After eight straight days of walking on foot from Charlottesville to Washington D.C., a small group of faith leaders and their followers stopped just short of their pilgrimage in Alexandria to talk about their journey and the need for a racial reckoning in the country.
Audrey Davis, executive director of the Alexandria Black History Museum, welcomed the audience and told them of the city’s history with slavery and inequality.
“We really have so much African American history and so much social justice history,” Davis said. “We have two slave pens, and we were sort of ground zero for the domestic straight slave trade for importing slaves into the deep south.”
The group of about 20 walkers with Faith in Action, the Congregation Action Network and DC Unity & Justice Fellowship were escorted by police along U.S. Highway 29, which is still called Lee Highway in Fairfax County after Confederate General Robert E. Lee. As they marched, they repeated the names of Black victims who have been shot or killed at the hands of the police, including Brianna Taylor and George Floyd. They also had a new name to recite during their march — Jacob Blake, who was shot seven times by police in Wisconsin on Sunday.
“The walk is about racial reckoning, resolve and love,” said Pastor Troy Jackson of the Ohio-based religious advocacy group Sojourners. “We’re here embodying our faith. I think that the political parties are all broken, and that what we are doing is appealing to a higher calling in people’s hearts.”
Rev. Walter Clark, assistant minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, said that society needs to atone for unfair practices against Black Americans.
“There are 400 years of hatred and sin to undo and we gather because we know that none of us can do it alone,” Clark said. “Let us go forth and begin the work of atonement together.”
The march will end tomorrow at Black Lives Matter Plaza near the White House on the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington.
City Councilman John Taylor Chapman never learned Alexandria’s real African American history in school, and now he’s teaching everyone who will listen. After a coronavirus-related hiatus, his Manumission Tour Company is officially back on track with in-person tours of Alexandria’s Black historical sites.
“I did not feel that I knew some of the stories that I’m telling now when I was growing up,” Chapman told ALXnow.
Alexandria’s history is full of stories of heroism, adversity, tragedy, defeat and triumph, and for the last four years, Chapman has led tours teaching residents and visitors about the city’s African American experience.
“The word Manumission means to be freed by a piece of paper,” Chapman said. “For us to name the company as such opens up a conversation when we chat with people about what we do. It’s an opportunity to talk about the struggle freedom in Alexandria, which was one of the biggest slave ports in the country.”
The next tour, which is limited to nine people for social distancing, will be held outside the Barrett Library on Friday, June 27, to talk about abolitionists, runaway slaves and free Blacks in the city before the end of the Civil War.
One of the people who received such a piece of paper was Moses Hepburn. The Alexandrian was born as a slave in 1809 to one of the owners of a plantation on Shooters Hill, which is now home to the George Washington Masonic Memorial.
“His aunt ended up purchasing his freedom when he was a young boy, and he was sent to school in Pennsylvania,” Chapman said. “When his father died, he left him a great bit of money. Moses became quite wealthy and became a big developer in the city and helped build some of the initial African American churches in the city.”
Other stories include Dominic Bearcroft’s popular tavern — known for its juicy crabs — in a building right across from City Hall. Bearcroft was one of the first African Americans to get a business license in the city.
“One of the things you figure out very quickly about these individuals is that their lives were very complex,” Chapman said. “The things that they had to deal with, the hoops they had to jump through is all very humbling.”
Alexandria’s slave trade peaked between 1820 and the start of the Civil War, Chapman said.
“Prior to that we were a colonial town,” he said. “There was slave trading as early as the 1700s, but the peak of it was when Franklin and Armfield put down roots here, establishing the slave trade and really blowing up their business. During the 1800s they were one of the top slave traders in the nation.”
The Freedom House Museum now occupies the former Franklin and Armfield headquarters.
“Alexandria became a haven for African Americans to escape the south, and we had an influx of African Americans toward the back end of the Civil War,” Chapman said. “After the Civil War, Alexandria had segregated areas of town and segregated schools.”
“We’re not a perfect community,” Chapman said. “We still have folks that are still struggling in school, particularly certain racial and ethnic classes. There are certain groups that are still struggling a little bit more with a lower standard of living, and it’s frankly reflective of what we’re seeing across the nation. We still have a ways to go, even though we want to be a progressive and inclusive community.”
