Point of Interest - Alexandria Black History Museum

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Alexandria Black History Museum

Alexandria, Virginia is home to so much culture. From annual festivals and parades to art shows, live music, theater, history reenactments, and holiday celebrations, Alexandria’s award-winning culture never stops buzzing. Some of that African American culture includes the Alexandria Black History Museum. From the establishment of Alexandria in 1749 to the present, African Americans have been a vibrant part of the city’s history. The City of Alexandria would not exist in its present form were it not for the economic, social, and cultural contributions of African Americans both enslaved and free.

In 1939, a “sit-down strike” was staged by five young African-American men in the city’s segregated Queen Street Library. The young men were arrested for their act of civil disobedience, but the city responded to the African-American citizens’ demands for more access to educational opportunities. As a result, in 1940, the Robert Robinson Library was built. The Robert Robinson Library served the needs of African American Alexandrians until February 1959 and was used until desegregation in the early 1960s. From 1962 until 1969, the library served as the city’s Bookmobile Station. In 1983, the building was repurposed as the Alexandria Black History Resource Center. It underwent a complete renovation from 1988 to 1989. In 2004, the Black History Resource Center has renamed the Alexandria Black History Museum. Today, the Robert Robinson Library forms an integral part of the Alexandria Black History Museum. Next article here.

The mission of the Black History Museum is to enrich the lives of Alexandria’s residents and visitors, foster tolerance and understanding among all cultures, and stimulate appreciation of the diversity of the African American experience. Originally the segregated library for Alexandria’s African American residents, the museum documents the local and national history, culture, and contributions of Black America, important in the civil rights movement.

The museum has grown dramatically since 1989. In 1995, two additional sites were added: The Alexandria African American Heritage Park and the Watson Reading Room. The Alexandria African American Heritage Park, a nine-acre park that preserves the site of a 19th-century African-American cemetery, opened in June 1995. The Park is located several blocks away from the museum. In October of 1995, the Watson Reading Room opened next door to the museum. This non-circulating reading room houses the museum’s collection of books, videos, documents, and periodicals on African-American life and culture.

The museum follows its mission of preserving the history of Alexandria’s African-American citizens, as well as providing a forum for issues of concern to all African Americans. The museum has become a source of pride to Alexandria’s African-American citizens. With two exhibition galleries on the first floor of the museum, and artifact storage and offices below, the Alexandria Black History Museum continues to expand educational opportunities for residents, scholars, and tourists. Click here to learn more.

The museum’s gift shop offers a wide variety of items relating to the African American experience. Gifts are available for people of all ages and interests and include books, CDs, DVDs, postcards, note cards, jewelry, presidential memorabilia, ornaments, toys, and games.

While the museum is currently closed for renovation, virtual tours of the Museum and the African American Heritage Park are available online.

If you’d like to learn more about Alexandria, click here to read about Alexandria Archaeology Museum.

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