers stunning views of the river, as well as Fort McNair and the National War College in D.C. to the east. To the west, visitors can watch planes take off and land at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, located across the Potomac River in Virginia.  Hains Point was also formerly the home of a popular public artwork entitled “The Awakening,” a 70-foot sculpture depicting the arousing of a bearded giant who is embedded in the earth.  However, the sculpture was sold in 2008, and the new owner moved it to its current location at National Harbor in Prince Georges County, Maryland.

It is rare for anything in D.C. to lack controversy or intrigue, and East Potomac Park is no exception.  In 2004, an area of four acres adjacent to the National Park Service offices at Ohio and Buckeye drives was enclosed by a 10-foot high security fence and large beige metal buildings were constructed. The action, initiated by the U.S. Navy, bypassed normal multi-agency review procedures usually required for the use or taking of Federal parkland.  The Navy, which operates the site, calls the work a “utility assessment and upgrade” and will not say if the project is classified or whether it has a name.  Nor will the Navy say how much it cost, how many people were on the job or why it was needed.

When questioned about activity at the site, D.C.’s non-voting delegate in the House of Representatives, Eleanor Holmes Norton, advised that she “is aware of what’s going on but cannot comment.”  Similarly, Frederick J. Lindstrom, acting secretary of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, advised that he had been advised that it would be illegal for him to discuss the matter.  Lindstrom went on to state, “Let’s just say when they’re finished, you’ll be glad they’ve done what they’ve done.”

Athough the Navy originally advised that work at the complex would last approximately four years, a decade later the ongoing activity and construction that goes on inside the security fence, involving regular arrival and departure of dump trucks, remains a mystery.  Amid the secrecy, theories about the four-acre complex and hangar-like structures abound.  In a city which contains radiation tracking instruments atop the Federal Reserve building, biowarfare sensors analyzing the air on the National Mall in front of the Smithsonian Institution castle, and antiaircraft systems on a rooftop next to the White House, the Navy’s secretive activity on East Potomac Park is presumed by many to be related to national security.

Although we may never know the details of the Navy’s activity there, that should not prevent visitors from enjoying the remaining 324 acres of this active yet pastoral park.

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