I am starting the New Year with photographs of the American capital, Washington, D.C. I have always thought Washington to be a beautiful city. I have been there many times for marches, art exhibits, and for treks through the government agencies. The FBI, the US Mint, the Ford Theatre — where Lincoln was assassinated — were some of them. I wanted to begin 2017 with a bit of beauty and a feeling for our Capital City before the upcoming change of government. I hope you enjoy Washington.
The full moon rises above the flags at the Washington Monument on Monday, June 20. June’s full moon, also known as the Strawberry Moon, coincided with the summer solstice for the first time since the Summer of Love in 1967. Getty
The U.S. Capitol dome can be seen behind piles of snow removed from parking areas and walkways around the Capitol grounds on January 26. The Washington area was resuming partial business on Tuesday as trains and buses restarted near-normal service, while federal offices remained closed following the massive blizzard that hammered the U.S. East Coast. REUTERS
Patrons, reflected in a rain puddle, watch near the Washington Monument as the Independence Day fireworks go off on the National Mall on Monday, July 04. Getty
The Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, NMAAHC, sits near the Washington Monument on Tuesday, August 9. The Museum would open to the public on September 24 in a ceremony attended by President Obama and many other dignitaries. Getty
Children play in the snow on the National Mall after a snowstorm on January 23. Getty
The Washington Monument is seen from the Lincoln Memorial on February 12. When it was completed in 1884, the Washington Monument was the tallest structure in the world, and it remains the tallest structure in Washington, D.C. Getty
Joggers run past blooming cherry blossoms that surround the Tidal Basin on March 24. The National Park Service had predicted that the cherry blossom trees would reach peak bloom later that day. Getty
Construction Manager Shane Gallagher leads members of the media on a tour of the rebuilt cast-iron dome of the U.S. Capitol, which was formally completed on Tuesday, November 15, on time for the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump. REUTERS
From the top of the Department of Commerce building looking south across Constitution Avenue NW, the NMAAHC sits between 14th Street, left, and 15th Street, right, near the Washington Monument. Getty
A visitor to the Jefferson Memorial casts a long shadow as she holds up her tablet to take a photo on October 12. REUTERS
People frolic in the snow near the Washington Monument during a winter storm on January 23. A deadly blizzard blanketed the eastern United States in near-record amounts of snow, shutting down New York and Washington in a colossal storm expected to affect more than 85 million people. More than 4,400 flights were cancelled as the mega-storm brought airports in New York, Philadelphia, Washington and Baltimore to a halt, shuttered transport in the US capital and prompted New York officials to issue a sweeping travel ban. REUTERS
A tree is awash in autumn color as the moon rises over the White House on election night, November 08. REUTERS
The Jefferson Memorial is surrounded in fog as a man rides a bicycle along the Tidal Basin, on November 30. Getty
The Washington Monument stands at the National Mall on December 02. The National Park Service announced that day that the monument will remain closed until 2019 for updating the elevator system in the structure. Getty
People look at a Christmas tree at CityCenterDC in downtown Washington on December 04. Getty
The sun sets at the U.S. Capitol as the 114th session of Congress comes to a close on Thursday, December 08. The House passed a spending bill to fund the government through April before heading home for the holiday recess. Getty
Happy New Year everyone! I wish you all the happiest and the most prosperous of new years. 2017 has arrived!
How One Elderly Woman Took on Jim Crow in Washington—And Woman
She launched her case almost six years before Rosa Parks helped start the Montgomery bus boycott and a decade before sit-ins rocked lunch counters across the South
In a city known for iconic buildings, Thompson’s Restaurant was unremarkable. Located a few blocks from the White House, it sat on a commercial corridor: banks, storefronts, streetcar tracks. Inside, it was the kind of place where customers stood in line with their trays, grabbed a slice of cake, and sat down at a table. If they were white, that is.
Mary Church Terrell, an 86-year-old charter member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was not white. Born in 1863, the year of the Emancipation Proclamation, she was the daughter of former slaves. She was also an 1884 graduate of Oberlin College, a suffragist, and a veteran activist for civil rights. On January 27, 1950, she had lived in Washington, D.C. for sixty years.
At roughly 2:45 p.m., Terrell walked through Thompson’s double glass doors. With her were three hand-picked compatriots: Geneva Brown and the Rev. William H. Jernagin, who were African American activists, and David H. Scull, a white Quaker. Collectively, none of them made it to the dining area. The manager, Levin Ange, stepped in front of Jernagin and refused to serve him because he was “colored.”
