During Black History Month, I like to highlight the historical sites where you can take your children to learn more about the history of African-Americans in the United States. Check out my post on sites around the country to find one near you.
With over four hundred years of history, Virginia has many of these important historical sites, and there is a handy website where you can explore the hundreds of sites in the Commonwealth. I’ve highlighted some of my favorites below!
Richmond Slave Trail: This historic trail takes you from the docks where enslaved Africans were deposited to the infamous Lumpkin’s slave jail in Shockoe Bottom. Currently, the trail is a little difficult to follow, especially on the southside of the river, but there are plans to make it part of a proposed museum complex in Shockoe. With kids (best for ages 10 and up), I recommend starting at the auction houses (#12 on the trail map). This part of the trail will take you to the poignant reconciliation statue linking Benin in West Africa, Liverpool in England, and Richmond.
And the infamous Lumpkin’s slave jail site, called the “Devil’s Half Acre.”
Don’t miss the Winfree cottage beside the jail site. This is the actual cottage owned by a former enslaved woman, Emily Winfree, who kept her family together during the Civil War, Reconstruction, and Jim Crow time periods.
Walk past the jail site to the sorrowful African Burial Ground, a solemn and contemplative site.
Walk up the stairs to view the historical marker to Gabriel who was executed for planning a slave revolt in 1800.
This viewpoint gives you a sweeping view of the burial ground as well.
Continue to the last stop on the slave trail, the First African Baptist Church organized by freedmen and slaves in 1841. Many prominent people in African-American history, including Richmond’s own Maggie Walker, were baptized in this building from 1876.
Virginia Civil Rights Memorial: This statue on the grounds of the Virginia Capitol honors the men and women who fought for Civil Rights in the 20th century. Most prominent is the figure of Barbara Johns, the young teenager who stood up to the school segregationists in Farmville (see Moton Museum below). Don’t miss walking down the hill to view the Virginia Women’s Monument with its statue of Elizabeth Keckly, a former enslaved woman who became the dressmaker for Mary Lincoln (and Varina Davis!).
Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site: In Jackson Ward, once called Black Wall Street, you can find the home of the country’s first African-American woman to start a bank. And nearby is the statue honoring her as well!
Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia: This museum housed in a historic armory is a great stop to learn all about African-American history in the Commonwealth.
Frederick Douglass exhibit at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts: This exhibit (open until July 9, 2023) is an immersive look at the life of the great abolitionist.
Virginia Museum of History and Culture: The flagship museum on Virginia history has many artifacts from African-American history, including the Woolworth counters from the peaceful sit-in protests from the 1960s and a replica of the box in which Henry Box Brown shipped himself to freedom.
American Civil War Museum: This museum about the Civil War also focuses on the jubilation when the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments were passed.
New Market Heights: Just outside of Richmond is where the US Colored Troops fought a valiant battle against Confederate forces. Out of the 20 Medals of Honor awarded to USCT soldiers, 14 came from this battle alone. Marker is found on Route 5 at Four Mile Creek Park.
Farmville: Farmville is home to the Robert Moton Museum, which is the site where students led by Barbara Johns stood up to the school segregationists. The town also has several historical markers at the important churches and facilities that helped the students. Check out the Virginia Civil Rights in Education Trail for even more stops.
Monticello: The home of Thomas Jefferson has done a great job at focusing on the enslaved experience on this plantation, particularly Sally Hemmings.
Montpelier: The home of James Madison has an extensive exhibit on slavery. And across from Montpelier’s entrance is the preserved home of the formerly enslaved Gilmore family.
James Lafayette marker: At New Kent Courthouse, you can find a historical marker to an enslaved man, James Lafayette, who became a double spy for the Continental Army.
Fort Monroe: Known as “Freedom’s Fortress” during the Civil War, this fort is where escaped slaves were given freedom as “contraband” by Union Gen. Butler. It is also the site where the first ship containing enslaved Africans landed in 1619, then called Point Comfort.
Colonial Williamsburg: Recently Colonial Williamsburg discovered the Williamsburg Bray School, the oldest school for free and enslaved black children in America. Just last week, the foundation moved the school to a permanent spot in the colonial area.
Booker T. Washington National Monument: While I haven’t had the chance to visit this site honoring the prominent African-American educator, a friend told me how great it is. It’s on my to-visit list!
Mount Vernon: The home of our country’s first president was also home to hundreds of enslaved people. You can see the places they would have lived and worked and learn more about their life here, especially Ona Judge. The museum also does a good job at talking about their experiences and how Washington was the only Founding Father to free his slaves upon his death.
This list just scratches the surface of the hundreds of historical markers, homes, and sites where you can learn more about African-American history in Virginia. As you travel throughout the state, be sure to add in time to see these spots.
Books to Read:
Check out my Bookshop.org shop for my curated list of books on black history. Listed below are several books that are my favorites for Virginia history. These are Amazon affiliate links.