George Washington Memorial Parkway

George Washington Memorial Parkway The George Washington Memorial Parkway was designed as a "comprehensive park, parkway, and playground system of the National Capital." It includes a scenic road, trails for hiking and biking, historic monuments, and stunning natural areas.

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Highlights from the Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial museum collectionWilliam Syphax and his autograph bookOb...

Highlights from the Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial museum collection

William Syphax and his autograph book

Objects: William Syphax’s photograph and autograph book

Pictured is a daguerreotype of William Syphax and his autograph book. Syphax started the autograph book while he was Chief Messenger at the Secretary of the Interior’s office. The book’s autograph collection contains 209 signatures from prominent people such as Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Chief Justice Roger Taney, John Jay, William Lloyd Garrison, and George Washington Parke Custis. Both objects are a part of the Arlington House museum collection. It will be on display in our new African American history exhibit.

Who was William Syphax?

William Syphax was the son of Maria and Charles Syphax, who were both enslaved on the Arlington plantation. Maria was the daughter of George Washington Parke Custis, owner of the Arlington House and the 1100 acre plantation, and Arianna Carter, an enslaved maid. William was born on the Arlington estate on April 4, 1825 and him, his mother Maria, and his only sister at the time were manumitted in 1826.

Little is known about William’s early life, but he eventually became an influential figure that was involved in political, social, and educational affairs in Washington, DC. In 1868 he was appointed to the Board of Trustees of Colored Public School of Washington, DC. He served as chairman for two years, 1868-1870, and as treasurer for one year, 1870-1871. William organized the Preparatory High School for Colored Youth in the basement of the Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church which became Dunbar High School in 1916. He also helped create several schools in the District, he was one of the founders of the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church, he sponsored a new cemetery, and he was active in organizations dedicated to the advancement of African Americans.

William married Mary M. Browne and they had three children together. He died June 15, 1891.


Do you know the first Black communities in Arlington?

Park Rangers visit the Black Heritage Museum of Arlington to learn how the park is connected with the first Black communities of Arlington. Come with us to see for yourself. Please share any feelings you have about a Black community you associate with.

Learn more at:

Who was George Pointer? Learn about his story on our Great Falls Park page. #findyourpark #blackhistorymonth #greatfalls
Great Falls Park

Who was George Pointer? Learn about his story on our Great Falls Park page.

#findyourpark #blackhistorymonth #greatfalls

Uncovering history at Great Falls Park: The story of Captain George Pointer

Captain George Pointer has a unique story for his time. He was born into slavery, he bought his freedom at a young age, worked several jobs for the Patowmack Canal Company, and later in life, he became the last Superintendent Engineer at Great Falls.

Who was George Pointer?

Born on October 11, 1773, George Pointer was enslaved in Frederick County, Maryland. His owner, William Wallace, first rented him to the Patowmack Canal Company as an enslaved laborer. Individuals that worked for the canal company were paid in monthly wages, food, drink, and cloth rations. Wallace allowed Pointer to keep a portion of his wages and eventually offered him the opportunity to purchase his freedom for $300. It took Pointer five years to earn the money and by age 19, he was able to buy his own freedom.

Pointer continued working for the canal company and was considered a consistent and trustworthy employee. He worked several dangerous jobs during his over 40 year career with the company. Those jobs consisted of transporting stone from local rock quarries to Great Falls, managing a group of five other men who navigated emptied cargo boats through the falls while the locks were being built, and taking on the role of the Superintendent Engineer in charge of construction improvements. The canal's wing dam was the first project completed under his supervision.

Pointer lived in a small cottage along the Potomac River for 43 years. He owned several acres of land and was able to grow his own crops, fish along the river, and sell some of those items for profit. In 1829, Pointer’s home was at risk for demolition because the C & O Canal Company planned to create a path that went straight through the property and where his home stood. In an attempt to save his home, he wrote a 12-page letter to the board members of the C & O Canal Company to protest their proposed construction path. Today, Pointer’s letter is preserved by the National Archives.

