During Black History Month this year I visited several historic buildings and monuments in Alexandria celebrating and commemorating Black citizenry. I encourage those who visit or live in Alexandria to explore outside of Old Town and confront Alexandria’s harsh history to gain a better understanding the systems of oppression that we are still protesting today. Here, I'm highlighting the top sites to learn more about Black history in Alexandria!
The site is housed at the former Robert H. Robinson Library which was the designated library for Alexandria’s Black citizens who were not allowed to use the public library at the time. It is now a working testament to the contributions of African Americans in the city. And there are always events to experience here - I love attending their screenings and talks!
Alexandria African American Heritage Park
A beautiful park in the Carlyle neighborhood that commemorates historic African-American neighborhoods and those buried at the site as well as features these amazing bronze tree sculptures. The park can even be rented for events
Kate Waller Barrett Branch Library
The site of one of the country’s first sit-ins. In 1939, Howard Law (Washington, D.C. and my alma mater) trained lawyer Samuel Tucker led a peaceful sit-in as Black Alexandrians weren’t allowed to use the library even though their taxes paid for its use. The result of the sit-in was the building of another library that now houses the Alexandria Black History Museum. The library now commemorates the protest and also contains a great local history and special collections room for more Alexandria history!
The building was once part of the headquarters for the largest domestic slave trading firm in the United States and is now the headquarters of Northern Virginia Urban League Yand a museum to tell the unfathomable stories of those who passed through there. I’ve visited to attend events and speak at programming with Northern Virginia Urban League Young Professionals but never visited the museum and I can truly say knowing the history and being a young, Black professional walking through those halls has a significance I could have never imagined. Plus they have a great bookstore and cache of information about other historic sites and events in Alexandria!
Charles Houston Recreation Center
Now a recreation center, the center houses the Alexandria African American Hall of Fame and information and exhibits about Black history and culture in Alexandria.
A statue that commemorates the escape attempt by two sisters and their extraordinary and harrowing journey to freedom.
Contrabands & Freedmen Cemetery Memorial
This memorial honors the memory of the Freedmen and women who fled to Alexandria to escape from bondage during the Civil War, the hardships they faced, and their contributions to the city. It’s so beautiful and poignant and easily accessible for a quick (or long) to reflect.
And if you want to take a tour of Alexandria while learning about its history, check out Manumission Tour Company which is also Black-owned and operated!
I have taken the time to focus on processing the killing of another American that looks like me. However, you have chosen to process is your choice and we should all respect that. Since there has been a recent tipping point to discuss things visiting the above sites right in your own community is a great place to start the learning process. I pray you have been guided toward ways to have productive conversations and action for our future.
And just like the joy captured in my smile - despite those in this world trying to tear it down - joy rises. Psalm 30:5