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Travels To Washington, D.C.

LYSA ALLMAN-BALDWIN | 2/15/2013, 1:50 p.m.
Travels To Washington, D.C.

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Travels To Washington, D.C.

Well, the election and inauguration are over, and Barack Obama is president for the next four years! His tenure was no doubt a wild ride during his first term, and the second promises to be just as "interesting." Time will tell.

But whether the candidates you liked for president, Congress and so forth won or lost, Washington, D.C., is a very historic and fascinating city with fun and exciting things to see, do and experience for visitors from all over the world.

To really understand what the city has to offer today, one must delve into its early history, which has had a profound impact on the development of our nation.

Back in the day

Washington, D.C.--D.C. standing for the District of Columbia--is what is called a unique "federal district," a district that stands alone and is not incorporated as part of any particular state.

Located along what was once undeveloped swampland on the northern bank of the Potomac River, the city is approximately 233 miles from New York City, 142 miles from Philadelphia, 108 miles from Richmond, 94 miles from Dover and 40 miles from Baltimore. Encompassing approximately 61 square miles, it has a population of just over 632,300 people, and if you include the metropolitan area--which includes seven counties in Maryland and five counties and cities in Virginia--that number rises to about 5,476,200 denizens.

The area's early roots date back to the original Native American tribes--the Piscataway and the Susquehannocks among them--followed by Spanish explorers in the mid-to late 1500s, and the British.

Most people probably know that the city, officially founded in 1791 depending on which historical account you follow, was named after President George Washington. But not many are aware that Christopher Columbus is the namesake of the "Columbia" part of "District of Columbia."

The original design of the city was by engineer and architect Pierre Charles L'Enfant, a Frenchman who envisioned a city teeming with distinguished structures, spacious boulevards and other artistic and grandiose details reminiscent of those found in Paris and Versailles. The actual layout of the city was by Benjamin Banneker, a free Black man who was a noted urban planner, scientist, mathematician and publisher, among other talents. Their respective work (which was not done during the same period of time) fashioned the city, resulting in a wide circle or wheel with its streets comprising the many spokes.

Although today's D.C. has spread out from that original concept, it still maintains that founding design and layout and is now divided into four quadrants--Northwest, Northeast, Southeast and Southwest--with the U.S. Capitol building at the center.

Black history in D.C.

As of the 2011 Census, Blacks comprise approximately 51 percent of the population, their presence and influence in the city dating back to the days of slavery. In fact, the city was a major location for slave auctions, which were eventually banned here in 1850, with the practice of owning slaves allowed until early 1862.

But even before slaves were liberated, the city was home to a significant number of free Blacks who held various positions, such as skilled laborers, drivers and entrepreneurs, and settled in and around the city as the metropolitan area continued to grow in both land size and population.