Photo credit: Thelma D. Jones

Photo credit: Jamal Jones

A group of 20 brave soldiers (12 children and eight adults) representing the Southwest Neighborhood Assembly Youth Activities Task Force (SWNA YATF) valiantly fought the high winds and visited the African American Civil War Memorial and Museum (AACWM) on Saturday, March 3. The long-overdue visit was prompted by an invitation from SW resident Audrey Hinton, who is the board chair of AACWM and former co-chair of the SWNA Education and Scholarship Task Force (ESTF). The participants gathered at James Creek and enjoyed refreshments prior to boarding a bus provided compliments of AACWM.

YATF was welcomed to the museum by Education Director Dawn Chitty. Participants were then in for a treat when Historic Interpreter Marquette Milton, who dressed in period costume, took us on a fascinating journey to the Civil War period. Fully clad in a Civil War blue Union uniform, Milton demonstrated each piece of the clothing worn and equipment and supplies used during the war, talked about slavery, engaged the children in a drumming exercise, and, among other things, led a military drill with pomp and circumstance that had children and chaperones marching to the beat with “your left, right, left, and halt.”

After the discussion, the children went on an exciting scavenger hunt to locate various museum pictures and artifacts. One of the highlights of the museum’s visit included each child receiving a large, lovely and colorful book entitled Li’l Dan, the Drummer Boy: A Civil War Story by renowned African-American artist Romare Bearden (1911–1988). Recently discovered, Li’l Dan is the only children’s book ever written and illustrated by the legendary Bearden. The book’s foreword is by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and also included a CD read by Maya Angelou. The look on the children’s and chaperones’ faces was one of jubilance, surprise, and appreciation.

Before leaving, each child received a “passport,” which is a part of AACWM’s Passport to Freedom Program. The program is the brainchild of former four-term DC City Councilmember Frank Smith, who is the founder and executive director of the museum. The program encourages students to visit museums and take advantage of engaging learning experiences available at museums. Each student will have their “passport” stamped when visiting other museums. When the “passport” is filled with stamps, they may return it to the museum for a prize.

“Sergeant” Milton then saluted, directed the soldiers to be “at ease,” and dismissed us, and we marched to the bus in the midst of the high winds.

The next and final visit of the day was to the historic Ben’s Chili Bowl on U St. NW, a DC landmark since it opened in 1958. Seated in a reserved dining room surrounded with walls of photos of local, national, and international celebrities, the children eagerly selected their orders from a preset menu and chatted with excitement while their food was being prepared and delivered. YATF Chairperson Thelma D. Jones briefed the group on the restaurant’s historical significance, which included Ben’s receiving special police permission to open after curfew to provide food and shelter for those working to restore order after the 1968 riots, among other historical tidbits. Another highlight of the field trip occurred when restaurant owner Virginia Ali graced us with her presence, having just returned from the unveiling of the Marion S. Barry statue. Ali graciously welcomed YATF, shared some of the restaurant’s history, and enjoyed several photo ops with the group.

YATF extends a heartfelt thanks to our chaperones, Hinton for her patience and persistence, and ESTF Co-Chair Vyllorya Evans for organizing the successful field trip. Funding for the field trip was courtesy of the SWNA History Task Force, which continues to work closely in partnership with YATF in ensuring enhanced cultural experiences for SW youth.

Vyllorya Evans and Thelma D. Jones contributed to this article.

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