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Historic Woodlawn Cemetery Story To Be Told

 WASHINGTON -- Young Playwrights' Theater (YPT) announces the Woodlawn Cemetery Project, a collaboration with community partners in Southeast Washington, DC to create a play about the historic Woodlawn cemetery in Ward 7. YPT has partnered with several organizations based east of the river on this project, including the Woodlawn Perpetual Care Association, the Smithsonian Anacostia Museum, the Ward 7 Arts Collaborative, Life Pieces to Masterpieces, the Boys and Girls Club, the Maya Angelou Public Charter School, and Ward AME Church. Through research, workshops and interviews, YPT and its partners will create an original play to be shared in staged readings and touring public schools as part of Black History Month in February 2011. On Saturday, September 11th, the play will receive two early workshop readings, first at Woodlawn Cemetery (4611 Benning Road SE, Washington, DC) at 9:00 a.m. as part of a volunteer day coordinated with Greater DC Cares in alignment with this national day of service, and then at 5:00 p.m. at Sydney Harman Hall in downtown DC as part of the DC Fall Arts Day. Filmmakers from Stone Soup Films are creating a documentary about the Woodlawn Cemetery Project. The full play will premiere February 7, 2011 as part of YPT's New Writers Now performance series and will then tour to public schools, churches, community centers, museums and theatres throughout Washington, DC. The goal of the project is to engage the community in a rich, intergenerational exploration of Woodlawn Cemetery and its surrounding neighborhood to promote community dialogue and the honoring of our ancestors.

Woodlawn Cemetery is the final resting place of more than 36,000 souls, including 6,000 individuals removed from the Graceland Cemetery at the H St. Corridor between 1895 and 1898. Subsequent interments included many prominent African Americans, including Blanche K. Bruce, born a slave in 1841 and elected to the U.S. Senate in 1875, and John Mercer Langston, grand-uncle of the renowned poet Langston Hughes, U.S. Representative from Virginia and Dean of the Howard University Law School from 1869 to 1879 and. Woodlawn Cemetery was placed on the DC Inventory of Historic Sites in 1991 and on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996. Since Woodlawn Cemetery became inactive in approximately 1979, the site has fallen into disrepair. This historic DC treasure is full of rich history and important stories waiting to be told (see attached sampling). The creation and presentation of a play based on Woodlawn Cemetery history will share the stories of those interred there as well as the story of Woodlawn itself, while bringing much greater attention to the underserved area of Ward 7 and sparking much greater interest locally and nationally in an important historic site east of the river. A play about the history of Woodlawn Cemetery is akin to a walk through our nation's accomplishments. It will share the stories of those people interred there, but it is also the story of Woodlawn itself, a place rich with neglected history. Attention to Woodlawn and the surrounding underserved Ward 7 is an important turning point that will recognize well-deserved, but frequently forgotten contributions to what and who we are as a nation today.

"We are helping the community tell the stories of these important Americans and this important site," said YPT's Producing Artistic Director, David Andrew Snider, who is leading the project. "We are bringing the history of the site and the extraordinary stories of those buried there into the community, so participants can learn about their own history and give voice to the voiceless. Students are taking ownership of these stories while connecting with the living history of their own neighborhood and the neighborhood Elders who are hungry to pass it on."

"This has been a dream project of mine ever since I moved to Ward 7 years ago and discovered Woodlawn for myself, one of DC's greatest hidden treasures," Snider says. "I am grateful to the Schimel Lode, the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, the Woodlawn Perpetual Care Association Board and all of our community partners for joining us on this important project."

The Woodlawn Cemetery Project is made possible through the support of the Schimel Lode and the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities.

Young Playwrights' Theater teaches students to express themselves clearly and creatively through the art of playwriting. Through interactive in-school and after-school programs, YPT activates student learning and inspires students to understand the power of language and realize their potential as both individuals and artists. By publicly presenting and discussing student-written work, YPT promotes community dialogue and respect for young artists. Woodlawn Cemetery Perpetual Care Association (WCPCA) is dedicated to honoring our ancestors by managing the restoration, improvement, and maintenance of the grounds of historic Woodlawn Cemetery. 