Elsewhere in Washington, President Harry S. Truman was leading a worldwide crusade for democracy. The manager of Thompson’s, however, was invoking the decades-old logic of Jim Crow, with its architecture of racial inferiority. That outlook, Terrell knew, was a liability in foreign affairs, especially when Washington restaurants refused to serve dark-skinned diplomatic envoys, treating them as if they were American blacks. She had no intention of backing down.
“Do you mean to tell me that you are not going to serve me?”
The manager apologized, saying it was not his fault; it was his company’s policy not to serve Negroes. Terrell, who had once considered training as an attorney, flipped into cross-examination. Was Washington in the United States? she asked the manager. Did the Constitution apply there?
“We don’t vote here,” replied Ange.
Though refused entry, Terrell had gotten what she came for. Thompson’s had violated Reconstruction-era ordinances barring Washington restaurants from discriminating by race. Now she could go to court. And by challenging Thompson’s in the capital, she could upend the edifice of separate-but-equal. That’s because the Supreme Court’s 1896 decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, which upheld Louisiana’s segregated railway cars, used as a rationale congressional mandates requiring segregated Washington schools: if Congress, which had jurisdiction over Washington, could require segregated schools in the capital, Louisiana could segregate train passengers. Terrell had her cause and her fight.
When I first read about Mary Church Terrell and her battle against Thompson’s Restaurant, I wondered why they were not better known. She launched her test case against Thompson’s almost six years before Rosa Parks helped start the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott and a decade before sit-ins rocked lunch counters across the South. On June 8, 1953, three years after she had been refused service at Thompson’s, Terrell went on to win a unanimous decision from the U.S. Supreme Court. District of Columbia v. John R. Thompson Co., Inc. invalidated Washington’s segregated restaurants a year before Brown v. Board of Education, the Court’s landmark school desegregation ruling in 1954. Yet Terrell and Thompson have been largely overlooked in the history of the civil rights movement, eclipsed by Brown and the unrest that followed, especially in the South.
It was no coincidence, however, that Thompson unfolded in the nation’s capital, with its tangled history on race, or that the Court used Thompson to relay a signal about the demise of separate-but-equal. Carved from the slaveholding states of Maryland and Virginia, Washington coexisted with the slave trade until 1850. Only on April 16, 1862, when President Abraham Lincoln emancipated Washington’s 3,100 slaves (nine months before the Emancipation Proclamation liberated them in the Confederacy) did the capital rid itself of slavery. Racial prejudice was another matter.
Still, Washington was not always a Jim Crow town. During Reconstruction, black men in Washington enjoyed full citizenship and voting rights, like white men. Beginning in 1869, the capital’s lawmakers enacted antidiscrimination laws, banning restaurants from discrimination based on race or color, ordinances that were still on the books when Terrell had tried to eat at Thompson’s. By 1878, though, as Reconstruction ended, Congress had dismantled Washington’s local representative government and stripped all residents – black and white – of voting rights. Washington became the equivalent of a federal possession, ruled by presidentially appointed commissioners.
Over time, the Reconstruction-era ordinances fell out of fashion and into disuse, especially after 1913, when President Woodrow Wilson’s administration segregated the federal workforce. In 1950, black and white Washingtonians had long gone to separate playgrounds, restaurants and movie theaters. With the NAACP mainly focused on school desegregation, the capital might have stayed that way.
But it didn’t, because of Mary Church Terrell. What she started inside Thompson’s on January 27, 1950 was a conflict more than a century in the making. It was a challenge to the central hypocrisy in American democracy: the clash between the nation’s professed belief in equality and its practice of subjugating blacks. As postwar activists like Terrell knew, that tension resonated in the nation’s capital, the symbolic headquarters of American democracy.
Terrell’s battle would engage the nation’s attention in the years ahead, when legal proceedings in the Supreme Court would alter the country profoundly. It was both a local affair—a particular cafeteria on a downtown Washington street refusing to serve an elderly black woman—and a national one, with repercussions outside the capital, across the South, and beyond. After World War II, Washington was not just another southern town; it had become the focus of the world.
Mary Church Terrell’s story had roots in slavery and spanned civil rights from the Emancipation Proclamation to Brown. Her case against Thompson’s helped usher in Brown and school integration, impelling a fractured Court to confront segregation at its threshold. An almost ninety-year-old African American woman had brought change to the nation’s capital, and it was irreversible.
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