Abbreviated Driving Tour of 10 African American Historic Sites in Alexandria

Here’s a 10-site abbreviated driving tour to get you started on your exploration of Alexandria’s wealth of African American historic sites.

Black History Museum

1. Alexandria Black History Museum – 902 Wythe Street

Once the site of the city’s segregated Robert H. Robinson library, the building is now a museum dedicated to interpreting Alexandria’s and the nation’s African American history and culture. The museum’s connection to Mercy Street, the national PBS drama set in Civil War-era Alexandria, has raised the museum’s visibility. Museum director, Audrey Davis, serves as historical consultant and blogger for the show. Visit the gift shop for books, brochures, art and souvenirs.

Charles Houston Recreation Center: Hall of Fame

2. African American Hall of Fame at Charles Houston Recreation Center (across from the Black History Museum) – 901 Wythe Street

Exhibits trace the history of the City’s historic Black churches and schools in the Parker-Gray neighborhood and beyond.Panels mark the contributions of 60+ African American citizens who have made significant contributions to the City and the Civil Rights movement including local writers, activists, pioneers, professional athletes, government officials and other leaders.

Alexandria Library

3. Alexandria Library Barrett Branch – 717 Queen Street

Interpretive panels outside the door of the library commemorate the famed 1939 sit-in led by African American attorney Samuel Tucker whose protest of the segregated library system was two decades before the Civil Rights movement and one of the United States early sit-ins.
4. Roberts Memorial United Methodist Church – 606 S. Washington Street

Built in 1834, Roberts Memorial is the oldest African American church building and one of the oldest congregations in Alexandria.

Mercy Street Actresses at Freedmen Cemetery

5. Contrabands & Freedmen Cemetery Memorial – 1001 South Washington (at Church Street)

Between 1864 and 1869, the Contrabands and Freedmen’s Cemetery served as the burial place for about 1,800 African Americans who fled to Union-occupied Alexandria to escape from bondage. Visitors can experience a memorial park that commemorates the free African American men, women and children interred on its grounds. Bas-reliefs depicting the flight to freedom and contraband education were done by late local sculptor Joanna Blake and tell vivid stories of what life was like for the newly freed. Dedicated in 2014, the Memorial features artist Mario Chiodo's sculpture The Path of Thorns and Roses, an allegorical depiction of the struggle for freedom. The contraband story figures prominently in the national PBS Civil War drama series Mercy Street. For fans of the show (and for others) this is a must-visit location.

Alfred Street Baptist Church

6. Alfred Street Baptist Church – 301 S. Alfred Street at Duke Street

Founded in 1803 it is one of the oldest African American congregations in Alexandria and one of the oldest and largest in the Washington, DC area.

African American History

7. Freedom House Museum / Northern Virginia Urban League – 1315 Duke Street

The building served as headquarters for one of the largest slave-trading companies in the country. The Northern VA Urban League, whose headquarters is also here, developed the Freedom House Museum at the site to preserve the story of thousands of men, women and children who passed through this place. In the stunning true story told in the major motion picture 12 Years a Slave, free Black man Solomon Northup is kidnapped and sold into slavery, where he subsequently spends an agonizing twelve years in captivity. James Burch (Birch), the DC-based slave dealer responsible for selling the real Northup into slavery, would go on to become one of the last owners of one of the largest slave trading companies in the country, Franklin and Armfield in Alexandria, from 1859 to 1861.

African American Heritage Park

8. Alexandria African American Heritage Park – 500 Holland Lane – just off Duke Street

Established on the site of the oldest known independent African American burial ground, the Black Baptist Cemetery, the park with its bronzed memorial, Truths that Rise from the Roots – Remembered by Jerome Meadows, honors the contributions of African Americans to the growth of Alexandria.

Edmonson Sisters statue

9. Edmondson Sisters Statue and Bruin “Negro Jail” -- 1707 Duke Street

Opened in 1843, the Bruin jail was the dominant slave dealer by 1847. The site commemorates the story of the Edmonson Sisters who in April 1848, attempted to escape aboard the schooner Pearl which left from dock in Washington, D.C. But were captured and later held in jail here. Rev. Henry Ward Beecher and other abolitionists raised money to free the sisters. The Edmonson Sisters’ story was used by Harriet Beecher Stowe, sister of Rev. Beecher and author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, as in her writing and advocacy against slavery.

Jones Point Lighthouse

10. District of Columbia Southern Cornerstone in Jones Point Park just east of the historic lighthouse – 125 Jones Point Drive

The D.C. south cornerstone represents one of the oldest artifacts associated with the survey of the U.S. capital. Benjamin Banneker, considered the “first Black man of science”, was a self-educated mathematician and astronomer. He was chosen to join Surveyor Andrew Ellicott’s team to locate the south perimeter of the capital boundary in Jones Point and maintain the survey’s accuracy through astronomical calculations and measurements. Banneker, while assisting the capital survey, recreated from memory the entire plan for the new capital city of Washington, when Pierre L’Enfant, the original planner quit and took the plans with him.
For more information about Alexandria's African American History, download the Courageous Journey brochure.