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Once Alexandria's Slave Pen, The Freedom House Museum is Now Open

By David J. Kent

Washington D.C.

Monday, August 1, 2022

Old Town Alexandria has a lot to offer. Many of us have strolled the historic streets and eaten in the multitude of restaurants. But just a little way down Duke Street you'll find what's left of the Franklin and Armfield Slave Office. Enslaved people were once bought and sold here. Recently the location was reopened as the Freedom House Museum. It's worth a visit.

Originally a much larger complex "dedicated to the trafficking of thousands of Black men, women, and children from 1828 - 1861," the Franklin and Armfield Office was used to hold the traveling enslaved staff of rich Southern planters when they came to Washington, DC (Alexandria was part of the District until 1846 when the fear of possible emancipation in DC led to Virginia taking back their portion in a process called retrocession). The building complex was also used to sell enslaved people "down the river" into the deep South, where conditions were even worse than they were in Virginia. Operations of the Office ceased when the Civil War began and the Union forces took control of northern Virginia.

Now as the Freedom House Musuem, the facility seeks to both tell the story of the slave trade and "honor the lives and experiences of the enslaved and free Black people who lived in - and were trafficked through - Alexandria. The goal is to "reframe white supremacist history and provide visitors opportunities to learn, reflect, and advocate for change."

These stories are told through three exhibits:

  • 1315 Duke Street highlights the stories of those who were brought from the Chesapeake Bay area, moved through 1315 Duke Street, and forced into slave markets in the deep South. The exhibit includes archaeological artifacts, a model of the complex, and stories of personal experiences of individuals trafficked through the domestic slave trade. The new first floor exhibition was designed by Washington, D.C. firm Howard+Revis Design, whose former clients include the Smithsonian Institution and the National Civil Rights Museum.

  • Determined: The 400-Year Struggle for Black Equality, a traveling exhibition from the Virginia Museum of History and Culture, traces four centuries of Black history in Virginia through stories of extraordinary individuals who struggled for equality and, in the process, profoundly shaped the nature of American society and the meaning of our collective ideals. Determined in Alexandria is a companion exhibition about Black Alexandrians who built the foundations of our community while fighting for equality.

  • Before the Spirits Are Swept Away is a series of paintings of African American sites by the late Sherry Z. Sanabria. The third floor also includes a reflection space with a bronze model (or maquette) of Alexandria’s well known Edmonson Sisters sculpture by artist Erik Blome, a gift to the Office of Historic Alexandria from former City Manager Mark Jinks and his wife, Eileen Jinks.

The Museum is located at 1315 Duke Street, Alexandria, VA. It's a 10-minute walk from the King St.-Old Town Metrorail station. It's open Thursday to Monday. Admission is $5 per adult, $3 per child (ages 5-12), and FREE for City of Alexandria Residents. They do note that since it's reopening, demand for tickets has been high and capacity is limited, so they highly recommend guests reserve tickets in advance and not purchase at the door.

[Photo from Freedom House Museum website]


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