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The White House and historic Decatur House are located on Lafayette Square, which is dominated by federal office buildings today, but was for many years part of a changing residential neighborhood. From the very beginning of the capital city, free and enslaved African Americans lived and worked in the White House neighborhood. The men and women of this community faced daily challenges and limited options.

The community had to observe the city’s Black Codes, a series of laws that restricted their freedom and, until 1850, the active slave trade within Washington, D.C. Free blacks were required by law to carry certificates of freedom. If caught without these papers, they could be taken or kidnapped and sold into slavery. Free men and women near the White House and throughout the city navigated these challenges and sought meaningful freedom by forming community organizations, starting their own businesses, and finding work within the larger neighborhood of the White House.

During the African Americans in the White House Neighborhood field trip program, students will explore the history of the White House neighborhood through perspectives of the African American community, free and enslaved, and the interactions of the communities-white and black. During the program, students will learn about urban slavery at historic Decatur House, and investigate the Decatur House Slave Quarters, the only lasting physical evidence that African Americans were enslaved in sight of the Executive Mansion. Using primary sources students will also piece together a story of real residents of the neighborhood in different historical eras and create a biographical exhibit to share with their classmates.

Program Objectives:

After completing this program, students will be better able to:

  1. Identify the community of African Americans, free and enslaved, who once lived and worked in the White House neighborhood
  2. Compare multiple perspectives on slavery and emancipation
  3. Explain the impact of slavery and emancipation on the history of Washington, D.C.
  4. Examine architectural clues to learn more about the lives of the enslaved men and women who lived at worked at Decatur House
  5. Evaluate and analyze primary sources to interpret historical events

Program Logistics:

  • Takes place at the historic Decatur House, located at 1610 H Street NW
  • Free of charge
  • 3 hour experience

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