Day Three of the conference started early yesterday at the Carnegie Library. The magnificent Beaux Arts building at Mount Vernon Square was originally used by the District of Columbia Public Library, a donation from Andrew Carnegie in 1902. The Historical Society of Washington, D.C., founded in 1894, moved in several years ago.
Helping to lift the lid, a group of attendees gathered to see the showing of Yi Chen’s film Chinatown. Chen looks at the fate of Chinese-Americans living there. D.C.'s Chinatown is a thriving neighborhood in the heart of downtown, but there have been deleterious effects for some long time residents.
The filmmaker followed residents of the Wah Luck House, who are have to take a monthly, 45-minute bus ride to the Great Wall Supermarket in Falls Church. No such equivalent exists in the District. Older residents also struggle with language barriers and diminished sense of identity.
Compared to San Francisco and New York, the Chinatown here has always paled when comparing numbers. Nevertheless, the loss of culture and population stings for some in the greater Chinese-American community.
Switching gears, I next attended a panel discussion on Alexandria’s retrocession in 1846. As I noted the other day, the conventional wisdom on this subject has not included the African Americans who lived in the seaport city.
Glen Crothers (“In the Shadow of Freedom”) offered a more critical look by emphasizing the fate of enslaved humans and free blacks who could only watch and worry when the referendum vote was cast in City Hall.
Speaking of that vote, Richard A. Balas, College of Charleston and the Citadel, presented - “New Perspectives on the Alexandrian Retrocession of 1846.” His took the old voting rolls and looked at the demographics of Alexandrians who voted. His presentation included a rare image of Edgar Snowden, Jr, the influential editor of The Alexandria Gazette.
Stepping up to the podium next was Jason Tercha, a recent Masters Degree graduate who broke new ground on the topic of secession with a fascinating look at, “A Little R&R: How Retrocession and the Railroad Determined the Future of Washington, D.C.”
His juxtaposition of newspapers articles and images of the city was creative and effective. Railroad buffs in the audience of about 30 surely loved seeing his slide on the four different railroads that rumbled through the city. In the decade leading up to the Civil War, Alexandria prospered.
The time in between the presentations offered the chance for coffee and conversations. I was pleased to chat with John Muller. He is the author of “Frederick Douglass in Washington, D.C.: The Lion of Anacostia” and his new book “Mark Twain in Washington, D.C., The Adventures of a Capital Correspondent.”
In this morning’s newspaper, Micah Zenko writes a review of “Covert Capital: Landscapes of Denial and the Making of U.S. Empire in the Suburbs of Northern Virginia” by Andrew Friedman. Observing the dissonance between Northern Virginia’s suburbs and the capital city, Zenko says:
If you live in the District, you probably notice that most of the national security workers have little engagement with the capital or with its residents who lack security clearances. Very little other than an intermittent playoff run by a local sports team ever unifies these distinct communities.
While there’s some truth to that, there are also many opportunities for Washingtonians to come together.
Such as this wonderful conference, which ends today with tours of War of 1812 sites in Maryland and the District.