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Black Heritage Travel: Mid-Atlantic United States - Virginia
"Been There!" = Notes about places I've visited.

 Delaware  Maryland  Virginia  Washington D.C. Additional Resources  Home

Virginia

African American Heritage Database - Virginia Foundation for the Humanities

Explore African American Heritage sites in the state of Virginia with this user-friendly databse. Browse using an interactive map, or search by Theme, Historic Era, or Keyword.

"The story of Virginia cannot be fully understood without knowledge of the African-American experience. We must look into the lives of ordinary men and women, in slavery and freedom. Moreover, we must pay tribute to the special imprint left by people such as Maggie Lena Walker, John Mercer Langston, Booker T. Washington, Anne Spencer, Robert R. Moton, Vernon and Barbara Johns, and others like them. Their personal achievements are a source of inspiration to all Virginians."

African American Museums and Historic Sites Network

"Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the Virginia Association of Museums, in partnership with a Steering Committee comprised of representatives from eight Virginia museums and one independent collector, is working to establish a statewide network of Virginia's African American museums and historic sites."

Black History Attractions: Official Tourism Website of the Commonwealth of Virginia

"Virginia is home to the longest continuous experience of African-American culture and life in the United States, dating back to August 1619, when the first Africans were involuntarily brought to the shores of Jamestown . The proud, rich heritage and struggle of the black experience in Virginia is something that visitors to Virginia can relive through sites, artifacts, events and museums across the state."

This exeptionally rich site includes links to attractions, articles on Black Virginians, a Central Virginia Driving Tour, lodging, dining, shopping resources, events and much more. Just keyword search the site for "African American" to learn about bus tours, concerts, festivals and more. You can also order free travel guides and maps.

Alexandria - Black History Museum

"In 1939, a sit-down strike was staged by five young African- American men in the city's segregated Queen Street Library. The young men were arrested for their act of civil disobedience but the City responded to the African-American citizens demands for more access to educational opportunities. As a result, the City built the Robert Robinson Library in 1940. This segregated library for African-Americans was used until desegregation in the early 1960s. After desegregation, the building was used for various community service programs. Today, the Robert Robinson Library forms an integral part of the Alexandria Black History Museum." This rich site provides visitor information and many online resources.

Alexandria - African American Heritage Park

This park surrounds a preserved19th century African American cemetery. Of 21 burials on this site, six identified headstones remain and are in their original location. The park also includes sculptures celebrating African American contributions to the development of the city.

Alexandria - Carlyle House

Completed in 1753 by Scottish merchant John Carlyle, the historical intepretation of this site provides a glimpse of urban slavery because as the website states, "If you visited Carlyle House in 1770, most of the faces you saw were black, not white."

Alexandria - Gum Springs Museum & Cultural Center

This black community in Fairfax County was founded by patriarchal freedman West Ford, a former slave of George Washington's family, who acquired the property in 1833. Gum Springs became a place for "runaways" and recently freed slaves to live. The museum is relatively young (1996) and growing, but has many exciting projects in the works.

Arlington The Black Heritage Museum of Arlington

Currently a "museum-without-walls," (though a physical museum is in the works) the BHMA celebrates the African American journey to freedom in Arlington County. At the heart of the BHMA mission is the story of Freedmen's Village. To date, the museum board has commissioned a model of the village, which is now part of a cosponsored exhibit on slave life at Arlington House. The Board also sponsors a lecture series, an oral history program, and a walking tour brochure you can download. (pdf)

Charlottesville - Monticello

You can learn more about slave life by touring Thomas Jefferson's architectural masterpiece and beloved mountaintop home. It's been interesting to note how the intepretation of slavery has evolved at Monticello since I began this web site in 2006. For example, what were once innocously called the Plantation Community Tours are now Slavery at Monticello Tours. Whether you visit in person or only explore the site online, there is a wealth of information about Mulberry Row, the quarters for slave and free black workers. This rich web site also offers digitized collections and articles, including several about the Jefferson-Hemings DNA testing. A particularly moving online resource is the Getting Word oral history project , begun at Monticello in 1993 to preserve the histories of the African American families at Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia plantation. Over 100 interviews with their descendants and additional archival research have brought remarkable individuals out of the shadows of slavery.

