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Jefferson-Houston Staff Learn Alexandria Black History Through Local Tour

Jefferson-Houston Staff Learn Alexandria Black History Through Local Tour

Gadsby's Tavern, located at the intersection of North Royal Street and Cameron Street, is one of Alexandria’s most prominent landmarks. It was central to the city’s commerce and politics in the late 1700s and early 1800s, hosting notable guests such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Perhaps a lesser known fact is that a group of enslaved African Americans who performed the tavern’s daily operations made the entire business possible. In 1808, James Lewis, who cared for the horses of those staying at the tavern, escaped.

The site was just one of several stops on a tour that Jefferson-Houston PreK-8 IB School (Jefferson-Houston) staff members took with Manumission Tour Company as part of a professional learning opportunity in August. It was a chance for staff to understand the city’s history, specifically, the communities in which their students live, as well as to facilitate conversations about the importance of equitable practices within the school.

Founded in 2016, Manumission Tour Company leads guided walking and bus tours that highlight Alexandria’s African American history. The route Manumission developed for the Jefferson-Houston tour began at Hoffman Sugar House, where enslaved men and boys helped propel Alexandria to the status of the third largest refined sugar manufacturer in the U.S., and ended at the waterfront. It included sites significant to both pre- and post-Civil War periods, as well as the stories of enslaved and free Black people.

In order to accomplish the Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) Equity for All Strategic Plan mission of ensuring success by inspiring students and addressing barriers to learning, Jefferson-Houston Transformational Head of School Dr. John McCain explained that it is important for his staff to build lasting relationships with the school’s families.

“Realizing the deep history of the City of Alexandria, we found it essential to invite our staff members, many of whom are new to ACPS, to participate in the Manumission experience as a way to bond with our students, families and community,” Dr. McCain said. 

Sixth grade English teacher Matthew Ross noted that the tour guides expertly led discussions and even conducted a community circle at one of the sites. He has brought the experience back to the classroom with him during the first few weeks of school.

“As I facilitate lessons with my students, this experience emphasizes the importance of authentic and meaningful classroom circles, community circles and restorative practices to build community. These practices provide an environment that saturates open dialogue amongst students anchored through inquiry, text evidence and reasoning,” said Ross.

Kelly Woodward, who teaches U.S. history to sixth and seventh graders, said the tour highlighted stories not traditionally told in textbooks and the importance of connecting national history to local history.

“As a history teacher, I believe in order to shape the present, we must confront the past,” Woodward said. “Learning about the long history of fighting for freedom in our neighborhood inspires me and my students to fight for equality and equity.”

  • 2023-24
  • Jefferson-Houston PreK-8 IB School
  • black history
  • diversity