Charlottesville is an independent city with a population around fifty-thousand. It rests in the Piedmont region of Virginia, is a close kin of Appalachia, and near the Blue Ridge Mountains. C’ville, as it is best known, is also a part of America’s antiquity as the home of former president Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and the University of Virginia, the institution he founded. (Secure a day pass to explore Monticello and to view the exhibit, The Life of Sally Hemings.)
If “Virginia is for lovers,” then Charlottesville is for Black culture and history lovers. There are few places to go in the city that don’t bear the fingerprint of enslaved Africans and free people. Here is a roundup of some important places to tour, to eat, and to sleep in Charlottesville.
The Memorial to Enslaved Laborers at the University of Virginia is one of the newest sites in C’ville that bears meaning and purpose. The memorial, located at the edge of the University of Virginia Grounds, bears the names of the enslaved laborers who helped build UVA as well as placeholders for the 4,000 individuals who have yet to be found. The Memorial is open to the public. Visiting the Memorial is free and available 24 hours a day. It is located at 1620 University Avenue. Parking in the garage is available and free after 5 p.m. [Photos, courtesy UVA University Communications.]
The Jefferson School African American Heritage Center’s mission is to honor and preserve the rich heritage and legacy of the African-American community of Charlottesville-Albemarle, Virginia. The Center features a permanent historical exhibit, a rotating contemporary art gallery, and a calendar of programming that includes a Kwanzaa celebration from December 26-27. You can shop their site or store for children’s books, cookbooks, photography and art. The Center is located at 233 4th St NW, Charlottesville, VA 22903 and is open Tuesday – Friday, 1-6 pm and on Saturday, 10 am-1 pm. It is closed on Sundays and Mondays. [Photo, JSAAHC]
The Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society offers an archived collection of paintings by Doris Collins, depicting Vinegar Hill, a historic Black neighborhood that was at one time a thriving community. According to their site, “Collins’ work is an important historic record of the homes and businesses that once made up this neighborhood, an entire part of downtown that was so tragically wiped from the landscape.” You can check their calendar for programming and call ahead for information about visiting their exhibit hall, library (for genealogical research), and to schedule a walking tour.
Until January 2, the McGuffey Art Center is hosting a Holiday Show & Shop featuring jewelry and art for purchase.
When you’re ready to eat, visit The Ridley, a Black-owned casual upscale restaurant in The Draftsman boutique hotel (a Marriott property). The restaurant was named after Virginia State professor Walter Ridley, the first Black to graduate from a predominately white public institution in the South with a doctorate. They have three menus (dinner, lunch and brunch) and a cocktail and wine menu. They offer an Acoustic and Jazz Brunch on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 am – 1 pm. Fresh seafood is on all menus, and their sides (grits, fingerling potatoes, chow chow and more) are southern soulful. Chef Rob Anglin’s personal favorite are the pork chops. Call ahead to make reservations.
A true culinary treat is if you can reserve a seat at Dr. Leni Sorensen’s history dinners. She will cook and teach food history as you eat and learn. Dr. Sorensen was featured in the Netflix series, “High on the Hog” and has been trusted resource for culinarians for a number of years. Visit Indigo House to sign up for her newsletter and to find out when her next dinner will take place.
Other restaurants and food businesses in Charlottesville, include soul food restaurant Angelic’s Kitchen for a fried fish sandwich or her buttermilk fried chicken, and you must stop by MarieBette Café and Bakery to nosh on and pick up some of their breads, pastries and desserts (try a quiche or their ham and cheese croissant). [Photo, MarieBette]
If traveling with a group, then consider booking Black-owned Angel Nest Bed & Breakfast in Keswick, Virginia, which is only eight miles from Charlottesville, or try the Quirk Hotel full of beautiful modern design and an in-house art gallery and shop.
Quaint and rural doesn’t quite capture C’ville, because it is also a city rich with African American history and culture in the midst of reminders of a time when enslaved Africans labored to help build it. It is that heritage that makes C’ville a great place to travel during the holiday season as a single, with family, or for romance. One thing for certain, if you visit Charlottesville during the holiday season there will be lights everywhere and the beautiful vegetation of Virginia to behold.