What Is Alexandria’s Black History
A self-taught mathematician who mapped out the nations capital.
Abolitionist sisters who partnered with Frederick Douglass
The first Black player in the NBA.
What do these have in common? They are all African American changemakers who have shaped the history of Alexandria, VA and the United States.
Alexandria, being a southern town with northern values near the nations capital, makes it a prime location to shape Black history. It was a refuge for Blacks escaping slavery since the city was occupied by Union troops during the Civil War.
Alexandrias African American history includes a vibrant free black population dating back to the 18th century, one of the largest slave trading operations, and America’s first Sit-Down Strike in the early days of the Civil Rights Movement.
WOW! Who knew!?!
During my time in Alexandria, I sought some of this Black history out, as should you!
The Fort African American Community Site
Fort Ward Museum & Historic Site4301 W. Braddock Rd.
Fort Ward protected the nations capital and the vital seaport of Alexandria as one of the largest Union forts in the Civil War Defenses of Washington. After the war, a group of formerly enslaved African Americans bought land here and established a community known as The Fort. Despite facing social and legal inequalities, the residents of The Fort built homes, churches and a school and created a robust community. Beginning in the 1950s, as the City of Alexandria made plans to establish Fort Ward Park and restore the historic fort for the Civil War Centennial, the African American presence faded from view as residents were displaced, buildings demolished and burial sites lost. However, the remains of home foundations, artifacts and grave sites have survived underground. The Oakland Baptist Church stands on King Street as a landmark to the community. Reflect upon this community and learn more from outdoor interpretive markers on the grounds of this 45-acre historic park.
How to Access: Parking is free at Fort Wards dedicated visitor lot.
- Note: Click the door icon on the top left corner of the map to view the list of sites.
Eclectique Things To Do And See
Todays the day I hustle my taxes off to the accountant, but int he meantime here are a few things that are happening this week:The Alexandria African American Museum in Alexandria, VA is hosting the National Endowment for the Humanities traveling exhibit . The Grass Roots are the sweet grass baskets made by African Americans in the Lowcountry of South Carolina. These coiled baskets are made using the same techniques of the enslaved Africans along the southeastern Atlantic coast of the U.S. They used to sell for about $60 $100 over 20 years ago they now sell for $300 $400 and more today. Did I neglect to mention that this is a dying art? The exhibit runs through March 11 and then its back on the road. Theres a $2 admission at the door.Alexandria Black History MuseumPhone: 703-746-4356Open Tuesday through Saturday 10 am 4 pm
Kudos to NEH for packaging such a fantastic feast for the eyes and soul. Heres a prayer published in the brochure credited as Prayer of titled men from Anambra State, Nigeria, August 1966:
And who is going to rememberTo Coninue in the traditionOf the elders?When things were shared out in common,In this town,What belonged to my village,By rightUsed to fill up a big basket.I say Amen to that.
Clayton LeBouef has been organizing and working to recognize Daviss legacy. He will present his play The Sheros Journey: A Livication for Henrietta Vinton Davis at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library Sunday, March 14 at 2 PM.
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See Wrought Knit Labors Legacies At Its New Temporary Location
Image Credit: Laura Hatcher Photography for City of Alexandria
The four ornate figures from Wrought, Knit, Labors, Legacies, by Olalekan Jeyifous, have found a temporary new home at 1609 Cameron Street, following the conclusion of the installations 2020 waterfront tenure. The second of the City of Alexandrias Site See: New Views in Old Town annual public art series frames Alexandrias African American history through the lens of the citys industrial and merchant history from the 17th to 20th centuries. Once a prosperous port city and manufacturing hub home to one of the largest domestic slave trading firms in the country, Alexandrias early economy was inextricably tied to the work of enslaved and free African Americans.
