Apr 12, 2022 - Things to Do

New Smithsonian exhibit examines the erasure of Barry Farm-Hillsdale

The Hillsdale school in 1908, a few years before its demolition. Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum.
The Hillsdale school in 1908, a few years before its demolition. Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum.

In 2019, the last remnants of the Barry Farm-Hillsdale settlement, a post-Civil War Black community established by the Freedmen’s Bureau southeast of the Anacostia River, was demolished to make way for new development.

Driving the news: A new virtual Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum exhibit, "We Shall Not Be Moved," asks visitors to investigate what happened to the once-vibrant community.

Why it matters: The destruction of Barry Farm-Hillsdale isn’t a unique story; countless other Black communities across the U.S. are vanishing to make way for commercial districts and housing.

Now, following 2020's racial reckoning, these communities are re-examining those racist policies that forced Black residents out.

  • “It’s not one case. There were many more African American neighborhoods that were destroyed especially by the building of highways through them,” museum curator Alcione M. Amos tells Axios.
  • In Fairfax County, residents of Gum Springs last year fought the widening of Richmond Highway, which residents say will erase a historic Black community.

Details: The new exhibit, which is based on a book by Amos, seeks to “change the perception of the history,” of Barry Farm-Hillsdale, she tells Axios.

Amos says the exhibit tells the story of independence and resilience.

  • For example, the Barry family, for which the neighborhood is originally named, owned much of the land in the area, Amos explains. However, the family owned enslaved people, so residents successfully pushed to get an act passed in 1873 to rename the neighborhood “Hillsdale.” But the name never appeared on official maps.

As the exhibit outlines, residents of the neighborhood advocated for voting rights for women, fought for essential services including running water, and integrated the Anacostia Pool — but not without significant effort and continued discrimination.

  • In the late 1800s and into the 1900s, the loss of land, displacement, and redevelopment began to chip away at the settlement.

The big picture: The interactive exhibit, which includes spoken testimony, maps, and photos, invites visitors to decide what they think was the turning point in the vanishing of this historic settlement and to weigh in on what’s happening in their own community.

What they’re saying: “You can’t erase history. History is important. It’s important to have an awareness of your own neighborhood and what needs to be protected,” Amos says.

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