You can learn more about Captain George Pointer at Great Falls Park. Pointer’s story is highlighted in the section of the exhibit on the Patowmack Canal. You can also learn more by visiting:

What does it mean to you to have the right to vote? Pop quiz: Does the United States Constitution as originally written ...

What does it mean to you to have the right to vote?

Pop quiz: Does the United States Constitution as originally written gives us the right to vote? Yes? Actually, NO! There is no provision that states: Citizen, please vote. But you know what is in the Constitution? Our protection to vote, courtesy of the 14th and 15th Amendments. These amendments, along with the 13th, are known as the Reconstruction Amendments.

When the Founding Fathers created the Constitution back in 1787, they left it up to the individual states to determine voter eligibility. As a result, a handful of states allowed free Blacks (and some women) to vote. But over the following decades, state constitutions began restricting eligibility until it was mostly just White males going to the ballot box. And then the war came.

Though the 13th Amendment in 1865 abolished slavery, the legal status of those who had been enslaved remained uncertain. Clarification came in 1868 and 1870 with the 14th and 15th amendments, which, respectively, grants citizenship on all people born in the United States and prohibits preventing a citizen from voting.

Blacks now had political power and that upset some people. Southern states began rewriting their constitutions to get around the amendments and installed discriminatory voting standards, like poll taxes and literacy tests. Over the next near-century, millions of Blacks became disenfranchised. It was not until the federal government issued the 24th Amendment (poll tax abolished) and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that the right for all citizens to vote was made more secure.

The Reconstruction Amendments expanded upon what the Founding Fathers had originally created. Are things perfect now because of them? Absolutely not. But they were a start and very much a reminder that rights are never guaranteed and should not be taken for granted.

#BlackHistoryMonth #ReconstructionAmendments #vote

Please comment on how you feel Voting impacts our country.

There's still time to apply!. We're currently looking for a Engineering Equipment Operator Supervisor and a Engineering ...
Engineering Equipment Operator

There's still time to apply!. We're currently looking for a Engineering Equipment Operator Supervisor and a Engineering Equipment Operator. Click the links below for more details.

The primary purpose of this position is to operate gasoline or diesel powered engineering and construction heavy equipment. The vehicle(s) operated by this position meet the definition of a commercial motor vehicle. Travel, transportation, and relocation expenses will not be paid. All trave...

Arlington House Museum Collection Highlights for African American History MonthObject: Stereoview of Selina Gray and two...

Arlington House Museum Collection Highlights for African American History Month

Object: Stereoview of Selina Gray and two of her children on the Arlington House Plantation

This stereoview of Selina Gray and two of her children pictured near the South Slave Quarters at Arlington in the 1860s is one of the newer objects added to the Arlington House museum collection. This object was donated to the National Park Service by the Arlington House Foundation.

Who was Selina Gray?

Selina Norris Gray was a part of the enslaved community on the Arlington House Plantation. Her parents, Leonard and Norris Gray were also enslaved on the same plantation. She married Thornton Gray and they had eight children together. Gray was the personal maid to Mary Custis Lee, daughter of George Washington Parke Custis and wife of Robert E. Lee. Because of her role as personal maid to Mrs. Lee, Gray lived in the quarter’s directly behind the plantation’s main house. She and her husband shared the space with their children.

When the Lee’s left the Arlington estate at the start of the Civil War, The Union Army occupied the property soon after. Mrs. Lee gave Gray the household keys, entrusting her to take care of the house and the families material possessions. The United States Army assumed control of the Arlington Estate on May 24,1861 and the Army officers eventually occupied the house. When Mrs. Gray discovered some of the family belongings, including some of the Washington treasury, had been stolen, she confronted the soldiers and ordered them "not to touch any of Mrs. Lee's things." Gray alerted General Irvin McDowell, commander of the United States troops, to the importance of the Washington heirlooms. The remaining pieces were sent to the Patent Office for safekeeping. Because of Selina Gray and her efforts, much of the Washington was saved.

