A Vivid Look Back at the “Twelve Years That Shook and Shaped Washington: 1963–1975”

Photo: Joe Caplan (Photo courtesy D.C. Public Library – 12 Yrs that Shook & Shaped Washington: 1963-75 Anacostia Community Museum)

Washington D.C. is a curious place. Falling under the exclusive jurisdiction of Congress, the capital of the United States is not a part of any U.S. state, which makes it the only city in the country where citizens are subject to taxation without representation.

Also: Representation Matters: Honoring “Women and the Civil Rights Movement”

Situated on the border of Maryland and Virginia, Washington lies between the North and the South in such a precise way, it reminds us that the tensions of the past continue to this very day. As our nation’s capital, the District is the seat of American democracy, for better—or for worse.

Washington Theatre Club (Photo by the Washington Post - 12 Yrs that Shook & Shaped Washington: 1963-75 Anacostia Community Museum)

Washington Theatre Club (Photo by the Washington Post – 12 Yrs that Shook & Shaped Washington: 1963-75 Anacostia Community Museum)

By the 1960s, Washington, D.C. had become the focal point for issues plaguing that nation from all sides, with its own internal struggles set as the backdrop for larger crises. The Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum pays tribute to a pivotal period in its history with Twelve Years That Shook and Shaped Washington: 1963–1975, on view now through October 23, 2016.

Guest curated by Marjorie Lightman and William Zeisel, and directed by the late Portia James, the museum’s senior curator, the exhibition chronicles “Chocolate City” as the Civil Rights Movement came to the fore, illustrating how the issue of race is fundamentally woven into the fabric of the nation itself. As Washington became the focal point, the people proved once again that dissent is patriotic. The era was marked by a bold and tireless stand against injustice, as protesters gathered to stand as one, to speak truth to power and shout down the government.

Demonstrators at Poor People's March, 1968 (Smithsonian's Anacostia Community Museum Archives. Photo by Ronald S. Comedy - 12 Yrs that Shook & Shaped Washington: 1963-75 Anacostia Community Museum)

Demonstrators at Poor People’s March, 1968 (Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum Archives. Photo by Ronald S. Comedy – 12 Yrs that Shook & Shaped Washington: 1963-75 Anacostia Community Museum)

Set against a backdrop of change, a cultural revolution was born upon the world’s stage. The prohibitions of 1950s life were met with long hair and free love. As the country went through a period of turbulence that culminated in the resignation of President Richard Nixon, Washington D.C. began to establish itself in its own right.

The exhibition showcases not only national events but significant milestones in local culture, including Mayor Marion Barry’s co-founding  of Youth Pride Inc., official declaration of Hispanic Heritage Day, the establishment of the District’s first gay newspaper The Blade; the opening of the first abortion clinic in the city and the D.C. riots.

Washington Committee Black Power’s Vote mobile, 1967 (Photo courtesy of D.C. Public Library, Washingtoniana Collection - 12 Yrs that Shook & Shaped Washington: 1963-75 Anacostia Community Museum)

Washington Committee Black Power’s Vote mobile, 1967 (Photo courtesy of D.C. Public Library, Washingtoniana Collection – 12 Yrs that Shook & Shaped Washington: 1963-75 Anacostia Community Museum)

The exhibition chronicles how a foundation was laid for Washington D.C. today, a city that has gone through an extensive period of gentrification. The exhibition explores the development of local arts, music, theater and media scene; the ambitious but fractious urban renewal effort; emerging higher-education institutions; and the expanding struggle for the rights of blacks, Latinos, women, gays, and the poor. Taken as a whole, Twelve Years That Shook and Shaped Washington is a masterpiece of modern American history, urban culture, and the on-going fight for freedom and self-determination.


Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.