With just nine days left in Black History Month, we wanted to take the time to offer insight into the best places in Alexandria to learn about African American history.
On our tours, we speak about the Civil Rights Movement in Alexandria, the role of slavery in the town’s past, and pioneering African Americans like Harriet Jacobs who advocated for African American refugees in Alexandria during the Civil War. Our tours only scrape the surface of what there is to learn about African American history in Old Town and we wanted to offer some other alternatives for the history lovers out there.
Stop one: Freedom House Museum. The Freedom House Museum occupies one of the country’s most infamous slave trade offices: Franklin and Armfield. In the 1830s, the Franklin and Armfield Slave Trade Office was the largest in the country and primarily conducted business with slave traders from Mississippi and New Orleans. Today, part of the main building that housed the slave trade office has been converted into the Freedom House Museum. The museum is open to visitors on Saturday and Sunday afternoons from 1-5pm. https://www.alexandriava.gov/FreedomHouse
Stop Two: Alexandria Black History Museum. Alexandria’s Black History Museum is located on 902 Wythe Street and contains a fantastic exhibit about the city’s African American history. The Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10am to 4pm. https://www.alexandriava.gov/historic/blackhistory/default.aspx?id=37378
Popular Landmarks: The first two stops we mentioned were museums, but throughout Alexandria, you can stop by plaques and monuments that mark important sites of African American history. Here are a few we recommend:
– Alexandria Library Sit-in (near Queen st. and N. Washington St.): Site of the famous 1939 library sit-in inspired by Lawyer Samuel Tucker to protest the segregation of Alexandria’s African American residents from the local library.
– Toussaint l’Ouverture Hospital (near the intersection of Prince St. and S. Payne St.): Location of the hospital built in Feb. 1864 for African American troops fighting for the Union Army and other formerly enslaved persons known under a separate status as “contraband” during the Civil War.
– Freedmen and Contrabands Cemetery (1001 S. Washington St.): Served as the burial ground for Alexandria’s surging African American population during the Civil War, particularly for soldiers who were reinterred in 1865 at Alexandria National Cemetery. After suffering damage after the war from nearby construction projects and businesses, a memorial was placed on the site and commemorated on September 6, 2014.
– Alfred Street Baptist Church (301 S. Alfred St.): Earliest African American congregation in Alexandria that dates back to the early nineteenth century.
– The Edmonson Sisters Statue (1701 Duke St): Mary and Emily Edmonson were two women who escaped slavery after being held in Alexandria for a period of time. They joined the abolitionist movement after they were free. A statue commemorates their story in what is now called Edmonson Plaza.
If you have the extra time after visiting Alexandria, we recommend taking a short fifteen-minute drive over to Mount Vernon where you’ll be able to catch one of the best local exhibits we’ve seen in years. “Lives Bound Together” tells the story of slavery at George Washington’s Mount Vernon by using objects, shadow projections, and oral testimonies to show the perspectives of enslaved persons who have formerly had little voice at the Mount Vernon Estate. https://www.mountvernon.org/plan-your-visit/calendar/exhibitions/lives-bound-together-slavery-at-george-washingtons-mount-vernon/.
If you tap out on history, we recommend some shopping therapy at Harambee Booksellers (https://harambeebooks.org/) on 1132 Prince St followed by a glass of wine at a nearby local wine bar La Fromagerie (http://www.lafromagerieonline.com/ ).
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