In December, 1862, Gray and the remaining enslaved population were emancipated after the death of George Washington Parke Custis but she continued to live on the property for several years after being freed

Jim Parks clip by Ranger Karima

Meet James Parks - born, lived and died at Arlington. An obscure man of dignity and duty. #BlackHistoryMonth

James Parks was born to enslaved parents, Lawrence Parks and Patsy Clark in 1843, at the Arlington Plantation (now Arlington National Cemetery). The property, 1100 acres at the time, belonged to George Washington Parke Custis, step-grandson and adopted son, of Founding Father George Washington.

He obtained his freedom in 1862, under terms in the will of Mr. Custis, and continued to work on the property. He was employed by the US Army as a gravedigger and builder. He dug some of the first graves on the 200 acres that was designated to become military burial ground. Mr. Parks eventually, dug the grave for Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs, who was responsible for identifying the property, then owned by Mary Anna Custis and Robert E. Lee, as a future burial site during the Civil War. He also helped to build Ft Whipple (Ft Myer) and Ft McPherson on the property.

In 1925, Congress decided to restore some of the property grounds and historic Arlington House, to resemble the 1861 era.

Mr. Parks was interviewed and consulted regarding the history at Arlington, including various prior location sites, such as: the Icehouse, springs and wells, blacksmith shop, enslaved quarters, dance pavilion, and the enslaved cemetery, where his parents and grandparents were buried. His understanding helped preserve the history. He had a keen memory, and provided very valuable information about the dynamics of the families that lived on the Arlington estate, such as the Custis and Lee families. He also provided vivid details and enslaved perspectives about some of the 63 enslaved people that lived there.

He was twice married and fathered 22 children.

Thanks to special approval by the Secretary of War, Mr. Parks was buried with full military honors, in section 15 on the property (now Arlington National Cemetery) that was his home.

For more visit: Jim Parks - Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial (U.S. National Park Service) (


Arlington House Museum Collection Highlights for African American History MonthObject: Jim Parks BustWho was Jim Parks?J...

Arlington House Museum Collection Highlights for African American History Month

Object: Jim Parks Bust

Who was Jim Parks?

Jim Parks, born around 1843 to Lawrence Parks and Patsy Clark, was a part of the enslaved population of the Arlington House Plantation. Arlington Plantation was built (using the labor of enslaved people) and owned by George Washington Parke Custis, the grandson of Martha Washington. Parks is the reason we have a more complete history of what took place on the Arlington Plantation. He mostly worked outside in the fields so he was able to give firsthand accounts of what took place on the property. When Parks was interviewed for an article in the 1928, he recalled George Washington Parke Custis, playing the fiddle for dances held in the pavilion near the river. Parks remembered little about Robert E. Lee, Mr. Custis' son-in-law, but he could name the Lee children from youngest to oldest.

Jim Parks witnessed what happened on the Arlington property during the Civil War. Like the Lee’s leaving the property to move to Richmond, VA at the start of the war, the Union Army taking over the property and designating 200 acres of land for a cemetery for the Civil War dead, and the aftermath of the war on property. He was also involved with constructing Union Army fortifications around the property and burying of Civil War dead.

The oral history provided by Jim Parks gave specific locations of the wells, springs, the enslaved quarters, enslaved burial grounds, dance pavilion, old roads, icehouse, blacksmith shop, kitchens, and enslaved burial grounds. Parks died August 1929 and he is the only person buried on the property that was born on the plantation. His knowledge and contributions help give us a better glimpse into the lives of the enslaved population and the Custis-Lee family.

Pictured is a bust of Jim Parks. The bust is a part of the Arlington House museum collection. It was commissioned by his family and they donated it to the National Park Service. It will be on display as a key artifact in our new interpretive exhibits at the historic site.

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When LBJ spoke the words of MLK and the anthem of "We Shall Overcome!"  #PresidentsDay  #BlackHistoryMonthToday, two gra...

