Over one million African people perished in the horrific middle passage from Africa to the Americas during the transatlantic slave trade. Their story of survival and endurance of more than 400 years of brutal slavery overshadows the evidence of their determination to seek freedom by any means possible.
Mary Dines, often called Aunt Mary, was born into slavery in Prince George’s County and sold into servitude in Charles County. She was shown a piece of paper with D.C. on it and remembered traveling there with her mistress. Determined to be free, Dines made her way to D.C., seeking freedom. Buried under bales of hay on a wood-plank wagon, Dines made it across the heavily-guarded Old Navy Yard Bridge from Anacostia into D.C., where her life of freedom started.
Known today as the 11th Street Bridge, the former old Navy Yard Bridge was a route known as Freedom’s Crossing, a pathway from slavery in Maryland to emancipation in the District of Columbia after the abolition of slavery in D.C. in 1862, three years before the Emancipation Proclamation was enacted.
The African Diaspora Ancestral Commemoration Institute, commonly referred to as ADACI, holds an annual commemorative walk in June from Union Temple Baptist Church in Anacostia to the banks of the Anacostia River to give homage to Dines and hundreds of other enslaved ancestors. They found freedom on the other side of the river in D.C.
“We knew the story but we couldn’t get the story told,” explained ADACI’s co-founder Eurica Huggins Axom.
“It is the forgotten and largely unknown history of Black folk in Anacostia. This is a bridge of renewal and resistance and a conduit between time and space,” described C.R. Gibbs, a historian of Black history.
Gibbs would be joined by dozens of ADACI members on June 11 at the annual commemorative walk from Union Temple Baptist Church to the banks of the Anacostia River under the 11th Street Bridge.
This year marked ADACI’s 30th anniversary and included the dedication of a bronze marker installed on the side of the building, forming Phase I of the Anacostia Gateway at the intersection of Good Hope Road and Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE.
Antwayne Ford, co-developer of the Gateway project and president and founder of Enlightened, said he was honored to be asked to install a plaque depicting the history of ADACI’s commemorative walk on the side building.
“Here I am, a native Washingtonian, raised in Condon Terrace, who was asked to put a piece of history on my building. I didn’t need to ask anyone; I knew I was going to put this on my building,” Ford told the gathering.
Enlightened Inc. is an award-winning Black-owned information technology and cybersecurity firm. The company relocated to Anacostia last year, bringing nearly 150 District-based employees to its new headquarters in historic Anacostia.
“When I look at the hands pushing us for it, it shows me that the ancestors knew what would happen if they just survived. We need to make sure people come to Anacostia to see this place of greatness. I knew I wanted to be a part of this,” Ford said.
A photograph taken by iconic photographer, graphic designer and videographer Zama Cook was used to etch the story of the ADACI walk on the bronze plaque purchased by Ford and Lafayette Barnes, owner of Zulu Global Enterprise, a global partnership company.
“This bronze plaque will be here for eternity,” Barnes said. “It will serve as a marker for our children to see as a symbol of Black people telling our story.”
“I want to see more of these markers across this city,” Barnes added. “If we don’t do it to commemorate our history and our story, who will?”
Eureka Huggins described the ADACI logo as a symbol created “over a week of fasting and praying,” she said. It includes a bowl representing the womb of the Black woman, the Atlantic Ocean, the hands coming out of the ocean and other symbols that “represent a powerful depiction of the hope of the ancestors.”
Dressed in white, the group held a traditional African ceremony in front of the plaque and later proceeded to the Anacostia River for a Spiritual Healing and Renewal Ceremony that included traditional African drumming and dancing. Glass stones were thrown into the river under the 11th Street Bridge to commemorate the African ancestors lost during the Middle Passage.