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Boogie down to commemorate Frederick Douglass

By Shannen Hill/Howard University News Service
On February 15, 2015

District throws parties, hold several events in honor of Frederick Douglass' 197th birthday.

WASHINGTON --   Somehow, the stern-faced human rights icon and slavery abolitionist Frederick Douglass and Parliament Funkadelic, Sugar Hill Gang, the Jackson 5, Gladys Knight and the Pips and Kool and the Gang just don’t seem to go together. 

Perhaps there’s something about a runaway slave who taught himself to read and became one of the nation’s greatest orators and the Mothership Connection that just don’t match.

No matter, because they will all blend together this Friday with plenty of music and dancing when the nation celebrates Douglass’ 197th with a special 1970’s Washington-style Blue Light house party at the Anacostia Arts Center.

The free party runs from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.  DJ Scooter Magruder will hit the turn tables to recreate a blue-light house party, where the traditional light bulbs are switched to blue ones, which was popular in D.C. during the 1970’s.

“When [D.C.] celebrates, we have a house party, and this should be a great one for the celebration of Frederick Douglass,” said Magruder, an announcer on WPFW-FM who has been on the D.C. airwaves since the 1970’s.  “They should expect some good dance music --everything form James Brown to Usher”

Along with the house party, there will be an array of events Friday and Saturday in Douglass’ honor, including scrapbooking and genealogy workshops, gospel performances, oratorical contests and tours of Douglass’ home and neighborhood.

Douglass spent the last 18 years of his life living in his Cedar Hill Anacostia Home, and every year, the Frederick Douglass Historic Site puts together birthday celebration events for him.

There will be shuttles located at the Anacostia Metro station to take people to Douglass events at the Frederick Douglass Historic Site, the Anacostia Art Center and the Islamic Heritage Center during the events.

“We are really proud to partner with the community, and it’s exciting to us that we can do this and celebrate some of the history of the community at the same time,” said Julie Kutruff, the direct site manager at the Frederick Douglass Historic Site.

The official first event will be at 1:30 p.m. at the Anacostia Community Museum.  The public will be able to see photos, letters and publications of Douglass that aren’t usually available to the public.

Saturday’s events kick off at 10:30 a.m. at the Anacostia Playhouse with an address by historian Leigh Fought, an expert on Douglass and an assistant professor at LeMoyne-Owen College in Memphis, along with speech recitals by the 2014 winners of the annual National Oratorical Contest.

There will also be a performance by the Washington Revels Jubilee Voices, a vocal group that will sing and act out traditional spirituals and songs that brought a people from enslavement to freedom.

Meanwhile, there will be a walking tour at 12:30 p.m. at the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site. Participants will be shown different places that Douglass used to visit throughout Anacostia.   

Actor Darius Wallace, who tours with a one-man show about Douglass, will perform a speech at 1 p.m. also at the historic site that was given by Douglass at Washington’s Metropolitan A.M.E. Church called  “Lessons of the Hour: Why the Negro  is Lynched.”

“Frederick Douglass’ story is one of triumph and the speech has universal message that everyone can relate to,” Wallace said. “It’s about how the country places a lot of blame on Black people. The audience will see a lot of parallels to today with all of the police shootings.”

There will also be tours of Douglass’ home, Cedar Hill, from noon to 4:30 p.m. that will have more images than usual, along with a wax figure of Douglass from Madame Tussauds. 

Islamic Heritage Center will also hold events, including a historical map trek at 1 p.m. through Anacostia featuring Tony Thomas, the education programs coordinator of the Anacostia Community Museum.

Dianne Dale will present “A Look at Frederick Douglass’ Hillsdale Neighbors,” at 2 p.m., and at the same time in another part of the center, there will be a genealogy workshop for the public to learn how to trace their roots.

“[The public] will leave with many different skills on how to do [genealogy], why to do it and the theories behind it,” Tony Burroughs, genealogist and author of Black Roots.

Artists from the Ward 8 Arts Council and others will host scrapbooking workshops where people can bring photos of their families and create a scrapbook page from 1 p.m. to 2:45 p.m. and 3 p.m. to 4:45 p.m. at the Anacostia Art Center.

For more information on the Frederick Douglass birthday celebrations, visit www.nps.gov.

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