Winner of the Award of Merit from the American Association for State and Local History
A steam engine chugs along the Mall. The Knights Templar parade down an unpaved F Street. Workmen finish an arch at the new Library of Congress building. And the paddleboats are lining up for a concert at the Watergate Barge.
In Washington Seen Fredric Miller and Howard Gillette bring together nearly four hundred unique photographs from the Gilded Age to the Great Society. Throughout, the focus is not on streets and monuments but on the complex relationships among the people of Washington—men and women, black and white—and the way they worked and lived.
At the second district police station, black faces among the white reveal that in 1878 racial integration had come—temporarily—to the nation's capital. (Sixty-five years later, marchers would demand the hiring of black bus drivers to help win the "fight against fascism.") At the Treasury Department in 1910, men in white shirts work as engravers while women count the newly printed currency; in an adjacent photo, a lone black man bends over a washtub in the "Cuspidor Washing and Sterilizing Room" of the Capitol.
Everywhere in these photographs is a richness of detail that captures a bygone moment with startling precision. Ancient tools and pipes surround a workman in the "plumbing room" somewhere in the depths of the Capitol. A pair of young girls stand, smiling, in a Depression-era back alley, every brick and paving stone sharp and clear. Assembly line workers in an eerily lighted loft peer out from behind a row of artificial limbs. A boy leans down for a better look at the well-stocked candy counter of a black-owned grocery store.
Here are Washingtonians at home and at work, at restaurant tables and lunch counters, in schools and churches, dancing the jitterbug and going to the movies, cheering the Redskins, the Senators, and the Homestead Greys. In the accompanying text, Miller and Gillette invite readers to enter into an intimate "conversation with the past," offering insightful commentary on the images of people whose faces cannot fail to captivate.
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