Opened February 17, 2012 - Landscape of Slavery: Mulberry Row at Monticello You can view this exhibition in person or online.

Charlottesville - Ash Lawn-Highland

At James Monroe's home, tour the restored slave quarters, reconstructed using archaeology and a 1908 photograph. You'll also discover James Monroe's views on slavery and his involvement in the establishment of Liberia. Visitor information, virtual tour, special events, historical information and more.

Charlottesville - Proffit Historic District

Proffit is described as "a rare survivor of the black communities established in Albemarle County after the Civil War, but which have largely disappeared or been rebuilt."

"Despite its easy accessibility to motorists-the village center is located just 2.5 miles east of US Route 29, on a scenic secondary road leading directly to the Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport-the Proffit Historic District is little known outside of local historical and genealogical circles. The Evergreen Baptist Church, built by the local African-American congregation in 1881 is still a locus of community activity today. Other historical structures include the Proffit Station Master's House, built in the 1890s; the stone wall of the first Proffit Post Office, circa 1900; the one-lane, wood-decked Proffit Road bridge, rebuilt to resemble the nineteenth-century original; and several abandoned houses, built in the 1880s by African-American families whose descendents still own land and live in Proffit today."

Farmville - Robert Russa Moton Museum

A student-organized strike that occurred at the Moton High School in April 1951 led to the federal court case, Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County , which was heard by the Supreme Court of the United States as part of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case. Named a National Historic Landmark in 1998, the (now) Robert Russa Moton Museum is committed to the preservation and positive interpretation of the history of civil rights in education, specifically as it relates to Prince Edward County. If you'd like to support the effort of this young museum, you can buy a brick salvaged from the original restoration through their website.

Fredericksburg (38 miles east) George Washington Birthplace National Monument
Slavery at Pope's Creek Plantation (.doc download)

Special events and exhibits address the issue of our first president as slave holder. The website has historical information, and information about events, activities and contact information for visitors.

Green Bay - Twin Lakes State Park

The park comprises the old Prince Edward State Park for Negroes, created in 1950 to provide a segregated recreational facility for African Americans. Though the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ended legal segregation, Prince Edward and nearby Goodwin Lake state parks continued as separate facilities until the two merged in 1976. The resulting Prince Edward-Goodwin Lake State Park was renamed Twin Lakes State Park in 1986. Historical displays in the conference building as well as themed rooms and lodgings offer guests a glimpse into the interesting history. The website provides lodging and visitor information, travel directions, event planning resources, and area attractions.

Hampton - Hampton University Museum

The Museum was established in 1868, the same year as Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (now Hampton University) opened its doors as an institute of higher learning for newly freed people. Located in the heart of campus, it's the oldest African American museum in the United States and one of the oldest museums in the state of Virginia. Its holdings feature over 9,000 objects including traditional African, American Indian, Asian & Pacific Island art; African American fine arts; and objects relating to the history of the University. In addition to permanent and temporary exhibits, it houses The Center for African American Life and History, a reading reference room that focuses on African American books and literature donated to the museum by The Tidewater Chapters of The Links, Inc. At this rich website you can view some of the works from their collections, get visitor information, and even drop into the gift shop!

Hampton - Fort Monroe National Monument (National Park Service) and the Casemate Museum (Commonwealth of Virginia)

Fort Monroe was famed during the Civil War as the "Freedom Fort" by blacks escaping from slavery. General Benjamin Butler, refusing to return runaway slaves, kept them as "Contrabands" of war, assuring their freedom. Confederate President Jefferson Davis' prison cell is located in the museum. The website provides a virtual tour in addition to history and visitor information.

