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African-American Heritage Tour Visits Alexandria

Fourth Annual Event to Explore City's Historic Black Sites

Stacy M. Brown | 1/15/2014, 3 p.m.
The Freedom House slave pen, once owned by the same slave dealer who sold Solomon Northup into slavery, is remarkably similar to that which is featured in the award-winning film "12 Years a Slave," giving visitors a palpable sense of what slave pens were like during that era. (R Kennedy for ACVA

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The District of Columbia and its surrounding areas enjoy a rich and diverse history, said Washington Informer Publisher Denise Rolark Barnes.

“Sadly, however, too few Washingtonians, especially African Americans, take advantage of the opportunities to explore all Washington has to offer despite the fact that many places are accessible and free,” said Barnes, who four years ago decided she would do her part in helping local residents and others experience the unique culture of Washington, Maryland and Northern Virginia.

In 2011, Barnes started an African-American Heritage Tour, in which she and several sponsors invited adults and children to spend the day visiting some of the region’s most historical and memorable sites.

Held annually during Black History Month, the tours have entertained hundreds of individuals who’ve been treated to visits to such landmarks as the Frederick Douglass House in Anacostia and the African-American Civil War Museum in Northwest.

Last year, the sold out event took participants on a tour of the historically black townships of Prince George’s County, Md., where the county’s African American Museum and Cultural Center installed an exhibit celebrating the pioneering spirit of the people who founded the four original majority black municipalities incorporated there.

This year, the one-day extravaganza will take place on Saturday, Feb. 8, and will tour historic Alexandria, Va., a city which recently received attention because of the Golden Globe-winning film, “12 Years a Slave.”

Those on the tour will be able to explore the Freedom House slave pen, once owned by the same slave trader who sold Solomon Northup into slavery and one in which officials said mirrors the pens featured in “12 Years a Slave,” a movie based on Northup’s autobiography.

“There’s a lot of buzz about the Washington Informer’s African-American Heritage Tour here in Alexandria,” said Patricia Washington, president and CEO of the Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association.

“I approached the Informer to come to Alexandria because of our history. This year, the attention on Alexandria was heightened because of the, “12 Years a Slave,” movie and Alexandria is one of the only places where the public can see a real slave pen and jail and experience the history,” Washington said.

Additionally, tour goers will be able to experience the role Alexandria played in the Civil War and they will learn about the many abolitionists stationed in the city, Washington said.

The city proudly will show off the Alexandria Black History Museum, which houses a reading room that provides an environment for learning about the diversity of African American cultural traditions and an African American Heritage Park, a nine-acre green space and wetland that officials said offers a place for celebration, commemoration and quiet reflection.

“I’m excited about the tour because we have a story to be told, a story that includes Alexandria as George Washington’s boyhood home and the historic Old Town,” said the city’s first African-American mayor, William Euille, who’s served in that capacity since winning election in 2003.

“A lot of African Americans contributed to the history of this city,” said Euille, who noted that he often looks outside the windows from his City Hall office to the town’s public square where century’s ago a slave trading post stood.

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