'I Too Am America'

Explore Arlington's historical narrative of resiliency and triumph over the oppression of American slavery. Uplift.

Arlington, Virginia offers its own clarion call to remember a historical legacy, from the slaves who built Arlington House one brick at a time to the proprietors of the Fireside Inn. In 1880, African American travelers couldn’t stay at other area accommodations because of discrimination. The Fireside Inn welcomed travelers and provided a restaurant and lodging in the county where African Americans represented some 90 percent of the population. The original house is still visible on South Second Street, a testament to African Americans’ proud heritage in Arlington where true hospitality is an honored tradition.

Arlington is the perfect home base to explore what it means to be an American: Journey through the lens of the African American experience by visiting the nearby Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. And bring remembrance alive for yourself and future generations by visiting Arlington’s historic landmarks and neighborhoods.

  • Peer inside the actual slave quarters at Arlington House. Servants of the Custis and Lee family lived within the rough stucco walls of these restored Greek Revival-style buildings. Learn how servant Maria Syphax connects one African-American family and their descendants to the very foundation of the United States.
  • U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Also buried there are Matthew Alexander Henson; co-discoverer of the North Pole; Medgar Evers and Allard Lowenstein, slain civil-rights leaders; and Joe Louis, legendary world heavyweight boxing champion. James Parks, former Custis slave and Arlington Cemetery worker, was the first African American to be buried there in a marked grave.
  • The federal government designated land, Freedman’s Village, to temporarily assist former slaves to adjust to emancipation, and eager and hardworking residents established businesses and institutions that gave the community longevity. The federal government then reclaimed the land now located within Arlington National Cemetery.
  • See original stone boundary markers at Arlington's Benjamin Banneker Park placed by the legendary surveyor himself, from the time that Arlington was part of the federal capital.
  • Dr. Charles R. Drew Family Home, at 2505 First Street South, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Drew’s pioneering medical research was the basis of blood transfusions, and his innovations saved countless lives during World War II.
  • The bedrock of Arlington's African-American legacy is in its several strong, historically black communities, such as "Nauck," a neighborhood in South Arlington. Settled by free blacks such as Levy and Sarah Ann Jones, they built their homes in 1844, nearly 20 years before the Civil War. They, in turn, began selling lots to other free black families such as Solomon Thompson, William Rowe and the Peyton family, thus sowing the seeds of a community primed to blossom even more fully in the wake of the Civil War.

Jim Byers contributed to this article.

Author: Kathleen Murphy

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