Recognized for years as “Chocolate City,” and standing as the first major city in America to hold a majority Black population, the District of Columbia contains a wealth of African American history and culture. From its early days as a slave-trading capital to its transition during the Civil War into a refuge for the formerly enslaved, Washington, D.C. has played a significant role in the African American freedom struggle. As the seat of the federal government, the District has witnessed the expansion (and restriction) of legal rights related to Black Americans. It has also been the home to major figures of African American history: Frederick Douglass, Charlotte Forten Grimke, Mary Ann Shadd Cary, Anthony Bowen, Mary Church Terrell, Blanche K. Bruce, and Carter G. Woodson. The city has functioned as a site of protest, activism, and community organizing that has extended from early abolitionist efforts into modern movements for police reform through the Black Lives Matter Protests of 2020.
While no tour could possibly encompass the entirety of D.C.’s African American history, the followings sites are designated as National Historic Landmarks (NHLs) and have been deemed notable for their significance to the nation’s history. Consider how these sites connect to the story of America, and what nationally-significant sites along the way may be missing. This tour can be completed by walking, public transport, or car. NOTE: the sites are clustered in Northwest Washington, except for the final two stops; therefore, it is advised to map out your route to determine distance before beginning.
NHLs are ultimately designated by the Secretary of the Interior, upon the recommendation of the National Park System Advisory Board, and are evaluated based on their history, integrity of the property, and their value to the broader American historical narrative. There are currently around 2,600 NHLs, with 75 in the District alone.