Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Two Stories for the Price of One.

The Charles Sumner School was one of the first schools for African Americans in the District of Columbia. Later, it became the first teaching college for black students. Now it's home to the DCPS archives. It was named for a prominent abolitionist, Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts. Sumner is one of the subjects of David McCullough's book The Greater Journey. Sumner had never been particularly involved in abolitionist activism before; in fact, he seemed to have thought that black people lacked the capacity for anything outside of hard labor. As many young men from England and the US did, Sumner went to Europe to "finish his education" in the late 1830s. While in France he saw black Frenchmen attending medical lectures at the Sorbonne, welcomed amongst the fellow students. He was impressed by their intellect and eagerness to learn, thus countering everything Sumner had been taught to believe about racial inferiority. He returned to the US a few years later and began to fight for abolition and educational opportunities for black people. While a Senator, he enraged Rep. Preston Brooks of South Carolina by speaking out against slavery. Brooks attacked Sumner with a gold-handled cane on the Senate floor until he was unconscious. Other congressmen tried to go to his aid, but another representative from South Carolina pulled out his pistol to prevent anyone intervening. Even after Sumner collapsed, Brooks continued beating him, presumably to kill him, until his cane broke. He was later charged $300 for disorder conduct, and Sumner suffered from physical and psychological damage the rest of his life. And you thought the Congress people we have now are crazy.

Ready for number 2? The building was designed by Adolf Cluss, one of the most successful architects in DC during the mid1800s. Many of his buildings still remain as historic landmarks throughout the city, including the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building and the Eastern Market. Cluss was quite controversial himself. Born in Germany, Cluss became a very early member of the Communist movement, and continued life-long communication with Marx and Engels. Because he popularized architecture that featured large buildings of red brick, DC was for some time called Red Brick City, but it was often said with a tone of sarcasm pointedly aimed at Cluss's political affiliations.


  1. Good post, Lorin. I read the McCullough book last month and thoroughly enjoyed it. And, yes, I DO think today's politicians are crazy. And venal. And self-absorbed. And ill-informed and rarely thoughtful. I could go on, but that's enough.

  2. hahaha It's okay, Jack. I totally agree with you. I'm wondering if we've ever had a worse Congress than the 112th.