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.
Places to Visit
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.
In addition to notable grave sites, the cemetery is home to Arlington House, the Greek revival style mansion that was once the home of Robert E. Lee and his family. The historic site is currently undergoing renovations to improve the visitor experience and will reopen in the fall of 2019. Visitors will able to 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.
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.
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.
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.
If you are visiting Arlington later on, you might get to see the new Green Valley Town Square, which is under construction and projected to finish in 2020. This vibrant site will serve as a community gathering place and tell part of the history of the Green Valley neighborhood. The project will feature walkways, trees, public art, and historical markers.
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.