District Students Uncover Forgotten Black Past at Georgetown Cemetery

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This past summer, a group of D.C. students became historians, anthropologists, researchers and archeologists as they attempted to uncover a forgotten facet of their city.

The middle- and high school students, accompanied by scholars, set out to learn about the lives of the African Americans buried in the pre-civil war era in the woods of Rock Creek Park at Mt. Zion Female Union Band Cemetery in Georgetown.

Meanwhile, they filmed the experience and put together a documentary based on their work. Their finished project entitled, We Are Not Afraid to Make History! (Part I) will premiere at the African-American Civil War Museum in the District on Nov. 12.

The program was produced by a partnership between the Columbia Heights Youth Club and "I SAW! The Experience of Learning in DC." The latter organization aspires to provide community-based education projects for local students through their "Living Images in My World" program, which promotes social wellness and creativity.

While developing We Are Not Afraid, student director and editor Zame Johnson, 15, said he learned a great deal about the little-known site.

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"On the surface, [the area] seems to be to be a bunch of ruins, but it's a lot more than that," he said. "It's like a centerpiece of a community that doesn't exist anymore."

Johnson added that among their many findings, he and the group uncovered the bodies of five African-American Civil War veterans. As a result, he said they aptly decided to premier the film Veterans Day.

In addition to learning about the history of the obscure area, Johnson said they also gleaned a lot of experience in filmmaking.

"We learned the editing process [and] did the preproduction," he said. "Gathering research and data was a [challenge] but it worked out well."

Following the premiere of the film, the students will jump right into producing a second part. Johnson said the upcoming film will delve deeper into the backgrounds of the people they found and will uncover the oral history of the community through descendants and local citizens.

In the end, the students hope that their project will finally shine a light on the little-known area.

"The history has been forgotten," Johnson said. "The old homes of the people of Black Georgetown aren't there anymore. If they are, they are owned by some industrialist. And there's not much there to base anything on."

The film screening of "We Are Not Afraid to Make History! (Part I), will be held on Nov. 12 from 5-6:30 p.m. at the African-American Civil War Museum in Washington DC. For more information, call: 202-508-1444.