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Bus Tour to Celebrate Frederick Douglass's Birthday

Ben Koconis | 2/17/2011, 12:31 a.m.
High on a hilltop in Anacostia is a 160-year-old estate that was once owned by...
Participants of the First Annual Washington Informer African American Heritage Tour posed for a picture in front of the White House in Northwest on Sat., Feb. 12. The tour started at THEARC in Southeast. From there, buses transported participants to the Frederick Douglass home in historic Anacostia and onto the White House and the Freedman's Bank Northwest. The last stop along the tour was Lincoln Park on Capitol Hill in Southeast. Frederick Douglass, a Republican, frequented the White House when he served as an advisor to several presidents including Abraham Lincoln. / Photo by Khalid Naji-Allah  

High on a hilltop in Anacostia is a 160-year-old estate that was once owned by the late abolitionist, Frederick Douglass. It offers one of the most breathtaking, panoramic views in all of Washington, D.C.

Hovering high above the Anacostia River , which zigzags south into the Potomac, and across the street from a quaint, chartreuse, Victorian-style home to the East, Douglass's home, Cedar Hill, continues to attract D.C. sightseers east of the river.

The pale khaki-green, two-story, brick home is capped with a terracotta-colored tin roof and nestles up to a giant, waxy-leaved magnolia tree located on its eastside. A variety of other conifers and hardwood trees, including cedars, spatter the landscape around it. A redbrick staircase, which starts at street level, climbs up to a redbrick sidewalk on the top of the hill, and then proceeds to wrap around the entire house. Flower-embroidered, white-lace curtains hang in the windows.

Cedar Hill rests on nine acres of land located in one of the oldest African American neighborhoods in the United States. Douglass moved there in 1877, following the Civil War, and lived there until his death in 1895.

The Washington Informer's First Annual African American Heritage Tour featured abolitionist Frederick Douglass, the "Sage of Anacostia." A life-like replica of Douglass is featured at THEARC in Southeast. Audiences can listen to the animatron give lectures and answer questions about slavery and his role in the abolition movement. /Photo by Roy Lewis
On Sat., Feb. 12, possibly Douglass's 193rd birthday, (Douglass himself was unsure of the exact day of his birth) more than 300 men, women, and children from the D.C. Metro area took a bus tour to Cedar Hill, the White House, and Lincoln Park in Southeast.

The event, hosted by The Washington Informer newspaper, was organized not only to celebrate Douglass's birthday, but also to raise awareness about African American heritage and Black History Month.

Clarence Bolding, 59, said he read about the tour in The Washington Informer newspaper and came to get more "insight."

"I'm just coming out to see what is being offered and to get a little bit of black history. That's about it--it's a good way to spend a Saturday," he said.

Bolding, a Washingtonian and a retired Army 1st Sgt., who spent years overseas, said he has been to most of the places on the tour, including Cedar Hill, but admitted "not in a long time."

"I'm renewing my interests. [Douglass] was one of many who were for the struggle of equality and the freedom of African Americans. We're fortunate that he was from this area, so we can take a part in this."

Bolding said he was particularly happy to see so many children on the tour.

"It's a good cause. I'm really impressed with the young people who are here. It makes me feel good. They will be able to get a better understanding of their heritage, because often that is lost," he said.

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Tashia Young, a resident from Laurel, Md., said she doesn't get a chance to visit Anacostia as much as she would like to. This was the perfect opportunity for her to learn about Douglass and the area where he once resided, she said.

"I'm just excited about the opportunity to learn a little bit more about the history, not only of the area, but of Frederick Douglass. A lot of times you learn some things in school, and you hear a little bit growing up, but it's really nice to get a formal tour and really get a chance to see and touch and feel a little bit of history."

Bolding, Young and many others gathered at Town Hall Education Arts Recreation Campus (THEARC) in Southeast around 8:30 a.m. for breakfast and a preliminary presentation, which previewed the tour.

Everyone in attendance was able to pick up a grab bag containing gifts provided by the sponsors of the tour, including PEPCO, Kaiser Permanente, Southwest Airlines, and the Washington Informer newspaper.

After the 8:30 a.m. breakfast, all 300 participants piled into six buses which were part of Capitol Entertainment Service's fleet, a local company specializing in
African American Heritage tours. Owner, John Best, was one of six tour operators who provided history lessons and narration as the bus traveled from destination to destination. The first stop was Cedar Hill.

Andre Hunter, 50, and his wife Paulette, 51, attended the tour with several other members of Restoration Revival Center, a church group from Waldorf, Md.

Paulette said the church's main focus is family dynamics. Their group, composed of 18 children and their chaperones, was organized primarily to teach the children an important history lesson, but also for fun.

"We want them to learn and suck up all the knowledge they can," Andre said. "They have to do a report of what they see here."

Damien Rice, a 14-year-old eighth-grader and one of the children in the group, said he was having a great time. "It's pretty awesome," Damien said. "My mom talked to me about this place, and the church was going, so I wanted to tag along."

Damien admitted that although he thought Frederick Douglass was pretty cool, he was more of a George Washington fan.

From Cedar Hill, the tour made its way to the White House where participants took group photos and listened to the tour guides relate several anecdotes about the White House and the surrounding area.

Guides highlighted various sculptures in Lafayette Park, which is located directly in front of the White House. They also pointed out a nearby bank that was

African American owned and frequented by Douglass himself. It is located just east of the White House's front lawn.

After leaving the White House, the six tour buses coasted through the District, passed Chinatown, Union Station, and then circled Lincoln Park before returning to THEARC for lunch and reflection.

"We should have more of these events," Bolding said. "I really learned a lot today."