Listen: The Pearl

This map was never drawn. It had to be memorized. It led the way through early Washington City, where buildings we all know — like the Capitol and the Smithsonian "castle" — were only halfway built. The map led to freedom, to a schooner called The Pearl. It was the escape plan of slaves. Anacostia Unmapped contributor John Johnson has the story.

Photo: "Male adult slave escaping by way of a river" via The New York Public Library Digital Collections

Listen: The Lion and the Map by Kymone Freeman

Anacostia. The Southeast D.C. neighborhood was originally known as "the remainder of the District." And in many ways, that’s how it’s been treated and thought of for years. This spring, WAMU 88.5 presents Anacostia Unmapped, a project that invites people who live and work in the community to take us inside. First up, we introduce one of the project's producers, Kymone Freeman, whose day job is running We Act Radio. He's been thinking about where Anacostia fits on a city map:

So I’m sitting at my desk, having a quiet moment, some tea, at my computer, starting my day. I look into the Great Ward 8 Facebook page and notice a post by DCist about rental rates for one-bedroom apartments in D.C.

There’s a map.

The thread is talking about the prices — $2,000 for that apartment, $3,000 for this. Who can afford that? Not me.

But I look closer at this map; I notice there is no Ward 7 or Ward 8. Anacostia has fallen off the map. East of the River too. But somehow Arlington and Alexandria have found their way into D.C.

And the more I look at that map, the more I think about my favorite teacher — my 9th grade history teacher, Miss Hunter. She introduced me to the racist history of cartography: Traditional maps show Africa smaller and Europe bigger than they actually are.

In fact, Miss Hunter even let us in on a dirty secret. Europe ain't even a continent.

Now, somebody is saying, "'ain't' ain't a word." It is now; it’s in the dictionary. That goes to show you. If you keep telling the same story over and over, somebody will believe you.

So, check the map. Europe is not one massive body of land unto itself. That gave me a different outlook on the world. Changed my perspective. Miss Hunter would always say that most people look at the world like a ship in the ocean; they only see the surface of things. They admire the sunset in the horizon, they weather the brutal winds of the storm, and they rarely if ever venture out into the water, out of fear of what might lurk below.

So having this iconoclastic teacher at such an early age, I developed a highly sophisticated BS detector. I can detect one drop of BS in a million gallons of murky water. So I decided to do something.

I wrote a letter to the editor, associate editor, contributing editor, the Twelve Apostles and three more white people and waited for a response.

Oh, there was a disclaimer on the page. The map came from a blog post by, a real estate company. The omission of Anacostia "was 'nothing deliberate,' but was the first time one of Zumper's designers put together a D.C. map, 'so they drew the boundary at the river.'"

They also said the rental rates for East of the River could be found in the back on the website — in other words, in the colored section.

When I finally did get a response from DCist, it went something like this: “Thanks for the note, everything you outlined is 100 percent correct. I was in a rush and I missed that the map omitted all neighborhoods east of the river. It was a huge mistake on my part. Had I taken the time I wouldn’t have published it. To that end, I messed up here.”

I took his apology. You know, I run an independent radio station, and you can make mistakes. He tried to correct himself. But as for Devin O'Brien — who drew the map — he has not responded. (I still am looking for you, dude.)

Winston Churchill says history is written by the victors. So if you lose, baby you lose. That’s the thinking of the big game hunter. What if that lion on the wall could tell his story? The lion speaks:

"So, I was walking one day in the savanna, and I was about to jump on this sweet gazelle. This fool hunter lets off a shot and scares the gazelle away. I chase the dude and his Masai warrior tour guide hits me with his spear and the hunter took the credit."

That just goes to show you, until the lions have their own historians, only the tales of the hunter will be told. And until we in Anacostia tell our own stories, until we draw our own maps, make displacement-free zones, we’ll be silenced.

This essay was produced by Katie Davis and brought to you by WAMU 88.5 as a part of Finding America, a national initiative produced by AIR, with financial support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Original photograph by Brandon Gatling.