African-American Civil War Memorial – Washington, D.C. - Atlas Obscura
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African-American Civil War Memorial

The first memorial dedicated solely to the Black troops who fought for the Union. 

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When the rebel states refused to rejoin the Union early in the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation and created a number of regiments in the Union Army and Navy filled with Black soldiers. This memorial in Washington, D. C. honors those units, who faced particular viciousness from the opposing army and discrimination from within their own.

More than 200,000 Black Americans filled the 175 regiments of the United States Colored Troops (USCT), comprising approximately one-tenth of the Union’s forces. It was largely through the persistence of the Black American community that Union policy on Black military service changed. Eventually, the 180,000 Black soldiers who served, including the 98,500 formerly enslaved men, provided a crucial service to the Union Army. Their names, and those of their white officers, are inscribed on the Wall of Honor at the African-American Civil War Memorial, the first memorial dedicated solely to those troops.

Designed by Ed Hamilton, the granite-paved plaza also includes a nine-foot statue called The Spirit of Freedom, which features Black servicemen from the Army and Navy in the front, as well as another soldier and his family in the back. The Spirit of Freedom’s face watches over them.

The memorial was dedicated in 1998 and was soon joined by the African-American Civil War Museum across the street. At the museum, visitors can dress in period uniforms, look up their ancestors in the USCT or register as descendants, and study photographs and documents connected to the USCT.

Know Before You Go

You can walk by the memorial at any time. The “U” Street neighborhood, where the memorial is located, is a historical and cultural center of the district’s African American community. Some churches in the area were stops on the Underground Railroad.