RSOI: Presidents Park (Lafayette Square Underrepresented Communities Ethnohistory)

Request for Letters of Research Interest (LOI)

Title: Presidents Park: Lafayette Square Underrepresented Communities Ethnohistory

Presidents Park (WHHO) in partnership with the National Capital Region Cultural Anthropology Program are interested in producing an Ethnohistory for Lafayette Square. Partners of the National Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Unit Network (CESU: are invited to respond to this request for Letters of Research Interest.

This document will review existing information on park resources traditionally valued by stakeholders. An Ethnohistory is formed using information mostly from archives and publications; interviews with community members and other constituents—often on trips to specific sites— will be incorporated to supply missing data. This study will also identify further research needs.


In accordance with the National Register nomination Lafayette Park refers to the 6.96-acre landscaped area bound by Pennsylvania Avenue, NW; Madison Place, NW; H Street, NW; and Jackson Place, NW.  The term Lafayette Square applies to the entire 47.7-acre composition of park, roadways, and buildings that frame the central open space.  Previous documents have used a variety of terms when referring to Lafayette Park. The park was originally named Lafayette Square in honor of the Marquis de Lafayette during and after his state visit in 1824-1825. The earliest known document to reference and codify the name Lafayette Square dates to December 23, 1834, when the Congressional Record refers to the area as “Lafayette square[sic].”

The terms President’s Park, President’s Square, Lafayette Park, and Lafayette Square have been used, typically implying that the area referenced was known as President’s Park/Square prior to the mid-1820s and after that period as Lafayette Park/Square.  Research has revealed that the term President’s Square most accurately refers to the area that includes the White House; the White House Grounds; the U.S. Department of the Treasury Building; the State, War, and Navy Building (Eisenhower Executive Office Building); the Ellipse; Sherman Park; the First Division Monument; and Lafayette Park.  The term President’s Park was first used to refer to the area set aside by Pierre Charles L’Enfant for the President’s House and surrounding grounds in 1791.

For the purposes of this inquiry the project will include the full area of Lafayette Square and surrounding resources found to have context and visibility from the White House located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.   During the 1790s, Thomas Jefferson authorized the separation of the northern section for a public park.  Over time alterations to the landscape and the extension of Pennsylvania Avenue created “a park for the people.”

Project Purpose

President’s Park, working with the National Capital Region Cultural Anthropology Program, are seeking a partner to aid in preparing an Ethnohistory for  Lafayette Square.  This study of Lafayette Square is funded by donor funds. The Ethnohistory will meet a critical need identified in the NPS Regional Cultural Resource Management (CRM) Needs Assessment by providing a baseline cultural anthropological study to document underrepresented communities to include Native Americans and Pacific Islanders, Hispanic Communities, African American communities, Lesbian, Gay, and Transgender (LGBTQ), and Women.

An Ethnohistory studies continuity and change in a group’s pattern of resource use, demography, and ceremonial life, placing these elements in relation to variables such as neighbors, resource boundaries, and economic, environmental, and political climates as they shift over time.

The Ethnohistory will comply with National Park Service policies and federal mandates. The overall goal is to inform park planning, management, and interpretation. The Ethnohistory is essential for all parks and can serve as the basis for many other studies, as explained in Chapter 10 of the NPS-28: Cultural Resource Management Guideline, per NPS Director’s Order 28. A key goal of the Ethnohistory is to provide baseline ethnographic documentation in a manner that is accessible to park staff, the identified ethnographic groups, researchers, managers, interpreters, educators, and the public as appropriate.

The Ethnohistory will review existing information on park resources. It will identify potential key informants and devise methodology to efficiently capture their beliefs, values and opinions. The Ethnohistory will also describe the dynamics of the group these informants represent. Documentary information for the completion of the Ethnohistory will come mostly from President’s Park archives, publications and online sources. It will be supplemented by interviews with community members and other constituents. Results of studies like these are fully considered in resource management plans, park interpretive or educational programs, and in the day-to-day operations of parks.

Nature of Work Required

Presidents Park is looking for a partner that can conduct and complete an Ethnohistory of the park. Additionally, the partner will work with the park to design appropriate transfer of knowledge activities such as interpretive products to include but not limited to web materials, brochures, exhibits, or waysides. Responses to this LOI should briefly identify the specific capabilities within the CESU partner institution that will allow them to address the needs of the project, including identification of the relevant departments, faculty, students, and resources that will be involved in the project. Response to this LOI should also briefly outline their approach to the project. A proposed budget is not required at this time.

President’s Park and the National Capital Region Cultural Anthropology Program envision the project will:

  1. Provide historic context for understanding communities with historical and traditional associations with/within park boundaries.
  2. Describe cultural meaning and/or significance of WHHO by contemporary communities, describe their beliefs and values regarding WHHO.
  3. Develop management recommendations/recommendations for future work for park wide Ethnographic Overview and Assessment identifying all associated groups.
  4. Provide a meaningful exchange of knowledge and ideas that will enhance scholarly research, while expanding the Park’s and public’s understanding of WHHO.
  5. Identify areas of shared interest or scholarship, and also divergent views of the experience of WHHO.
  6. Identify other areas in which future consultation and cooperation is desired, warranted, or requested.

Project methods should include the review and analysis of existing historical and ethnographic literature and archival documentation, and fieldwork including interviews with key cultural experts from traditionally associated and distinct cultural communities. The project documentation will include preliminary lists and information regarding ethnographic resources located in the park.

