History attractions prepare for inaugural in DC

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... Some unique sites are in the middle of Washington yet off the beaten path for most tourists. One example, the Decatur House museum, was the first neighbor of the White House built on Lafayette Square in 1818. The house, once an unofficial residence for secretaries of state, includes slave quarters within steps of the White House - though they usually go unnoticed amid the hustle of the city.

"It's a sensitive subject. It's an important subject, though," museum director Cindi Malinick said of an exhibit on black history in the White House neighborhood. "The more we discuss it and discuss ... how these people lived and worked and got through their lives, I think the better off we all will be as a society."

Decatur House, now administered by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, holds one of the few remaining examples of urban slavery in the United States, Malinick said.

It was there that 15 members of the King and Williams families lived together in three rooms on the second floor of a building located behind the red-brick house. They were considered the property of John Gadsby, owner of the National Hotel in the 1800s. Gadsby was said to have made a fortune in the slave trade.

A 2002 renovation uncovered the original floor, walls and fireplaces of the slave quarters, which are on view in the exhibit, "The Half Had Not Been Told Me: African Americans on Lafayette Square." The title of the exhibit is drawn from a Frederick Douglass quote; the show remains on view through at least March. Reservations are recommended for the $5 tour. "Certainly, given the magnitude of the new president that's coming, this is a really special place," Malinick said.
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