Community Art Archive

Black History Month Murals at The Wharf

In 2021, in honor of Black History Month, The Wharf commissioned window murals featuring portraits of important black figures who made an impact on our neighborhood and on our nation. The murals were created by Southwest DC artist Shawn Perkins (@sptheplug).

Although the temporary artwork has since been taken down, this online photo and history gallery remains to share the artist's inspiration.

Anthony Bowen

Reverend Anthony Bowen (1809-1871) was an iconic community leader in Southwest Washington, DC. He started the first black YMCA, was the first African-American employee of the US Patent Office, and opened his home as an underground railroad station to help enslaved persons on the route to freedom.

In Southwest DC, within a few blocks of The Wharf, he set up a meeting house for free blacks at 7th and D Streets SW, he founded the first free public school for black children (known as the E Street School), and helped establish St. Paul A.M.E. Church on E St SW, where he eventually became a reverend.

Presently, the Anthony Bowen YMCA (at 1325 W St NW) and Amidon-Bowen Elementary School (just a few blocks from The Wharf) are named after Reverend Bowen.

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Marvin Gaye

Marvin Gaye (1939-1984) was a singer, songwriter, and record producer born in Washington, DC. He grew up just a few blocks from The Wharf in the Fairfax Apartments, now-demolished public housing, located at 1617 First Street SW, and attended Randall Junior High School at 65 I St SW.

Mr. Gaye helped to shape the sound of Motown music in the 1960s both as a in-house session player and later as a solo artist. Some of his biggest hits include “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)”, “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”, and “Sexual Healing”. Mr. Gaye was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and was inducted into the R&B Hall of Fame, Songwriters Hall of Fame, and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

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Benjamin Banneker

Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806) was an almanac author, surveyor, landowner, and farmer who, with little to no formal schooling, was self-taught in the sciences, astronomy, mathematics, and natural history. He was a true genius, renaissance man, and thinker, and hand-built his own mechanical clock that worked throughout his life.

In 1791, Mr. Banneker worked with Major Andrew Ellicot to survey the ten-mile square that became the District of Columbia. Banneker’s astronomical work contributed significantly to making the boundaries of the new capital of the United States exact.

Benjamin Banneker Circle next to The Wharf honors this great thinker, and we continue to celebrate his legacy today.

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The Edmonson Sisters

Mary Edmonson (1832-1853) and Emily Edmonson (1835-1895) were abolitionist leaders known for their role in The Pearl escape, the largest recorded nonviolent escape by enslaved persons in the United States.

On April 15, 1848, under the cover of darkness, seventy-seven enslaved persons departed from the wharves on the Southwest Waterfront on a schooner called The Pearl. The group planned to sail 225 miles north to New Jersey to gain freedom. While on the Chesapeake Bay, their passage was slowed by winds running against the ship, leading all aboard to be captured by an armed posse traveling by steamboat. Most of the people aboard were taken to the south and sold into slavery. Freedom for the two Edmonson sisters was purchased that year with funds raised by Henry Ward Beecher’s Plymouth Congregational Church in Brooklyn, NY.

Pearl Street at The Wharf is named in commemoration of the historic escape.

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Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman (born as Araminta Ross in Maryland, c. 1822-1913) was an abolitionist and political activist known for her missions to guide approximately 70 enslaved people to freedom. using a network of antislavery activists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad. Multiple homes and sies in Southwest DC were known to be part of the Underground Railroad, including the home of Anthony Bowen.

During the Civil War, Ms. Tubman, who was known for using disguises and methods to avoid detection, also served as a scout and spy for the Union Army, and later was an activist in the movement for women’s suffrage.

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Mary Jackson

Mary Jackson (1921-2005) was a mathematician and aerospace engineer born in Virginia. In 1958, she became first Black female engineer at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Her research specialty was aerodynamics, including air flow, thrust, and drag on military planes.

The history of Ms. Jackson and her fellow Black female engineer colleagues overcoming discrimination to assist the United States in the space race of the 1950s was popularized in the novel (and movie of the same name) Hidden Figures.

NASA’s headquarters building, located just a few blocks from The Wharf, was recently renamed the Mary W. Jackson NASA Headquarters.

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Chuck Brown

Chuck Brown (1936-2012) was a guitarist, bandleader, and singer known as the “Godfather of Go-Go” due to his influence in the creation of Go-Go music, which is a fusion of many different musical forms, including funk, blues, soul, and salsa.

Mr. Brown and his band, “The Soul Searchers,” developed a laid-back, rhythm-heavy style of funk performed with one song blending into the next in order to keep people on the dance floor. Underneath the performance is a classic Go-Go beat, which Mr. Brown said was adapted from the gospel music beat found in black churches.

Go-Go music was named the official music of Washington, DC in 2019 and Mr. Brown’s top hit, “Bustin’ Loose” remains an iconic DC anthem.

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About the Artist: Shawn Perkins

Shawn Mitchell Perkins is an American artist, whose work is located all around the country. He currently lives in Southwest DC, where he is continuing to make his mark in the nation’s capital. Although he has specialized in graphic design post college, his portfolio ranges from murals in schools, hotels and restaurants, to original works on canvas as well as live painting exhibitions. His trademark is “the Plug” which is a symbol for how he uses his gift as an artist to connect with others.

Follow him on Instagram at @sptheplug.

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