‘No longer forgotten’: Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery Memorial in Alexandria recognized nationally

A cemetery dedication in Historic Alexandria Saturday morning was an important step in efforts to honor civil rights history in Virginia.

A wreath was lain at the site of the Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery Memorial as the area celebrated its inclusion in the National Park Service African American Civil Rights Network.

“This site helps tell the story of an important and often neglected piece of our nation’s past,” said archeologist Elizabeth Moore with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

The cemetery was established in 1864 and is the first site in Virginia, and one of the oldest sites ever, to be added to the network.

Following the burial of 118 United States Colored Troops (as Black soldiers were known at the time) in the cemetery, the area became the site of Alexandria‘s first known civil rights expression.

The 31st Masonic District laid the wreath at the Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery Memorial Dedication ceremony in Alexandria, Virginia. (WTOP/Valerie Bonk)

Rev. Taft Quincey Heatley gave the invocation and benediction during the Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery Memorial dedication ceremony in Alexandria, Virginia. (WTOP/Valerie Bonk)

The Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery Memorial in Alexandria, Virginia. (WTOP/Valerie Bonk)

The Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery Memorial in Alexandria, Virginia. (WTOP/Valerie Bonk)

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During Saturday’s ceremony, the 31st Masonic District laid the wreath while musician Tanya Wilkins sang.

Rev. Taft Quincey Heatley of Shiloh Baptist Church gave the invocation and benediction.

“Even though this is a cemetery, this memorial is a living site,” said Audrey Davis, Director of the Alexandria Black History Museum. “Their lives still resonate with us. This site is no longer forgotten.”

Davis said she hopes it continues to be used as a place to fight for equality.

“Today this place again lives on through the actions of the Black Lives Matter protesters who used this site for vigils after the death of George Floyd, reminding us that the fight for African-American Civil Rights still continues,” Davis said.

Valerie Bonk

Valerie Bonk started working at WTOP in 2016 and has lived in Howard County, Maryland, her entire life. She's thrilled to be a reporter for WTOP telling stories on air. She works as both a television and radio reporter in the Maryland and D.C. areas. 

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