Honor Black History Month in Harrisonburg, Virginia, and discover our rich African American heritage. Explore historical sites like Lucy F. Simms Center to learn about the city’s most famous African-American educator. Visit the Harriet Tubman Cultural Center or Newtown Cemetery to pay respects and reflect on the inspiring stories of hope, sacrifice, and empowerment. Celebrate Black entrepreneurship by supporting local Black-owned businesses such as Merge Coffee Company and Magnolia’s Taco & Tequila Bar. These vibrant businesses allow you to actively participate in the celebration of Black history and build a deeper connection with the city’s heritage. Whether it’s Black History Month or any time of the year, these are must-see places that offer a timeless journey into Harrisonburg’s rich cultural tapestry.
1. Lucy F. Simms Continuing Education Center
Begin your journey at the Lucy F. Simms Continuing Education Center and browse through the free displays about Harrisonburg’s most famous African-American Educator who was born enslaved and went on to teach over 1,800 local students. This exhibit, spanning 150 years of history, tells the story of the school in terms of its place at the heart of local community life. Available for viewing on weekdays from 8-5pm.
Discover the inspiring life of Harriet Tubman at the Harriet Tubman Cultural Center (2065 Reservoir St). This center houses a museum featuring a timeline of Tubman’s life, along with information and displays about a local slave safe house. Immerse yourself in the history of Tubman’s courageous efforts to lead slaves to freedom. Visits are by appointment only. To make an appointment or for more information call (540)578-6389.
3. Newtown Cemetery
Pay your respects at Newtown Cemetery (297 Kelley Street), a significant burial place for freed slaves who founded the African American community. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this cemetery serves as a testament to the lives and history of community members. Explore the resting places of notable figures like Lucy F. Simms and Jane Simms Wilson.
Visit Ralph Sampson Park on East Washington Street, named after the famous basketball player and Harrisonburg native, Ralph Sampson Jr. Delve into the history of the former Hilltop Plantation, now transformed into a city park. Learn about Sampson’s remarkable basketball career and his contributions to the community.
Immerse yourself in the world of poetry at the Furious Flower Poetry Center at James Madison University, the nation’s first academic center for Black poetry. With a commitment to visibility and inclusion, the center supports Black poets and preserves their history for future generations. This center actively promotes Black poets at all career stages, ensuring their voices resonate in educational curricula and are preserved for future generations. Visit their website to view their current exhibit.
Head a bit outside of Harrisonburg to Zenda, once a settlement for freed slaves after the Civil War, is now known as ‘Little Africa.’ The church at Zenda served as both the spiritual and educational center for the community, becoming the first school for black residents when the county didn’t provide education. The property is now a preserved black history heritage site listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A historical marker was erected in 2008 by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. Visitors are welcome on the grounds.
Celebrate Black entrepreneurship by supporting local black-owned businesses in Harrisonburg. Here are some popular Black-owned establishments to explore: Indulge in premium coffee at Merge Coffee Company, enjoy exquisite wines, craft beers, and wine-based cocktails at Nightcap by Merge, savor soft-serve ice cream from Branch’s Soft Serve Ice Cream Truck, delight in delectable treats from Sweet Joy’s Cakes and Desserts, experience the rich flavors of Ethiopian and Eritrean cuisine at Habesha Restaurant & Hookah Bar, and relish modern Mexican cuisine at Magnolia’s Taco & Tequila Bar.