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Fredericksburg Civil Rights Trail – History in the Making

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by Rhoda Venture
Education Trip

Civil Rights History in the Making

For more than 200 years, the African American community has been rooted deeply in Fredericksburg.  Nothing symbolized the city’s long engagement in the transatlantic slave trade more than the stone auction block that sat at the corner of William and Charles Streets.  It was the site of at least 12 auctions of enslaved people between 1847 and 1862.

As we move through the tumultuous 21st century, historic sites like this auction block have become the subjects of weighty debates.  Are they evidence of our checkered past or vivid reminders of oppression?

After much discussion, Fredericksburg took a monumental step in its efforts to advance the city’s commitment to equity and inclusion.

On June 5, 2020, the 1200-pound sandstone block was removed from its centuries-old location and replaced with a circular medallion that now serves as a place of reflection and respect.  The block was moved to the Fredericksburg Area Museum and is featured in an African American history exhibit.

This is just one compelling story in a complex regional history.  And a new chapter is just beginning with the (very) recently launched Fredericksburg Civil Rights Trail featured this week on Destination Dispatch.

Fredericksburg Civil Rights History Tour on Destination Dispatch

The DD Team sat down with Victoria Matthews from Visit Fredericksburg.  Victoria shared great information for groups interested in exploring the history and culture of African American people in the Fredericksburg area.

In February of 2023, FXBG launched the brand new Fredericksburg Civil Rights Trail.  This trail hosts a bevy of must-dos and hidden historical gems tucked into the area.

Historical Highlights

The timeline of events begins just as the Civil War nears its end in 1865.  As lines of intense fighting shifted through the region, enslaved people made the most of the turmoil to escape bondage.

The African American story continued through the turbulent 20th century and into the 21st.  This new tour highlights the significant role African Americans play in Fredericksburg during this time.

Fredericksburg Civil Rights Trail
Photo credit to FXBG Economic Development and Tourism

It includes “sites where Black people created educational, housing, and business opportunities in the midst of Jim Crow era segregation, as well as buildings where people protested racial segregation in the 1950s and 1960s.”

Civil Rights Trail in Two Parts

Part 1 is a 2.6-mile walking tour through Fredericksburg’s historic downtown district that starts at the Fredericksburg Visitor Center.

Part 2 starts on the University of Mary Washington’s campus and includes stops at Shiloh Cemetery and the Dorothy Hart Community Center. It is a .5-mile walk on campus and 1.9 miles of driving.

Fredericksburg Civil Rights Trail
Photo credit to Free Lance Star

As you move from place to place, your tour becomes a journey into the hearts of the people who lived here.

Connect Your Experience with African American Heritage Trail Sites

Complete your historic journey with the Spotsylvania African American Heritage Trail.  This 75-mile self-guided tour through stunning Spotsylvania includes important sights and stops.

  • See where the U.S. 23rd Colored Troops fought for the first time in Virginia at the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse.
  • Visit the Piney Branch Baptist Church – the only one-room schoolhouse for African American children still standing in its original location.
  • Learn about the successful mining enterprises of black men and women in the 1800s.
  • Explore the Wright Education & Cultural Center & Museum – a renovated building of the only high school that served African American children in the county from 1909 to 1968.

These places and spaces allow you to connect with history and culture in ways that you simply haven’t before.  The stories are endlessly fascinating, at times heartbreaking, but always threaded with resilience and pride.

Fredericksburg Freedom Riders
Photo credit to Johnson Publishing Company

Include the New Fredericksburg Civil Rights Trail on Your Group Itinerary

When you plan your group trip to Fredericksburg, be sure to include the new Civil Rights Trail.  If you need a few fresh ideas or additional information, contact Victoria for expert advice!

And as always, the KA team is ready to help make your trip planning simple and convenient with a pro planning team and easy online registration and payments.

PLAN YOUR FREDERICKSBURG CIVIL RIGHTS TRIP

Related Reading: Fredericksburg Spotlights the Washington Family Legacy

Related Reading:  Explore the Tragedy and Triumph of the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama

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