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A Black history tour of Alexandria, Virginia

Once a hub of the domestic slave trade, the city now has more than 20 Black-owned businesses

  • 11
  • 00:24
  • 5 mi
  • $1

Created by Roadtrippers - June 17th 2021

Written by Tracy Hopkins

About a 4-hour drive from New York City—and less than 10 miles from Washington, D.C.—Alexandria is an easy road trip destination. Gaps in the city’s historical tourism offerings inspired John Taylor Chapman, a city councilman and fourth generation Alexandrian, to launch his Manumission Tour Company (“manumission” means release from slavery) which focuses on the area's Black history. Through walking tours like Chapman's and thoughtful conversations with several Black business owners, here's how to get a closer look at Black life in Alexandria (both past and present).

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Alexandria, VA

Manumission Tour Company offers several 90-minute walking tours, including “Still’s Underground Railroad.” Based on abolitionist William Still's 1872 book The Underground Railroad, the tour recounts the stories of several fugitive slaves from Alexandria and ponders who might have helped them on their road to freedom.

1
Threadleaf

Threadleaf, an ethical fashion boutique in Old Town is owned by Nicole McGrew, a former attorney for the Obama administration. The meticulously-curated sustainable women's clothing and accessories shop opened in 2018.

2
Wrought, Knit, Labors, Legacies

Olalekan Jeyifous’ public art installation in the historically Black Parker-Gay neighborhood links the city’s mercantile and industrial history with the labor of free and enslaved African Americans.

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Alexandria, VA

Sculpted by artist Erik Blome, this striking bronze work pays homage to the teenage Edmonson sisters who were born into slavery and jailed in the adjacent Bruin Slave Jail when they tried to escape

4
African American Heritage Park

This 7.6 acre park features The Truths that Rise from the Roots—Remembered tree sculpture, created by artist Jerome Meadows, carved with the names of Black Alexandrians who shaped the city.

Goodies Frozen Custard & Treats is a newer addition to Alexandria’s Black business community. Brandon Byrd started with a vintage food truck before he purchased and transformed Commerce Street’s historic Ice House into a stunning 1950s-inspired custard shop. Locals line up around the block for fresh and creamy scoops of the Wisconsin-style frozen dessert and Goodies’ signature donut sandwich (an apple cider donut stuffed with vanilla frozen custard and topped with caramel).

6
Freedom House Museum

This National Historic Landmark was the headquarters for the largest domestic slave trading operation in the nation. Between 1828 and 1861, thousands of enslaved African Americans passed through this site.

7
Harambee Books & Artworks

Harambee Books & Artworks is an independent bookstore located on a quiet residential block in Old Town, Alexandria. Owner Bernard Reeves' mission for the small-but-mighty bookstore—which specializes in rare and out of print books, children’s books, current bestsellers, and apparel and artwork by people of African descent—is to uplift and enlighten the community with cultural knowledge.

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Alexandria, VA

Alexandria’s oldest African American congregation was founded in the early 19th century in the city’s first Black neighborhood, called “The Bottoms.”

9
Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery

Between 1864 and 1869, this served as the final resting place for about 1,800 African Americans who fled to Union-occupied Alexandria during the Civil War. Some of the original graves are still intact, and the memorial park is anchored by artist Mario Chiodo's breathtaking sculpture The Path of Thorns and Roses, an allegorical depiction of the struggle for freedom.

Alexandria City Hall & Market Square

Once a site of slave auctions, today Market Square is home to a bustling Saturday farmer’s market.

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Banner Photo Credit: John Carluccio | Roadtrippers Magazine

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