Alexandria Just Added 13 New Spots To Its Waterfront African American Heritage Trails

African American contributions to the United States are sadly overlooked in favour of White European ones.

However, just because they are overlooked does not for a second mean that they did not happen or that they are not as important. Individuals interested in learning about African American contributions to this nation can expand their knowledge by traversing Alexandria’s African American heritage trails.

If you are interested in furthering your knowledge and learning more about Alexandria and the African American community there, keep reading this post:

Colonial Beginnings

Before covering Alexandria’s African American heritage trail context needs to be given about the city itself. Something many people do not know is that Alexandria’s beginnings were entrenched in colonialism and the slave trade. In fact, the city was George Washington’s hometown. The city’s port and market were used primarily for the slave trade. While in other parts of the United States during the 1800s talk abounded about abolishing slavery, the residents of Alexandria became more pro-slavery, especially after retrocession. Plantations did exist in and around Alexandria although the city was more of a trade point than it was a plantation city.

Eventually, however, the tide began to turn. Alexandria was one of the first places where people were killed during the Civil War. Many of the residents had Confederate sympathies and even openly supported the South, but Northern soldiers and spirit overcame them and the city became staunchly Union. Throughout the Civil War Alexandria became a safe space for African American slaves who poured into Alexandria, looking for Union protection. Because slavery had not yet been outlawed at that point escaped slaves continued to remain the property of their masters, so Union soldiers labelled them ‘contrabands’ in order to avoid returning them to their Confederate owners.

During the Civil War and afterwards, Alexandria’s African American population boomed. By 1863 the city’s population had increased by over 10,000 in as little as 16 months. Most of these new residents were African Americans fleeing the South. Soon African Americans were elected to the city council and started having more of a say over what happened in the city and how African American residents were treated. Alexandria was one of the first cities to allow African Americans to be elected to public office, which makes it arguably one of the most important cities in African American history.

In under a century Alexandria went from being one of the most prolific trading ports and markets for slaves in the United States to a city that advocated equality and freedom for all. Life in Alexandria is quiet, safe and comfortable. Compared to other parts of Virginia it has a very low crime rate which is saying a lot since it is a state with a crime rate 1.7% lower than the national average. All in all, Alexandria is a fantastic place to live and a great place to go and explore the history of African Americans in the United States.

Life in Alexandria

As mentioned in the previous section Alexandria is a fantastic place to move and start a new life. Before covering the African American heritage trail it is first important to discuss the benefits of moving there. Individuals interested in finding homes for sale in Alexandria VA can benefit from hiring a professional realtor; a realtor or a realty platform will be able to streamline your search and make it a lot easier. Do not be fooled into thinking that you can find a good property in another way. A realty platform is probably your best option because you can search independently without being charged a commission.

Property Prices

In Alexandria, property prices are high but not as high as they are in many other parts of the United States. If you are somebody who’s interested in finding a new property then again it is worth hiring a realtor. A realtor will be able to conduct a thorough and extensive search for you, locating properties they think suit you and match your criteria. Property prices are a lot lower in Alexandria than they are in neighbouring counties and there is a lot of industry in  Alexandria making it a great place to start a life.

Local Restaurants

The city has an abundance of restaurants, cafés and bars. Individuals who enjoy partying and eating out are guaranteed to have a good time there. If you are somebody who follows a strict diet like keto or just enjoys unique, Virginian cooking then you’ll find everything you are looking for in Alexandria. As Alexandria is a bustling city tables at restaurants sell out fast and it is, therefore, important to try and book reservations in advance. Booking in advance will help you get places and save money.

Entertaining Nightlife

Alexandria’s nightlife is great. Keto restaurants and specialist cafés are not all the city has to offer. If you enjoy drinking or even going to nightclubs you are going to love Alexandria. Alexandria has some of the best nightclubs and bars in the state of Virginia. It does need to be noted however, Alexandria does not have a huge drinking culture, however. It has a massive smoking culture though. Virginia legalised recreational marijuana for individuals over the age of 21 a few years ago. Therefore, if you are somebody who enjoys smoking then you are guaranteed to have a good time there.

Heritage Trail

This post’s main focus is the city’s waterfront heritage trail. You don’t have to be a historian or even somebody with an interest in African American rights and culture to appreciate it. Some of the points featured along the trail are fantastic and showcase just what African Americans can do and how their history is just as unique, nuanced and interesting as anybody else’s. If you are planning on walking the trail then you can easily do it in under a day. You could even bring a bicycle along and use the trail as an opportunity to get some exercise in. This post will tell you about the stops on the South Waterfront Trail.