Before it was deactivated in fall of 2011, Fort Monroe was the third-oldest Army post in continuous active service. On November 1, 2011, President Barack Obama signed a proclamation designating Fort Monroe as a National Monument. There are many plans in the works for historical interpretation of the site, and the 2 links above will help you keep track of them.

Been There! I visited Fort Monroe in 2002 when I was invited to do a musical performance while it was still a military base, and I stayed in a house within walking distance of the Casemate Museum. Strolling around the grounds during the quiet, early evening hours was like stepping back into time. When I visited the museum they had an exhibit about the "Contrabands" in addition to general military history.

FYI: My host took me to a wonderful BBQ place called County Grill and Smokehouse (1215#A George Washington Hwy., Yorktown, VA 23693) which was memorable for a platter that lets you sample 6 BBQ sauces from different regions.

Hardy - Booker T. Washington National Monument

Plan to stay for one or two hours to view the video orientation program (12 minutes) and exhibits in the visitor center, and visit the historic area. Plan to spend an additional hour walking Jack-O-Lantern Branch Heritage Trail. Allow time to browse in the Eastern National bookstore and enjoy lunch in the picnic area. A ranger-led tour is given daily as staffing and weather permit. Curriculum-based education programs are offered Monday through Friday as weather and staff availability permit. These tours generally last 45 minutes to one hour. Reservations are required in advance.

Harrisonburg - Journey to Zenda

This tour includes stops that highlight African American heritage, such as Longs Chapel/Athens Church at Zenda where your tour guide takes you back in time to a Black community which formed after the Civil War by local freed slaves. You can read the full itinerary at the website.

Lynchburg - Anne Spencer House and Garden Museum

"Anne Spencer (1882-1975) was a Harlem Renaissance poet, a librarian and educator, a civil rights activist, and a passionate gardener. Her highly original and sophisticated garden, which she designed, was a source of inspiration for her poetry. It also was a "salon" in which she hosted many African-American political leaders and artists of her day, including W.E.B. DuBois, James Weldon Johnson, Paul Robeson, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Martin Luther King, Jr." The garden is open daily free of charge. Tours of the house by appointment only.

Lynchburg - Legacy Museum

The Legacy Project was initially sponsored by the Lynchburg branch of the NAACP to provide educational exhibits and programs on the history and culture of African Americans in the area. In 1997, the project acquired a dilapidated but once beautiful house on Monroe St, and after restoration, opened it as the Legacy Museum on June 25, 2000. The website includes visitor information, exhibit schedule, special events and 2 online exhibits: Struggle, Sacrifice, and Scholarship: Black Education in Central Virginia, 1800-1922 and Herbs to Lasers, Cholera to AIDS: African American Medicine and Health, 1800-2000.

Lynchburg - Old City Cemetery

Founded in 1806, the Old City Cemetery was the only burial ground in Lynchburg open to African Americans until 1885; three-quarters of all those buried in the Cemetery are African-American. You can tour in person or online to learn the rich history of the people buried there, or learn about African burial customs. You can also purchase the book published by the Southern Memorial Association, Free Blacks of Lynchburg, Virginia, 1805-1865 documenting the hundreds of "free persons of color" buried in the Old City Cemetery. There are four small house museums on the grounds of the Old City Cemetery that interpret the history of the Cemetery, the City of Lynchburg, and the surrounding counties.

Manassas - Manassas Industrial School/Jennie Dean Memorial

"This five-acre archaeological park, dedicated in 1995, is located on the original site of the Manassas Industrial School interprets the Manassas Industrial School for Colored Youth. The school was founded largely through the efforts of former slave Jennie Dean who, after almost a decade of charismatic fundraising, chartered the school on October 7, 1893."

"The landscaped four-acre memorial park features an exhibit kiosk with audio program and interpretive panels. Visitors can obtain a sense of where the buildings once stood through concrete outlines of campus building foundations, and a bronze three-dimensional model of the original school campus."

