By John Taylor Chapman
Alexandria, VA – In recognition of Black History Month, I went to a couple of sites along the Duke Street corridor that contribute significantly to Alexandria’s African American history.
The Freedom House Museum
Freedom House, at 1315 Duke Street, was the site of Franklin & Armfield, a notorious and extremely profitable slave trading firm. The former slave pen is arguably the most painful contribution to Alexandria’s history. Isaac Franklin and John Armfield established possibly the largest domestic slave trading business in the country, selling more than 3,500 men, women, and children. Even after the first traders stopped doing business in the building, other slave trading companies came after them, hoping to emulate their business success.
If you visit the Freedom House on the weekend, you can go inside the museum in the basement and first floor, to learn more about slavery in Alexandria in the 1800s.
African American Heritage Park
You may have driven or biked by this open area located on Holland Lane. Although it is not well known, this is the African American Heritage Park, which was dedicated on June 17, 1995. The nine-acre, sloped park includes a historic black cemetery, originally purchased by a Black Baptist Cemetery Association. The highlight of the park is a sculpture title “Truths That Rise From Roots Remembered.” Created by New York artist Jerome Meadows, it identifies the names of sites important to the education, and religious, business, and civic growth of the Alexandria’s African American community since before the Civil War.
The Former Bruin Slave Jail
Joseph Bruin was a former agent in the employ of George Kephart, who bought Franklin & Armfield’s property. Bruin had been a “trader in Negroes” since his early 20s. He operated his own slave trading business, starting in the 1840s and lasting for two decades, until occupying federal troops seized the property from him. Two of more notable individuals held at the Slave Jail were the Edmonson sisters, Mary and Emily. The sisters were two of 77 slaves who unsuccessfully attempted to escape Washington on the schooner, The Pearl. They would eventually be freed, with help from Reverend Beecher, the of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s father. You will find a bronze statue of the Edmonson sisters on the site.