Black history is inextricable from the long history of the Fredericksburg region. But during Black History Month each February, that history comes to life through a series of events. Take in that history now and keep in mind the tours, sites, and important stories to revisit year-round.

Local events

On Feb. 8 and 9, the Washington Heritage Museums group is holding an event called “Mary Washington’s Enslaved Workers,” to explore the lives of the slaves who lived at the Mary Washington and how the Revolutionary War impacted their lives. Click the link to find out more and to purchase tickets.

The Central Rappahannock Regional Library has a whole slate of events at multiple locations for Black History Month. This includes “Researching African Americans in Stafford Virginia,” during which professional genealogist Char McCargo Bah will demonstrate the use of historic documents in researching a local African American family. It will be offered on two dates at two branches. There are events for every age, including a focus on “African American Heroes” on Friday, Feb. 14 for elementary-aged children.

The University of Mary Washington’s James Farmer Multicultural Center has something to do nearly every day in February to commemorate Black History Month. Click the link to find out about the full list of lectures and events. Their Farmer Film Series will be offered throughout the month to highlight Civil Rights leader James L. Farmer Jr., who taught at the college, with three films that explore his contributions: “The Great Debaters,” “The Good Fight,” and “Freedom Riders.”

On Feb. 11, Danny Tweedy, associate professor in the department of English, Linguistics, and Communication, will reflect on the literature, music, and art of the Harlem Renaissance in a lecture called “The Harlem Renaissance at 100” at 6 p.m. in the University Center. Among the lectures offered by the college will be its Black History Month keynote speaker Etan Thomas, a prolific—and much awarded– author of poetry and nonfiction. His talk will take place Wednesday, Feb. 12 at 7 p.m. in the Chandler Ballroom C. The university’s Great Lives Series will highlight Frederick Douglass on Thursday, Feb. 27 at 7:30 p.m. in Dodd Auditorium. During this event, Pulitzer Prize winner and Yale professor David Blight will speak on his biography “Frederick Douglass: Profit of Freedom.”

Take a tour

You can also tour the black history of the region at your own pace. Fredericksburg’s Trolley Tour offers a customized tour, or you can hire a step-on guide to learn more about Fredericksburg’s African-American heritage.

Whether you choose a formal tour, or choose a self-guided option, you’ll learn about important landmarks, including Shiloh Baptist Church, the slave auction block at the corner of Charles and William Streets, and sit-ins at downtown lunch counters in 1960. You can pick up a copy of the self-guided walking tour at the Fredericksburg Visitor Center or download it on the

Fred Map App.

These downtown sites are also part of the Trail to Freedom, which traces the route as many as 10,000 slaves took in the spring and summer of 1862 to freedom upon the arrival of the Union army in Stafford, opposite Fredericksburg. According to local historians, this mass self-emancipation was likely the largest single exodus of slaves in America up to that time. The trail follows the journey of John Washington, a slave in Fredericksburg who wrote of the escape in his memoir. Consider starting your tour at 900 Princess Anne St., now a restaurant, but formerly Washington’s lodging and site of enslavement. (Also of note: Abraham Lincoln gave a speech on the side steps of this building.)

The trail combines the walking tour of Fredericksburg with a driving tour of African-American history in Stafford County. Stafford’s historic port of Falmouth include sites like Chatham Manor and the Moncure Conway House, home of a preacher and abolitionist who helped his father’s slaves escape to freedom. The Historic Union Church and other locations are central to the story of John DeBaptiste, a successful businessman and free black during the Revolutionary War, are also included.

You’ll find the story of many different types of lives along this tour, including Fannie Roots, whose house adjoined the Gari Melchers home and studio at Belmont. A Civil Rights activist, Roots lived here her entire life. Belmont preserves African American gardening traditions and the stories of tradesmen, workers and women of the area here.

You’ll also experience the story of Soloman Northrup, of 12 Years a Slave, who was transferred from steamboat to stagecoach at Aquia Landing after his capture. Now a park with multiple options for recreation, this site was both an important access point for military operations and slaves seeking freedom during the Civil War.

Spotsylvania County also has its own unique history and self-guided tour. The Spotsylvania African American Heritage Trail includes 11 sites that tell a total of 23 stories of one-room schools, churches and an old gold mining. Along that tour is the John J. Wright Educational and Cultural Center Museum, which preserves Spotsylvania’s stories with permanent exhibits of artifacts, photographs and interpretations of the history of public education for African Americans in Spotsylvania County.

Whether you prefer an event, a museum, to take in history on the spot it happened at your own pace, you can do just that this February and make your American history a more well-rounded one, that tells the whole story.

Last Updated:
May 12, 2020