In historic Anacostia, a Black neighborhood in southeast Washington, DC, there was an old, vacant home with a wide, welcoming porch and floor-to-ceiling windows. I fell in love with it as soon as I saw it. It bore the wounds of neglect and the bruises of age and sat boarded up and forgotten along a partially abandoned block on the matrix of streets that surround Frederick Douglass’ mansion. During the late nineteenth century, he and his second wife, Helen Pitts, lived in the 15-acre estate that sits regally on a mountainous, 50-foot hill and looks down on smaller homes not nearly as grand but still gorgeously vintage.
Douglass called it Cedar Hill, and it became a designated historic site and has been maintained by the National Park Service since 1962, but the others around it deteriorated from years of community disenfranchisement. When the white middle class…
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