Black History Month Partner & Volunteer Highlight: Alexandria African American Hall of Fame
The Alexandria African American Hall of Fame honors the legacy of influential Black individuals who helped shape the City of Alexandria into the community it is today. The Hall of Fame opened in 2013 at the Charles Houston Recreation Center (901 Wythe Street), the original site of Virginia’s legendary Parker-Gray School. This historic property, within the Uptown/Parker-Gray Historic District of Alexandria, dates back to the eighteenth century. The Hall of Fame exhibit is dedicated to researching and preserving the intellectual and visual property of pioneers who set the stage for future generations in Alexandria.
Over time, buildings, names and other records that shaped Alexandria’s African American past have been lost. The Hall of Fame’s organizers want to raise awareness to the role African American history plays in Alexandria’s story. “You’ve got to know your history to know your greatness,” founder Robert Dawkins stated.
The Hall of Fame was created to not only be informational, but also inspirational. The exhibit serves as a point of historical reference for future generations. “It was necessary,” Dawkins said. “There was no documented site in Alexandria that reflects Black life in Alexandria.”
Robert Dawkins, founder of the Alexandria African American Hall of Fame, highlights some of the important individuals immortalized in the exhibit.
The Hall of Fame highlights African American doctors, lawyers, military heroes, business leaders, educators, musicians, activists and athletes from Alexandria. “Black history is often lost and forgotten, and we have a lot of rich Black history in Alexandria of individuals who are nationally known, internationally known and locally known,” Julian Haley, Jr., chairman of the Charles Houston Hall of Fame Committee, said. “And we felt future generations in the community as a whole needed to know about these individuals and the historical impact they had.”
Organizers believe it is important for visitors to see that the individuals featured in the Hall of Fame succeeded despite the unbelievable struggles they endured. “I hope that young people see the accomplishments and areas of discipline these individuals came from and that they can aspire to be just like them: doctors, lawyers, educators,” Haley added. “It’s important for them to see that these individuals look like them, came from their community; the same community they are growing up in today.”
The Parker-Gray Memorial Walkway (Memorial Walkway) is at the main entrance of the Charles Houston Recreation Center that houses the Hall of Fame. The Memorial Walkway is made up of personalized engraved bricks in recognition of the hundredth anniversary of Parker-Gray High School, which opened in September 1920. Parker-Gray provided African American children with a comprehensive education at a time when segregation and a lack of resources, teachers and facilities threatened what is now understood as a fundamental right of every child.
In addressing the importance of the walkway, Dawkins said, “Alexandria history, Black history, is reflected on what we don’t see rather than on what we do see, and this brick project visualizes our existence.”
Michael Johnson (left), coordinator for Alexandria’s National Safe Place, and Robert Dawkins (right) proudly stand outside the entrance of the Charles Houston Recreation Center and the Parker-Gray Memorial Walkway.
To date, at least 560 bricks line the Memorial Walkway. The project is ongoing and offers everyone the opportunity to be part of preserving a legacy. Many of the bricks recognize teachers and families and their contributions made to the Alexandria community. Visit aaahof.org or call 571-217-9951 to learn more about opportunities to support this initiative.
“When we reflect on our history,” Haley said, “we can draw inspiration from it.”