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DC Itinerary: Civil War to Civil Rights in 5 Days
- Research your family history at the National Archives, where Alex Haley did the work that led to "Roots"
- Wander the waterfront and see the Washington Navy Yard, where Lincoln's assassination conspirators were incarcerated
- Visit the International Spy Museum of Civil War history with a modern twist
Begin your day with breakfast at the Willard InterContinental, where Lincoln stayed prior to his inauguration and where Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote his "I Have a Dream" speech. Freedom Plaza, located opposite the hotel, honors King’s legacy. Walk down Pennsylvania Avenue to the National Archives. Here, scan records of Civil War soldiers and learn more about the establishment of the Freedmen’s Bureau. It’s here that Alex Haley conducted the research that led to his landmark work "Roots."
From there, it’s a short walk to Ford’s Theatre. Tour the museum that tells the story behind Lincoln’s fateful visit in 1865 and listen in on a ranger-led interpretive program. Follow John Wilkes Booth’s escape route near 9th and F Streets.
Have dinner at a DC classic like The Occidental or Old Ebbitt Grill, then hop a cab to the Kennedy Center, which memorializes the former president by celebrating his passion for the arts. End your day with moonlight visits to the Lincoln Memorial and Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.
Start with a morning visit to Arlington National Cemetery. View the graves of civil rights leader Medgar Evers and President John F. Kennedy, along with thousands of notable soldiers and statesmen. A memorial to Robert E. Lee is located inside his hilltop family home, Arlington House. The cemetery’s southern section was once known as Freedmen’s Village and served as a home for freed and fugitive slaves during and following the war.
Make your next stop the National Museum of American History. Among its fascinating treasures: Lincoln’s top hat, the Greensboro lunch counter made famous by sit-ins, and the chairs that Lee and Grant sat in during the surrender at Appomattox. Head to the National Portrait Gallery & Smithsonian American Art Museum for a light lunch in the Courtyard Café. It’s here the Lincoln hosted his second inaugural ball, and where the last photograph taken of him is on display.
Take Metro to the Arts DIstrict/U Street/Shaw neighborhood. Near the U Street Metro station, you’ll discover the African American Civil War Memorial, honoring the members of the U.S. Colored Troops that fought for freedom. Duck in to Ben’s Chili Bowl for a chili half-smoke and join the diverse crowds to take in the nightlife on DC’s historic "Black Broadway."
Pay a visit to Cedar Hill, the historic home of abolitionist, statesman and Lincoln confidante Frederick Douglass, and enjoy the stunning views of the DC skyline. The nearby Anacostia Community Museum tells the story of this fascinating neighborhood.
Spend the afternoon at President Lincoln’s Cottage, the peaceful retreat where Lincoln spent the summers of 1862, 1863 and 1864, and where he penned pieces of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Take an evening stroll through Georgetown. DC’s oldest neighborhood, Georgetown was home to both Union and Confederate sympathizers during the war. Stop for a bite to eat at a sidewalk café or on the scenic waterfront.
Make Capitol Hill your first stop. Browse the exhibits at the Library of Congress, which houses the papers of Frederick Douglass and educator Booker T. Washington, plus more than 1,400 stunning Civil War photographs by Matthew Brady. Pay a visit to the Supreme Court, where many landmark decisions were delivered.
Have lunch at Union Station then take a leisurely stroll to Lincoln Park. Here you’ll find the Emancipation Memorial, a tribute to Lincoln paid for by newly freed slaves. In front of a crowd that included then-President Ulysses S. Grant, Frederick Douglass delivered the keynote address at its dedication in 1876. The park is also the site of a memorial to education activist Mary McLeod Bethune.
Wander down Barracks Row, or 8th Street SE, a neatly restored commercial district. Have a bite to eat in one of its dozens of restaurants. The Washington Navy Yard on the nearby waterfront played a critical role in DC’s defense. It was here that the Lincoln assassination conspirators were incarcerated.
Take a morning trip to the National Museum of Health & Medicine. The museum’s fascinating collection includes artifacts like General Daniel Sickles’ leg bone (which he reportedly visited regularly) and the bullet that killed Abraham Lincoln.
Head back downtown for lunch at Wok and Roll, a Chinese restaurant located inside Mary Surratt’s boarding house. Then tour the stunning National Building Museum. Built to house the Pension Bureau, it was designed by Montgomery Meigs, former quartermaster general for the Union. Its exterior boasts a 1,200-square-foot frieze depicting Union forces in the Civil War.
For Civil War history with a modern twist, visit the International Spy Museum. Civil War spies like Rose Greenbow are among the colorful characters showcased inside this high-tech attraction. Or pose for photos with likenesses of Civil War and civil rights luminaries like Lincoln, Grant, King and Rosa Parks at Madame Tussauds Washington D.C.
Wind down with dinner at Rosa Mexicano. It’s housed in the Terrell Square building, named for activist Mary Terrell, who led the fight to desegregate DC’s restaurants in 1953.