The Lyceum Hall, Alexandria, Virginia

Arial view of Alexandria, VA.

Aerial view of Alexandria, VA 1865. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Alexandria, Virginia, boasts a rich African American history, particularly in relation to the Civil War. Occupied by Union troops in 1861, Alexandria was a safe haven for newly freed Blacks shortly after the war. Unprepared for the influx of freed men and women, the state could not accommodate the masses. Huge numbers of African Americans died in Alexandria, necessitating the creation of a new burial site known as the Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery. Untended to, the site fell to disrepair. It was not until 2007 that the City rededicated the site to those buried there, with a Memorial opening in 2014. Less than a mile away, the original Lyceum Hall stands to this day. Founded in 1838, the Alexandria Lyceum was intended to enhance public education in the community. It seems the edifice fulfilled its purpose in 1865 when it served as the meeting-place for the Convention of the Colored People of Virginia.  In early August, Black leaders discussed Black/white relations in Virginia and the necessity of gaining suffrage. They also called attention to America as their birthplace and repeatedly dismissed the idea of emigration. Demonstrating respect for the edifice, the committee on rules suggested, “there should be no smoking in the Hall during the business of the Convention.” 


The Lyceum Hall in Alexandria ,Virginia

The Lyceum Hall in Alexandria, VA 1933. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The site has served as a Civil War hospital ward, a private residence, and the Chamber of Commerce. Today, it is Alexandria's City History Museum, offering historical exhibits and conducting educational programs. African American culture and legacy is commemorated and enlivened at the Hall's site today with the Alexandria Black History Museum and the American Heritage Park in its vicinity. One can imagine delegates such as Henry Highland Garnet, John M. Brown, and Reverend William E. Walker sitting in "quiet reflection" in this very lawn, as the space suggests today. The Hall's official site boasts a compelling, informative permanent exhibition, "Securing the Blessings of Liberty: Freedoms Taken and Liberties Lost," which examines plantation culture from the earliest years of African slavery to the mid-nineteenth century.

 "National cemetery, Alexandria, Va."

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. "National cemetery, Alexandria, Va." New York Public Library Digital Collections


"A Look Inside the Union Occupation of Alexandria and the Peninsula Campaign." Public Broadcasting Service. Accessed April 29, 2016. Link

"Historic Alexandria," "The Lyceum: Alexandria's History Museum" City of Alexandria, Virginia. Accessed April 29, 2016. Link.  

Black State Conventions. "Proceedings of the Convention of the Colored People of VA, held in the city of Alexandria." 258-276.


Researched and written by Eileen Moscoso. Edited by Dr. P. Gabrielle Foreman.