The African American Civil War Memorial. (©MrTinDC/Flickr, Creative Commons)
There’s no question that Washington, D.C.’s African-American community has deep roots in the area. Through the decades, they’ve helped shape the city into a vibrant melting pot of history and culture.
The Smithsonian’s new African American History & Culture Museum sets a stunning focal point for an exploration of these contributions and experiences. But there’s so much more to see and do. From Civil War memorials to the White House, pay tribute to African-American culture at these highlighted spots.
Where to Get a Taste
High-profile people, including former D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, have dined on low-country comfort foods like gumbo at Georgia Brown’s, which also hosts a popular Sunday gospel brunch. Marvin pays homage to R&B singer Marvin Gaye with an eclectic menu reflecting the vocalist’s years in D.C. and Belgium.
Ben and Virginia Ali’s beloved Ben’s Chili Bowl has been serving up the city’s famous “halfsmoke” hot dogs since 1958, drawing celebs and politicos, whose photos decorate the walls inside. In 2008, the Alis’ sons opened Ben’s Next Door, dishing up a full menu of Southern favorites like brined fried chicken and shrimp and white grits.
Where to Get Your Groove
In the greater U St. area, once known as “Black Broadway,” the 1922 Lincoln Theatre and 1910 Howard Theatre were hubs of jazz, drawing locals like Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. Today, these restored venues attract eclectic acts like Story District readings (Feb. 11) and George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic (Feb. 23), respectively.
Though not exclusively tied to black culture, Strathmore presents an array of diverse acts. One of today’s jazz greats, Wynton Marsalis, takes the stage Feb. 24 and 26 with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, National Philharmonic and 150 gospel singers performing “All Rise,” a 12-movement masterwork blending blues, jazz, spiritual and classical.
Where to Experience History
At George Washington’s Mount Vernon, “Lives Bound Together” uses records and artifacts uncovered on the grounds to bring to life the stories of 19 enslaved people who lived and worked on the riverside estate. With Ed Hamilton’s bronze “Spirit of Freedom” statue and a museum, the African American Civil War Memorial also pays tribute to enslaved people, more than 200,000 who fought for the Union—and freedom—during the Civil War.
In Anacostia, the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site preserves the abolitionist’s hilltop mansion, which offers some of the area’s best views. Nearby, the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum displays artworks that speak to African-American history and activism. Founded in 1867, Howard University has nurtured some of the world’s brightest minds, including Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court justice.
At the Tidal Basin, the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial depicts the slain civil rights leader as a 30-foot-tall statue emerging from a granite block, surrounded by walls etched with his eloquent words. Built by slaves, The White House was home to Barack Obama, the first African-American elected to the highest office in the land, from 2008 to 2016.