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Estate Celebrates Black History

Throughout February, in observance of Black History Month, Mount Vernon Estate will honor the slaves who lived and worked there with a daily noon wreath-laying at the Slave Memorial. It will be accompanied by a detailed historic interpretation of slave life.

From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. each day, historic interpreters will show visitors the slave quarters and discuss all aspects of slave life including their family life, diet, work and the resistance efforts of Mount Vernon’s slave community. All Black History Month events are included in the regular admission price.

Mount Vernon Estate’s Slave Memorial is believed to be the only such tribute to enslaved African Americans in the nation. Located approximately 50 yards southwest of George and Martha Washington’s tomb, the memorial is near the slave burial ground which was used as a cemetery for both slaves and free blacks who worked for the Washington family during the 18th and first half of the 19th centuries.

Designed by Howard University architecture students in 1983, the memorial features a granite column atop three concentric circles inscribed with the words “faith, hope and love.” An inscription reads, “In memory of the Afro-Americans who served as slaves of Mount Vernon.”

At the slave quarters, visitors see a reconstruction of one housing unit based on available records and archeological findings. Much of the documented information comes from Washington’s writings in his diary and ledgers, as well as from his resident farm managers and plantation overseers.

When Washington died in 1799 he owned approximately 123 of the 316 slaves living at Mount Vernon. They were freed on Jan. 1, 1801 as provided for in his last will and testament. In addition to their freedom he also “left detailed instructions for the continued care and support of the elderly and children.” Newly freed slaves continued to live at Mount Vernon as pensioners into the 1830s.

The daily wreath-laying ceremony throughout February “remembers and recognizes slaves for their sacrifices, accomplishments and contributions.” The new museum and education center, now under construction at the estate, will contain an area dedicated to the history of slavery at Mount Vernon.