Duke Street History Trail
A wonderful way to take in some of the important African American histories in Alexandria is by visiting Duke Street’s History Trail. On Duke Street, you will be able to see many different historical landmarks, all within walking distance, to make for a unique experience. Some of the landmarks you will see include the Edmonson Sisters sculpture, the Bruin Slave Jail, the Freedom House Museum, L’Ouverture Hospital’s plaque, the Alfred Street Baptist Church, and the Shiloh Baptist Church.
The Edmonson Sisters sculpture is a monument that recognizes the African American sisters who tried to escape slavery and later went on to become abolitionists to fight for freedom for all slaves. This sculpture is located right outside of the Bruin Slave Jail, which was a prison -- now a historical site -- that used to be for slaves, including the Edmonston sisters when they were unfortunately caught. The sister’s sculpture is a landmark today for people to see their role and Alexandria’s role in African American history.
The Freedom House Museum helps you learn about history through artifacts and videos of people’s stories about their experiences concerning the domestic slave trade. The museum used to be the biggest domestic slave trade headquarters in all of the United States. Today, this landmark has been transformed into a place where people can learn about the dark history of the slave trade.
L’Ouverture Hospital historically used to be a place where those trying to escape slavery in the Civil War could go to and receive treatment. The hospital itself is not here today, but there is a plaque that you can visit that commemorates all the work that was done there. It serves as an important piece of African American history.
Next, you can go see the Alfred Street Baptist Church. This was one of the first African American churches in all of Alexandria, as it first opened in 1803. You can also visit the Shiloh Baptist Church, another African American church of great historical importance. This church is the oldest active one in Alexandria, so many people still attend this church and use it for bible study and worship today.
Walking along the Duke Street History Trail is a way to see many aspects of Alexandria’s rich African American History, all within a short walking distance of each other. You’ll be able to see and learn so much by experiencing each of the historic landmarks on Duke Street. To cap it all up, at the very end of this street, you’ll reach the Alexandria African Heritage Park, which is connected to the Alexandria Black History Museum.
Alexandria Black History Museum
Image credit: Visit Alexandria
The Alexandria Black History Museum is a unique landmark, as it was once a library for African American residents and was built in the 1940s. The history behind this library is vast, but one major event that took place led to the creation of this library: this was the Sit Down Strike. This strike was organized by five African American Men at Alexandria’s library that only allowed white people at the time.
The strike is what led to the creation of the Alexandria Black History Museum, formerly known as the Robert Robinson Library. Today, it is a museum that people can visit to learn about African American history. They often host different exhibits, which even include online ones such as the Preserving Their Names exhibit. The museum is home to two other historical sites as well, the Alexandria African American Heritage Park and the Watson Reading Room. The Alexandria Black History Museum, as well as the two sites that are considered a part of it, is a landmark that you will learn so much about African American history.
African American Heritage Park
Image credit: Visit Alexandria
The African American Heritage Park is a preserve of an African American cemetery. Considered to be a part of the Alexandria Black History Museum, the park serves to memorialize people who have died, and it opened in 1995. This park has sculptures memorializing and recognizing the people who have lost their lives, as well as six headstones that remain in their original location.
The main sculpture you will see here is called “Truths That Rise From the Roots Remembered.” The sculpture is of three trees to symbolize how African Americans in Alexandria helped the community to become the place it is today. The park also has a book with the names of African American sites and people listed inside of it. Visit the Heritage Park to learn about Alexandria’s rich history and pay respects to the people that made it what it is today.
Watson Reading Room
The Watson Reading Room, located just outside of the Alexandria Black History Museum, is a place that stores books and other resources on African American history, and it's a place where people can go read and learn from them. There are over 3,000 resources located here that people have access to, including books, tapes, videos, periodicals, and so much more.
The Watson Reading Room is named after Charles and Laura Watson, who were some of the earliest African Americans to own land in Alexandria. They inspired and helped create the Sunnyside neighborhood, an early African American neighborhood in Alexandria. This reading room aims to help people learn about all of the important contributions that African Americans have made in Alexandria.
Underground Railroad Route
Another way to see some African American History is by taking a tour that will tell you the history of the Underground Railroad. This is known as the Still’s Underground Railroad Route. The Underground Railroad was a way in which slaves would become free by taking this route to Canada. The tours in Alexandria take you through many places that slaves worked and lived in, and they also show you how they may have experienced life historically.
The route will give you a look into how many slaves escaped through the Underground Railroad. This tour is unique because many of the places and buildings are still in existence today. The tour itself is also based on a book from 1872 by William Still, who was an abolitionist.
Contrabands & Freedmen Cemetery Memorial
Image credit: Visit Alexandria
This landmark remembers the 1,800 lives that were lost trying to escape slavery during the Civil War. The Contrabands & Freedmen Cemetery Memorial itself was created in 1864, and in 2014 the memorial was made to remember all of the lives that were lost. The cemetery was actually lost for years, as a gas station and an office building were built on top of it at one point in time. Historical research was then done on the site, and it was then discovered to be a cemetery, which led to the creation of the memorial.
To respect and preserve the site and the people in it, archaeological research was used to design the memorial. Therefore, the layout of the memorial shows the historical accuracy of the original layout of the cemetery in order to honor the lives of the freedmen and women. The cemetery and memorial are of great historical significance nationally, as well, as it is recognized as a part of the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.
Want More of Historic Alexandria?
The historic area of Alexandria is an amazing place to discover and to live. If you’re looking for Alexandria real estate, be sure to get in contact with The Winstead Group for all of your Virginia real estate needs.
* Header Image credit: Visit Alexandria