ALEXANDRIA, VA–On July 24, at 8am, a ceremony was held at 1001 S. Washington Street, officially dedicating the Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery Memorial as the newest site listed by the National Park Service in the African American Civil Rights Network.
Since the first burial of 118 United States Colored troops almost two centuries ago, this cemetery holds a significance of history, family, and society for Alexandria. Friends and family of those contrabands and freedman still live in Alexandria today, fighting for recognition of their ancestors and civil rights for their descendants. As a “living site” in the cemetery, this memorial stands for that African American agency and equality that has been sought after and fought for by Alexandrians for lifetimes.
A processional, sung by Tanya Wilkins, initiated the ceremony, followed by invocation by Reverend Taft Quincey Heatley of Shiloh Baptist Church, and remarks by Elizabeth B. Bennett-Parker, Vice Mayor, City of Alexandria.
Reverend Heatley prayed, “We bless you god for the memory of these men, these women, these children. Our prayers are that many of them are still with you in eternity. Anoint this moment, edge it in the stones of our memory, so that we will acknowledge that this day is a day we recognize your children who fought for what they believed was theirs because you gave it to them.”
Vice Mayor Bennett-Parker followed, “This memorial and our ceremony today honor the brave actions of the United States troops and the self-emancipated African Americans and freedmen who sought refuge in Alexandria. Their legacy continues today, as does the work of those who fought to claim and preserve this site.”
Living Legend of Alexandria and Worshipful Grand Historian McArthur Myers led the 31st Masonic District in the wreath laying. He stated, “We are here today to gather, to go to the cemetery, to be a part of it, to pay homage to our ancestors. We are alive and we are humbled. We are humbled to be able to do this honor. For Alexandria this is an honor… it is remembering. It is what we do. Standing on their shoulders.”
Council members John Taylor Chapman and Amy Jackson were also present, along with other Alexandria notables and residents.
Audrey Davis, Director Alexandria Black History Museum, added, “This site represents the work of community activists, it lives on in the countless work of city employees who worked on this project from the 1990s to the dedication in 2014… This site is no longer forgotten, but represents what Alexandria strives to be for its residents and its visitors: a welcoming place where all have the freedom to have their views represented.”
Throughout its years, the cemetery suffered desecration, and was eventually disappeared, when a gas station and library were built over it in the mid 1900s. In the 1980s, evidence of the cemetery resurfaced, so today’s dedication marks the preservation of this landmark and the recognition of those who rest underneath its land.
Vice Mayor Bennett-Parker concluded, “[This memorial] is a reminder to all of us about the importance of doing the work to delve deeper and confront the hard, honest truths about race, class, and equity in our community, in our commonwealth, and in our country, as well as the continuing struggle for racial equity.”