Manassas National Battlefield Park

James Robinson was a free African-American born in 1799. His home served as a shelter for Union dead and wounded during the Second Battle of Manassas. The site is now part of the Manassas National Battlefield Park. The website has historical information, activies and events, plus visitor information. Read a blog post at the Civil War Memory questioning why the Robinson House has not been reconstructed on this site.

Mt Vernon - George Washington's Estate & Gardens

Visit the Greenhouse, Slave Quarters, George Washington Museum, Archaeology and Restoration Museum, Slave Memorial, and Washington's tomb. The Education Center features The Dilemma of Slavery Gallery, with a History Channel video focusing on Washington and slavery. This rich website has a virtual tour and many educational resources, including articles and lesson plans. Just use the SEARCH for keyword "slave" to find hundreds of references.

Newport News The Newsome House & Cultural Center

This restored 1899 Victorian landmark honors the legacy of Joseph Thomas Newsome by engaging the public in an ongoing study of African American history and culture. At the turn of the 20th Century, Newsom established a law practice and prospered as part of the postwar South's new urban, black middle class. The Newsome House is the major repository of works by nationally known folk artist Elder Anderson Johnson (1916-98), who created religious themed portraits and landscapes at his Newport News Faith Mission on Ivy Avenue. The website provides historical information, visitor information, and more.

Newport News Mariner's Museum

Though not dedicated specifically to black history, this museum - one of the largest international martime museums - offers related special programs and exhibits, including the online exhibit Captive Passage: The Transatlantic Slave Trade and the Making of the Americas.

Orange - Montpelier

The lifelong home of James Madison offers the opportunity to explore the complexity of our nation's founding...after all, The Father of the Constitution was also a slaveholder. And to its credit, this is one of the few plantation museums which doesn't skirt the issue. The site features the Madison mansion, historic buildings, exhibits, archaeological sites, a slave cemetery, and a new Visitor Center. The Gilmore Cabin and Farm offers a rare glimpse of what life was like for African-Americans after emancipation. George Gilmore, a former slave at Montpelier, settled here with his wife, Polly, and their five children, and eventually bought the land upon which his homestead sits.


Petersburg National Battlefield

At the time of the Civil War, Petersburg was considered to have the largest number of free blacks of any Southern city at that time. Many of the freedmen prospered here as barbers, blacksmiths, boatmen, draymen, livery stable keepers and caterers. During the Civil War, "...a total of nearly 187,000 African-Americans served in the Union army. Of those the greatest concentration of U.S. Colored Troops (USCT) was at Petersburg." Learn more about the siege of Petersburg.

Richmond - Historic Jackson Ward Walking Tour

In its heyday, Jackson Ward was revered as the hub of "Black Capitalism" and the cultural mecca of black society in the South. Today, the Ward offers a wealth of information and artifacts from Richmond's oldest African-American community. In 2001, The National Trust for Historic Preservation named it as one of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places, The Richmond History Centers offers guided tours about once a year.

Richmond - Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia

"Significant facets of African-American life in Virginia from Jamestown in 1619 until today are on display here. Located in the heart of the Jackson Ward neighborhood, the museum has a collection of nearly 5,000 artifacts and documents, art, and photography. Experience the history and culture of Virginia's African-Americans." (The website has not been updated in several years, but the contact information is still correct. Call for hours.)


Richmond - Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site

Walker achieved success in the world of business and finance as the first woman in the United States to charter and serve as president of a bank. The site includes her residence of thirty years and a visitor center detailing her life and the Jackson Ward community in which she lived and worked. The house is restored to its 1930's appearance with original Walker family pieces. This rich website has biographical information, a timeline, news of special events and visitor information.

Richmond - L. Douglas Wilder Library and Learning Resource Center

"The L. Douglas Wilder Collection memorializes the life and career of Virginia's 66th Governor (1990-1994), the first elected African American Governor in U.S. history, and Virginia Union's most celebrated alumnus. Wilder graduated from Virginia Union in 1951 with a Bachelor of Science Degree in chemistry. He was the first Black legislator to serve in the Virginia State Senate since Reconstruction (1969-1986) and the first Black lieutenant governor of Virginia (1986-1990)."  

