Through this a one- or two-day journey through Potomac Heritage, you experience the breadth of the American ideal of freedom through voices and images. You’ll also relax on a short walk to a stunning (and still secret) overlook of the Shenandoah River, and pause to ponder it all on a visit a winery or two. Frederick Douglass is best known as a formerly enslaved man who became the orator-in-chief for emancipation. W.E.B. DuBois is remembered as the political organizer who set in motion the creation of the NAACP. Often forgotten today is that both were champions for the Civil Rights and equality of all people—including Irish immigrants who built the C&O Canal and American women battling for the right to vote.
This tour begins in Washington, D.C., then heads west to Harpers Ferry, W.Va., followed by the Civil Rights Walking Tour in the Potomac town of Leesburg, Va.
Stop 1, Cedar Hill, Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, 1411 W Street SE, Washington, D.C. Douglass was born on a plantation on the Eastern Shore of Maryland around 1818. He escaped to New York in 1838 disguised as a sailor, then traveled speaking about his experiences in slavery. Soon, he was one of the most famous orators in America. For nearly 60 years, he championed the cause of equal treatment under the law.
Cedar Hill today is furnished largely the way Douglass left when he died in 1895. See gifts from U.S. Presidents, paintings and photographs, and his incredible library. You can take a self-guided tour, but make time for a guided tour—you’ll never forget it. And the view of Washington from the Hill rivals the view from anywhere. The house is kid-friendly (Douglass’s grandchildren were daily visitors), but on sunny days, today’s kids love to play outside on the Hill—allowing two adults to “tag team” visits indoors.
Stop 2, Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. About an hour up the Potomac via Interstate 270, then south/west on U.S. 340. After crossing the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, turn left into the Harpers Ferry NHP visitor center at the top of the hill.
Harpers Ferry brings to life America’s industrial history beginning in the early 19th century, slavery and the Civil War, and the founding of the modern Civil Rights movement.
There are six major exhibits interpreting African American history. The John Brown museum includes artifacts, storyboards and video presentations charting the history of slavery and the abolitionist movement. Also in Harpers Ferry’s lower town are Black Voices and the Storer College Niagara Movement exhibits. Black Voices is an interactive audio-visual exhibit depicting the stories of enslaved people.
The Storer College Niagara Exhibit reveals the story of the school founded for freed African Americans shortly after the Civil War. The college hosted the 1906 meeting of the Niagara Movement, founded by W.E.B. Du Bois. It was the group’s second meeting, and its first meeting on American soil. The meeting is considered the beginning of the modern Civil Rights era. Its members launched the NAACP a few years later.
Stop 3, Murphy Farm. In 1906, the Niagara delegates walked from Storer College to John Brown’s Fort, which had been dismantled and moved to the farm by the Murphy family. From the park visitor center, it’s an easy 30-minute round trip to the site. Near the site is an overlook with incredible views of the Shenandoah River.
Leaving the park visitor center, backtrack on Route 340 to the bottom of the hill. Just before the bridge over the Potomac, turn right onto Harpers Ferry Road (Route 671). In 5 miles enter the Hillsboro, Va., area. There is a vineyard on 671, and two more on Route 9, where you will turn right to continue the trip.
Continuing on Route 9, go east on Route 7 to Leesburg.
Stop 4, Leesburg’s African American Heritage Tour. Stretch your legs before dinner walking the streets of this historic town while experiencing Civil Rights history on an architectural walking tour. Pick up a brochure at the visitor center, 16 Loudoun Street, or request one by phone or email by visiting their website.
Region: C&O Canal Towpath, Two Rivers, Washington D.C.
Last updated: April 10, 2015