Civil War to Civil Rights
— Downtown Heritage Trail —
"I have a dream."
? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? Martin Luther King, Jr. August 1963
The block-long plaza at 13th and Pennsylvania Avenue just ahead to your left honors civil rights leader Martin Luther King with the name Freedom Plaza. King completed his historic "I Have a Dream" speech in the Willard Hotel adjacent to the plaza, before delivering it to a crowd of 200,000 at the Lincoln Memorial.
Freedom Plaza also recalls Washington's first city planner, Major Pierre L'Enfant, with a partial image of his 1791 plan for the city inscribed on its surface. L'Enfant envisioned Pennsylvania Avenue as a great ceremonial street, the symbolic link between the Capitol (which he called the Congress's House) and the White House (which he called the President's House). Freedom Plaza's Open space reinforces this symbolic connection, despite the fact that the Treasury Building blocks the view of the White House, the site a result of a questionable decision in 1836 by President Andrew Jackson.
Directly across Freedom Plaza is the John A. Wilson Building, home of the government of the District of Columbia. The building was constructed in 1904 when the city was governed by three presidentially appointed commissioners. In 1974, the city regained the elected mayor and city council it had had before the Civil War, the result of a vigorous local campaign for "home rule." The building is named for the late council chair, John A. Wilson, a champion of equal rights for D.C. citizens.
The National Theater whose marquee is visible straight ahead, has presented live theater on this spot since 1835. Rebuilt to meet the tastes of each generation, the historic "Theater of the Presidents" has entertained every First Family since its doors first opened. President Lincoln and his family attended this theater many times, and on the evening of the President's assassination at Ford's Theater, his son, Tad, was attending a performance here.