The mission of the African American Civil War Museum is to correct a great wrong in history that largely ignored the enormous contributions of the 209,145 members of the United States Colored Troops. It tells the stories and perserves for posterity the historic roles these brave men of African, European, and Hispanic descent played in ending slavery and keeping America united under one flag. The Museum uses a rich collection of artifacts, documents, primary sources and technology to create a meaningful learning experience for families, students, Civil War enthusiasts and historians about the period from the Ameican Civil War to Civil Rights and beyond.
The museum was founded for two purposes to correct the wrong in American history that ignored the service of the United States Colored Troops (USCT) and to aid in the economic revitalization of the historic U Street community which was devastated by the 1968 riots. At the core of the Museum's mission is the goal 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 before 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 public through an eclectic programming schedule.
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. 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. Learn about Ed Hamilton