Photo via Manumission Tour Company/Facebook
ACT for Alexandria Calls COVID-19 a Racial Issue, Sends $900K to Nonprofits — “To work towards a community where all Alexandrians have an equal chance of living prosperous, fulfilling lives, we must work together to address systemic racism. That is a tall order. But together we can make a difference. Your support of the ACT Now COVID-19 Response Fund is an important step. That support allows our community to better respond to the needs of our neighbors facing overwhelming challenges.” [ACT for Alexandria]
Beyer Finds Fault in Indicted Fairfax County Police Officer — “This officer’s actions were unjustified, and he failed his oath to protect and serve. Body-worn camera footage clearly shows he escalated the situation with unnecessary violence against an unarmed black man.” [Twitter]
Police Disproportionately Use Force Against Black Alexandrians — ” Force is used against black males more than any other group, according to numbers compiled by the police department and acquired through a public-records request… In the most recent report, which covers 2019, 54 percent of the instances of use of force was against African Americans. That’s significantly higher than the black population in Alexandria, which is 23 percent.” [Gazette]
Alexandria Black History Museum Executive Director Makes Statement on George Floyd’s Death — “All keepers of African American heritage pledge to forever say George Floyd’s name, preserve the history he represents, and educate the public about the millions of brilliant minds lost to hate in America.” [Zebra]
Alfred Street Baptist Church Pastor Marchin in D.C. on Sunday with NAACP — “We want to personally invite ALL believers to join Pastor Wesley and the Alfred Street Baptist Church in Collaboration with the NAACP for a Prayer Walk for Peace and Justice on this Sunday, June 14 starting at 6am ET. We’re gathering at the NAAMHC and walking to the newly named Black Lives Plaza, NW in Washington, DC. Visit our website to register.” [Facebook]
Joe Theismann’s Restaurant Reopens — “The restaurant will be open for take-out and delivery via online ordering at Theismanns.com, delivery via select third-party apps, and walk-in patio dining. The restaurant will debut an adjusted menu for lunch and dinner, and will be open Sunday through Thursday from 12 to 9 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 12 – 10 p.m.” [Theismann’s]
Hundreds Sign Petition to Rename T.C. Williams High School After Petey Jones — “Additionally, we believe the name should be changed to honor one of the men who participated in giving the school that reputation, and who worked as a longtime employee at T.C. Williams High School. Petey Jones died in 2019 of prostate cancer. We believe that T.C. Williams should be renamed after him. Please sign this petition if you agree.” [Change.org]
New Job: Assistant Magazine Editor — ” Content creation and coordination for national trade association magazine, including reporting, writing, editing and contributing to monthly print edition (circulation 40,000) and weekly digital newsletters.”[Facebook]
The Office of Historic Alexandria announced this morning (Tuesday) that it will be shutting down immediately and taking most of the city’s museums with it.
“Due to a shortage of staff and volunteers as well as low attendance, the Office of Historic Alexandria (OHA) has decided to close its sites to the public starting March 17,” the OHA said in a statement. “Public programs at OHA sites through April 12 have been canceled or rescheduled.”
The OHA noted in the statement that the office is reaching out to anyone who made reservations for events or tours at the locations to reschedule those.
“Due to the changing nature of the situation, we are not announcing a reopening date at this time and will provide updates on our website,” the OHA said.
According to the statement, the following locations will be closed:
- Alexandria Archaeology Museum
- Alexandria Black History Museum
- Alexandria’s History Museum at The Lyceum
- Archives and Records Center
- Fort Ward Museum and Historic Site
- Freedom House Museum
- Friendship Firehouse Museum
- Gadsby’s Tavern Museum
- Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum
Gusty Winds Expected Today — “The Flood Watch has been cancelled, but now the wind is the next possible hazard… The National Weather Service has issued a Wind Advisory from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday. Gusts of up to 50 mph are expected.” [ARLnow]
Architects Chosen for Potomac Yard Redevelopment — “Five architectural firms have been selected to design the nine buildings that are planned for the first phase of the North Potomac Yard overhaul, including the Virginia Tech campus. The use of multiple firms, similar to the choice made by the developers of The Wharf on D.C.’s Southwest waterfront, is meant to avoid having a neighborhood of buildings that look too alike.” [Washington Business Journal]
Dollhouses Tell Story of Alexandria’s Black History — “The story surrounding the Johnson Pool took center stage at the debut of Robin Hamilton’s documentary ‘Our Alexandria,’ about a set of dollhouses created by Linwood M. Smith and Sharon J. Frazier that reflect life in Alexandria’s African American community years ago in Old Town.” [Zebra]
HIV/AIDS Symposium This Weekend — “The City will host a National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day Symposium, Feb 8, 8am-noon. Free HIV testing. Get Educated. Get Involved. Get Tested. Get Treated.” [City of Alexandria, Twitter]
African American history is an integral part of Alexandria, and the port city will take an expanded look at the topic this year, according to the city’s tourism bureau.
Audrey Davis, executive director of the Alexandria Black History Museum, said that all African American interpretations will be expanded throughout multiple sites.
“So, you can go from Alexandria archaeology to Gatsby’s Tavern to Fort Ward to the Black History Museum, to all of our sites to learn about African Americans and the impact that they had on the city,” Davis said. “There’s so much more exciting history to come focusing on African American history. So, join us on this journey.”
Among the sites is Freedom House at 1315 Duke Street in Old Town, which is being purchased by the city. Freedom House was the home to five different slave dealers between 1828 and 1861 and was once the headquarters for the largest domestic slave trading firm in the United States.
Visit Alexandria highlighted the year ahead at its annual meeting at the Carlyle Club on Friday, Jan. 24. Claire Mouledoux, vice president for communications for Visit Alexandria, said that the Office of Historic Alexandria is also supporting a community initiative to develop an African American Heritage waterfront trail, which will launch this year.