The Legacy Of George Floyd: Documenting Alexandrias Response
Peaceful vigils, protests and other events took place in Alexandria during the first week in June, following the May 25, 2020 death of George Floyd. Recognizing the importance of this moment in history, the Office of Historic Alexandria invites the community to share signs, t-shirts, flyers, photographs, journals, personal stories, and artifacts that document local vigils and protests.
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Black Neighborhoods After The Civil War
Early Black neighborhoods expanded, and new settlements began in the post-bellum period. New settlements included The Hill , Cross Canal , The Hump , and Colored Rosemont south of The Hump and east of the railroad. By 1910, there was almost a continuous band of African American neighborhoods surrounding the citys center and edging Alexandrias boundaries. The early neighborhoods of Uptown and The Berg are still viable 21st century neighborhoods. The historic African American community known as Uptown was designated as the Parker-Gray Historic District in 1984, and in 2008 was approved for listing on the Virginia Landmarks Register. It is expected to join the Old and Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.
After the Civil War, a neighborhood known as The Fort grew up around Fort Ward, one of the Union forts built as part of the Defenses of Washington. But in the 1950s and 1960s, the City displaced the residents to establish the Fort Ward Park and Museum. The City of Alexandria is working on an Interpretive Plan for Fort Ward Park to expand interpretation to include the full range of its history, especially including the African American experience and the post-Civil War Fort community. As part of this effort, archaeological investigations took place in the park between 2009 and 2014.
- The Fort: Out of the Civil War and back again, Out of the Attic, Alexandria Times, May 6, 2021
- ‘Colored Rosemont’, Out of the Attic, Alexandria Times, May 13, 2021
Site Of 1939 Alexandria Library Sit
Police remove sit-in participants from the library. Image Credit: Alexandria Black History Museum
One of Americas early sit-ins was at theAlexandria Library in 1939, organized by African American attorney Samuel Tucker two decades before the Civil Rights movement. Tucker grew up two blocks away from the library but was not allowed to use the public service as an African American. At 26 years old, after passing Virginias bar exam at age 20, Tucker organized a group of young African American men to visit the library to apply for library cards. One by one the young men were turned away, and each time they would sit down with a book and begin to read. The police were called for civil disobedience and the peaceful protest is still remembered today. Audrey Davis, Director of Alexandrias Black History Museum said toThe Washington Post, If he hadnt staged that demonstration, it would have taken far longer before black Alexandrians could use a library card.
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Contrabands And Freedmen Cemetery Memorial
The Memorial, at 1001 S. Washington Street, served as the burial place for about 1,800 African Americans who fled to Alexandria to escape from bondage during the Civil War. The Memorial opened in 2014 to honor the memory of the Freedmen, the hardships they faced, and their contributions to the City.
The Museum at 1315 Duke Street was once the headquarters and holding pen for the largest domestic slave trading firm in the United States. We invite you to visit the museum in this historic reminder of slavery.
A White Historian Explores Race Riots A Free Virtual Lecture
Join us for a free, virtual lecture on Saturday February 12, 2002, 11 a.m., sponsored by the Alexandria Community Remembrance Project. . Violent clashes between large crowds of different races have disturbed the social order in the United States since long before the Civil War. Susan Strasser investigates the term, and a history of racially charged violence that has framed American discussions of race throughout the nations history.
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Wrought Knit Labors Legacies
1609 Cameron Street
Wrought, Knit, Labors, Legacies frames Alexandrias African American history through the lens of the citys industrial and merchant history from the 17th to 20th centuries. Once a prosperous port city and manufacturing hub home to one of the largest domestic slave trading firms in the country, Alexandria and its early economy were inextricably tied to the work of enslaved and free African Americans. See how Brooklyn-based artist Olalekan Jeyifous concept stitches Alexandrias story together in his four ornate metal figures, incorporating symbols that represent Alexandrias merchant and manufacturing history, including factories, tobacco warehouses and railways.
