From the slaves who built Arlington House one brick at a time to the government, civic and business leaders who are building the framework for our future, the history of African Americans in Arlington is significant. Take a moment to learn about some of the unique African-American history here in Arlington.
Begin at Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial, at Arlington National Cemetery. It is seen as both the birthplace of African American history in Arlington and a reminder of the role of African Americans in Arlington’s growth and development. Built by slaves before the Civil War for George Washington Parke Custis, whose wife was known to teach slaves to read, the house was then home to General Robert E. Lee and was seized during the War.
Nearby land became the site of Freedman’s Village, a temporary wartime refuge for emancipated and fugitive slaves. The site became well known, and Bud Freedman's Village survived long after the Civil War, thriving for 37 years and sowing the seeds for Arlington's African American community.
Just a short drive away in Nauck (a historic neighborhood in Arlington), several churches that found their roots at Freedman’s Village still stand, including Lomax AME Zion Church, Mount Zion Baptist Church and Mount Olive Baptist Church, among others. Park here and walk through the neighborhood to read the historic signs that stand outside the churches.
Next visit the Charles R. Drew Home in the Penrose neighborhood. Dr. Drew, a promising young African-American physician, conducted groundbreaking research that led to the creation of the modern blood bank.
Another historic home resides in Pentagon City. The Harry Gray House was designed and built in 1881 by a man born into slavery and is known as the first example of a red brick home built in Arlington.
For more information on these sites and more, please visit our website to download our African American History brochure.