Roanoke - Harrison Museum of African American Culture

The Harrison Museum of African American Culture is located on the ground floor of Harrison School, the first public high school built in 1916 for African-American students. It is an educational and cultural institution committed to promoting, showcasing, and celebrating the art and history of African Americans for Roanoke Valley citizens and visitors.  You can learn about exhibits, events, and the annual Henry Street Festival (last Saturday in September) at their website.

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Additional Resources

On The Road to Freedom: A Guided Tour of the Civil Rights Trail. Charles E. Cobb Jr. Algonquin Books, NC. 2008 Order at Amazon.com

I became interested in this book when I heard the author, Charles Cobb Jr. interviewed on NPR’s Tell Me More with Michel Martin. Cobb is a veteran of the civil rights movement and a founding member of the National Association of Black Journalists. He spoke about sitting on the steps of a middle school in Medgar Evers’ old neighborhood, across from the Fannie Lou Hamer Library, trying to engage some kids in conversation about the movement in Mississippi. When he told them he’d known Mrs. Hamer, a little boy said in amazement “YOU were alive back then?!”

That’s when he realized the era was fading into ancient history, viewed as a mass movement led by a few charismatic and long dead leaders. This book - part memoir, part travel guide, part history book - is intended to capture the deeper meaning of the fight for civil rights, community grassroots organizing and thousands of independent acts of courage reaching further back than the 1960’s...in fact, he said, the movement probably began as soon as the first African stepped off the ship in chains and began thinking of how to escape.

With Cobb as our personal guide we travel through Washington D.C. and eight Southern states. But this is so much more than just a visitor’s guide to historic sites, museums and plaques. Nearly every page is graced with photos, quotes from interviews, songs, letters, or key documents. We get to know the men and women not mentioned in the “Civil Rights Canon,” the everyday yet heroic people fighting for justice and equality in their own back yards.

Academicians will be happy with the careful citing of sources in end notes; general readers will be delighted with the compelling narrative flow. It’s the sort of book I find myself reading twice: first skimming through to read all the fascinating sidebars, then reading through state by state. If I had a “favorite book of the year” this would be it for 2008. It belongs on the shelf of every school and community library.

Representations of Slavery: Race and Ideology in Southern Plantation Museums. Eichstedt, Jennifer L. and Stephen Small. Smithsonian Institution Press, 2002. Order at Amazon.com

African American history in general, and slavery in particular, should be an integral part of the story told at any plantation museum. After all, not a single plantation would have or could have existed without the complex institution slavery. Yet as the authors ably demonstrate, that story is not being presented by the vast majority of plantation museums.

Focusing on museums in Georgia, Louisiana and Virginia, the authors create a useful framework to categorize the nature of interpretation. "Symbolic Annihilation" occurs when the presence of African Americans is not acknowledged at all. "Trivialization and deflection" might actually be more insidious, because it presents slavery as benign, with happy "darkies" gratefully serving a beneficent Massa. "Segregation or marginalization" is at least a step in a better direction; here museums offer interpretative programs relating to the black experience, but in separate and less frequent programming. "Relative incorporation" occurs when the story of the plantation's black inhabitants is told at least alongside that of its white inhabitants...though as they point out, this is being done only marginally, and usually at publically financed sites or Afrocentric ones.

Don't head out to a plantation tour without reading this book!

Virginia Landmarks of Black History: Sites on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places . Calder Loth, Editor. University Press of Virginia, 1995. Order at Amazon.com

The sixty-four sites described in this book are a testament to the contribution African Americans have made to Virginia history over the last four centuries. They include Virginia's three most important surviving slave quarter complexes, the site of Nat Turner's rebellion, and the birthplace of Booker T. Washington, as well as Monticello and Mount Vernon, both largely built by African-American hands.

