Uptown Neighborhood

Historical Significance

Uptown, located at the western edge of Alexandria, started as a cluster of homes before the Civil War. Much smaller than the city's older black communities, the Bottoms and Hayti, Uptown was the first black neighborhood settled north of King Street, the main retail street for whites. Along with the Berg, the second black neighborhood north of King Street, Uptown's population surged after the war as newly emancipated African Americans migrated to Alexandria to find work. Uptown grew into the largest African-American neighborhood in the city, eventually occupying 24 square blocks.

Two landmarks of African-American educational history were built in Uptown in the first half of the 19th century. Parker-Gray School, constructed on Wythe Street in 1920, replaced the first two public schools built for black children immediately following the Civil War — Snowden School for Boys and Hallowell School for Girls. Overcrowded from the day it opened, Parker-Gray was subsidized by its community, which donated chairs and basic equipment. Eventually the school expanded to include a high school, was accredited, and in the 1940s started sending graduates on to college. Parker-Gray was the only school for African-American high school students in the city until 1965. The Parker-Gray Historic District, created by the Alexandria City Council in 1984, is named for the school.

From 1940 to the early 1960s, African-Americans came to Uptown to read and study at the Robert Robinson Library at Wythe and Alfred Streets. Denied library cards at the new Barrett Library on Queen Street, in 1939 five young African-American men staged a sit-in and were arrested for trespassing. The charges were dropped, but instead of integrating Barrett, the city built Robert Robinson the following year. African-Americans continued to patronize Robert Robinson long after Alexandria officially desegregated its libraries in 1944. In 1983 the building reopened as the Alexandria Black History Resource Center, thanks in large part to support from the Alumni Association of Parker Gray School.

The Uptown/Parker-Gray Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2010. 

Physical Description

The total area of the Uptown neighborhood covers about 24 blocks, making it the largest historic African-American neighborhood in Alexandria. The center of the neighborhood was at the intersection of North Henry and Oronoco Streets. North West Street marks the neighborhood's western border, Montgomery Street the northern border, North Columbus Street the eastern border, and Cameron Street the southern border.

Geographical and Contact Information

North Henry Street and Oronoco Street area
Alexandria, Virginia
22314
Phone: 703-838-4399

Cite this Page:

Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, “Uptown Neighborhood,” African American Historic Sites Database, accessed October 17, 2017, http://aahistoricsitesva.org/items/show/452.
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