African American Civil War Descendants Study

The National Park Service, in partnership with American University, is undertaking a project to document the local history of African American communities — communities established during or after the Civil War (1861-1877) and associated with eight Civil War Defense sites in Washington, DC.

This project will document the stories of these communities and their descendants in the Washington, DC, area. Dr. Sue Taylor, American University, is the principal investigator for this project. Sharing your story will help the National Park Service document and preserve cultural resources of historical importance that are still important to the community today. Communities east of the Anacostia River around Fort Davis, Fort Dupont, and Fort Mahan, communities in Northeast DC near Fort Bunker Hill, as well as communities in Northwest DC near Fort Fort Reno, Fort Slocum, Fort Stevens, and Battery Kemble are included in the project. Check out the fort sites and their associated neighborhoods.

Your story is important!
If you would like to participate, please contact Dr. Sue Taylor at or call 202-885-1830;

In the News
Listen to Dr. Taylor's interview about the project on WAMU radio (October 2014). Click "Play" at the top of the screen to listen.


Open Transcript


The Civil War served as the catalyst that would forever change the landscape of this country and of the District of Columbia. As the war raged on, thousands of slaves used the commotion and bloodshed to escape from oppression.

In the process the war brought a large percentage of the enslaved population to the forts surrounding, as well as protecting, Washington, DC. These individuals left with the hope of finding both freedom, as well as new opportunities. A large portion of these African Americans, both free and enslaved, came from Southern states as well as nearby Virginia and Maryland. When they arrived at these forts, they were given basic resources and shelter. And, in exchange, they were hired by the Union army. "Contraband," as they were called, reflected their status as spoils of war.

In the years to follow, African American settlements grew and eventually experienced a heightened period of economic as well as social prosperity, building entire communities for their families despite the amount of discrimination they experienced. Some of these communities, established in the shadow of Civil War Defenses of Washington, may still exist today.

Descendants of Civil War refugees may trace their community beginnings to the neighborhoods surrounding Fort Davis, Fort Dupont, and Fort Mahan east of the Anacostia River and Fort Reno, Fort Slocum, Fort Stevens, Fort Bunker Hill, and Battery Kemble in Northwest Washington.

The National Park Service in partnership with American University wants to learn about this community history and hear the stories of contemporary African Americans with ties to these parks. Sharing your story will help the National Park Service to document and preserve resources of historical importance that are still important to the community today.

Can you trace your heritage to the Civil War? If you have connections to Civil War descendant communities and would be interested in sharing your story with the National Park Service please visit:

or contact project researcher Professor Sue Taylor at:

Your story is important and together we can preserve these important places of community, hope, and freedom -- today and in the future.

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2 minutes, 46 seconds

This brief video describes the African American Civil War Descendants Study.


Last updated: April 10, 2015

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