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»  Lafayette Square

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An 1859 painting by Eastman Johnson depicting urban slavery.

An 1859 painting by Eastman Johnson depicting urban slavery.
Collection of the New-York Historical Society

The title of "The Half Had Not Been Told Me: African Americans on Lafayette Square" is taken from a Biblical reference Frederick Douglass used to describe the beauty of the new Freedman's Savings Bank and Trust building, once located on Lafayette Square. Douglass compared the experience of seeing the building for the first time to the way the Queen of Sheba, an African queen, felt upon seeing the riches of King Solomon. Douglass wrote, "The whole thing was beautiful. . . I felt like the Queen of Sheba when she saw the riches of Solomon, that 'half had not been told me'."

Lafayette Square—known first as President's Square—is a landscape with a rich and varied African American history. Prior to emancipation, both free and enslaved African Americans lived and worked here. The area has also been home to important institutions, such as the Reconstruction-era Freedman's Savings Bank and the Belasco Theater, one of the few venues in segregated Washington where black entertainers were allowed to perform before desegregated audiences.  And it has been a place where people took a stand—from an enslaved woman who sued Henry Clay for her freedom in 1829 to citizens gathering at St. John's Church in 1963, in preparation for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Just like the riches of King Solomon that Frederick Douglass referred to, the African American history of Lafayette Square is indeed a treasure.