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Anacostia museum exhibit highlights 1963 – 1975 protest years

On January 11, 2016

The exhibit follows events from 1963-1975 that shaped the District today.

A dynamic new exhibition, “Twelve Years That Shook and Shaped Washington: 1963–1975,” provides an insider’s look at the District during this tumultuous period as the city sought to find its own voice amid national events. It is currently on view at the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum through Oct 23, 2016.

“Twelve Years” chronicles how the foundation for today’s Washington – a multiethnic, multiracial city with reviving communities, a vibrant arts scene, a major transportation system, a lively political environment and a shortage of affordable housing and pockets of persistent unemployment – was laid during these transformative years leading up to the establishment of limited home rule.

“This exhibition offers an exciting opportunity to continue the work of documenting urban communities long undertaken by this museum,” said Camille Akeju, the museum’s director. “Looking back at the rapidly changing racial, political, cultural and built landscapes from that period in history and the resulting impact, will hopefully provide guidance to Washingtonians as we find our city once again amid radical change.”

The exhibition opens with a timeline of key local milestones punctuated with several events of national import. The multiple sections that follow explore the broadening local arts, music, theater and media scene; the ambitious but fractious urban renewal effort; emerging higher-education institutions; and the expanding struggle for the rights of Blacks, Latinos, women, gays, the poor and District residents fighting themselves for self-governance, all against the backdrop of the anti-war protests and President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society” policies.

Guest curators Marjorie Lightman and William Zeisel, directed by the late Portia James, the museum’s senior curator, offer significant retrospection and analyses of key local “change” events that impacted the District on all frontiers. A few of the events discussed that will be familiar to those who were city residents or visitors during this period include the redevelopment of Southwest and forced exodus to Anacostia public housing; the building of the Metro subway system; the founding of two District public colleges, plus a law school providing attorneys for the poor; the discovery of Roberta Flack at Mr. Henry’s bar on Capitol Hill; the creation of the popular “Quiet Storm” on Howard University’s WHUR-FM radio station; and the affiliation of WAMU-FM radio and NPR precursor, Educational Radio Network.

National events and trends occurring locally such as the signing of the Voting Rights Act, long hair, Afros and dashikis, the Poor People’s March, anti-war protests and the March on Washington are also covered. But these events are discussed relative to important community-based social and cultural actions like Marion Barry’s co-founding of Youth Pride Inc., the official declaration of Hispanic Heritage Day, the establishment of the District’s first gay newspaper The Blade; the opening of the first abortion clinic in the city and the D.C. riots. New cultural expressions such as arena-style theater seating, the blending of African, modern and traditional dance, jazz in Georgetown and the abstract art of the Washington Color School reflect pervasive themes of Black power, experimentation and openness.

“Twelve Years” and its programs are funded in part by the Max and Victoria Dreyfus Foundation Inc., and the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities.

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