How to access: Street parking is available along Cameron Street, which is one way
Explore 8 Key Sites On A Self
Image Credit: Carol Jean Stalun
Use our eight-site driving tour, created in fall 2020, to explore the African American history that shaped Alexandria and the United States, from D.C.s onetime southern cornerstone laid by Benjamin Banneker to the site of one of the nations earliest sit-ins and more. Find a and parking information for each site so you can linger where you feel moved.
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Painting The Full Picture Freedom House Museum Aims To Reopen In April
Olivia AndersonFebruary 17, 2022
With its purchase of Freedom House several years ago, the City of Alexandria took tangible steps to ensure that its African American history is not forgotten. Now, following a long closure due to the global COVID-19 pandemic and several renovations, the Freedom House Museum is getting ready to reopen its doors.
Although there is not a hard date yet, Alexandria Black History Museum Director Audrey Davis said that the updated museum is tentatively set to open in April.
According to Davis, plans are moving along fairly smoothly, aside from some minor supply chain issues. Staff is currently reviewing proofs of the exhibit design and adding new lighting, paint coatings and an HVAC system.
âWeâre just pulling all these pieces together. Some things have to happen in stages and we have to wait for one part to be done before the next part can move on. Our goal is to open in the spring and weâre keeping our fingers crossed that is still going to happen,â Davis said. âBut we will be open this year. Thatâs our guarantee.â
Located at 1315 Duke St., the Freedom House Museum was once the site of one of the largest domestic slave trading firms in the country. Starting in 1828, Franklin and Armfield began operating out of the building, bringing enslaved people from the Chesapeake Bay area and forcing them to slave markets by foot or ship.
John M Langston Mural
The mural, which can be seen from the newly renamed Langston Boulevard, pays tribute to the man who was Virginias first Black congressional representative, served as the first dean of Howard Universitys law school and the first president of Virginia State University.
The artist, D.C. native Kaliq Crosby, incorporated the places and moments in Arlington’s history of racism and racial progress into the mural. Included are depictions of Freedman’s Village, the segregation of the Hall’s Hill neighborhood and the integration of public schools.
Visit: The mural adorns a wall on the side of swimming store Sport Fair , which was chosen for its location in the historically Black neighborhood of Halls Hill, as well as its visibility from the road.
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Stop By An Integral Site For Legalizing Interracial Marriage
Image Credit: Misha Enriquez for Visit Alexandria
Head to the corner of King and N. Pitt St. in the heart of Old Town Alexandria to find a new mini kiosk commemorating the 1967 Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court decision, which legalized interracial marriage throughout the United States. The law firm Cohen, Hirschkop & Hall represented Mildred and Richard Loving from their former 110 N. Royal St. office, around the corner from the marker. Then, watch the 2016 film Loving, filmed around Virginia, to see their moving and monumental story come to life.
Honor Alexandrias Lynching Victims
Image Credit: Kristian Summerer for Visit Alexandria
Learn the stories and say the names of Alexandrias lynching victims, Joseph McCoy and Benjamin Thomas, honored with remembrance ceremonies in spring and summer of 2020. Permanent markers for their lynching sites near Market Square are in the works from the Alexandria Community Remembrance Project for spring and summer 2021. Joseph McCoy is buried at Penny Hill Cemetery and Benjamin Thomas was reinterred to Douglass Cemetery. Looking ahead, the City plans to claim Alexandrias lynching pillar from the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama.
The Office of Historic Alexandria is a newly accepted member of the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, which connects past struggles to todays movements for human rightsthe citys latest step to remember the past and pursue a more equitable future. In May 2021, the Alexandria Black History Museum will launch a new online exhibition featuring material from the new Black Lives Remembered Collection, in response to George Floyds tragic murder. Learn more and find additional Black history sites to explore here.
Header Images Credits, left to right: Misha Enriquez for Visit Alexandria Instagram user Washington Tribune, August 26, 1939. Courtesy of the Alexandria Black History Museum
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African American Heritage Trail
Alexandrias African American history is told through an online StoryMap and can be experienced in-home on your computer or on your smartphone as you walk the trail along the Potomac River. The walking trail lasts about 45 minutes at a leisurely pace. The webpage presents more in-depth information about the stops highlighted in the StoryMap.
