Black History & Museums in Virginia and Washington, DC
The African American experience is intricately entwined in the rich tapestry of Fairfax County’s history and in America’s story. With a wealth of African American historical sites throughout the Washington, DC and Northern Virginia region, take a journey to reflect on the sacrifices and vital contributions that African Americans have made throughout our history.
Top Black History Sites
George Washington’s Mount Vernon
Image courtesy Mount Vernon
Step into the past by visiting the historic home of George Washington, where you'll encounter 25 captivating interactive galleries and theaters. These exhibits offer a truly immersive experience, with knowledgeable guided tours leading you on a journey through the rich stories of the enslaved people of Mount Vernon, the slave quarters, and the memorials that commemorate the memory of the enslaved and free Black individuals buried on the grounds.
Where: Mount Vernon, VA
Hot tip: Commemorate the enslaved community at Mount Vernon during their special wreathlaying presentations, offered daily, February - October.
Image courtesy Gum Springs
Discover the captivating story of Gum Springs, a vibrant town with a population of 2,500 residents. Founded in 1833 by West Ford, a freed slave, this remarkable community served as a sanctuary for both liberated slaves and those who had escaped from bondage. Over time, Gum Springs flourished into one of the oldest and most successful African American communities in the United States, with a deep-rooted sense of self-sufficiency and pride.
Where: near Mount Vernon, Fairfax County, Virginia
Hot tip: Visit the Gum Springs Historical Society’s Museum & Cultural Center, open Monday-Friday from 6-8pm and Tuesdays/Saturdays from 1-3pm. It’s advisable to call to confirm hours before visiting.
George Mason’s Gunston Hall
Image courtesy Gunston Hall
Nestled close to Mount Vernon lies the magnificent Gunston Hall, the ancestral abode of George Mason. This iconic residence belongs to the legendary figure who ardently supported civil liberties and authored Virginia's Declaration of Rights, yet paradoxically, also owned slaves. As you wander through this vast plantation, you'll marvel at the restored structures and the interpretative actors scattered throughout the grounds, bringing to life the stories of the diverse contributors, including slaves, who played a crucial role in making the 18th-century household function smoothly.
Where: Mason Neck, Fairfax County, Virginia
Hot tip: Read more about this Founding Father’s complicated relationship with slavery before you visit, to get a better understanding of his viewpoints.
Sully Historic Site
Image courtesy Don Sweeney/Fairfax County Park Authority
Indulge in a glimpse of the past by visiting the picturesque Sully, a historic site that boasts an impressive listing on the National Register. This magnificent property features an array of original outbuildings, beautifully-maintained gardens, and representative slave quarters in addition to the main house. During the guided tours, you'll be transported back in time to the early 19th century and gain valuable insights into the everyday lives of the family, their tenant farmers, and the enslaved African Americans who were an integral part of the household.
Where: Chantilly, Virginia
Hot tip: Access to the park is free, but there is a small fee for guided tours of the main house. Be sure to check the event schedule for the day, as there are many programs and activities throughout the year.
Historic Pleasant Grove Church
Image courtesy Friends of Pleasant Grove
Immerse yourself in the rich cultural heritage of McLean, Fairfax County, Virginia by visiting this cherished community landmark and historic church. Originally constructed in 1895 by and for African and Native Americans, this captivating site is a testament to the ingenuity and creativity of its founders. While here, be sure to explore the Frances K. Moore Memorial Museum, which is named in honor of one of the church's descendants. The museum houses a rare collection of late 19th and 20th-century household furnishings, tools, photographs, and memorabilia, providing a fascinating glimpse into the lives of the people who helped shape this remarkable community.
Where: McLean, Virginia
Hot tip: Keep an eye out for the many cultural and community-wide programs and events held by the Friends of Pleasant Grove throughout the year, including the annual Black History Celebration which features the Washington Revels Jubilee Voices Ensemble.
Frederick Douglass Historical Site
Set to re-open in late Spring 2023 after a year-long restoration effort. Explore the legacy of one of the most prominent figures in American history by visiting Cedar Hill, the former residence of Frederick Douglass. As you step inside this impeccably-restored house, you'll be transported back in time to 1895 and surrounded by original furnishings and objects. Guided tours, available daily, are the only way to access the interior of the house, providing an exclusive opportunity to gain deep insights into the life and times of the famed abolitionist.
Where: Anacostia, Washington, DC
Hot tip: Photographers, take note: the grounds of Cedar Hill provide a spectacular view of the Washington, DC skyline.
Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture
Image courtesy National Museum of African American History and Culture
Embark on an unforgettable journey of discovery at this one-of-a-kind national treasure, the only museum in the country solely dedicated to preserving and celebrating African American life, history, and culture. Step inside and be inspired by the museum's captivating collections, stunning exhibits, and interactive multimedia, which shed light on a broad range of topics, including history, culture, race, and social justice. Prepare to be moved and challenged as you explore the thought-provoking displays and gain a deeper appreciation for the rich tapestry of African American heritage.
Where: National Mall, Washington, DC
Hot tip: Due to demand, timed-entry passes may be needed for this free museum during certain peak times and seasons. Be sure to check on passes in advance.
Laurel Grove School Museum
Discover the inspiring tale of a community that refused to let their dreams be limited at Laurel Grove, a once-segregated schoolhouse for African Americans. This remarkable site stands today as the last surviving African American school in the region, serving as a "living museum" that tells the story of a people's resilience and determination. While the site is typically open by appointment only, it offers an exclusive opportunity to learn about the experiences of African American students and educators during a challenging period of history, and to gain a greater appreciation for the role of education in empowering communities.
Where: Alexandria, Fairfax County, Virginia
Hot tip: You can learn more about the Laurel Grove School here.
Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center
Although the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center primarily focuses on aviation and space exploration, it also has several exhibits and artifacts that highlight the contributions of African Americans in these fields. One noteworthy online exhibit is "Black Wings: The American Black in Aviation," which tells the story of African American pilots and their struggle for equality during the early days of aviation. The exhibit features a range of artifacts, photographs, and video presentations that showcase the accomplishments and challenges faced by African American aviators.
Moreover, the museum's collection boasts a number of artifacts flown by African American pilots, including Space Shuttle Discovery. These artifacts serve as powerful reminders of the significant role played by African Americans in the history of aviation and space exploration.
Where: Chantilly, Fairfax County, Virginia
Hot tip: Check the museum’s website for special content relating to African American history such as African American Pioneers in Aviation and Space: The Struggle for Equal Access to the Skies
Smithsonian National Museum of African Art
The only museum in America devoted to the collection, research, conservation, and display of traditional and contemporary African art is a must-visit destination for art enthusiasts. With docent-led tours available all week, visitors can immerse themselves in the museum's unique collections, and special events throughout the year add to the experience. Furthermore, admission is free, making it accessible for everyone to enjoy and appreciate the beauty of African art.
Where: National Mall, Washington, DC
Hot tip: Exhibits are always changing, so visit more than once!
Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
When we aren't celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day, visitors can pay tribute to the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. at the MLK, Jr. Memorial, the first memorial on the National Mall that honors a citizen activist for civil rights and peace. The memorial serves as a tribute to not only the man but also the freedom movement and the ideals of equality, justice, and love that he advocated for. With its inspiring and thought-provoking design, the memorial is a powerful reminder of King's enduring impact on American history and culture.
Where: Tidal Basin, Washington, DC
Hot tip: Combine this stop with a visit to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, where Dr. King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
Tinner Hill Historic Park & Monument
Image courtesy NOVA Parks
Tinner Hill is an important landmark as it is where the first rural branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was established in the United States. The site is commemorated with a 15-foot monument made of pink granite, honoring the individuals who spearheaded this milestone achievement. Visitors can also explore the nearby historic site and view the Zig Zag Monument, a sculpture that traces the original location of the segregation line.
Where: City of Falls Church, Virginia
Hot tip: Every June, the annual Tinner Hill Blues Festival descends on Falls Church – the only three-day music festival in Northern Virginia.
African American Civil War Memorial & Museum
This site stands as the sole memorial in the country to commemorate African American Civil War soldiers, with the names of over 200,000 members of the United States Colored Troops inscribed on it who fought in the Union Army. Close by, the museum not only preserves the roles these soldiers played in putting an end to slavery but also recounts their stories of bravery in keeping America united under one flag.
Where: U Street Corridor, Washington, DC
Hot tip: The museum is located at 1925 Vermont Ave, NW Washington DC, directly across the street from the African American Civil War Memorial, located at 10th and U Streets, NW Washington DC. The use of public transportation, including taxis, is recommended.
Other notable spots:
- Alexandria Black History Museum
- Anacostia Community Museum
- Freedmen’s Memorial Monument
- “Black Broadway” – the U Street Neighborhood
- Blues Alley
- The National Archives
- Mary McLeod Bethune Council House
- The Lincoln Memorial ("I Have a Dream" speech location)
- African American Heritage Trail
Black history goes deeper than just black history sites and African history museums. Support local and Black-Owned restaurants in Fairfax County while visiting these historic African American historical sites in Northern Virginia.