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Arlington Spotlights: The Black Heritage Museum of Arlington

Established in 1995, The Black Heritage Museum of Arlington is an institution dedicated to the exposition of African American experiences, leading to, and proceeding from the abolition of slavery in the United States. We sat down with the museum's president, Dr. Scott Edwin Taylor to discuss the origins, mission and future of the Black Heritage Museum of Arlington.

Tell us about the origins of the Black Heritage Museum of Arlington?

The Black Heritage Museum was established in 1995 and was founded by Evelyn Syphax, who was the first African American president of the Arlington Historical Society. She decided she wanted to start this museum because she didn’t see anyone else telling the story of the African American community in Arlington. At the time there were still a lot of people alive who could help tell this story, now we have a few left. Now when people visit I’m able to pass on the stories, because I’ve lived a lot of this myself. I was born and raised in Arlington, and my family has been here since the 1930s. 

What is the mission of the Black Heritage Museum of Arlington?

Our mission is to educate and to be a light on the community with the history that we’re sharing. These stories are not taught in school. I graduated from an Arlington school and I was never taught about Freedman’s Village. One of our biggest goals as well is to be a voice for unsung heroes, people who really need to be talked about because they have a big claim in helping to build this wonderful county.

Can you tell us a bit about the new Black Heritage Museum location?

We’re still on Columbia Pike, we’ve always been here. People who have visited our new location (3045B Columbia Pike) seem to like it. I’ve tried to give it a home feel, almost like walking into an antique store or someone’s house. I want people to feel like it's theirs, to feel at home and of course to keep coming back.

Freedman's Village display

Can you share any challenges the museum has shared over the years?

We’ve been at different locations on Columbia Pike. One of the buildings we were in was sold so we had to move, we were at another location and now we just moved to this one. In two or three years we’ll likely move again. It just shows perseverance because a lot of this happened during the beginning of the pandemic. We were very lucky that our supporters kept up with us. We’re also getting a lot of new people coming in and discovering the museum.

Why do you feel that having this museum is important to the local community?

The community is thirsty for this knowledge. There are those that think it’s not needed, but they don’t understand the reason we have this museum is that these stories aren't being told. When people come here, not only do they find out these untold stories, but they realize it's all interrelated, so it's a connection. That's the wonderful thing, I think it's bringing people together.

Roberta Flack display

What do you hope people take away from visiting the museum?

I hope everyone that comes here gains a sense of belonging. Even if you’ve lived in Arlington for a long time, or have left, I hope you can find something to relate to in the museum. Something that tells you that you really do have a place in Arlington. Everything changes, neighborhoods change, and that’s okay, but history has to remain. It must be told over and over for generations, people need to know. It helps them know their importance.

If you’re an out-of-town visitor, you just find the other side of Arlington. Usually, when people hear about Arlington they think of the National Cemetery but they don’t think about what it took to get there. We’re telling that side of the story. 

What do you envision as the future of the Black Heritage Museum of Arlington?

I want more people to get ahold of this history. I would like to get the story out more that Arlington is a very historical place, even though you may drive through here and not know. We’re here to let you know because it’s very valuable and very important.

Dr. Scott Edwin Taylor, President of The Black Heritage Museum of Arlington

What is one of your favorite places in Arlington that you think visitors should check out?

I would recommend visitors come to one of our historic churches on a Sunday. I would recommend visiting Calloway United Methodist Church, which is in the Halls Hill neighborhood. When you walk in there it's exactly as it was in the 50s. I would encourage visitors to come experience it for themselves.

The Black Heritage Museum of Arlington is open Thursdays 3 – 6 p.m. and Saturdays 2 - 5 p.m. Learn more about the museum by visiting their website here

Author: Paola Fernandez