African-American Historical Sites: Visit the Places, Learn the History, Celebrate the Culture

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By Gianna Jirak

Every February, we celebrate African-American History Month and the icons who accompany it. We watch
movies praising the freedom riders, listen to the speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., attend festivals and parades, and visit museums to learn more about the history of African-Americans in the United States. This year, due to pandemic restrictions, attending festivals, museums or parades is less possible. But with the right safety precautions, you can visit local African-American historical sites and gain a deeper understanding of African-American history in Northern Virginia.

Here are some great historical sites to visit and celebrate African-American History Month this February.

Manassas Industrial School & Jennie Dean Memorial

The Manassas Industrial School for Colored Youth was chartered on Oct. 3, 1893, after years of fundraising by Jennie Dean, a former slave. The school’s first building, Howard Hall, opened a year later, with Frederick Douglass conducting the dedication ceremonies for it. The school acted as a private residential institution for African-American students, and at its peak held over 150 students. According to the City of Manassas, students at the school were educated in mathematics, natural sciences, geography, physiology, music, literature and English, as well as many vocational skills. The girls were taught to sew, cook and perform a variety of other domestic duties, while the boys were taught things like carpentry, cobbling and shoe-making.

In 1937, the school and its surrounding land and buildings were acquired by Fairfax, Fauquier and Prince William Public Schools to create a regional high school for African-American students. Now, remnants of the school stand in a 5-acre archaeological park at 9601 Wellington Road in Manassas, along with a memorial to Dean that was unveiled in October. Visitors can admire the memorial to Dean, which includes a statue of
her with an outstretched hand, as if to lift others up. The site includes the exhibit kiosks with audio  programs and interpretive panels. Due to COVID-19, site closures are possible. Find up-to-date information at va-manassas2.civicplus.com.

Lucasville School

The Lucasville School, a school dedicated to the education of African-American children located in Manassas, was constructed in 1885 by H.W. Lloyd. It was Prince William County’s only extant one-room school built for African-American children.

Although it closed down permanently in 1926, a reconstructed version of it, which contains a few pieces from the original school, still stands today in Manassas to allow us to have a deeper understanding of post-Civil War African-American history.

At the school, first- through sixth-grade students were taught mathematics, geography, penmanship, reading and history, as well as African-American history in February during Abraham Lincoln’s birthday week. Today, visitors can also celebrate African-American history at the school, located at 10516 Godwin Drive in Manassas, through special weekend programming events. The programming includes displays, crafts and a depiction of a typical day at the school. No more than five people will be allowed in the school at one time and masks are required. Due to COVID-19, site closures are possible. Find the latest information and guidelines at pwcgov.org.

Ben Lomond Historic Site

Ben Lomond, destinations 0221

Ben Lomond Historic Site Slave Quarters

The Ben Lomond Plantation, now known as the Ben Lomond Historic Site, was the home to countless enslaved African-Americans for nearly 100 years. The original slave quarters still stand on the site, as do the dairy, smokehouse and “antebellum kitchen,” where enslaved people worked. During the Civil War, the plantation was transformed into a Confederate field hospital and was later ransacked by federal soldiers who left behind destruction and graffiti. The graffiti is still preserved, and the location is a part of the Northern Virginia Civil War Graffiti Trail.

Those interested in visiting the site and its slave quarters, located at 10321 Sudley Manor Drive, Manassas, should visit on Feb. 20 from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. for “Everyday Full of Work: The African-American Experience at Ben Lomond.” Visitors will learn more about the lives and work of enslaved people on the
plantation through tours of the main house and visits to the interactive virtual-reality exhibit in the slave quarters. During the event, visitors are also able to visit other locations on the plantation not ordinarily open to the general public. Masks are required during the indoor portions of the event and are recommended for the outdoor portions. Visit pwcgov.org for more information.

Brentsville Courthouse Historic Centre

The Brentsville Courthouse Historic Centre is the site of multiple executions of African-American people, both enslaved and free, spanning many years. It is said that spirits of some of those executed still haunt the historic center, including Agnes, who was reportedly executed while pregnant. To learn more about the lives of African-Americans, the historic center, located at 12229 Bristow Road in Bristow, is hosting African-American History at Brentsville Courthouse on Feb. 13 from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. The event will discuss the African-American experience in the 19th century from the perspective of the Brentsville Courthouse through tours. The event will also share information on African-American enslavement, hardships, community treatment and achievements. Tours are limited to seven people per tour and masks are required. Visit pwcgov.org for pandemic-related cancellations.

Gianna Jirak is an intern at Prince William Living with aspirations of being an international and political reporter. She currently attends C.D. Hylton Senior High School and is the Editor in Chief of her school newspaper.

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