Alexandria Envisions An Expanded Freedom House Museum
Beth LawtonDecember 19, 2019
The City is working to purchase the historic Franklin and Armfield building at 1315 Duke St.
An expansion of the Freedom House Museum and renovations to the historic building it is in are in the works.
Earlier this year, the Northern Virginia Urban League put the historic townhouse at 1315 Duke St. it owns up for sale for $2.1 million, after going through a difficult period keeping up payments on the property, according to The Washington Post.
The townhouse was once the headquarters of the country’s largest slave-trading company, Franklin & Armfield, and the Freedom House Museum is housed in the basement.
Now, the City of Alexandria is planning to purchase the building with City funds for an undisclosed sum, allowing the Northern Virginia Urban League to keep a few offices in the building for five years.
Moving forward, the City has envisioned a partnership with the Commonwealth of Virginia and with private donors to fund the building’s restoration and an expansion of the museum onto the first and second floors of the building.
Gov. Ralph Northam’s recently proposed budget includes $2.443 million to help fund the restoration of the building and renovation and expansion of the Freedom House Museum.
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Frequently Asked Questions And Answers
What are people saying about museums in Alexandria, VA?
This is a review for museums in Alexandria, VA:
“I cannot give a true rating, as of current day 2/25/2022 this museum is closed for RENOVATIONS. They have placed a list on the door of other suggested places that one might want to go to while the Alexandria Black History Museum is undergoing renovations.I was so looking forward to visiting this museum. I am not going to throw my super tourist list away, when I come back to visit this museum should definitely be open.I will update this review once I visit the museum”
Embark On Manumission Tour Companys New Underground Railroad Route
Image Credit: Chris Cruz for Visit Alexandria
Book a spot on Manumission Tour Companys newest route tells the story of enslaved Alexandrians who fled to freedom. The tour is based upon the writings of abolitionist William Still and his 1872 book, The Underground Railroad, which describes the enslaved peopleincluding several from Alexandriawho used the Underground Railroad to escape to freedom through his Philadelphia safe house and on to Canada. This tour covers where in Alexandria they may have lived and worked, when and how they escaped, and who may have helped them. Dont miss the tour companys additional Freedoms Fight in Alexandria and Duke Street Black History routes.
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Black History Month Events & Experiences
Manumission Tour Company Virtual Tour of Local Black History: Freedom’s Fight in AlexandriaFebruary 3, 2022, from 5 to 7 p.m.Admission: Free alexlibraryva.org
Join Manumission Tour Company to travel the streets of historic Old Town Alexandria and hear the little-known stories of Africans and African Americans, both enslaved and freemen, at a time when Alexandria, Virginia was one of early American’s main centers for the international and domestic slave trade. This program will give participants insight into Alexandria’s pre-civil war history of urban slavery, and highlight runaway enslaved individuals, like stepbrothers Oscar and George Ball, free African Americans like Moses Hepburn and early abolitionists, such as pharmacist Edward Stabler, who pushed back against the “Peculiar Institution” of slavery.
Manumission Tour Company curates guided cultural heritage tours designed to highlight Alexandrias extensive African American History. Learn more here.
An Afternoon Lecture with the Equal Justice Initiative February 8, 2022, from 4 to 5 p.m.Admission: Free alexandriava.gov/historic
Attend an afternoon with Trey Walk, project manager with the Equal Justice Initiative . Join the Alexandria Community Remembrance Project to learn more about EJI and the ACRPs work with them to educate Alexandria citizens about Alexandrias two lynchings that occurred in 1897 and 1899.
Storytime with the Alexandria Black History MuseumFebruary 12, 2022, at 10 a.m.Admission: Freealexlibraryva.org