The African American Experience at Arlington National Cemetery
African Americans have been connected to Arlington since its origins as a plantation. A microcosm of the nation's history, the history of the Arlington property encompasses slavery, emancipation, segregation and civil rights. At the cemetery, gravesites and memorials honor the dedication and sacrifice of African American service members who served their country and fought for racial justice.


Use the materials in this module to honor the lives of these African American men and women, and to explore their powerful contributions to U.S. history.

Recommended Reading: The African American Experience at ANC

Check out these resources if you are interested in learning more about African Americans at Arlington National Cemetery.

Walking Tour: Segregation and Civil Rights

Explore Arlington’s past as a plantation, learn about the Freedman's Village built on this property during the Civil War, and meet some trailblazers of the civil rights movement.
The history of African Americans at Arlington National Cemetery parallels and reflects the history of African Americans in the United States. This walking tour includes sites related to slavery, Reconstruction, segregation, the civil rights movement, and the continuing contributions of African Americans to the U.S. military and society.
  • Length: 5 miles
  • Starting point: Section 36 (0.2 miles from Welcome Center)
  • Because this walking tour is quite long, we recommend completing it in smaller sections.

Walking Tour: African American Firsts

This walking tour celebrates African American men and women buried at Arlington National Cemetery who were first in their fields.
Meet the first African American four-star general, the first African American Supreme Court Justice, the first boxer to appear on a U.S. postage stamp and many other pioneers. 
  • Length: 5 miles
  • Starting point: Section 33 (0.5 miles from Welcome Center)
  • Because this walking tour is quite long, we recommend completing it in smaller sections.

Walking Tour: African American Military Heroes

Learn about the lives of Tuskegee Airmen, members of the 369th Infantry Infantry Regiment (the “Harlem Hellfighters”), Medal of Honor recipients and more. 
Throughout U.S. history, African Americans have fought bravely for the United States and distinguished themselves in battle. This walking tour includes gravesites and memorials that honor the service of these heroic individuals. 
  • Length: 5 miles
  • Starting point: Section 40 (0.4 miles from Welcome Center)
  • Because this walking tour is quite long, we recommend completing it in smaller sections.

Lesson Plan: Reconstruction Timeline

This timeline activity about the history of Reconstruction (1865-1877) can be used as an introduction, a review or at any time throughout a Reconstruction unit.
Timeline cards can be printed and ordered to give students an overview of important events during the Reconstruction era. For students who will be visiting Arlington National Cemetery, an optional set of Freedman’s Village timeline cards can also be printed and used.
  • One class period, 15-30 minutes

Lesson Plan: The Freedpeople of Section 27

Although Arlington National Cemetery is a military cemetery, it contains a section where thousands of African American civilians were buried between 1864 and 1867.
Through a class lecture and exploration of a Section 27 burial record, students explore what life may have been like for free African Americans during the years surrounding the Civil War. Students will write a short obituary for one of the African American civilians on the burial record.
  • Elementary School: 1 class period, 45-60 minutes total
  • Middle School: 1-2 class periods, 70-90 minutes total
  • High School: 1-2 class periods, 70-90 minutes total

Lesson Plan: Freedman’s Village at Arlington

Freedman’s Village was a federally administered temporary community of formerly enslaved African Americans established on the former Arlington estate in 1863.
In 1887, the government decided to close Freedman’s Village and evict the residents. After analyzing documents and summarizing the arguments on both sides of the issue—should Freedman’s Village be closed or remain open?—students choose their own stance and respond to a reflection question. For an extension opportunity, students can write a letter to the secretary of war explaining what they think should be done.
  • Elementary School: 1-3 class periods, 45-120 minutes total
  • Middle School: 1-2 class periods, 60-90 minutes total
  • High School: 1-2 class periods, 60-90 minutes total

Lifelong Learners: The Freedpeople of Section 27

In Section 27 of Arlington National Cemetery, thousands of headstones inscribed with “citizen” or “civilian” mark the resting places of free or formerly enslaved African Americans who died in and around Washington, D.C. from 1863 to 1867.
Read about who these people were and how they came to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery, and then explore a burial record for this section.

Lifelong Learners: Freedman’s Village at Arlington

Freedman’s Village was a community of formerly enslaved African Americans established on the former Arlington estate in 1863.
Through historical photos and personal accounts, learn about life in the village and the circumstances surrounding its eventual closure.

 

Lesson Plan: African American Celebrated Unit – United States Colored Troops, Civil War

The United States Colored Troops (official U.S. Army name), or U.S.C.T., were Civil War regiments composed of African Americans.
Although African Americans had fought in the military since the Revolutionary War, the formation of the U.S.C.T. was the first time that the U.S. Army had actively recruited them. Their service opened the door for future generations of African Americans in the military. Students learn about the U.S.C.T. and explore their significance in historical and cultural context. Resources include a PowerPoint slide deck and handout.
  • One class period, 15-20 minutes total

Lesson Plan: African American Celebrated Unit – Tuskegee Airmen, World War II

The Tuskegee Airmen have long been honored for their skills, valor and distinguished service despite facing segregation and discrimination.
From 1941 to 1946, nearly 1,000 African American military pilots completed their training in Tuskegee, Alabama. More than 350 of them served overseas during World War II; 84 lost their lives. Students learn about the Tuskegee Airmen and explore their significance in historical and cultural context. Resources include a PowerPoint slide deck and handout.
  • One class period, 15-20 minutes total

Lesson Plan: African American Celebrated Unit – “Buffalo Soldiers”

In 1866, Congress established the U.S. Army’s all-Black 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments and 24th and 25th Infantry Regiments, later known as the “Buffalo Soldiers,” to serve on the western frontier.
Students learn about the Buffalo Soldiers and explore their significance in historical and cultural context. Resources include a PowerPoint slide deck and handout.
  • One class period, 15-20 minutes total

Lesson Plan: African American Celebrated Unit – 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, World War II

The 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, popularly known as the “Six Triple Eight,” was an African American unit of the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) during World War II.
The 6888th became the only non-medical African American women’s unit to serve overseas during the war. Students learn about the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion and explore its significance in historical and cultural context. Resources include a PowerPoint slide deck and handout.
  • One class period, 15-20 minutes total

Lesson Plan: African American Celebrated Unit – 369th Infantry Regiment

The 369th Infantry Regiment, nicknamed the “Harlem Rattlers” and “Harlem Hellfighters,” had one of the most distinguished records of any unit in the history of the United States Army.
The 369th saw extensive combat in both World War I and World War II. Most of the men in the regiment were African American, although it also included Puerto Ricans. Students learn about the 369th Infantry Regiment and explore its significance in historical and cultural context. Resources include a PowerPoint slide deck and handout.
  • One class period, 15-20 minutes total