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Alexandria Buys Slave Trading Museum, But Looks to Public for Preservation

The City of Alexandria has agreed to purchase the Freedom House Museum, an unassuming brick building at 1315 Duke Street that was once the headquarters for the largest domestic slave trading firm in the United States.

The museum is currently a museum about slavery run by the Northern Virginia Urban League, but years after buying and restoring the building in 1996, the Washington Post reported that upkeep for the building was too costly for an organization that primarily uses its funding for scholarships and civil rights issues.

For two years, the City of Alexandria has been working with the Urban League to keep the building open to the public, the city said in a press release. The Office of Historic Alexandria took over operating the museum in February 2019.

The purchase is still subject to approval at the Planning Commission and City Council in February. The agreement would see the city purchase the property for $1.8 million and the Urban League will be able to keep office space in the building for five years.

“The Northern Virginia Urban League is pleased to reach this agreement with the City to place Freedom House in the public trust and ensure its important story will continue to be told,” Diane McLaughlin, chair of the board of directors of Urban League, said in a press release. “The League will continue to focus on its primary mission to enable minorities and other disadvantaged communities to secure economic self-reliance, parity, power and civil rights.”

The restoration and upkeep of the museum could also be helped by $2.44 million in state funding provided in Governor Ralph Northam’s proposed budget.

The city hopes for some public assistance for the museum preservation and upkeep as well, with a donation page set up at ACT for Alexandria, a community fundraising site.

More from a city press release:

The City of Alexandria and the Northern Virginia Urban League (NVUL) reached an agreement on December 31 for the City to purchase the Freedom House Museum in order to preserve and interpret this National Historic Landmark for future generations. The building, located at 1315 Duke Street, was once part of the headquarters for the largest domestic slave trading firm in the United States. From 1828 to 1861, five successive firms forced as many as 50,000 enslaved adults and children from the Chesapeake Bay area to the slave markets in Natchez, Miss., and New Orleans by foot or ship.

“Preserving sites like Freedom House and making them accessible to the public are vital parts of the effort to connect the stories of our past to our present day conversation about race and equity, and ensure we are telling a broader, more candid account of Alexandria and our nation’s history,” said Mayor Justin Wilson. “The City plans to enlist partners to help us restore the building and expand the exhibits to tell the story of the domestic slave trade and those who were enslaved.” […]

The City envisions a partnership with the Commonwealth, as well with private grantors and donors who may wish to help fund elements of the restoration and museum expansion. Members of the community are encouraged to contribute to an account administered by the ACT for Alexandria community foundation, which will be used to supplement public funds for building restoration and museum development.

The $1.8 million purchase includes land, a three- and four-story, 9,810 square-foot building constructed primarily in the 1800s, all museum exhibits and furnishings, and an adjacent 1,648 square-foot parking lot. The building has been the home of the NVUL since 1996, and the City will continue to provide NVUL with office space in the building for five years. The purchase is subject to approval by the Planning Commission and City Council in February.

Photo via Historic Alexandria/Facebook

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