In 1998, the African American Civil War Memorial Freedom Foundation dedicated a memorial to honor the members of the United States Colored Troops (USCT) during the war. These troops span from people of African to Hispanic descent who have played a role in supporting the Union and fighting slavery. A year later, a museum opened on the historic U Street district.

The African American Civil War Memorial Freedom Foundation created the museum for two main purposes—to contribute to the economic regrowth of U Street, which suffered economic decline since the 1968 riots, and also to acknowledge the service of the USCT and preserve their stories. The museum occupies a building known as the Grimke Building; it was named after Archibald Grimke, a former slave who became the second African American to graduate from Harvard’s Law School. Visitors ranging from teachers to students to USCT member descendants use the museum as an educational venue consisting of artifacts such as photographs and Civil War-era uniforms and weaponry.

The memorial stands across from the museum as a place of recognition for those soldiers whose lives have been given and documented. A bronze sculpture, the Spirit of Freedom, is a notable landmark depicting a nine-to-ten-foot sailor and soldiers at the forefront with a family in the back. It is centered in a granite paved plaza and walking area, surrounded by the Wall of Honor, where it lists up to 209,145 names of the men who served in the USCT.