February 18, 2017

Pages from the past: Resurrection City

The NY Times had an article today about Resurrection City:

"Organized by Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference - and led by Ralph Abernathy after Dr. King's assassination - the campaign brought around 3,000 people from all over the country to a spit of land that would soon be drenched by rains, and filled with wooden shanties and varied attempts at utopian do-it-yourself collectivism.

"They called it Resurrection City. It was an urban area taking up 15 acres near the mall's Reflecting Pool.

"The first demonstrators arrived on May 12, 1968, on buses from Mississippi. An architect designed rudimentary tents and wooden structures for temporary residents, and then came a city hall, a general store, a health clinic and a handful of celebrity visitors, including Sidney Poitier, Marlon Brando and Barbra Streisand."

The architect mentioned by the Times was my longtime friend and cartoonist for the DC Gazette - forerunner of the Progressive Review - John Wiebsnson. In fact I rented office space for over two decades from John

For six weeks - between May and June in the tumultuous spring of 1968 - some 2800 members of Martin Luther King Jr's Poor People's Campaign came to the capital to give physical form to the economic programs King was pushing. As I wrote a  few years back:

||| It was an audacious tactical gambit by the leaders of the SCLC, and one which is often thought to have backfired due to a number of overlapping factors. With Dr King's death in April and the urban disturbances that followed, the nation and SCLC were thrown into a state of uncertainty. The leadership of the SCLC fell to King's right-hand man Ralph Abernathy, and with that, the unenviable task of maintaining the momentum of the PPC whilst appeasing the growing factions within his own movement. Ultimately, the task of managing Resurrection City during its six week lifespan would prove to be highly problematic; with the venture being undermined by a combination of poor organization, hesitant leadership and dire weather conditions.

The design of Resurrection City was undertaken by a 'Structures Committee' ; a small group of architects and planners chaired by John Wiebenson.

Wiebenson and his team went about producing designs for a plywood city; one which could be built economically, easily and quickly. The two main designs for Resurrection City were the Family Shelter Unit and the Dormitory Shelter Unit. Each version comprised prefabricated parts, which could be easily assembled by residents in less than an hour to create a simple, compact and weatherproof shelter.||||

Some photos are above.

Wieb also kicked off the efforts to preserve DC's old Post Office building but passed away before the building was taken over by a New York real estate hustler by the name of Trump.

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