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African-American History in Alexandria

Minutes from the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington DC, experience African-American heritage through Alexandria's remarkable range of historic sites. Alexandria's rich history weaves through three centuries -- from the colonial era of George Washington's times, to slavery and the Civil War in the 19th century, to the struggles and triumphs of the 20th century Civil Rights Movement. Alexandria's historical sites detail an extraordinary journey of courage and resilience.

Walk through the rich and bountiful timeline of African-American history with our African American Historic Sites Self-Guided Walking Tour (which includes more than 15 attractions throughout Alexandria) and experience history come to life. 

Freedmen's CememteryContrabands and Freedmen Cemetery Memorial Park 

New in 2014, visitors can experience a new memorial park that commemorates the free African-American men, women and children interred on its grounds after escaping slavery. During the Civil War, the Alexandria Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery was the burial place for approximately 1,700 African Americans who fled to Alexandria to escape bondage. Now, in the sesquicentennial of both the Cemetery and the Civil War, a new memorial honors this site and those who were laid to rest there.

The City of Alexandria officially dedicated the Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery Memorial on Saturday, September 6, 2014. Several hundred descendants of those buried at the Cemetery were located, and many were on hand for the dedication ceremony. 

The Memorial features artist Mario Chiodo's sculpture "The Path of Thorns and Roses," an allegorical depiction of the struggle for freedom; the Memorial's bas-reliefs depicting the flight to freedom were done by local sculptor Joanna Blake.

For more events and information, visit:

A Courageous Journey

Alexandria's African-American history exemplifies the spectrum of black experience in the United States - from slavery to freedom, from freedom to equality, and from equality to integration. The award-winning "A Remarkable & Courageous Journey" tells the story of the tremendous courage and accomplishments of Alexandria's African Americans from the 18th to the 20th centuries. Learn about Benjamin Banneker, who endured harsh conditions to help establish our nation's capital. Meet the Edmonsons, two enslaved sisters captured while making a daring run for freedom. Read about wounded United States Colored Troops who petitioned the Federal Government to allow black Civil War soldiers to be buried in the Soldier's Cemetery. Discover the five young black men who led a non-violent sit-in protest in Alexandria decades before the famous Greensboro, North Carolina sit-in.  

12 Years a Slave Movie and the Alexandria Connection

In the stunning true story told in the Academy Award winning film 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. The company exported over 3,750 slaves to the new cotton and sugar plantations of the Deep South.

Today the building, owned by the Northern Virginia Urban League, is home to the Freedom House museum. Here, visitors stand witness to the powerful stories of the enslaved in the same space where they were once held. The original bars, bricked walls and artifacts are tangible reminders of this dark time in our nation's history. First-person slave narratives told through video and exhibits include the story of Solomon Northrup. The Freedom House slave pen is remarkably similar to that which is featured in the movie, giving visitors a palpable sense of what slave pens were like during that era... Learn more.

Click here for more information on the connection, or step inside Freedom House with NBC and CBS.

Experience history come to life in a remarkable range of historic sites:


Alexandria African-American Heritage Park

  • Holland Lane between Duke St. & Eisenhower Ave.
  • Alexandria, VA 22314

“Truths that Rise from the Roots Remembered” is the name of the bronze tree sculpture here that honors the contributions of African-Americans to the growth of Alexandria.…Learn More

Alexandria Archaeology

  • 105 N. Union Street, Torpedo Factory Art Center
  • Third Floor, #327
  • Alexandria, VA 22314

Step right into the museum's laboratory where archaeologists reconstruct Alexandria's history, fragment by fragment. Tues.-Fri. 10 a.m.-3 p.m.; Sat. 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sun. 1-5 p.m.…Learn More

Alexandria Black History Museum

  • 902 Wythe Street
  • Alexandria, VA 22314

Originally the segregated library for Alexandria's African American residents, the museum documents the local and national history, culture and contributions of Black America. Tues.-Sat. 10 a.m.-4…Learn More

Alexandria's Footsteps to the Past

  • Alexandria Visitors Center
  • 221 King Street
  • Alexandria, VA 22314

Owned by a ninth-generation Virginian, this company offers a daily 90-minute history tour from Ramsay House Visitors Center. March-Dec, (Jan-Feb by appointment only). Also offered by appointment a…Learn More

Bruin Slave Jail

  • 1707 Duke Street
  • Alexandria, VA 22314

The Bruin Slave Jail, at 1707 Duke Street, is on the National Register of Historic Places, and featured on the National Park Service website “Aboard the Underground Railroad.” The building is not open…Learn More

Carlyle House

  • 121 N. Fairfax Street
  • Alexandria, VA 22314

Nine enslaved African-Americans lived and worked at Carlyle House in 1780. Their names were Jerry, Joe, Cook, Penny, Charles, Sibreia, Cate, Moses and Nanny. These names are found on an inventory of…Learn More

Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery Memorial

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. New in…Learn More

Fort Ward Museum & Historic Site

  • 4301 W. Braddock Road
  • Alexandria, VA 22304

Fort Ward is the best preserved of the extensive network of Union forts and batteries known as the Civil War Defenses of Washington. Fort Ward Museum interprets the site’s history, life within the…Learn More

Freedom House

  • 1315 Duke Street
  • Alexandria, VA 22314

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…Learn More

Mount Vernon: George Washington's Estate & Gardens

  • 3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Highway,
  • Mount Vernon, VA 22121

The riverside estate of George Washington includes the Mansion, outbuildings, tomb, & working farm and visitor facilities with 25 galleries and theaters. Black History Month activities every February…Learn More

Soldiers Cemetery / Alexandria National Cemetery

  • Wilkes & Payne sts.
  • Alexandria, VA 22314

One of 12 sites created and dedicated by President Lincoln in 1862 to serve as military burial grounds. The cemetery holds some 3,500 graves of Civil War soldiers, including U.S. Colored Troops and…Learn More

Alexandria Convention & Visitors Association
221 King Street, Alexandria, VA 22314
703-746-3301 or 800-388-9119
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