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Discover Arlington’s African American Heritage

African American culture and history are integral parts of the capital region experience.

There is a rich African American history in Arlington, Virginia. The county was the site of Freedman’s Village and is home to historical landmarks, neighborhoods and other important sites. “African American history in Arlington is interwoven into the overall fabric of the County,” says John Liebertz, author of A Guide to the African American Heritage of Arlington County, Virginia.

Freedmans Village Sign
Freedman's Village

Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington National Cemetery is the final resting place for many famous African Americans including U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall; 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.

There are many distinguished African American veterans interred at the cemetery, such as Army Brigadier General Benjamin O. Davis, Sr., the first African American General in the regular Army and in the U.S. Armed Forces, and his son, Air Force General Benjamin O. Davis Jr., commander of the World War II Tuskegee Airmen.

Other noted African American veterans include General Roscoe Robinson, Colonel Charles Young, and Air Force General Daniel (Chappie) James. African Americans who served in the Civil War are buried in sections 27 and 23. Learn more about African American history at Arlington National Cemetery.

Arlington House

In addition to notable gravesites, the cemetery is home to Arlington House, the Greek revival style mansion that was once the home of Robert E. Lee and his family. Visitors can peer into the slave quarters and learn about the experience of the Syphax family, who served the Custis and Lee families and were one of the most influential slave families in Arlington at that time.

Freedman's Village Historical Marker in Arlington, VA
Freedman's Village Historical Marker

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
Freedman's Village Bridge

Green Valley Pharmacy

The Green Valley Pharmacy, 2415 Shirlington Road, opened in 1952 and was the only pharmacy in Arlington that welcomed the black community. The African-American-owned pharmacy, still a pharmacy today, welcomed black and white customers.

Lomax Ame Zion Church And Cemetery Arlington
Lomax A.M.E. Zion Church & Cemetery

The Historical Green Valley Neighborhood and its Churches

The bedrock of Arlington's African-American legacy is in its several strong, historically black communities, such as Green Valley, a neighborhood in South Arlington. Green Valley was settled by free blacks such as Levy and Sarah Ann Jones, who built their homes in 1844, nearly 20 years before the Civil War. The Lomax A.M.E. Zion Church & Cemetery, Mount Zion Baptist Church, Macedonia Baptist Church and Our Lady, Queen of Peace Catholic Church are among the houses of worship with a rich history in the Green Valley community.

Be sure to check out the John Robinson, Jr. Town Square. Designed by notable landscape architect and artist Walter Hood, the space features his art piece titled FREED, an outdoor stage, tables and seating, checkered game tables, casual-use space and more. This vibrant site serves as a community gathering place to connect with neighbors and enjoy events on the stage and learn about the neighborhood's rich heritage.

African American Museums

Arlington also has several museums that recognize African American history. For a dose of local history, stop into the Arlington Historical Museum housed in the Hume School, the oldest school building in Arlington. The Black Heritage Museum shares African American history with exhibits on Freedman’s Village, Virginia public school desegregation, and more.

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)