“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Shaw in Washington, District of Columbia — The American Northeast (Mid-Atlantic)

When Gordon Met Ella

A Fitting Tribute


—Logan Circle Heritage Trail —

When Gordon Met Ella Marker image. Click for full size.
By Devry Becker Jones, December 2, 2017
1. When Gordon Met Ella Marker

Ella Watson, the subject of photographer Gordon Parks's famous and pointed portrait "American Gothic, Washington, D.C.," rented rooms on this block at 1433 11th Street. Watson worked as a cleaning woman in the headquarters of the Farm Security Administration, a New Deal agency that employed writers and photographers to document conditions around the country during the Great Depression. In 1942 Parks, the FSA's first African American photographer, spent a month capturing Watson at work, church, and home.

Parks documented Washington's segregation. "What the camera had to do was expose the evils of racism, the evils of poverty, the discrimination and the bigotry, by showing people who suffered most under it," he later said. Parks's grim parody of Grant Woods's "American Gothic" accomplished this goal and was seen around the world, but it was only part of Ella Watson's story. His pictures balanced the poverty of Watson's circumstances with the richness of her life: her three beloved grandchildren and adopted daughter and her worship at the Verbycke Spiritual Church, then three blocks east on Eighth Street. In so doing Parks differentiated his work from that of those white FSA colleagues who captured only the despair of African American poverty.

Sixty years earlier, when this area of modest buildings was
When Gordon Met Ella Marker image. Click for full size.
By Devry Becker Jones, December 2, 2017
2. When Gordon Met Ella Marker
known as Hell's Bottom, a saloon occupied the building where Ella Watson later lived. It was one of many forced to close in 1891 after the minister of nearby Lincoln Memorial Church led a campaign to revoke liquor licenses and clean up the neighborhood.

To reach Sign 10, proceed to O Street, turn right (west), and walk 2.5 blocks to where Vermont Avenue meets Logan Circle.

The Logan Circle Neighborhood began with city boosters' dreams of greatness. The troops, cattle pens, and hubbub of the Civil War (1861-1865) had nearly ruined Washington, and when the fighting ended, Congress threatened to move the nation's capital elsewhere. So city leaders raced to repair and modernize the city. As paved streets, waster and gas lines, street lights, and sewers reached undeveloped areas, wealthy whites followed. Mansions soon sprang up around an elegant park where Vermont and Rhode Island Avenues met. The circle was named Iowa Circle, thanks to Iowa Senator William Boyd Allison. In 1901 a statue of Civil War General (and later Senator) John A. Logan, a founder of Memorial Day, replaced the park's central fountain. The circle took his name in 1930. The title of this Heritage Trail comes from General Logan's argument that Memorial Day would serve as "a fitting tribute to the memory of [the nation's] slain defenders."

As the city
When Gordon Met Ella Marker image. Click for full size.
By Devry Becker Jones, December 2, 2017
3. When Gordon Met Ella Marker
grew beyond Logan Circle, affluent African Americans gradually replaced whites here. Most of them moved on during World War II, and their mansions were divided into rooming houses to meet a wartime housing shortage. By the 1960s, with suburban Maryland and Virginia drawing investment, much of the neighborhood had decayed. When civil disturbances erupted after the 1968 assassination of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it hit bottom. Ten years later, however, long-time residents, newcomers, and new city programs spurred revival. A Fitting Tribute: Logan Circle Heritage Trail takes you through the neighborhood's lofty and low times to introduce the array of individuals who shaped its modern vitality.
Erected 2012 by Cultural Tourism DC. (Marker Number 9 of 15.)
Marker series. This marker is included in the Washington DC, Logan Circle Heritage Trail marker series.
Location. 38° 54.565′ N, 77° 1.618′ W. Marker is in Shaw, District of Columbia, in Washington. Marker is at the intersection of 11th Street Northwest and P Street NW, on the right when traveling north on 11th Street Northwest. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Washington DC 20001, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance
1433 11th Street NW image. Click for full size.
By Devry Becker Jones, December 2, 2017
4. 1433 11th Street NW
of this marker. John Logan Memorial (about 600 feet away, measured in a direct line); If These Mansions Could Talk (about 700 feet away); Major General John A. Logan (about 800 feet away); Logan Circle, Just Ahead (about 800 feet away); A Neighborhood Reborn (was approx. 0.2 miles away but has been reported missing. ); a different marker also named Logan Circle (approx. 0.2 miles away); Spiritual Life (approx. 0.2 miles away); The Artistic Life (approx. 0.2 miles away).
Categories. African AmericansChurches & ReligionIndustry & CommerceWomen
Credits. This page was last revised on December 12, 2017. This page originally submitted on December 2, 2017, by Devry Jones of Washington, District of Columbia. This page has been viewed 65 times since then and 21 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4. submitted on December 2, 2017, by Devry Jones of Washington, District of Columbia. • Bill Pfingsten was the editor who published this page.
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