History’s walk-through

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Perhaps this particular Black History Month is not the most ideal for a self-guided walking (slipping and falling?) tour of city sites specific to African Americans throughout the Alexandria story. Luckily, that history, inherently intertwined with the city’s existence, exists all year round, as do the sites throughout the easily manageable tour.

“African Americans were always part of the fabric of Alexandria,” said Audrey Davis, the curator at the Alexandria Black History Museum. “Since the 18th century, men, women and children of African descent were part of the development of our city. Enslaved or free, African American presence is felt in every part of the city.”

Whether it was the actions of individuals like Samuel Wilbert Tucker, who led the 1939 sit-down strike at the then-segregated library on Queen Street, or the mediums of oppression that affected blacks in Alexandria like the Franklin and Armfield slave pen (now the Freedom House museum), several historical narratives left relics for residents and visitors to experience today. A good way to experience it is on foot for this roughly three-mile, three to four-hour tour, depending on how much time you spend in each location. 

Follow the map and descriptions to learn more about the legacy of the city.

Start: Black History Museum, 902 Wythe St.

This quaint, unassuming brick building exists as a result of the 1939 sit-in protest at the Queen Street Library, which was segregated at the time, led by Samuel Tucker and five other young African Americans. Built in 1940 as the Robert H. Robinson Library, it became the Black History Resource Center and evolved into the Black History Museum, which hosts various exhibits, guests, lectures and films.

“When visitors come to the museum, they are fascinated by the wealth of African American history in Alexandria and how the museum staff work topreserve this history for future generations,” Davis said.

People’s Flower Shop, 509 North Alfred St. still exists today as the first African American-owned florist in the city.

The former office of Samuel Tucker, 901 Princess St. 

Tucker organized the historic sit-down protest at the Queen Street library. In 2000, Samuel W. Tucker Elementary School became his namesake. Last year, Tucker students reenacted the sit-down.

“You could not help but be moved by the children who hopefully will never know the sting of segregation and discrimination honoring Samuel W. Tucker and the five brave African American men who fought for equal access to the city’s library in 1939,” Davis said.

Meade Memorial Episcopal Church, 322 N. Alfred St. was organized by Christ Church as a mission project in 1869. 

Continue south down Alfred Street and take a left on Queen Street.
717 Queen St. is the site of the August 21, 1939 Alexandria Library sit-down strike to protest segregated libraries.

Market Square, 301 King St., was once used as a slave market. 

Church Alley, on the south side of Duke Street, between Royal and Fairfax streets, was the site of the First Methodist Episcopal Church, one of the first integrated congregations in the city.

Walk to the 400 block of South Royal St., where the Hayti neighborhood once existed. Most likely named for the country of similar spelling, the block was comprised of free blacks and whites. George Seton, a free black carpenter and member of the City Council and State Legislature in the 1870s, once lived at 404 S. Royal St.

Alexandria Academy, 600 block of Wolfe St. George Washington founded the Academy for indigent students, comprised of three schools, in the brick Federal-style building built in 1785. In 1812, a group of free blacks founded the  “free colored school” there.

Beulah Baptist Church, 320 South Washington St., was the first black church founded in the city after its occupation by federal troops and is the third oldest in Alexandria.

Roberts Memorial United Methodist Church, 606 S. Washington St. is the oldest African American church building in the city.

The Dip Neighborhood, bounded roughly by Duke, Franklin, Patrick and Washington streets, was the city’s first free black neighborhood. Settled in about 1800 by former slaves (some freed because of the decline of the tobacco trade).

Odd Fellows Hall, 411 S. Columbus St. was a primary gathering locale for African Americans to hold meetings of secret organizations after the Civil War. Evidenced by groups like the Odd Fellows, Rising Star and Daughters of Zion, it was “a building where African Americans could set the agenda for themselves without being monitored by outsiders,” Davis said. “In this building, decisions were made by African Americans for African Americans in Alexandria.”

Dr. Albert Johnson Residence, 814 Duke St. was home to one of the earliest professional physicians in the city. 

Alfred Street Baptist Church, 301 S. Alfred St., was founded in 1803 and is the oldest African American congregation in the city.

Franklin and Armfield Slave Market, 1315 Duke St.  Built for Robert Young, brigadier general of the Second Militia of the District of Columbia, it was leased in 1828 by Isaac Franklin and John Armfield and used as a slave pen for slaves being shipped from Northern Virginia to Louisiana. It was one of the largest slave-trading companies in the country, having exported more than 3,750 slaves. 

“It is a difficult history to remember, but what makes it more positive for me is what the building has become recently,” Davis said. “Today, the building is the home of the Northern Virginia Urban League and home to the Freedom House Museum, which tells the story of the enslaved men, women and children who were held there. It gives their stories and lives the dignity they were denied when they were alive.”

Shiloh Baptist Church, 1401 Duke St., was founded by 50 formerly enslaved people in the mess hall of L’Ouverture Hospital in 1863. Reverend Leland Warring, the pastor, was a teacher in the Lancaster School at the Alexandria Academy. 

Alexandria African American Heritage Park, Holland Lane, just off Duke Street, is a nine-acre memorial park, developed in 1995 to honor and commemorate African American contributions to the city. One acre of the park has been preserved as the original site of the 1885 black Baptist cemetery.

For more information on the legacy of black history in the city, and more extensive descriptions of the sites, visit http://oha.alexandriava.gov/bhrc/.

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