The mission of the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities is to provide grants, programs and educational activities that encourage diverse artistic expressions and learning opportunities, so that all District of Columbia residents and visitors can experience the rich culture of our city. 

The Schimel Lode is a component fund of the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region. The Lode offers an annual seed grant to encourage innovation and collaboration for the public good in the Washington, DC area. 

A Sample of Those Interred at Woodlawn Cemetery:

Blanche Kelso Bruce
I was born into slavery in Virginia on March 1, 1841. I had a passion for education. I attended school in Missouri. After graduation I chose Oberlin College in Ohio. Oberlin was one of the only integrated schools in the country at that time. That meant they let white and black students attend school together. During the Civil War I founded a school for Blacks in Kansas. After the Civil War I moved to Mississippi and became involved in local politics. Then I decided to try national politics and I was a success! I was the first Black man to serve a full term in the United States Senate. I was the second African American man elected in 1875. I represented the State of Mississippi from 1875 to 1881. After completing my Senate term, I stayed in Washington, DC. The president even appointed me to two prominent jobs! Even though I worked in these important jobs I still cared about the schools. I was trustee (advisor) for District Public Schools and of Howard University. Bruce-Monroe Elementary School is named in my honor. I died in 1898.

Clara Burrill Bruce
I was born in Washington, DC in 1882. I went to Howard University and Boston University Law School. In Law School, I was undergraduate editor of the Boston Law Review. After College, I married Roscoe Conkling Bruce, son of Senator Blanche Kelso Bruce. In 1926, I passed the Massachusetts State Bar Examination and became a lawyer! I was the second African American woman to do so. I wrote several articles in leading law journals. I died in 1947.

John Mercer Langston
I was born Dec. 14, 1829, in Va., U.S. I was the first black ever elected to public office in the United States. My father was a planter in Virginia and my mother was a slave. I was freed at the age of five. I attended school in Ohio, and graduated from Oberlin College in 1849. I quickly became a leader among free blacks and was elected to local offices in Brownhelm Township, Ohio. In 1864 I helped organize the National Equal Rights League. After the American Civil War I moved to Washington, DC, practiced law, and was a professor of law and dean of the law department of Howard University. In 1888 I ran as a Republican candidate from Virginia for the U.S. House of Representatives and won. I served in Congress from Sept. 23, 1890, to March 3, 1891. I passed away in 1897.

John Francis
I was born in Georgetown. I attended private and public schools in DC until I was sixteen years old. I attended Howard University and received my medical degree from the University of Michigan in 1878. I was interested in helping the community. I opened the first private hospital owned by an African American man in DC. Many people said I was the most prominent African American doctor in DC. In 1894, the Secretary of the Interior, a member of the president's cabinet, appointed me the first assistant surgeon of Freedmen's Hospital. I died in 1913. Francis Junior High School, a DC public school, is named for me.

Louis A. Mitchell
I was born in Asbury Park. I joined Cole & Johnson's vaudeville troupe as a singer and Actor in 1907. In 1912, I married Antoinette Brooks, daughter of pastor Walter Brooks. Antoinette and I traveled to England and France, where I pioneered jazz music during the World War I era. I was the first African American to play in the Hippodrome in London and cut one of the first Jazz albums ever. In 1918 I returned to the U.S. and drummed in NYC in James Europe's Clef Club Band. Eventually, I formed my own band that traveled to France and played in clubs and hotels. In addition, I had my own restaurant, called Mitchell's, in Montmatre, France. I returned to America at the onset of WWII, where I ran my own clubs and worked as an advocate for other African American artists, until my death in1957.

Sterling Nelson Brown
Born in Tennessee, I was educated at Fisk University and the Oberlin Theological Seminary. I was the pastor of several churches all over the country including Lincoln Temple Congregational Church in Washington, DC. At Lincoln Temple, I started a business school and an employment agency. I taught in the Howard University Theological Department from 1892 until 1914. I served two terms on the DC Board of Education. In 1924, I wrote a biography named My Life Story. After over forty years of working with Howard University, I retired in 1929. I died a few months later.


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