The Geography of Privilege: The History of the National Mall and Its Excluded Stories

Saturday, January 6, 2018
Atrium (Marriott Wardman Park)
Katherine (Katie) Crawford-Lackey, Middle Tennessee State University
Pierre L’Enfant’s 1791 design of the capital city with its diagonal streets and public parks reflected the prerogatives of the newly established American government- namely, to restore order and security, promote accessibility of public officials, and underscore the authority and power of the newly established Federal Government. Despite its grandeur, L’Enfant’s plan went largely unrealized for well over a century, until the politicians sought to reassert the authority of the capital city in the wake of nation-building efforts. Intended to create a more unified and refined urban center, the resulting redesign of the city (known as the McMillian Plan) cleared the gardens and trees in the center of the city, displaced the once popular Centre Market, and demolished homes of local residents. The communal atmosphere of the city was gradually replaced by a row of monuments which functioned as a national “ceremonial stage” and unified the city’s most important structures - the Washington Monument, Capitol Building, and White House.

The transformation of the Mall area and the surrounding neighborhood allowed powerful members of society to rewrite the more sordid aspects of local history, including the presence of enslaved people at the market, the brothels that lined the Mall, and the unlicensed liquor houses that operated within site of the White House. Not only does current interpretation ignore the history of these underrepresented groups on the Mall, it intentionally rewrites the history of the city that glorifies the white male politicians who displaced these minority groups.

This abstract explores the role of the National Mall in the greater public consciousness and its implications as one of the most contested and symbolic landscapes in American history. The recent inauguration and Million Women March further demonstrates the power of the National Mall as a symbol of power, dissent, and change. Relying on material culture, oral histories, city maps, census records, and existing interpretive programs, I examine how the National Mall was used as a tool to further political agendas, to refine the working-class, and to create social boundaries, and how the layout of space is indicative of larger national trends concerning the role of the Federal Government in the lives of its citizens.

See more of: Poster Session #3
See more of: AHA Sessions