National Trust for Historic Preservation

The 15th Point Project

About the 15th Point

President Woodrow Wilson House recently embarked on a new interpretation project to broaden the narrative it presents. The project, The 15th Point: African American Messages in Music in Response to Wilson’s Racial Policies, explored African American political and social response to the Wilson administration’s segregation of the federal workforce through the lens and rise of the iconic music of the era, especially ragtime and jazz.

Artist in Residence Davey Yarborough

Distinguished Artist-in-Residence Davey Yarborough

The Wilson House was honored to partner with Davey Yarborough, an award-winning, international performer and educator onsite at the Wilson House. During his residency, Mr. Yarborough developed a musical program that ultimately was presented at a public performance at the Wilson House in September 2018. Mr. Yarborough also mentored several student-musicians in the study of the music and its history.With his expertise and his colleagues, he brought special insight into important figures and musicians in ragtime and jazz history and how music was and can be a method of political dissent.

 

 

Maurice Jackson at the 15th Point Workshop for Students

Joining Generations | Student Music & History Workshop | September 22

The Wilson House hosted a highly successful workshop for promising high school and university student-musicians and writers. Students from the Sitar Arts Center and the Washington Jazz Arts Institute were mentored by distinguished musicians and experts in early 20th century African American music and its history.

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Participants explored the role of African American musicians and the development of music styles, effective political and social messages of the era, and the role of African American music during World War I.  Students were given opportunities to create music with their peers under the guidance of the experts.  Workshop leaders educated students around the messages of musicians being worthy of study and an important element of creative activism.

A Vintage-Inspired Evening of African American Music and History | September 22 | 6 pm – 9 pm

An evening mixer and program for 15th Point participants, the public, and the media, this well-attended, lively event featured a VIP event, Special Conversations with History and Music Legends, and a powerful presentation and performance by Davey Yarborough’s student-musicians, inspired by African American resistance music and its history in Wilson’s era.

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Davey unveiled his original arrangement, performed by the student musicians that transported audiences through a continuum of African American music from ragtime and jazz to other styles such as blues and go-go.  Holding this important evening at the Wilson House was vital for audiences to better integrate the stories and policies of 100 years ago, as was our work of connecting young performers with African American living legends and the legends and the full history of the past.

Expert Advisors

Wilson House staff and the Artist-in-Residence Davey Yarborough collaborated with an Advisory Group comprised of musicians and experts in the fields of African American music history and Wilson-era history. The group included subject matter scholars, representatives from Sitar Arts Center and the Washington Jazz Arts Institute, the project’s arts education and performance organization partners, community leaders and elders, and Wilson House Council members.

Community Dialogues

From July - September, the Wilson House staff hosted several small-group dialogues and interviews with African American community leaders to inform the 15th Point project and how African American history and culture is presented at the site. The participants were specialists in the fields of history, education, music and the arts and shared their experiences, perceptions, needs, connections, as well as the ideas of the African American communities they represent.

15th Point and African American History Tours

Through September special 15th Point tours can be arranged that focus on the work of the project.  In October the Wilson House will introduce new tours integrating African American history and culture into the visitor experience by highlighting topics explored in the 15th Point project. The Wilson House collection is also being mined for new objects to display that contribute to a reimagined interpretation of African American history and culture at the site.

Beyond the 15th Point | New Interpretation & Ongoing Exchange

The 15th Point project officially closed in late October, and the Wilson House is developing new interpretative approaches and programs incorporating the advice of our experts, the work of the Artist, the insight from the students and community leaders, and the history around the relationship of Wilson and African Americans. This new interpretation integrates the learning from the project about African American stories and achievements and fosters a strong pattern of African American references, stories, history, and programs at the site. A summary of our experiences will be available to the public, and Wilson House will continue to contribute space and facilitation for important dialogue, connections, collaborations and performances around the topics reflected in the 15th Point.

 

This project was funded by a grant from the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund of the National Trust for Historic Preservation with support from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

The 15th Point alludes to Wilson’s famous 14 Points of Peace and to African American journalist William Monroe Trotter’s proposal to Wilson of an additional point that would be needed to ensure lasting peace. Trotter’s 15th Point would have “abolished racial policies in all nations” including those in the United States such as Jim Crow laws. This project brought history to life through musical and spoken word performances by emerging young talent inspired by elements of African American cultural life in the time of President Wilson.