- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 6, 2008

Tucked away amid all the signs of revitalization around Georgia Avenue Northwest is striking evidence of an earlier time. Among the condos and coffee shops are five new plaques marking sites on the African American Heritage Trail, a program of Cultural Tourism DC that comprises more than 200 locations throughout the District.

What makes these five special is that they all are located on the campus of Howard University, which has produced some of the nation’s top doctors, jurists and opera singers. A plaque commemorating the founding — and the institution — is at the main gate, at Sixth and Howard Place.

Back in 1867, when the university was founded, Georgia Avenue would have looked very different from the way it does now.

“There was not much in the way of development north of Florida Avenue, which was then called Boundary Street,” says Jane Freundel Levey, the historian who oversees Cultural Tourism DC’s history-related programs. “It was mostly farms.”

So the area around the Seventh Street Pike, as it was called then, was where Gen. Oliver Otis Howard and several of his fellow worshippers from downtown’s First Congregation Church looked to find enough land for “a university for the education of youth in the liberal arts and sciences.”

Howard, for whom the institution would be named, was a veteran of the Battle of Gettysburg and head of the newly established Freedmen’s Bureau, the agency designed to provide relief for hundreds of thousands of newly emancipated blacks. Before long, Howard University would help create a class of black professionals who would go on to enrich the District’s educational and cultural life.

“Places like Howard University seeded an African-American community that has been very strong all throughout our history,” Ms. Levey says.

Even before Howard University began offering classes, many of the District’s black residents were receiving medical care at Freedmen’s Hospital, commemorated by a plaque at 520 W St. NW. What initially was a simple tent-and-barracks setup at 13th and R Streets, Freedmen’s Hospital became a leader in health care by the end of the 19th century. In 1893, Dr. Daniel Hale Williams performed the first successful heart surgery on a patient there, repairing a stab wound.

The hospital changed its name to Howard University Hospital in 1975, when it moved to its current location.

Scholarship always has been a hallmark at Howard, which is why you can find a plaque at the entrance to the Founder’s Library/Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at 500 Howard Place. The neo-Georgian building itself is revealing, designed in the early 1930s by Albert Cassell, one of the nation’s premier black architects.

Inside is one of the most comprehensive collections of materials related to slavery, blacks and Africana.

“This is one of the world’s leaders in the collection of African-American history and African diaspora studies,” Ms. Levey says.

Not all the new plaques around campus are related specifically to the university, however. One can be found on the last site of Miner Teachers College, located at the edge of Howard’s campus at 2565 Georgia Ave.

The institution began in 1851 when Myrtilla Miner, a white abolitionist from upstate New York, came to Washington to open a “school for colored girls.” Needless to say, she was not welcomed by everyone, and her school had to move several times because of the threat of mob violence.

By the time Miner Teachers College reached its Georgia Avenue location in 1914, it had become part of the D.C. Public Schools system and one of the top teacher training institutions in the country. It merged with its counterpart for white students in 1955 and became D.C. Teachers College, which then was folded into the University of the District of Columbia in 1977.

Washingtonians who remember hearing tales of Miner Teachers College also may remember Griffith Stadium, built in 1914 by Clark Griffith, the owner of Washington’s baseball team. The team may have been whites-only, but the crowd that cheered it on was not.

“Everybody used it,” Ms. Levey says. “It was open space, open to everybody.”

It wasn’t just the Senators that drew crowds. The Negro Leagues’ Homestead Grays played there too, and local teams including the Washington Elite Giants and Le Droit Tigers. The annual Howard-Lincoln University (Pa.) football game was an autumn ritual for many Washingtonians. So were the competitive drill-team competitions between Dunbar and Armstrong high schools.

Today, nothing remains of Griffith Stadium, which was razed in 1965. Howard University Hospital was built on the location, 2041 Georgia Ave., 10 years later.

“It was a key piece of African-American life in Washington,” Ms. Levey says. “But I’m afraid the site of home plate is now a storage closet.”

That might be the best lesson of all for your family. Sometimes, you have to open a door or two or peek around the corner to see all there is to see.

WHEN YOU GO:

Pick up the free guidebook “African American Heritage Trail, Washington, DC,” now in its fourth printing. It’s available at a number of locations, including the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library at 901 G St. NW and the DC Visitor information center in the Ronald Reagan Building at 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. an online database featuring all 200-plus sites is available at www.culturaltourismdc.org.

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