James Parton, one of Jefferson’s earliest biographers, said: “If Jefferson is wrong, America is wrong. If America is right, Jefferson was right.” Perhaps it would be better to say that Jefferson, and America, have been right on the large principles, but sometimes wrong in failing to carry through on them. Jefferson, the greatest articulator of those principles, spectacularly failed to carry them through on the issue of slavery. His failure anticipated America’s greatest failure, corrected only after civil war and a long struggle for civil rights. We know of no better place to meditate on American history, right and wrong, than surrounded by Jefferson’s words in his memorial by the placid Tidal Basin.
My parents have both told me that their families used to huddle around the radio regularly for Franklin Roosevelt’s “fireside chats.” Roosevelt was president through twelve years of unremitting crisis, first economic depression and then world war. There were more than a few times during that period when it must have seemed to many people in the country that the jig was up. Certainly one of Roosevelt’s achievements as president was to inspire confidence and simply cheer people up with his infectious optimism. Appropriately, the Roosevelt Memorial focuses on his words, from his pledge of a “new deal” to the “Four Freedoms.” The famous 10-foot statue shows him, as the public never saw him in his lifetime, in a wheelchair.
Located along the famous Cherry Tree Walk on the Tidal Basin near the National Mall. Interstates 66 and 395 provide access to the Mall from the south. Interstate 495, New York Avenue, Rock Creek Parkway, George Washington Memorial Parkway, and the Cabin John Parkway provide access from the North. Interstate 66, U.S. Route 50 and 29 provide access from the West. U.S. Routes 50, 1, and 4 provide access from the East. There are several Metro train routes from the suburban areas surrounding the city. The Smithsonian Metro stop comes out on the National Mall.
President John Adams, the first official resident of the White House, moved into the house in November 1800. The house was still not quite finished after nine years of construction. (It was a government contract, after all.) In 200 years, the house has endured arson (by British soldiers in 1815), one plane crash, numerous redecorations and renovations, far too many mediocre presidents, and the midnight soliloquies of Richard Nixon. The exterior, a significant example of Federal architecture, remains much as it was in 1800. The guided tours of the famous first-floor rooms show off more historic memorabilia than you will ever be able to absorb.
The White House Visitor Center is located at 1450 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, between 14th and 15th Streets on Pennsylvania Avenue. The Visitor Center is inside the north end of the Department of Commerce Building.
In November 1864, John Wilkes Booth appeared with his brothers Edwin and Junius Brutus Booth in a production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Junius, playing the role of Cassius, had these lines: “How many ages hence / Shall this our lofty scene be acted over / In states unborn and accents yet unknown!” John Wilkes found the stage to play the role, as he thought, of tyrannicide at Ford’s Theater in Washington six months later. Ford’s Theater National Historic Site includes the theater, where Booth shot Lincoln in the presidential box, and Petersen’s Boarding House across the street, where Lincoln died the next morning. Ford’s was closed as a theater from the night of the assassination until 1968. Since then, the theater has been restored and reopened as a venue for live productions.
Mary McLeod Bethune was one of a formidable generation of leaders who arose in the early 20th century within the African American community to confront racism and segregation, and to claim the community’s rightful place in the American dream. “What does the Negro want? His answer is very simple. He wants only what all other Americans want. He wants opportunity to make real what the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and the Bill of Rights say, what the Four Freedoms establish.” Mary McLeod Bethune founded Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach, Florida and served as an advisor on African American affairs to four presidents. She founded the National Council of Negro Women to address the problems of the black community. Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site is a three-story Victorian town house that was Mary McLeod Bethune’s last Washington, D.C. residence and the first headquarters of her organization.
From 1877 to 1895, Frederick Douglass maintained a home in Anacostia, a neighborhood in the southeastern part of the District of Columbia. After escaping from slavery on the eastern shore of Maryland, Douglass had spent most of his career as an abolitionist in Rochester, where he published the famous periodical, North Star. Douglass moved to Washington, DC to publish New National Era, a periodical intended to serve as the voice of African Americans in the post-emancipation period. The project failed, however. Nevertheless, Douglass stayed in Washington, except for a period as U.S. minister to Haiti in 1889. He served in the Council of Government for the District of Columbia, and later as United States Marshal for the District. In 1877 he purchased the home, which he called Cedar Hill, and which is now the location of the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site.