African American Historical Sights in Arlington and the Capital Region
African Americans have always played, and continue to play, a key role in the development and formation of Arlington County and are an integral part of our shared story. Explore these historic sights to learn about the Black experience in Arlington and across the capital region.
The Black Heritage Museum of Arlington
The Black Heritage Museum of Arlington, Virginia was established to preserve, catalog, and display items related to the Black history of Arlington County and the surrounding area. The museum was created in 1998 to illustrate the African American experience pre- and post-slavery in the United States. The physical museum, with its focal point Freedman’s Village exhibit, is currently closed to the public due to COVID-19.
Visit: The Black Heritage Museum will be launching a pop-up location in early-mid 2021, but visitors can see its vast collection of historical materials and information online.
In June of 1863, on the grounds of the federally confiscated Custis Arlington estate (today's Arlington National Cemetery), the U.S. government established Freedman's Village as a temporary wartime refuge for emancipated and fugitive ("contraband") slaves. The settlement evolved into a unique and thriving community with hospitals, churches, schools, and social services. While intended to be temporary, the community remained on the land from 1863 until 1900.
Created during the COVID-19 pandemic and expanding into an online/in-person visitor experience in the new year is Arlington National Cemetery’s new Education Program, which tells stories of the African American experience. Full lesson plans describe the nation’s history through the unique lens of the cemetery and some of the notable figures laid to rest there. One particularly notable figure, Charles Syphax, supervised the Arlington House dining room and was the unofficial leader of the Arlington enslaved community during the 1800s. His wife, Maria Carter Syphax, was given her freedom and a 17-acre plot of land in 1826. The influential Syphax family has held positions of leadership in the business and community life of Arlington County from 1802 until the present day.
Visit: The cemetery is currently open to the public, for a limited experience via tram tour. Currently, the best way to learn about African American heritage is through the cemetery’s online resources, lesson plans and walking tours, which may be used either during an in-person visit or for virtual exploration of this national treasure.
Visit: With a major renovation expected to be completed by summer 2021, the Green Valley Town Square is being named for civic activist John Robinson, Jr. Robinson (often called the “Mayor of Green Valley”) who fought for decades against racial injustice and inequality in Northern Virginia. It is currently undergoing a major renovation to include a village center, public art, and creative enhancements. Renowned California-based artist, Walter Hood, is designing the new plaza. The new town square will reflect the Green Valley community and tell the story of its heritage.
Charles Drew House
The modern-day blood bank resulted from the groundbreaking research of a young African American physician and Arlington resident, Dr. Charles R. Drew. A historical marker commemorating his contributions to the medical field is located outside of his childhood home on 1st Street South in Arlington.
Visit: Since the home became a national historical landmark, visitors can stop by 1st Street South to view the house from the outside and read the historical marker.
This boundary stone is one of the markers along the original perimeter of Washington, D.C. Benjamin Banneker was a humanitarian, mathematician, inventor, surveyor and astronomer, in addition to many other areas of expertise. The east side of the stone is engraved with "Virginia," and the north side is engraved with "1791," the year Banneker surveyed the city.
Visit: The boundary marker is located in Benjamin Banneker Park, surrounded by an iron fence. The newly renovated grassy park features a soothing stream, picnic areas, and access to trails such as Four Mile Run. Check the park’s website for current hours of operation.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C., honors Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy and America's Civil Rights Movement. The memorial itself covers four acres and includes the Stone of Hope, a granite statue of the Civil Rights Movement leader carved by sculptor Lei Yixin.
Visit: Located in West Potomac Park off of Independence Avenue near the western side of the Tidal Basin, the memorial is best reached from Arlington via the region's Metrorail system (Orange/Blue/Silver Lines) at the Smithsonian station.
Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture
The striking Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) is designed to tell the complex story of perseverance and achievement of African Americans. The 400,000 square-foot museum features intricate three-tiered bronze-colored panels on the outside and 12 exhibits inside organized by history, culture, and community. The exhibitions were created to transform a visitor’s understanding of American history and culture.
Visit: NMAAHC is temporarily closed to the public due to COVID-19 precautions. As an alternative, the museum has an extensive range of virtual exhibitions and digital resources to explore.
U Street Neighborhood
Washington D.C.’s U Street neighborhood is a hub of African American culture, dining, and nightlife. The iconic neighborhood is the birthplace of jazz legend, Duke Ellington and home to the Lincoln Theater, where he regularly performed. Visit U Street for flavorful restaurants, late-night dancing, must-see murals, and a unique, community-led drum circle.
After a three-and-a-half-year renovation, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library re-opened in November 2020. The library features iconic artwork, including the Martin Luther King, Jr. Mural, and the grand reading-room ceiling designed by Xenobia Bailey.
Visit: The library is currently open for limited takeout service, but anyone can see and explore the library from the comfort of their own home with the library's 360-degree virtual tour.
Loving vs. Virginia Kiosk
The landmark case of Loving v. Virginia was handled by the Alexandrian law office of Bernard Cohen and Philip Hirschkop. Mildred and Richard Loving had sued the Commonwealth of Virginia for its ban on interracial marriage, resulting in the Supreme Court unanimously removing the ban nationwide.
Visit: A historical installation commemorating the historic decision is located near the old office on the corner of King and North Pitt Street.
Edmonson Sisters Statues
The Edmonson sisters, Mary and Emily, attempted to escape slavery near Washington, D.C. at the ages of 13 and 15. After being captured and sent to the South, their father purchased their freedom and they returned to Alexandria.
Visit: A beautiful statue of the Edmonson sisters pays tribute to their courage at the corner of Duke Street and Reinekers Lane.
African American Heritage Park
The beautifully designed African American Heritage park features memorial sculptures by Washington, D.C. – based sculptor Jerome Meadows. The main sculpture is a collection of bronze trees called “Truths That Rise from the Roots Remembered.” The park pays tribute to the contributions African Americans have made to Alexandria throughout history.
Visit: The park is open from dawn until dusk and is located just south of Duke Street. Visitors can also tour the park virtually here.