Home Fredericksburg Civil Rights Trail joins national collection of landmarks
Arts & Culture, Virginia

Fredericksburg Civil Rights Trail joins national collection of landmarks

Rebecca Barnabi
civil rights act of 1964
(© Jon – stock.adobe.com)

The Fredericksburg Civil Rights Trail has been added to the national collection of landmarks that are the U.S. Civil Rights Trail.

The addition was announced by the city of Fredericksburg and the University of Mary Washington today.

The U.S. trail spans 15 states and includes churches, schools, museums and other locations that played a pivotal role in the Civil Rights Movement. Fredericksburg’s Civil Rights Trail, “Freedom, A Work in Progress,” is the only one of the four sites inducted this year to the U.S. trail that is not a single entity, adding 21 stops to the national narrative.

Community members, many of whom gathered a year ago at the trail’s official launch, attended an announcement event, held at Shiloh Baptist Church (Old Site), the first stop on the three-mile journey that winds through parts of historic downtown Fredericksburg and the UMW campus. Prominent Black citizens and pastors of the church, including the Rev. B.H. Hester and the Rev. Lawrence Davies, played critical roles in the struggle for civil rights and social justice.

Fredericksburg Mayor Kerry Devine kicked off the event by revealing the city’s inclusion on the national trail, a surprise to guests who gathered by invitation to hear a “monumental announcement.”

“The landmarks are part of your history but also part of Virginia history,” Virginia Tourism Corporation President and CEO Rita McClenny told the packed sanctuary. “When you walk up and down these streets where presidents have walked, where the enslaved have walked, where soldiers have walked … if we all can preserve and appreciate and understand that what we have in common is so much greater than what divides us.”

Fredericksburg Vice Mayor Chuck Frye shared with the crowd stories his grandmother told when he was a child.

Congratulatory letters were read from U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, Sen. Mark Warner, Sen. Tim Kaine and United States Vice President Kamala Harris.

The trail, which the city and JFMC worked toward for three years, gives community members a glimpse of civil rights history starting in 1865. Virginia historical markers guide the way with the first stop on the 1961 Freedom Rides journey that challenged segregation of interstate travel. Twenty-one stops on the trail chronicle court rulings and protests from the Jim Crow era to the Black Lives Matter movement.

“It’s really what it represents for the next generation – to have this trail coming onto our campus for our students to see what is possible,” said UMW President Troy Paino. “It offers hope and inspiration.”

History-making sit-ins, neighborhoods marred by segregation and locations that illustrate the efforts of Black artists, educators, entrepreneurs and students determined to seek justice and equality for all are the focus of the trail. Trail stops also include the Fredericksburg Area Museum, the Slave Auction Site at the corner of William and Charles streets, and UMW’s James Farmer memorial, which honors the late civil rights icon and Freedom Rides leader who taught history at UMW for more than a decade.

“Being added to the U.S. Civil Rights Trail brings more awareness to the important stories here in the City of Fredericksburg,” City of Fredericksburg Tourism Sales Manager Victoria Matthews said. “We are delighted and honored to be added to the U.S. Civil Rights Trail.”

The trail was also made possible by Fredericksburg tourism staff, UMW’s Simpson Library Special Collections and University Archives and Mary Washington faculty and students who engaged in the work through courses in historic preservation, history and American studies and geography.

“It is truly a historic moment for the city of Fredericksburg to be added to the U.S. Civil Rights Trail,” UMW James Farmer Multicultural Center Assistant Director Chris Williams said. “This has been a life-changing experience. I hope more cities and towns within the Commonwealth follow our blueprint.”

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.