Washington D.C. has a wealth of black history. During pre-Civil War times, the district was home to a growing number of free blacks who made their livelihood in the region. After Emancipation, the nation’s capital continued to see the growth of a thriving African-American population that contributed much to its commerce, arts, and the advancement of civil rights.

If you’re a history buff who loves learning while traveling, there’s enough to keep you busy for an entire week. If you only have a couple of days to see the best that D.C. has to offer and soak up some black history and culture along the way, here are some of the highlights to have a packed and informative weekend in the nation’s capital.

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Day 1

Your first day touring in D.C. or in the surrounding areas can be spent at any one of the many museums in the area. Being Washington D.C., you can learn about black culture and history from many different eras and from diverse viewpoints.

Smithsonian Museum of African-American History

NMAAHC in washington DC

Image via Flickr – CC BY 2.0FaceMePLS

The first choice is the most obvious one and the reason why many people will come to D.C. for a weekend. The Smithsonian Museum of African-American History features one of the most extensive collections of any African-American museum in the country. There are seven floors for you to see, each with its own theme. The bottom floor is a sobering and gripping coverage of the history of slavery in this country. There are several other floors with historical artifacts before the museum devotes significant space to covering black culture. If you only have one day to spend at the museum, you may need to prioritize what you wish to see simply because there is so much under one roof that it’s not possible to give it extensive coverage in one day. In addition, the museum has several different food venues featuring cuisine from different regions of the US and Africa. Even years after the museum has opened, tickets are still not easy to come by and advance planning is necessary. There are some day-of-event tickets available if you are willing to wait outside of the museum early.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

While you’re on the National Mall, there are several other different attractions of interest. The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial is a newer monument paying homage to the memory of the great civil rights leader. Visitors can reflect on Dr. King’s legacy while reading various quotations of his that are inscribed into the statute. The memorial is close to both the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials. While you are on the National Mall, you can visit the spot where Dr. King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

Smithsonian Museum of African Art

 

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The Museum of African Art is another Smithsonian museum that is worth several hours of your time. The museum focuses on both historical and contemporary African art. You can get a tour with a docent or take a self-guided tour. The museum has been a part of the Smithsonian for over 30 years and continuously adds new pieces to its collection.

Anacostia Community Museum

One lesser-known Smithsonian museum that isn’t on the National Mall is the Anacostia Community Museum, which is located in Southeast D.C. This museum has exhibits that are devoted to the history of the city, in particular, the African-American experience in D.C. The museum also shows numerous films and documentaries. Since the museum is not as well-known as other museums and is not on the Mall, it is rarely crowded and will allow you to get your fill of history in an unrushed and quiet setting.

Frederick Douglass National Historic Site

Frederick Douglass Historic Site in Washington DC

Image via Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0Ted Eytan

If you venture to the Anacostia Museum, you should also take some time to visit the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, which is only a few minutes away. The statesman and abolitionist lived in a house on this site for 18 years in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Now, the house is a museum that’s devoted to teaching visitors about the legacy of Douglass.

Day 2

On your second day in Washington D.C., you can devote the day to both African-American culture and cuisine.

The U Street Corridor was once home to the nation’s largest African-American urban community. There were a large number of social clubs, music venues, and restaurants, many of which are still open today.

Ben’s Chili Bowl

Almost no trip to D.C. is complete without a visit to this iconic food landmark. The restaurant has fed many major celebrities from Duke Ellington to former President Barack Obama. Diners flock to Ben’s for the “half-smoke” local sausage hot dogs, milkshakes, and the chili. This famous restaurant has been featured on countless television shows. The establishment is also is also famous in the annals of the civil rights movement as being one of the few places to stay open during the riots following Dr. King’s assassination in 1968, providing food and shelter for activists, firefighters, and policemen alike. This is not simply just a place for tourists. D.C. residents eat here in large numbers too so you can chow down like a local when you visit.

The Lincoln Theater

Located on U Street, this theater served the African-American community in D.C. when they were not allowed to enter many of the major theaters in the city. Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington are among the many great musical acts to play here, although this theater closed in 1968, it was restored in 1994 and is in use again. Luckily, the Lincoln Theater is right next door to Ben’s Chili Bowl so you can grab a half-smoke right after seeing this attraction.

Howard University

Beautiful brick building at howard university

Howard is one of the foremost historically black colleges and universities in the country and has educated many of this country’s prominent African Americans. Howard’s campus features numerous historical buildings of note. You can walk around the campus and get a feel for what life was like for generations of Howard students. Near the campus of Howard University is the historic Howard Theater, which has been entertaining guests for over 100 years. The Howard Theater has been recently renovated and continues to host a diverse variety of cultural and musical events.

African-American Heritage Trail

This is probably the ultimate self-guided tour around the city for visitors who’d like to understand more about African-American history. There are more than 200 sites that are significant to black history that you can see on this tour, spread out across 15 different neighborhoods. Since the tour is self-guided, you can go at your own pace and see as much or as little as you want, and you’ll also have the flexibility to construct your own itinerary and customize your day. In the meantime, you can arrange a stop at one of the many black-owned restaurants in the city where you can dig into some amazing food!

Oohh’s & Aahh’s

closeup of mac n cheese dishes

You can finish your day by dining at this award-winning soul food restaurant. While this eatery is most certainly on the affordable side, taste and quality are in abundance. This restaurant boasts some of the best mac n cheese and chicken and waffles in town and has been featured on various Food Network shows. When you visit on the weekend, Oohh’s & Aahh’s is open well into the wee morning hours so you can go practically any time of the day.

Have you visited the nation’s capital and learned more about black history? Add your favorite D.C. African-American heritage and cultural spots to the comments.

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