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Building a Museum Collection: 12 Years That Shook and Shaped Washington: 1963-1975

December 31, 2014

Re-Elect Jimmy CoatesIf you’ve ever seen the rat exhibit at the Anacostia Community Museum, you know there’s something different about this branch of the Smithsonian. “The Rat: Man’s Invited Affliction” caused a sensation in the late 1960’s.

At the time, Anacostia was a destination for African-Americans being forced from their homes in the rest of Washington, D.C. Covenants of the time forbid African-Americans from moving into suburban Maryland neighborhoods. Many moved to Anacostia. The existing infrastructure couldn’t handle the influx.

At the same time, curators at the new Anacostia Community Museum, finding that more traditional exhibits were falling flat, set out to discover what was actually important to the community. These early curators discovered that children in overcrowded Anacostia spent a great deal of time catching and killing rats. Proper sewer lines and adequate trash disposal services were non-existent in Anacostia. Rat infestations resulted.

The Anacostia Community Museum described the situation in the exhibit “The Rat: Man’s Invited Affliction.” A scandal ensued. Investigations resulted. Because of the attention the exhibit garnered, infrastructure issues in Anacostia began to be addressed. The Anacostia Community Museum made a name for itself and proved its relevance.

Modern-day curators at the Anacostia Community Museum are again asking what’s important, but this time the question is related to D.C. from 1963-1975, when the city’s racial, political, cultural and architectural landscapes experienced a massive shift. The Museum is asking for objects of the time. Some of those already collected include posters, buttons, clothes, hashpipes and autographs of famous people requested by an enterprising taxi driver. Contributions are welcome from any anyone with a piece of D.C. history in their possession or on their mind. The Museum is particularly interested in objects from Southwest and Southeast D.C.

Through 2015, the “12 Years That Shook and Shaped Washington” collection will be built. In 2016, exhibits incorporating sound, lights and still and moving images as well as artifacts will go on display at the Museum, at six community partner sites and online.

More information about how to contribute can be obtain from Sharon Reinckens at reinckens@si.edu. The Anacostia Community Museum is online at http://anacostia.si.edu.

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