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Making DC History With a Glittering Night of Awards

A report from the Historical Society of Washington, D.C.’s Making D.C. History Awards ceremony.
Making DC History With a Glittering Night of Awards
Photograph by Jason Hornick.

The Historical Society of Washington, D.C.’s Making D.C. History Awards honor organizations that have helped shape the city’s heritage. Last Thursday the society hosted the fourth-annual ceremony for the awards at the Carnegie Library, where it honored the Association for the Study of African American Life & History, Clyde’s Restaurant Group, the Cassell family, the Hillcrest Children & Family Center, the Ourisman family, and Wagner Roofing.

“We’re making history,” Historical Society executive director John Suau said. “That’s the purpose of the awards. It really brings together a broad spectrum of people and it’s a way to provide that sense of place in DC.”

On Thursday, that sense of place could be seen in the cuisine: A “Shaw” food table offered barbecued chicken sandwiches, mac ’n’ cheese, and vegetarian chili. The “Mt. Vernon Triangle” table had fried rice, glazed eggplant skewers, jicama and green papaya summer rolls, and open-faced banh mi bites. And the “Navy Yard” table provided a fresh traditional raw bar with oysters and clams.

NBC4 anchor Wendy Rieger served as a hilarious emcee, highlighting each honoree with a short video.

The Association for the Study of African American Life & History received the Distinction in Historic Achievement Award for, among other things, creating what is now known as Black History Month. The organization, founded by Dr. Carter G. Woodson, works to “promote, research, preserve, interpret and disseminate information about Black life, history and culture to the global community.” The award is “a great honor,” the association’s executive director, Sylvia Cyrus, said, and “shows that the work of our founder is still important”. “

Clyde’s Restaurant Group was honored for Distinction in Corporate Achievement. John Laytham, who’s co-owned Clydes since 1968, said he was “gratified” to receive the award. “I believe we won an award because we’ve been involved in preserving the history of D.C. restaurants and saving D.C. history,” Laytham said.

Hillcrest Children and Family Center won an award for Distinction in Historic Social Services. CEO Juanita Price says the center aims to “promote mental wellness for children and families” as well as “minimize the stigma of receiving help for mental health.” Price said she feels “ecstatic”: “It’s so great to be recognized for 200 years of service,” she said. “I’ve always thought Hillcrest was remarkable and we serve as a consistent impact on the community”.

Two families were honored as Legacy Families of Washington: multigenerational architects the Cassells, and the Ourismans, of “You always get your way” fame.

The architect Albert I. Cassell is known for his architectural work at Morgan State University as well as Howard University, specifically Howard’s Founder’s Library. He also designed many civic buildings for D.C. and Maryland. Four of his children became architects. Linda Cassell said she believes the award is “the most special recognition” her husband, Charles Cassell, and his father have received. “They’ve always wanted to make things better for their community,” she said. “Many things that exist wouldn’t exist without their fight.”

“In my opinion, what one family does is not that important,” John Ourisman said, “but what the Society does is. It creates a repository of history. We’re one small part of that fabric and we’re grateful that they document D.C.’s history.”

Wagner Roofing, which specializes in restoring historic buildings, including Washington National Cathedral, received the award for Distinction in Historic Preservation. “DC deserves what the Society is doing,” its president, Chuck Wagner, said. “We’ve been fortunate to work in such a great city.”

Midway through the awards presentation, Suau led a moment of silence for prominent DC figures who passed away recently, including Former DC Mayor Marion S. Barry and Gail S. Lowe, senior historian at Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum.

The ceremony ended on a high note, with an auction of priceless art pieces and appreciated donations from the guests. “I want people to understand that we have 122 years’ worth of stuff,” Suau said. “We have to figure out a way to communicate the past for future generations so they can know what has happened and what’s to come.”

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