“This self guided tour will be presented as an online story map and will highlight people places and neighborhoods from a diverse period of time in Alexandria its history,” Mouledoux said.
The trail will include a north section, which will launch first, and the South section launching later, ultimately featuring more than 20 stops along the water.”
In March, the city will also welcome the new art installation “Wrought, Knit, Labors, Legacies” by Olalekan Jeyifous at Waterfront Park. The artwork will incorporate African American quilting and textile traditions to tell the city’s story as a merchant and manufacturing hub.
Additionally, the Manumission Tour Company will also feature a new tour telling the story of Alexandria’s history with the Underground Railroad. Alexandria City Councilman John Taylor Chapman owns the company and will give visitors tours by using writings of abolitionist William Still and Underground Railroad participants talking about where they lived in Alexandria, when and how they escaped and who helped them.
The city will also claim its Equal Justice Initiative monument in solemn recognition of its two documented lynchings. Alexandria is one of the first communities to claim its monument from the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama.
Local Donut Shop Donating to Charity — “Sugar Shack Donuts & Coffee of Alexandria, 804 N. Henry Street, is celebrating five years of yummy donuts, smiles and positive community engagement in January by donating five cents for every donut sold to ACT for Alexandria, the community foundation.” [Zebra]
History Museum Hosting Documentary Screening — “On Sunday, January 12, 2020, the Alexandria Black History Museum will premiere a free screening at 3 p.m. of the new documentary exploring Alexandria segregation. A very special collection of dollhouses depict Alexandria segregation in ‘Our Alexandria’ the new documentary by Emmy award-winning local filmmaker, Robin Hamilton.” [Zebra]
Women in Alexandria’s History — “This year marks the centennial of women’s right to vote thanks to the ratification of the 19th Constitutional Amendment, and two Alexandrians have plans to localize the milestone. Gayle Converse and Pat Miller are researching suffragists tied to Alexandria and partnering with various organizations to highlight influential women throughout the city’s history. They are considering special events in March for Women’s History Month.” [Alexandria Times]
The two documented lynchings were of Joseph McCoy in 1897 and Benjamin Thomas in 1899. At a meeting of the Equal Justice Initiative on Nov. 16, Audrey Davis, director of Alexandria’s Black History Museum, said that one of the seven committees in EJI’s Alexandria branch is dedicated to conducting research to “find out if there were any other lynchings in Alexandria we’re not aware of.”
Davis said the committee is also researching McCoy and Thomas to see if they have any living descendants.
Eventually, Davis said the EJI hopes to collect soil from the two lynching sites and hold a marker dedication at or near those locations. The group is planning a trip to claim a marker from the Community Remembrance Project, an effort dedicated to cataloging racial violence in the United States between the end of reconstruction in 1877 and 1950.
“Restorative justice for 1890s racial terror [means] acknowledging the shameful past through commemorative events, marker placement, public programming and research,” Davis said. “We hope to install markers around the city and will follow city guidelines for signage.”
Krystyn Moon, president of the Alexandria Historical Society, said that mob violence was used in Alexandria as a tool of oppression.
“Violence is, of course, used to reinforce the racial status quo, here in Virginia and here in Alexandria,” Moon said.
Moon said the violence was not limited to the two recorded lynchings. On Dec. 26, 1865, a group of Confederate veterans attacked black residents of Alexandria and there was one reported death. Unlike so many other times in American history when perpetrators of racial violence against the black community were not brought to justice, the mob in this case faced punishment.
“What’s extraordinary is not just that we had a riot, but the fact that a military tribunal was convened and found 11 members guilty and sent them to jail,” Moon said.
Aside from the two known lynchings, Moon said there were at least three other instances — two in 1904 and one in 1922 — of individuals who were threatened with lynching and had to be moved out of Alexandria and to Fort Meyer for their protection.
The next meeting of the EJI in Alexandria is scheduled for Jan. 15 at 7:30 p.m. in the Beth El Hebrew Congregation (3830 Seminary Road).
Photo via City of Alexandria
Alexandria Declares Climate Emergency — “On October 22, the Alexandria City Council unanimously adopted a resolution declaring a climate emergency, recognizing that climate change poses a grave threat to everyone in Alexandria and around the world.” [City of Alexandria]
City Council Passes Refugee Resolution — “The Alexandria City Council unanimously approved a resolution to notify the federal government of its continued support for resettling refugees in Alexandria. The action was taken in response to Executive Order 13888, issued on September 26, which provides that the federal government ‘should resettle refugees only in those jurisdictions in which both the State and local governments have consented to receive refugees.'” [City of Alexandria]
Next Weekend: Event for Little Historians — “Bring your little learners to the Alexandria Black History Museum for cultural stories and creative craft activities that introduce world history and folklore… All ages are welcome, but most suitable for children 3-5 years old.” [City of Alexandria]
Nearby: Belle View Fire Costs Millions — “Monday morning’s six-alarm fire at the Belle View Shopping Center began in the kitchen of one of the businesses in the center, the Fairfax Fire and Rescue Department said in a Tuesday press release… The fire caused more than $5.8 million in damages.” [Covering the Corridor, Fairfax County Fire]