Images of America - Arcadia Publishing - African American History

160 Titles and counting! Featuring vintage images of African Americans, each book celebrates the culture and communities of African Americans through historical images and descriptive captions.

From Negro League baseball to the growth of black colleges, from Kinloch, Missouri, to Tallahassee, Florida, and the exploration of cultural, socioeconomic, political, and community events, vintage images give readers an engaging visual tour of African American life that traditional historical textbooks often fail to show.

Guide to Black Washington: Places and Events of Historic and Cultural Significance in the Nation's Capital. (Revised Edition) Sandra Fitzpatrick, Maria R. Goodwin. Hippocrene Books, 2001. Order at Amazon.com

This revised and updated edition of the popular guide includes new maps, entries and places of interest, with details about over 150 sites and institutions that have shaped black history and traditions, both in the nation's capital and throughout the country. Paperback 240 pages 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 W. 16 pages b/w photos.

Black Heritage Sites: The South. Nancy C. Curtis. New Press 1998 Order at Amazon.com

This volume includes descriptions and detailed visitor information for hundreds of places of national and local significance, from churches and schools to battlefields and cemeteries, from stops on the Underground Railroad to landmarks of the 1950s civil rights movement. Black Heritage Sites is perfect for travelers and historians of all kinds--from the family planning a cross-country trip to the armchair traveler interested in gaining a unique perspective on African American history.

African American Historic Places. Savage, Beth L. Wiley, 2005 Order at Amazon.com

Features 800 sites on the National Historic Register which relate to African American History. Organized by 41 states plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Because it is designed as an identification tool rather than as a trip planner, the book lists only addresses and does not note telephone numbers, access policies, or admission charges. The introduction, however, notes that approximately three-fourths of the properties are privately owned and not open to the public. Black-and-white photographs are provided for some of the sites, and eight introductory essays provide context for understanding the historical significance of the sites.

A Traveler's Guide to the Civil Rights Movement. Jim Carrier. Harcourt Books, 2004. Order at Amazon.com

This book is fascinating even if you never leave home. It's both a travel guide and a reference for anyone wanting to learn more about the Civil Rights Movement. But it's not limited to modern times; like many historians, the author takes the view that the struggle for civil rights began the moment the first enslaved African set foot on these shores and tried to break free. And it continued anywhere that people fought for dignity and equality. Consequently, the sites described here include sites of slave rebellions, legal battles, Underground Railroad safe houses, historically black colleges, churches, museums...even the minor league stadium in Florida where Jackie Robinson broke through the color line.

Historic Landmarks of Black America. Canter, George. Gale Group, 1991. Order at Amazon.com

Describes over 300 sites across the US and Canada, with entries ranging from a paragraph to several pages, with lots of illustrations. Each includes a historical sketch detailing the site's significance and practical information such as directions, hours, fees, and related sites....which of course you'd want to doublecheck before traveling! This book is out of print (and out of date) but still useful and available cheap through used booksellers at Amazon.com.

In Their Footsteps: The American Visions Guide to African-American Historical Sites. Chase, Henry. Owlet, 1994. Order at Amazon.com

Similar to Canter's Historic Landmarks, but more comprehensive covering 46 states, Ontario and Nova Scotia. This book is out of print (and out of date) but still useful and available through used booksellers at Amazon.com.

Hippocrene U.S.A. Guide to Historic Black South: Historical Sites, Cultural Centers, and Musical Happenings of the African-American South . James Haskins & Joann Biondi. Hippocrene Books 1993. Order at Amazon.com

Covers a region of nine Southern states and the District of Columbia, pointing out churches, gravesites, historic locations, nightclubs, museums, art galleries, schools, markets, and jazz and blues landmarks. We venture to Jackie Robinson Baseball Park in Daytona Beach, Florida, for example, where Robinson played his first major league game, and to the Alex Haley Home and Museum in Henning, Tennessee. Each chapter includes a brief section on the history of that state and then lists sites in the various cities.

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