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Discover Arlington’s African American Heritage

African American heritage in Arlington comes alive at historic landmarks, museums and neighborhoods that tell the story of Black history.

African Americans have always played a key role in Arlington County’s history and are an integral part of our shared story. Virginia, itself, is home to the longest continuous experience of African American culture and life in the United States, dating to 1619 when the first Africans were involuntarily brought to the shores of Historic Jamestowne.

Today, you can explore the following places to learn about the rich proud heritage of the Black experience in Arlington and the struggle for civil rights.

Black Heritage Museum of Arlington

At the Black Heritage Museum of Arlington, learn about the African American journey from slavery to freedom via exhibits, a monthly lecture series, an oral history program, a walking tour brochure, educational programs and more. The museum was created in 1998 to illustrate the African American experience pre- and post-slavery in the United States. 

Black Heritage Museum of Arlington

Freedman’s Village

The museum’s star attraction is a fascinating model of Freedman’s Village, which depicts an African American community created on the grounds of Arlington National Cemetery during the Civil War to provide housing and social services for emancipated formerly enslaved people.

Arlington’s first free neighborhood, the village evolved into a unique and thriving community with schools, hospitals, churches and social services. Living at Freedman's Village was the first experience of a life out of bondage for thousands of African Americans, including some of the enslaved people who formerly lived and labored on the estate.

While intended to be temporary, the community survived long after the Civil War, thriving for 37 years — from 1863 until 1900 — and sowing the seeds for Arlington's African American community. This lasting legacy connects Arlington National Cemetery to the national history of slavery and emancipation.

Freedmans Village Informational Sign found in Arlington VA
Freedman's Village

Freedman's Village Bridge

The Washington Boulevard bridge over Columbia Pike is named Freedman's Village Bridge, honoring the story of the village of former slaves established by the government during the Civil War era. Eager and hardworking residents established businesses and institutions that resulted in community longevity. The site of Freedman’s Village is now located within Arlington National Cemetery.

Freedmans Village Bridge in Arlington VA
Freedman's Village Bridge

Arlington National Cemetery

African Americans have been connected to the nation’s cemetery since its origins as a plantation. Today’s gravesites and memorials honor the dedication and sacrifice of African American service members who served their country and fought for racial justice. Using a cemetery map, you can visit the graves of notable African Americans like Thurgood Marshall, Joe Louis and Medgar Evers as well as Blacks who served in the Civil War in Section 27. Or you can take walking tours related to African American “firsts,” African American military heroes, and segregation and civil rights.

The cemetery also contains the remains of almost 4,000 former enslaved people who lived in Freedman’s Village and were buried there when they died. You can learn about the lives of enslaved people who resided at Arlington House, the former plantation home of Robert E. Lee, in their restored quarters. The model of Freedman’s Village from the Black Heritage Museum is part of a cosponsored exhibit on slave life at Arlington House.

Penrose Historic District

The Penrose Historic District is a planned community that was settled at one time by large numbers of African Americans, many from Freedman’s Village. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

Green Valley Pharmacy

One of Arlington’s oldest African American communities, Green Valley was settled by free African Americans, Levi and Sarah Ann Jones, who built homes in 1844, nearly 20 years before the Civil War. They sold lots to other free Black families, creating a tightly knit neighborhood, which expanded into a thriving business community. Notable sights include the first Black-owned pharmacy in Arlington, Green Valley Pharmacy; the Lomax African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, one of Arlington’s oldest continuous Black churches; and parks such as Fort Barnard Heights Park, Fort Barnard Park, Jennie Dean Park and Nauck Park. The revitalized John Robinson, Jr. Town Square, named for a local Black community activist, anchors the neighborhood.

Exterior of the Lomax A.M.E. Zion Church And Cemetery Arlington VA
Lomax A.M.E. Zion Church & Cemetery

Charles Drew House

The Charles Drew House commemorates the contributions to medicine of the African American physician and father of the blood bank. A historical marker is visible outside Dr. Drew’s childhood home, which is now a National Historic Landmark.

Benjamin Banneker Boundary Stone

In Benjamin Banneker Park, check out the 1791 boundary stone used by the noted Black surveyor, inventor and scientist to mark Washington, DC’s original boundaries.

Boundary Stone via @ohad on Instagram

Hall’s Hill

In Hall’s Hill, a formerly segregated African American community dating to 1866, you can take a History Walking Tour featuring a Segregation Wall, which once separated Black and white neighborhoods. You can pay your respects at Calloway Cemetery, a historic resting place for 19th-century freed enslaved people. You can stop at Fire Station 8, the first Black-staffed and -operated fire station south of the Mason-Dixon line, dating to 1918. And you can admire the John M. Langston Mural, which pays tribute to Virginia’s first Black congressman. The artist included depictions of Freedman's Village, the segregation of the Hall's Hill neighborhood and the integration of public schools in the work.

Virginia’s First Integrated Public School

Arlington also claims the first public school in Virginia to desegregate, Stratford Junior High School, on Feb. 2, 1959. The four students to integrate the school were Hall’s Hill community members.

Your Gateway to the Region’s African American History

Arlington also is the perfect home base to journey through the lens of the African American experience throughout the region. Visit the nearby sites in Washington, DC such as the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture located steps from where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech during the March on Washington. Head to Alexandria to visit George Washington’s Mount Vernon where you will learn about the first president’s farm and the enslaved workers who operated it.

Find out more about African American history in Arlington with A Guide to the African American Heritage of Arlington County, Virginia or get these books from bookstores today:

Header Photo: Four African-American children leave Stratford Junior High School in Arlington, Virginia on Feb. 2, 1959, after their first day at the previously all-white school. The African-American children, from left, are Michael Jones, Gloria Thompson, Lance Newman and Ronald Deskins. They walked to the border of the school grounds where an auto waited for them. (AP Photo/Byron Rollins)