On September 2, 1846, Alexandrians voted 763 to 22 to retrocede from the District of Columbia back to the Commonwealth of Virginia. Though Alexandria had been included within the District for nearly 50 years, residents lamented their loss of voting rights and lack of resources invested in the area by the federal government.
A proposal to outlaw slavery in the national capital also influenced the referendum, as Alexandria was then a major slave-trading center with the city’s economy relying heavily on slave labor, both downtown and in the rural agricultural areas that surrounded it.
When the vote was tallied at the courthouse on North Columbus Street, some African Americans sat on the curb and cried, realizing that a return to Virginia governance would end educational opportunities for black schoolchildren in Alexandria. (Source: Office of Historic Alexandria)