“Douglass would play baseball with the children” [undated interview with “Mrs. Garnet C. Wilkinson”]

Anacostia Story _ Exhibit Records _ Box 217 [Accessed, 7.25.2014] _ Courtesy of Anacostia Community Museum

Anacostia Story _ Exhibit Records _ Box 217 [Accessed, 7.25.2014] _ Courtesy of Anacostia Community Museum

In researching the upcoming Death and Life of Old Anacostia I have had the chance to review the exhibit records for The Anacostia Story: 1608 – 1930. Last Friday I reviewed Box 217 which is replete with Douglass references. Here’s one particular item that caught my attention which appears to be an early draft of The Anacostia Story.

“One of the few prominent black families recorded as living in Uniontown was the Wilkinsons. Mrs. Garnet C. Wilkinson, the widow of an early black school administrator, recalls her husband describing Frederick Douglass and his estate. ‘My husband’s family lived on the street which the Douglass home fronts (W Street) and Douglass would play baseball with the children. Mr. Wilkinson was a clerk in the Pension Office and very political and he and Mr. Douglass would argue about current events.'”

Questions / Comments:

What is the source of this quote? I could not determine its origins in reviewing the draft. It’s not from a story in the Star or Post.

Garnet C. Wilkinson “presided for nearly 40 years over of Negro Division of the Washington public schools before desegregation,” according to his obituary in the Washington Post on 29 January, 1969. The same article said that Wilkinson moved to Washington from South Carolina when he was 8. If he was born in 1879, this means he moved to Washington by 1886 or 1887. In the 1887 Washington City Directory there is a “Wilkinson” on Nichols Avenue and another “Wilkinson” listed as living in Hillsdale. Could this have been the family of Garnet C. Wilkinson?

If this is, in fact, taken from Mrs. Garnet C. Wilkinson, she died in June 1942 while her husband was still living. Wilkinson remarried. Is this from Wilkinson’s second wife? When was it taken?

In early February 1978, the DC Public Library system opened the Garnet C. Wilkinson Branch inside the elementary school with the same name. Wilkinson had been a member of the Library’s Board of Trustees from 1959 – 1965. At the event, according to the Washington Post, Caroline Wilkinson, the widow of the honored, spoke. This timeline is consistent with what looks to be an oral interview taken from Caroline Wilkinson in the 1970s.

When Douglass died in 1895, Wilkinson couldn’t have been much more than 16 years old. How could he have been a clerk in the Pension Office at such a young age?

Lastly, it appears that Garnet C. Wilkinson helped to make a “pilgrimage” to the Douglass home by students from the city’s division of colored schools an annual event.

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