1.    Sign at Foot of King Street

As Alexandria was originally a slave port and market, unsurprisingly the city’s first stop on the heritage trail is a recognition of this. Adjacent to the sign is a warehouse that was originally worked in by slaves owned by John Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald was known for freeing many of his slaves but not all of them.

2.    Sign at Waterfront Park

The sign at Waterfront Park which is the trail’s second stop commemorates the fact that the city was a domestic slave port. Slaves from all over the world were brought to Alexandria and then sold into chattel slavery in the United States. This is something Americans and Virginians in particular need to remember about their past.

3.    George Henry

The third stop on the route is there to provide information about George Henry, one of the city’s most famous African American residents. George Henry is known for being the captain of a boat despite being enslaved. However, newspapers and articles of the time do not actually reference Henry as the captain of the ship he was on because politicians did not want the general public to know African Americans held positions of power.

4.    River Queen

The route’s fourth stop is in memory of the River Queen, a former pleasure boat that was used almost exclusively by African American day-trippers.  At that time African American people were not allowed to use the same pleasure boats as white Americans were.

5.    Point Lumley Park

African American workers were instrumental in the construction of ships during the 18th and 19th centuries. Their contributions to shipbuilding have sadly been overlooked by many historians and maritime enthusiasts. The fifth stop pays homage to African American shipbuilders.

6.    Anti-Slavery Movement

Long before slavery was outlawed in the United States, the anti-slavery movement was going strong. Alexandria’s anti-slavery movement was pioneered by the Quakers. The sixth stop on the route commemorates the Quakers and the city’s brave anti-slavery movement who faced much opposition and were ostracised from society for their beliefs.

7.    Banking Out

The seventh stop on the trail is there so that Alexandrians remember the fact the city was not always as large as it is today. Evidence suggests that extensions were made and that the residents ‘banked out’ – meaning they deposited mud and extended the land of the city. African Americans were no doubt instrumental in this.

8.    Daily Life

The trail’s eighth stop is there to help people remember that African Americans while they had it extremely difficult during the chattel slavery period still were normal people and as such lived their own lives. The eighth stop is there so people can get a little bit of insight into what the lives of slaves were truly like. Many people’s ideas and notions about slavery are jaded and very inaccurate which is why the city planners decided to put this stop on the trail.

9.    Railroad Workers

America’s railway was at the time an incredible feat. However, it was not something built entirely by white Europeans as many historians would have you believe. Major contributions to the construction of the railway came on the part of African American workers. Alexandria’s railroad was built almost entirely by them.

10.  Hayti

Hayti was one of Alexandria’s earliest entirely African American neighbourhoods. The 10th stop on the route commemorates this neighbourhood, what it was like and some of the people that lived there. It no longer exists today but remnants of it can be seen in the area it once stood.

11.  Further Neighbourhoods

The 11th stop is there so that Alexandrians can remember the African American neighbourhoods that once stood in the city. As mentioned earlier Alexandria became a safe haven for slaves during the Civil War. The 11th stop tells you a little bit about the neighbourhoods that was built to accommodate them during that time.

12.  Zion Baptist Church

Alexandria’s African American community has historically been deeply religious. The Zion Baptist Church was created by a small band of Christians with a deep love of God who wanted to create a safe space for African American Christians to pray as many were not permitted entry to churches frequented by the city’s white population.

13.  Mr. Philip Alexander’s Quarters

Mr. Philip Alexander was an interesting figure in the city’s history and the 13th stop is there so that people can remember him. To learn more about this character you can visit the Alexandria city government’s official website where he features in several articles and informative guides. You can also of course visit the trail itself and read the sign that was put there, giving information about him and his former home.

Visiting Alexandria

There are many more spots on the heritage trail, including the northern trail. This post’s focus was on the southern trail. If you are interested in learning everything you can about the city’s African American community new and old then it is worth taking a tour. There is a multitude of tour companies offering their services, showing people around the city and taking them to the most interesting and historically significant locations there are. Right now there is a lot of interest in African American history so there has never been a better time to go in search of a tour.

It does need to be noted, however, if you are planning on taking a tour then you need to find a reliable company to work with. A tour company’s reviews should tell you everything you need to know about them and help you to find the one that is right for you. You should know that not all tour companies are equal and some are far better than others. A company’s reviews can tell you a lot about them and help you to determine whether or not they are right for you. An absence of reviews does not necessarily mean you cannot trust a company.

Alexandria is an independent city in Virginia with a fascinating past. If you are somebody who is interested in learning about the city’s history and the African Americans that lived there (and continue to live there) then check out the city’s heritage trails. You don’t have to explore them yourself as there are lots of different companies and independent guides offering tours. Taking a tour is good for people who do not have the time to research and learn about the city’s history themselves.