The park expects that various themes will arise through the analysis, but anticipates that the ethnographic overview and assessment will explore the following directions:

  1. Native Americans – Identification of historical and contemporary Tribal history, associations, gatherings and demonstrations in this area is relevant to this study. Mobilization during the American Indian Movement in the 1970s addressed identity, culture, spirituality, and independence through legislation.
  2. African Americans – enslaved African Americans in the White House, Decatur House and other contributing resources reveal insight into lifeways, communication, traditions, customs, resistance and experiences of note.  Also the Freedman’s Savings Bank. Underground Railroad: The Square and contributing resources provide further insight into the agency and risk exhibited by freedom seekers who sought to escape bondage. A known example is the 1848 Pearl Affair.
  3. Women’s Suffrage – Among the many important political demonstrations that have taken place at Lafayette Park was a series of early 20th century American Suffrage Movement demonstrations led by Alice Stokes Paul (1885-1977).  The demonstrations contributed to the passage in 1920 of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution giving women the right to vote. The political strategies and methods employed by Paul and the NWP provided a blueprint for civil rights organizations throughout the twentieth century.
  4. Modern Civil Rights – beginning in the 1960 Lafayette Square was a focal point  for demonstrations that took the form of sit-ins, vigils, marches, and prayer meetings; as African Americans fought for jobs, equality, rights, and justice.  Examples of these demonstrations included the Washington Chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) led by Bishop Smallwood Williams and Julius Hobson to protest “Jim Crow” practices in June 1963; demonstrators’ rally to show support for the marchers in Selma, Alabama, after “Bloody Sunday” in March 1965; the rally calling for an end to the Vietnam War led by Coretta Scott King and Dr. Benjamin Spock in June 1967; the Poor People’s March to the park in June 1968; and a fast sponsored by Business Executives Move for Vietnam Peace and Labor for Peace in April 1970.
  5. LGBTQ  –  significant from 1892-1950s, Lafayette Square was a challenging and contested space, the earliest noted arrests as early as 1892 and continuing into the 1940s, historians have argued this park served as symbols of national anxieties. In particular, in 1947 US Park Police launched a “Sex Perversion Elimination Campaign,” which included Lafayette Square in contrast the park later became the location of the Mattachine Society of Washington, DC organized protest of the government’s policy of firing gay employees as “unfit” to serve in the government.
  6. 1st Amendment Rights – Comprehensively the park is symbolic of the basic freedoms understood in what it is to be American due to the proximity to the presidency and to executive power in our democratic republic.  Lafayette Park, the center of the district and its surrounding buildings have been and are a place of residence for prominent public figures, a place where national and international organizations formed and operated, and a place of relaxation and recreation, while at the same time the area has been and remains a premier location for First Amendment demonstrations, large and small.  According to the White House Historical Association the park stands as one of the greatest symbols in American history of the right to assemble and protest.  Suffragists, the Civil Rights Movement, anti-war protesters, nuclear disarmament supporters, pro-life and pro-choice advocates have all been afforded an equal opportunity to voice their concerns.
  7. Commemorative Works – Five statuary groupings commemorating war heroes provide a unifying theme to the park, all five war heroes served in the Revolutionary War. In January 2016, Secretary of the Treasury Jacob J. Lew renamed the Treasury Annex Building the Freedman’s Bank Building to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Freedman’s Bank which once stood on the site where the annex building is now located. Those commemorated include:  Marquis de Lafayette, the Comte de Rochambeau, Baron von Steuben, and Thaddeus Kosciuszko.  Also in association:  Alexander Hamilton and Albert Gallatin. As well as a bench dedicated to Bernard Baruch, advisor to President Woodrow Wilson.  These commemorative works are significant to the making of America and from a contemporary standpoint have served as a place of contemplation, remembrance, and unity in light of international wars, conflict, and tragedy.

Presidents Park substantial involvement with the project will include: providing the cooperator previously collected ethnohistorical and ethnographic studies pertaining to the resources; providing introductions to individuals or groups for their involvement in the project; coordinating and consulting the findings; and aiding the cooperator in producing a report on the project that meets the Secretary of the Interior’s standards.

Project Timeframe

Deadline for responding to this letter of interest is Friday, April 19, 2019.


The research will be directed and overseen by a Principal Investigator (PI). The PI should hold a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology, or other associated field, and should be able to provide a comparable research portfolio.  The researcher must demonstrate significant experience in research, writing, and the timely completion of ethnographic research.


The products from this project will include an Ethnohistory which will include the results of research and documentation of the study. The partner will submit field notes, recordings and images captured during the study to Presidents Park. All field materials will become part of WHHO archives.

Funds Available

Project funds available includes the CESU overhead rate of 17.5 percent. The project will be funded by the National Park Service. Only non-federal partners within the national CESU network are eligible to apply.  The National Park Service is expecting $160,000 for this effort; the scope for the project will be adjusted based upon the funding received.

Letters of Interest

Letters of Interest (LOI) should be sent to the addresses located in the “contact” section. LOI’s will be reviewed by a panel. The panel will select the top candidate(s) who will be asked to provide and submit a full proposal detailing the work to be done, providing and describing the methodology and research design, and outlining a schedule of deliverables.

The LOI should describe your research interest(s) in the projects, past projects that are similar in topic and/or form, and any relevant experience in completing ethnographic projects. Please include your name, affiliated organization(s), and contact information. Please try and limit LOI’s to 2 pages.


Responses of interest should be directed before the closing date to Danny Filer ( Additional questions can be answered by contacting Eola Dance, Regional Cultural Anthropologist, National Capital Region, National Park Service (202-619-7205).

A PDF version of this RSOI is available here