Memorial & Museum History
The African American Civil War Memorial Freedom Foundation was incorporated in 1992 to tell the largely unknown story of the United States Colored Troops (USCT). As a tribute to these soldiers, the African American Civil War Memorial was dedicated in July of 1998 under the leadership of Dr. Frank Smith Jr., and Colin Powell. In honor of these American soldiers who fought for freedom during the American Civil War, the Spirit of Freedom: African American Civil War Memorial sculpture and its Wall of Honor, was situated in the heart of the historic “U” Street district, and serves as a reminder of the courageous story of the USCT. The sculpture portrays uniformed soldiers and a sailor at a height of ten feet with a family depicted on the back of the sculpture, and is situated in the center of a granite-paved plaza, encircled on three sides by the Wall of Honor. The wall lists the names of 209,145 USCT drawn from the official records of the Bureau of United States Colored Troops at the National Archives, on 166 burnished stainless steel plaques arranged by regiment.
The African American Civil War Memorial Freedom Foundation & Museum is an important contribution to the “U” Street neighborhood community of Washington, DC, which has been revitalized, throughout recent years, as a center of African American history and culture. At no other time, since the 1950s, has the “U” Street district seen such energizing forces as those that are seen today—it is a neighborhood of eclectic and diverse cultures, an artistic hub of music, theatre, and art, and is highlighted with a plethora of new businesses and restaurants with an international essence—all amid the historical sites, sounds, and flavors of previous times. In addition, the African American churches played an integral role in the history of the “U” Street neighborhood—serving as not only religious centers, but as social and cultural institutions, and were often included as stops on the Underground Railroad. Slaves and runaways held religious services in tents during the Civil War— some tents later became churches. Many post-Civil War contraband camps were established in the “U” Street neighborhood – Camp Barker, the Campbell Hospital, and the Wisewell Barracks – as well as the Freedman’s Hospital, which later became part of Howard University’s Medical School.
The African American Civil War Museum [“AACWM”] opened its doors in January of 1999 and communicates the stories of the USCT through photographs, documents, artifacts, seminars by staff, and historic presentations by community members – volunteer re-enactors, to help visitors understand the largely unknown role of soldiers who fought for freedom from slavery during the Civil War. The museum serves as a unique resource for teachers, scholars, students and professionals of museum studies, descendants of USCT soldiers, and the general public. More than 200,000 visitors come to the Memorial and Museum each year. In April of 2011, the African American Civil War Memorial Freedom Foundation and Museum moved to its new permanent location within the “U” Street District, the historic Grimke Building. The Grimke Building is named after Archibald Grimke [1849-1930], born a slave in Charleston, South Carolina yet, ultimately, became the second African American to graduate from Harvard Law School. The Grimke family was recognized as one of the most prominent African American families in Washington, DC history, leaving a remarkable legacy in education, civil rights, religion, and the arts.
The core mission of the African American Civil War Museum is to serve the educational needs of its local, national, and international community with a high-quality and effective learning experience while interpreting the history of the USCT and the community life of African Americans prior to, and after, the American Civil War. With this mission as the central aspect of our operations, the Museum constantly seeks to provide a variety of learning opportunities for students of all ages, teachers, scholars, USCT descendants, churches, and the general public through an eclectic programming schedule. Learn about Ed Hamilton