9 Places to Learn About Black History In & Near the DMV

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During the month of February, we are celebrating the stories and lives of Black Americans during Black History Month. While we strive to honor and acknowledge Black contributions every day, this is a special time to reflect and appreciate the accomplishments and voices that have been historically under represented (or absent!) in history books. Whether you’re looking to take a Black History walk (or drive) or you’d like to spend a thoughtful afternoon with a hands-on history lesson, here are some places where you can brush up on Black history in the DMV––and beyond.

photo: Frederick Douglas National Historic Site

Frederick Douglass National Historic Site

It took two generations to establish and restore this spot as a National Historic Site. Cedar Hill, the Southeast DC home where escaped slave turned preeminent orator and scholar, Frederick Douglass, lived his final years. Now serving as an educational center, Cedar Hill runs tours, and sponsors family-friendly events throughout the year, including Douglass’s birthday celebration.

Editor's Note: Frederick Douglass National Historic Site is temporarily closed due to COVID. In the meantime, you can take a virtual tour here

1411 W St., SE 

The U Street Corrridor

The U St. corridor was once known as the Black Broadway district. Flanked by Howard Theatre on the east end and 14th St. on the west, this neighborhood was DC's cultural epicenter from the early 1900s to the mid '60s. Explore this cultural stomping ground by starting at Howard Theatre, the iconic stage where legends like Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holliday and Nat King Cole got their start and heading northwest and pass the Bohemian Caverns (a former speakeasy hidden by a first floor pharmacy where Duke Ellington was a frequent performer), and continue west to historied Lincoln Theatre; don't forget to stop in near-by DC landmark Ben's Chili Bowl

620 T. St.
U St./Shaw
Online: thehowardtheatre.com

Edmonson Sisters Statue

Pay tribute to the iconic abolitionists Mary and Emily Edmonson. The bronze memorial at 1701 Duke St. in Alexandria (directly across the street from Whole Foods) sits steps away from the former the Bruin's Jail where the sisters, then 15 and 13, were held after they tried to escape the clutches of slavery on a New Jersey-bound schooner, The Pearl. The sisters were later freed by their father (with the help of a abolitionist and minister Henry Ward Beecher) when he paid $2,250 for their emancipation. Bruin's Jail is now an office building, but you can read the historical plague in front of it at 1707 Duke Street. Just a few blocks away at 1315 Duke St. you'll find the Freedom House Museum. Once the site of the largest slave trade in America, today it is runDue to COVID, the Freedom House is only available to pre-booked tours.

1701 Duke St.
Alexandria, VA
Online: slaverymonuments.org

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

To honor the most powerful voice of the Civil Rights movement, this memorial has 15 quotes etched in granite. And while the words are moving to read, hearing Dr. King give the famous “I Have a Dream” speech under his stone shadow is even more powerful (listening to the speech on the steps of The Lincoln Memorial is also a must do). You can download the speech from PBS (they also offer some educational lessons on the site). Let your youngest kiddos celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. with their own voice; this little diddy is best sung to the tune of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star: Freedom, Freedom, let it ring. “Let it ring, said Dr. King. Let us live in harmony. Peace and love for you and me. Freedom, freedom, let it ring. “Let it ring,” said Dr. King. 

1964 Independence Ave SW
West Potomac Park
Online: nps.gov/mlkm

Mt. Zion United Methodist Church

This church is the oldest Black church in Washington, DC. Once a slave and tobacco trading site in the early 1800s, it became a church in 1816 and later a station on the Underground Railroad during the Civil War. It is believed a vault on the Burial Grounds was used to hide enslaved people as they made their way north. You can learn more about the church's history as well as the original Black citizens of Georgetown at the church's Heritage Center (2906 O Street). To note: tours are by appointment only. Other near-by points of interest on Georgetown's African American Heritage Trail include Rose Park Recreation Center, the John H. Fleet residence, the Emma V. Brown residence, and more. 

1334 29th St. NW
Online: mtzionumcdc.org

photo: National Museum of African-American History and Culture

National Museum of African-American History and Culture- Washington, D.C.

The stunning building, inspired by Yoruba art and filigree ironwork, is filled with presentations and artifacts that give visitors a glimpse at all aspects—the good and the gut-wrenching—of the African American experience. It’s a must-visit for the entire family. See our in-depth guide here.

1400 Constitution Ave. NW
National Mall
Online: nmaahc.si.edu

Mary McLeod Bethune Memorial

For a peek at the first DC statue to honor both a woman and an African-American, head to Lincoln Park to visit the Mary McLeod Bethune memorial (erected in 1974). Bethune is remembered as a civil rights leader, a suffragist and the first African-American woman to head a Federal agency. She may be best known for her contributions to education; she founded the Bethune-Cookman University, which is today’s only historically Black college to have been founded by a woman. What better way to celebrate Bethune’s passion for education than with the game I Spy with sight words.  Come prepared with flashcards for the following words, which can all be found in the statue's inscription: LOVE, HOPE, EDUCATION, RESPECT, FAITH, and DIGNITY.
Lincoln Park
Online: nps.gov/cahi


African-American Civil War Memorial (Spirit of Freedom)

"Spirit of Freedom,' which sits at the corner of Vermont Avenue and 10th Street, honors the 209,145 Black soldiers and officers who served under the Bureau of United States Colored Troops in the fight to free enslaved Black Americans. Across the street, you'll find the African-American Civil War Museum. Tours of the actual museum are by appointment only; this living museum has a number of must-book programs that bring history to life through re-enactments, including the one-hour, award-winning School of the Soldier program for elementary and middle schoolers. You can also access virtual learning tools here.

1925 Vermont Ave. NW
Online: nps.gov


Explore Richmond's Legacy - Richmond, VA

Richmond is steeped in important Black history and here are just a few of the ways you can experience it with your kids.

Visit the home of Maggie Lena Walker, a newspaper editor, bank president and champion of civil rights for African Americans and women. Join a tour of her home and an exhibit hall, watch a short film about her life and walk in the footsteps of a great activist of the early 20th century. There's also a Maggie L. Walker Memorial Plaza

The Black History Museum & Cultural Center of Virginia celebrates the rich culture and history African Americans people in Virginia and has permanent exhibits that explore Jim Crow, Reconstruction, Emancipation and more. 

You can also explore Richmond’s monuments: Virginia Civil Rights Memorial on the Capitol grounds, Slavery Reconciliation StatueHenry Box Brown, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson monument and the Arthur Ashe monument on Monument Ave. There's also a self-guided Richmond Slave Trail: Walk along and discover seventeen different markers that display the somber truth about slavery in Richmond. 

At the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts entrance along historic Arthur Ashe boulevard, you'll find Rumors of War, a powerful sculpture by Black artist Kehinde Wiley’s. You'll also currently find the the Marcus-David Peter Circle (Robert E. Lee Monument) where artist Dustin Klein's light projections on the statue of Robert E. Lee include images and videos of Black citizens who are victims of police brutality, including Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, as well as projects of iconic Black leaders like Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Billie Holiday, and Malcom X. 

Discover even more at visitrichmondva.com 

––Meghan Yudes Meyers and Ayren Jackson-Cannady


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