A Trip to Chocolate City: Ancestors, Good Friends and an Urban Love Affair

03 Jun
A Trip to Chocolate City: Ancestors, Good Friends and an Urban Love Affair

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I spent a couple days in Washington, D.C. last week and had a good ol’ time.  D.C. is only a hop, a skip and a jump from New York (four hours on Bolt Bus), but I hadn’t actually visited Chocolate City since Obama’s 2009 inauguration. Why? No reason. Just hadn’t gotten around to it.  But I’d been meaning to get down there for a while and finally decided to just buy a ticket and go.  Delightful decision.  *Pats self on back * Here’s a little recap of the awesome bits of my trip. Dig in please…

Those of you who know me for realz or who follow me on Twitter, know that I am a HUGE genealogy geek. One reason that I wanted to get down to the District was to take a picture of my great-great-grandfather’s name on the African American Civil War Memorial.  Mission accomplished. I “found” my great-great-grandfather a couple years ago and discovered that he was a Civil War veteran.  Earlier this year I got his 100-page pension file from the National Archives.

I literally squealed when I got that thing of beauty in the mail.  It felt so real and important to have an ancestor with records in the National Archives. My family. I got those records with the intention of learning more about my ancestor’s life post-war and I did. But, I ended up being completely intrigued by his wife. This woman, my great-great-grandmother, buried her youngest child (a toddler) and then a couple months later buried her husband and was left with 13 children  to raise on the meager salary of a washer woman in rural Kansas.  It took her over a year to get her late husband’s pension, but she finally got it. Talk about strength! Sounds corny, but I literally think about her whenever I’m feeling blah or not wanting to trek to an event because it’s faaaaar or finding it hard to put in that work for a deadline. If she did all of that, surely I can successfully navigate my relatively easy-going life.

As far as my Civil War vet ancestor James H. Stewart, he was also a very special person. Though he was born in the 1830s, he was never a slave. His parents were never slaves. They were free “mulattos” from North Carolina. He was already a free man, but he decided to leave Indiana and go all the way to Massachusetts (55th Regiment) to fight for freedom in the Civil War. That’s a stand-up dude.

When I ran my fingers across his name on the memorial, it wasn’t a particularly emotional thing at the time. I was hot, I had walked from the White House (more on that later) and I knew his name would be there. But later, I thought about the fact that I was likely the only person who had EVER gone to that memorial specifically for his name. This hero, this man who fought for freedom and spent four weeks in a military hospital, has been all but forgotten.  I can’t have that. Part of this genealogy obsession for me is that I want to not only remember my ancestors, but to honor them. I salute them. Their perseverance is the reason that I’m here today. I’ll be writing more in-depth about the whole ancestry thing in the near future.

Another reason I was in D.C. was to kick it with some of my favorite people. I got to hang with a bestie/former college roommate and her guy, a friend I met in NY years ago who now lives in the DMV and another college buddy. Good times, good times. I also met up with an awesome individual who is a potential mentor and definitely someone with whom I want to stay in contact. Cute drinks, good food, great conversation—all of those things were part of the kicking it portion of my trip.

City Love
I love cities. I love studying and experiencing cities. Give me a warm, sunny afternoon and a walkable city and I’ll be one happy woman. That’s exactly what happened in D.C. I stayed at the Washington Hilton on Connecticut Avenue and T Street NW, just a few blocks from Dupont Circle. (Awesome shower, by the way.) I know D.C. can be sketchtastic, so I asked a friend of mine who lives in D.C. if it was a safe for me to walk around that area. His response? “At worst you would have to be worried about being glitter bombed.” Niiiiiiiiice! I was terribly excited about the prospect of being glitter bombed, but sadly it did not happen. Boo.
I did, however, walk around quite a bit. I never took the Metro. I walked everywhere.  Walked from one meet-up to the next. Walked from my White House selfie to the African American Civil War memorial and so on and so forth.  On that walk from the White House to the memorial, I inadvertently came upon a neighborhood that wasn’t quite hood, but hood-ish. Like, the landscape changed from big shiny buildings and people in power suits to liquor stores and check cashing spots and more ummm “interaction” with folks on the street. Your typical light-weight street harassment. Since I live in Harlem, I felt right at home!

One thing I noticed though when I had a solo brunch in my hotel’s vicinity was the whiteness of it all. Chocolate City my ass. I was hella in the vanilla part of town. I was the only chocolate to be found. I’ve read that D.C. is segregated on some metro-Detroit level ish and my little couple days there backed up what I read.  That’s crazy pants. But that’s also part of the reason why I’m interested in digging into D.C. more and getting a handle on that place.

I’ll be back D.C. I’ll be back.


Posted by on June 3, 2013 in Living


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5 responses to “A Trip to Chocolate City: Ancestors, Good Friends and an Urban Love Affair

  1. D. Bell

    June 3, 2013 at 10:23 pm

    Chocolate City is no longer chocolate city. As many of our cities, it is lightening. D.C. is relatively safe. I lived there for grad school and most of the crime only happens in one quadrant of the city. Have to check out Sweet grass next time I am there. Are they black owned?

  2. chmjr2

    June 4, 2013 at 2:16 pm

    I enjoyed reading your blog and learning a little about your Civil War hero grandfather.

  3. Demetria Irwin

    June 5, 2013 at 3:01 am

    @D. Bell, I wasn’t too concerned (I am from Detroit after all), but I did want to know what kind of neighborhood I was walking. I’m not sure if SweetGreen is black owned, but it’s super cute and yummy.

    @chmjr2, Thank you! There are so, so, SO many stories to tell about my Civil War veteran ancestor. I have to figure out how to package it. Thanks for stopping by my little ol’ blog. 🙂

  4. Spiryt

    June 8, 2013 at 12:39 pm

    It’s always interesting to hear other people’s perspective of D.C. I’ve lived in the area for around 7 years and I find that District folk are 100x ruder then NY City folk….did you get that too?

  5. Demetria Irwin

    June 10, 2013 at 9:09 am

    Hi Spiryt!

    I didn’t find people in general to be ruder, but I did find that women in particular were giving me disapproving, up and down looks. I wasn’t wearing a 9-5 power suit or anything (I did have on a cute little dress though) and I think that drew their ire for one reason or another.


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