This week I am in Washington, D.C. working with roughly 35 history educators alongside the incredible staff at Ford’s Theatre. We are exploring the history and memory of Reconstruction through a wide range of places, including monuments throughout the city. Yesterday we stopped off at the African American Civil War Memorial in the historic Shaw District.
Dedicated in 1998, the memorial is one of the most recent additions to D.C.’s Civil War commemorative landscape. As is the case for all monuments and memorials, location matters. Before its dedication there was a debate as to whether it should be located on the National Mall. The push to locate on 10th Street, and U Street was part of a revitalization project for what is a historic black neighborhood. Many businesses and homes were burned down during the riots that plagued many cities following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968.
The monument was and continues to be seen by many as a reminder of the neighborhood’s history and as symbol of community pride.
Visit this neighborhood today and you will see a great deal of development. New stores, restaurants and condominiums are going up at a brisk pace, but the people who can afford the exorbitant rents are overwhelmingly white. This process of gentrification will continue to shape the racial profile of this community.
Visiting the site of the monument yesterday I couldn’t help but think that it will soon be out of place given the justification for its location twenty years ago. I was left wondering whether it should originally have been dedicated on the National Mall, where it might more easily contribute to the nation’s evolving understanding of its collective memory.
I can imagine a place close by the new Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial overlooking the Jefferson Memorial. Think of the conversations you can have with students and the general public about the relationship between those three sites.
What do you think?