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20+ Ways to Celebrate Black History Month in the DC Area

February 19, 2021 Visit USA No Comments

The African American experience is intricately entwined in the rich tapestry of Fairfax County’s history and in America’s story. As you celebrate America’s Black history this year, you’ll have the opportunity to visit sites around the region in person, or online, to reflect on an inspiring journey of hope, sacrifice, liberation, empowerment, and beauty.

Here are a few places that should be on your “must see” list, not just during Black History Month, but any time throughout the year.

**Be sure to check each description below for updated operating procedures due to COVID-19. Some of these sites may be temporarily closed, but are offering virtual experiences until they can safely reopen.**

Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

Although the museum is temporarily closed to the public due to COVID restrictions, this gem of a museum offers a multitude of virtual exhibitions, and online collections that explore the African American experience here in America. The only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, history, and culture, this national treasure explores the topics of history, culture, race, and social justice through thought-provoking collections, stunning exhibits, and interactive multimedia.
Where: National Mall, Washington, DC
Hot tip: The best way to currently experience the best of the museum’s online resources is to visit the NMAAHC’s digital resource guide.

George Washington’s Mount Vernon

Mount Vernon is currently open to the public and is utilizing a ticketed reservations system. The historic home of George Washington includes 25 interactive galleries and theaters featuring hands-on exhibits, slave quarters, and memorials to the contributions of 18th century slaves.
Where: Mount Vernon, Fairfax County, Virginia
Hot tip: Don’t miss the current Museum exhibition on slavery at Mount Vernon: Lives Bound Together. Access to the exhibition is included in regular admission and is open through mid-July 2021.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

Honoring King’s life and legacy, this is the first memorial on the National Mall devoted to a citizen activist for civil rights and peace. The MLK, Jr. Memorial is a tribute to a man of conscience, the freedom movement, and his message of equality, justice, and love.
Where: Tidal Basin, Washington, DC
Hot tip: Combine this stop with a visit to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, where King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

Gum Springs

Gum Springs is a town of 2,500 residents that was established in 1833 by West Ford, a freed slave. It became a haven for former slaves, both freedmen and runaways, creating a self-sufficient community that thrived into one of the oldest African American communities in the United States.
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

Located not far from Mount Vernon, Gunston Hall is the historic home of George Mason, the outspoken proponent of civil liberties and author of Virginia’s Declaration of Rights, yet also a former slave owner. This sprawling site includes restored structures and interpretative actors throughout the grounds that depict the varying contributors, including slaves, that made the 18th-century household work.
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. Purchase of a general admission ticket grants access to the grounds, museum, and limited access to the mansion. A Grounds Pass is available for you to explore the grounds on your own.

Laurel Grove School Museum

Closed in 1932 and restored by family descendants and interested citizens, Laurel Grove tells the unique story of a community’s refusal to narrow its ambitions. Of all the “colored” schools that opened in the region, only Laurel Grove exists today as a “living museum.”
Where: Alexandria, Fairfax County, Virginia
Hot tip: The schoolhouse is currently closed due to COVID restrictions, but check their website as restrictions ease in the coming months to plan your visit.

Sully Historic Site

On the National Register of Historic Places, Sully Historic Site includes original outbuildings, representative slave quarters, and gardens in addition to the main house. Guided tours highlight early 19th century life of the family, their tenant farmers, and enslaved African Americans.
Where: Chantilly, Fairfax County, Virginia
Hot tip: Access to the park is free, but there is a small fee for guided tours of the main house. Starting in March, the park will introduce their Forgotten Road Tours which focus on the African American experience at Sully.

Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center

Currently closed due to COVID restrictions, the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum is offering online access to stories of some of the greatest African American Air and Space explorers and innovators in American history. When you can visit in person, you’ll find the world’s largest collection of aviation artifacts which includes tributes to the Tuskegee Airmen, the heroic African American pilots of World War II. From the Space Shuttle Discovery to the world’s fastest jet, plan to come see the world’s most famous aircraft and spacecraft when restrictions are lifted.
Where: Chantilly, Fairfax County, Virginia
Hot tip: Don’t miss the online exhibit Black Wings, which details the stories about how African Americans shared the widespread enthusiasm for flying, but they found themselves routinely denied access to training as pilots and mechanics.

Tinner Hill Historic Park & Monument

Tinner Hill is recognized as the location where the first rural branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was initiated in the United States. Today, a 15-foot monument constructed of pink granite honors the men and women of Tinner Hill who made this happen and nearby, visit the historic site and Zig Zag Monument, a sculpture that follows the original location of the segregation line.
Where: City of Falls Church, Virginia
Hot tip: Plan to visit the park when you can or watch the Tinner Hill Remembered video that was broadcast on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in January 2021.

African American Civil War Memorial & Museum

As the nation’s only memorial to African American Civil War soldiers, this site is inscribed with the names of more than 200,000 members of the United States Colored Troops who fought in the Union Army. Nearby, the museum tells the stories and preserves the roles these brave soldiers played in ending slavery and keeping America united under one flag.
Where: U Street Corridor, Washington, DC
Hot tip: The museum is open for tours by reservation only. Visit their website to schedule yours today.

Frederick Douglass Historical Site

Cedar Hill is currently closed due to COVID-19 but offers online experiences for you to enjoy from home. At Cedar Hill, the former home of Frederick Douglass, visitors gain insight into the man who was a leading voice in the abolitionist movement. Restored to its 1895 appearance, the house is furnished with original objects and guided tours are available daily (the only way to access the house interior).
Where: Anacostia, Washington, DC
Hot tip: You can take a virtual tour of Cedar Hill online.

Smithsonian National Museum of African Art

The museum is currently closed due to COVID restrictions but offers many opportunities to explore their collections online. America’s only museum dedicated to the collection, research, conservation, and exhibition of traditional and contemporary African art. Docent-led tours are available throughout the week and special events occur throughout the year. Admission is free.
Where: National Mall, Washington, DC
Hot tip: Make sure to check out their online exhibitions and their at-home activities.

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

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