A slave trafficking site turned museum reopens in Alexandria

The Freedom House in Alexandria, Virginia, will once again be open at the end of the month after shutting for two years because of the pandemic.

The Freedom House at 1315 Duke St. served as a slave jail and was home to one of the largest slave trading businesses in the country. Franklin & Armfield operated there from 1828 to 1837. Back then, it encompassed half a city block with high brick walls fencing in the property and those imprisoned there. It was a hub for the slave trade until 1861, when it was liberated by Union soldiers and converted into a military jail.

Now it’s a museum that calls attention to the house’s grim history.

The Freedom House was once run by the Northern Virginia Urban League, but the City of Alexandria bought the property in March 2020 — right around the time it shuttered due to COVID-19.

“We are so thrilled to be able to offer visitors a chance to experience the site and learn more about the people who were trafficked through the site and Alexandria’s role in the domestic slave trade,” said Audrey P. Davis, director of the Alexandria Black History Museum.

When it opens Friday, May 27, it will feature three new exhibits including “1315 Duke Street,” which highlights the property’s involvement with the slave trade.

“We know that thousands of men, women and children were trafficked through this site to bondage further in the Deep South,” Davis said. “What we are trying to achieve is telling the story of the people who moved through this site, who had no voice at the time, who had no autonomy, who had no choice on how their lives were going to be lived.”

The exhibit will feature artifacts collected from the property, a model of the old property and even first-hand accounts from people who were trafficked there.

“We are continuing to do work. The story isn’t complete yet. We are still researching; we know we’re still going to uncover new things,” Davis told WTOP. “So this is just the first stage in a larger plan for the site.”

The museum will feature two other exhibits when it opens.

“Determined: The 400-Year Struggle for Black Equality” is a traveling exhibition from the Virginia Museum of History and Culture.

“We also have ‘Determined in Alexandria,’ which will give you some amazing stories of people in Alexandria from the 18th century to the present day who continue to make an impact on our city,” Davis said.

“Before the Spirits Are Swept Away” will also be housed at the museum. It is a series of paintings from the late Sherry Z. Sanabria.

“These are paintings of African American heritage sites that are disappearing from our landscape, and that Sherry tried to capture before her death in 2014,” Davis said.

The museum will hold a grand opening event on June 20 to celebrate Juneteenth.

“When you enter the hallowed doors of the Freedom House Museum, you come face to face with the named and unnamed, enslaved and free Black men, women and children who were trafficked through this site,” Mayor Justin Wilson said in a release.

“Freedom House will inform visitors while challenging them to critically examine our history. I am proud that we are telling this story and honoring the lives and experiences of those who passed through this building.”

Luke Lukert

Since joining WTOP Luke Lukert has held just about every job in the newsroom from producer to web writer and now he works as a full-time reporter. He is an avid fan of UGA football. Go Dawgs!

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