The most homicides, the most pregnant teens, the most welfare recipients, the most unemployment, the most public housing projects: this is the litany associated with Anacostia in the press and in the popular imagination today. If the well-publicized problems of Washington, D.C.--a predominantly-black government unable effectively to govern a predominantly-black city--have been racialized, crime- and drug-ridden Anacostia's problems are even more closely tied up with race.

Newt Gingrich told the Heritage Foundation, "We should all of us be ashamed that in our national capital...there are Americans who have been abandoned, betrayed, and left behind. None of us should ever rest comfortably while the children of Washington live in poverty...There are enough people that care in this country that we could drown this capital in love and affection and resources and we could find a way to reach out to every family and every child." (1) Hillary Rodham Clinton told D.C. Council member Sandy Allen, representative of Anacostia's Ward 8, "We need to think of ways the president and I can get over there and help. We'll find a way. I promise." (2) Use of the passive voice, like Gingrich's Americans who "have been abandoned, betrayed, and left behind," and the transience of federal decision makers' residence in D.C. contribute to a sense of collective amnesia about the roots of D.C. residents' problems, Anacostia residents in particular.

Anacostia is not a case of spontaneous generation. Its current crisis stems in part from its location--it is separated from the bulk of the city by the Anacostia River--which has in turn allowed it to become an out-of-sight host for the city's mentally ill, indigent elderly, impounded cars, and sewage, through institutions like St. Elizabeth's, D.C. Village, and the Blue Plains sewage treatment plant. Lamont Mitchell, who owns the Imani Cafe in Anacostia (for a number of years its only sit-down restaurant), noted, "We are one mile from the Capitol. But the river represents for us...the unspoken warning: Don't cross over." (3) An examination of the area's history, however, paints quite a different picture of Anacostia, one in which its location was considered valuable and its black population was rather uniquely and beneficially situated.

Opportunity: Race in Anacostia through the Civil War

Making a Home: Reconstruction and Integration

The Changing Face: Public Housing and Urban Renewal

Crossing the River: Home Page


Notes

1  Ronald D. Elving,  "An Unlikely Champion for Nation's Capital." _Congressional Quarterly Weekly 
Report_ Dec. 7, 1996: 3362.

2  Vincent S. Morris,  "Leadership for Readership:  Clintons Visit NW Grade School, Stress Urgency
to Rebuild District." _The Washington Times_ Feb. 22, 1997:  A1.

3  Linda Kulman et al., "Pomp and...circumstance:  Washington, D.C." _U.S. News and World Report_
Feb. 3, 1997: 22.