Celebrating Diversity in Charlottesville with the Discover Black Cville Trail
April 20, 2022 / By Taryn White
Charlottesville is more than just a college town or the home of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. Recognizing the need for more open dialogues about race, history, diversity, and inclusivity, the Charlottesville Albemarle Convention & Visitors Bureau (CACVB) created Discover Black Cville, a community-led initiative that promotes historically accurate, authentic Black stories, and seeks more equitable representation in the tourism economy in Charlottesville and Albemarle County.
Discover Black Cville was launched nationally in March 2022 at IX Art Park, which also houses Virginia’s first immersive art space, The Looking Glass. The park is now home to a beautiful mural, Dreamin’ Queen, which was completed by the same local artists—James Johnson and Laura Lee Gulledge—who designed the Discover Black Cville logo.
As part of Discover Black Cville, a digital passport connects residents and travelers with local Black-owned or Black-operated businesses. After five check-ins using a QR code with participating businesses, passport holders can pick up a Discover Black Cville hat at the Jefferson School.
Here are a few of the businesses that visitors can discover using the passport.
Shop Black-Owned Businesses in Charlottesville
Treat yourself to locally roasted coffee and hand-held sweet and savory pies like Lone Star Chili pie at The Pie Guy on the Downtown Mall or Pie Guy Coffee on the UVA Corner. Shop at Bamboo Apparel Company for T-shirts and hoodies with powerful imagery and messages. Nourish your hair with natural hair care products from Kank’s Store. Unwind with DreaTchal, a full-service massage studio offering a variety of massages and HydraFacials.
Looking for southern cooking? Angelic’s Kitchen has both a popular food truck and a location in the Dairy Market, where the company’s fried fish will have your mouth watering. The company also provides catering services and sells its popular seafood breading.
Another soul food spot, Royalty Eats, serves everything from chicken and waffles to crab cakes. Owned and operated by Nakesha White, the company has expanded its services to provide reservable event space at its Royalty Event Center.
Petit MarieBette is a cozy place to stop for lunch as well as sweet treats. Located near the Downtown Mall, this bakery and coffeehouse is reminiscent of a Parisian pâtisserie. The full-service restaurant location, MarieBette Café & Bakery, is best known for its brioche feuilletée, a one-of-a-kind pastry made with flaky brioche dusted with sugar and intriguing flavors that include hazelnut praline and orange-vanilla cream.
One of UVA’s most legendary athletes, Ralph Sampson, has partnered with Thompson Hospitality to open Ralph Sampson’s American Tap Room. Located a half-mile from John Paul Jones Arena, the high-end sports bar is decorated with Sampson memorabilia and offers menu items named after some of UVA’s noteworthy sports figures, including the “Coach Bennett Ribeye.”
To spark your creative side, visit The Hive, an arts and crafts bar whose mission is to bring people together over crafts and coffee. The company facilitates artist-led workshops as well as weeklong youth camps like the Nature Art Camp.
Charlottesville has recently welcomed two Black-owned companies to the wine industry. Matt Harmon decided to pursue his passion for wine and started Harmony Wine after being laid off from his job in 2020. His company sources grapes directly from vineyards in Virginia, and one of Harmon’s primary motivations for creating his company was providing opportunities for people of color to feel more comfortable drinking wine.
Another Black-owned company with a complementary focus is Black Women Who Wine. Founded in 2019 by LaTasha Durrett, the company’s mission is to bring more diversity to Virginia’s wine industry and to provide a space for Black women to come together to share their love for wine. Through local events and meetups at Virginia wineries, Durrett seeks to form partnerships with local stakeholders to improve representation in the hiring and marketing in the industry.
Notable Places in Charlottesville’s Black History
The most famous landmark in Charlottesville—the University of Virginia (UVA)—was constructed by enslaved people in the early 1800s. Now, just steps from the iconic Rotunda at UVA, the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers, which was completed in 2020, honors the more than 4,000 enslaved people who built and maintained Thomas Jefferson’s university. Enslaved people also built and maintained Monticello, where recent exhibits, such as The Life of Sally Hemings, focus on the experiences of the more than 400 enslaved people who lived there.
To learn more about the city’s diverse history, the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center (Jefferson School) is the best place to start. The center opened in 2013 and contains a permanent exhibition, Pride Overcomes Prejudice, as well as the Isabella Gibbons Local History and Digital Humanities Center.
First opening in 1865 as a Freedmen’s school, the Jefferson School occupied several locations during its tenure and was the center of Black education in Charlottesville until its closing in 1965. That same year, the city of Charlottesville razed the school’s thriving African-American neighborhood, Vinegar Hill, via eminent domain. A marker commemorating Vinegar Hill is housed on the Downtown Mall, where the neighborhood formerly resided.
Where to Stay in Charlottesville
The Draftsman is a 150-room boutique hotel located in the heart of Charlottesville. Named for three of Virginia’s founding fathers—Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe—who played a role in drafting cornerstone documents for the new U.S. government, the hotel is beautifully furnished with contemporary, stylish décor and rooms featuring drafting desks, sliding barn-style bathroom doors, and minibars stocked with Virginia beers and wines.
Operated by Thompson Hospitality, the hotel’s restaurant, The Ridley, is an upscale, Black-owned restaurant serving fresh seafood and southern cuisine. Warren Thompson, founder of the restaurant and graduate of UVA’s Darden School of Business, named the restaurant after Walter Ridley, the first Black graduate of UVA and the first Black person to receive a doctoral degree from a traditionally white southern college or university.
Thompson has a special connection to Ridley because Thompson’s father, Fred—who was denied admission to UVA because of his race—studied at Virginia State University during Ridley’s tenure. The restaurant pays homage to Ridley and a percentage of annual profits are donated to The Ridley Foundation.