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“My brother saw Anacostia one day when he was nine,” Edward P. Jones wrote in the title story of his 2006 collection, All Aunt Hagar’s Children. “The hills, the Anacostia River, the indescribable pleasantness, the way the wind came up over the river as if straight from the cooling mouth of God—and he vowed then that he would live there when he became a man.”
That description of Anacostia half a century ago is not how the Washington, DC, neighborhood is known today. Ask a recent transplant about it and he’ll invoke crime, poverty, and a vague location somewhere beyond the river that divides the city’s prosperous west from its neglected and largely African American east. Ask a realtor, and she’ll say it’s the next hot neighborhood. In between lies an area struggling to stake out its identity in a rapidly changing city.
Some of the finest views of the Capitol are from vantages around Anacostia, but residents look upon the dome with distrust. Congressional Republicans’ moves to overturn local laws, slash the social safety net, and cut federal jobs could hit Anacostia hard. Only 2 percent of residents voted for President Donald Trump, who has bizarrely praised the neighborhood’s most famous former resident, Frederick Douglass, as “somebody who’s done an amazing job.”
Susana Raab’s photo project “The Invisible Wall” depicts the complicated truth of Anacostia and the surrounding impoverished neighborhoods of the city’s southeast corner—a mix of historic buildings and public housing, a bastion of black cultural pride, a place perpetually on the cusp, but of what, exactly, no one is ever quite sure.
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