Five D.C. Sites That Are Rich in African American History
Washington D.C. is home to beloved museums and memorials that keep important American moments close to hearts and minds. The National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened in 2016, in a ceremony presided over by President Barack Obama, is a meaningful addition to the city. Still, there are many more treasured sites that are a testament to the rich history of African Americans and the American experience. Here are sites in Washington, D.C. that spotlight African American history.
African American Civil War Memorial
Honoring the 200,000 African American soldiers who fought for the Union in Washington, D.C. is a bronze statue designed by the African American sculptor Ed Hamilton, titled The Spirit of Freedom.
The memorial is located at the corner of U Street and Vermont Ave., just north of the Shaw neighborhood. The neighborhood traces its origins to encampments of freedmen and is named after Robert Gould Shaw, the colonel of the all-black Massachusetts 54th Regiment during the Civil War. (Shaw and his regiment are also memorialized in the 1989 film Glory, starring Denzel Washington, Matthew Broderick, and Morgan Freeman.)
African American Civil War Museum
Directly across from the memorial is the African American Civil War Museum, which opened in 1999. Its purpose is to educate the public about the role of African American men and women during the Civil War and to establish an educational through line that connects the fight against slavery to the Civil Rights Movement, as well as to issues affecting the African American community today.
M Street School
When President Hoover established the first commission to develop a museum to African American history and culture in the 1920s, one of the leaders he appointed was Mary Church Terrell. She remains a noteworthy – yet often overlooked – figure. She was one of the first African American women to earn a college degree, be appointed to the school board of a major city (Washington, D.C.), serve as a charter member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the first president of the National Association of Colored Women.
Mary Church Terrell also taught at the M Street School in D.C., the nation’s first public high school for African Americans. The school’s original building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is located just one mile north of the Capitol building.
One of Mary Church Terrell’s colleagues at the M Street School was Carter G. Woodson, a prominent historian, who started a week-long celebration of African American history and culture that eventually turned into Black History Month!
Anacostia Community Museum
Anacostia is a historic neighborhood that traces its origins back to the 1850s, as one of the first suburbs of Washington, D.C. The Anacostia Community Museum (also known as the ACM) is located in the Anacostia neighborhood and is the first federally-funded community museum in the country. The ACM was founded to highlight the neighborhood’s vibrant African American history and culture and to help build connections among various communities in Washington, D.C. It was intended to become the National Museum of African American History and Culture until plans for the current NMAAHC on the National Mall were developed and approved. Today, the ACM focuses on urban communities on a global scale and look at social, economic, and environmental changes.
Frederick Douglass National Historic Site
Within the Anacostia neighborhood is the estate home of the famous African American abolitionist Frederick Douglass.
In 1878, Douglass purchased the house, called Cedar Hill with the help of his close friend and fellow abolitionist Robert Purvis. Fully restored to its 1895 appearance and furnished with Fredrick Douglass’s personal belongings and exhibits about his work, Cedar Hill is now known as Frederick Douglass National Historic Site. The historic home sits on eight acres of the original estate, overlooking the entire city.