When LBJ spoke the words of MLK and the anthem of "We Shall Overcome!" #PresidentsDay #BlackHistoryMonth

Today, two granite monuments stand on either side of the Potomac River. These are memorials to President Lyndon B. Johnson and Martin Luther King, Jr. Little seems to connect them.

But for two years King and Johnson strategized together—behind closed doors and during secretly recorded phone calls. From 1963 to 1965, their coordination helped to push forward the landmark civil rights laws of the 20th century.

In November 1963, in Johnson’s first formal address as president, he famously tied his administration to civil rights and Kennedy’s memory:

“No memorial oration or eulogy could more eloquently honor President Kennedy’s memory than the earliest possible passage of the civil rights bill for which he fought so long.”

These words would have been familiar to King. Just two days before, in a phone call, Dr. King had told Johnson:

“I think one of the great tributes that we can pay in memory of President Kennedy is to try to enact some of the great, progressive policies he sought to initiate.”

Eight months later, Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, with King looking over his shoulder.

The two coordinated again to pass voting rights legislation.

In January of 1965, King’s organization traveled to Selma, Alabama to support a voter registration drive. The effort would gain national attention two months later because of the brutal events of “Bloody Sunday.”

A week after Bloody Sunday, Johnson addressed the nation on the need for collective action:

“What happened in Selma is part of a far larger movement which reaches into every section and State of America. It is the effort of American Negroes to secure for themselves the full blessings of American life. Their cause must be our cause, too. But it is not just Negroes, but really it is all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome.”

“We shall overcome.” Johnson endorsed the Civil Rights anthem, and four months later signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

What do you think is important today that we must Overcome? Please comment.

To learn more: visit




Frederick Douglass.  Born February 14, 1818 Why would Frederick Douglass visit the home of Robert E. Lee during the midd...

Frederick Douglass. Born February 14, 1818

Why would Frederick Douglass visit the home of Robert E. Lee during the middle of the Civil War?

In December of 1863, Frederick Douglass crossed into Virginia and visited the African American families living at Arlington House, the former home of Robert E. Lee.

“Here we see the proud mansion of the rebel slaveholder occupied by common soldiers and by his former slaves,” Douglass wrote.

Douglass’ emotional letter to his abolitionist friend focused on his experience of visiting a refugee camp of freed enslaved people know as Freedman’s Village, while first stopping at Arlington House. He keenly observes the impoverished condition, but also captures the importance of education which during his life, he passionately promoted as a way to greater equality.

At Arlington he notes “The ‘Smoke House’ had become the school house, and the property of the pupils. Taking a book in my hand, I said to one little fellow, ‘Can you spell where your book is opened?’ “Yes, sir,” he answered. I pronounced ‘abandon,’ which was the first word in the column. He spelt it off with such ease…the word might be the crying word of the slave system at Arlington Heights (what is now Arlington House and Arlington National Cemetery).

I tried to make a few encouraging remarks to these dear little children and their teachers, and left for the ‘freedmen’s village’...”

There he witnessed, “more than a thousand here have thus gained their freedom and are beginning life with nothing but the few rags upon their persons with which they made their escape.” Refugees from centuries of enslavement were flowing in.

Two days prior he spoke in a crowded room in the nations capital, calling for aid to the refugees and freedmen. To his friend he says, “I wish you could see this school. When I was there, there were a hundred children in it, the descendants of slaves, who held for many generations, going back more than two hundred years. The sight of these poor little children brought tears of joy, sadness, hope, and fear, and I know not what else.”

Find the Letter excerpt at:
Source: Leeds (UK) Mercury January 21, 1864

What more would you like to know about Freedman’s Village?






700 George Washington Memorial Pkwy
Arlington, VA

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Ready for a clean start to the New Year? Us too! You’ll see us mucking around by the river edge on Saturday, January 2nd, at low tide (2:30-4:40pm). Dress for a mess. Wear waterproof gloves and boots. We’ll see you on the soon to be very clean river beach! Location details: Just north of Belle Haven Park in Alexandria, Virginia. You can park in the park and walk north. You'll see us!
gorgeous sunrise as the fog quickly burned off
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