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Alexandria, Virginia — The American South (Mid-Atlantic)
 

Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery Memorial

 
 
Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery Memorial Marker image. Click for full size.
By Allen C. Browne, August 1, 2015
1. Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery Memorial Marker
Inscription. Seeking freedom and a chance to begin a new life thousands of African Americans fleeing slavery flooded Civil War-era Alexandria. The city was quickly overwhelmed, and as living conditions grew dire, many perished from disease and deprivation. In 1864, the federal government established an African American burial ground here.

Within five years, the government abandoned the property. Left unprotected, and neglected by all but the families of the deceased, the cemetery endured multiple desecrations that nearly erased the memory of this site.

Today, through the efforts of a committed advocacy group, archaeologists, historians, descendants, and the City of Alexandria, this cemetery is reclaimed as a place of remembrance and reflection.

Buried History

The Cemetery property changed hands many times over the years, and was rarely mapped or recorded. Left vulnerable to encroachment, parts of the cemetery were paved over by South Washington Street, and its southern edge was destroyed by the Beltway. The wall in front of you marks another such desecration — an office building constructed here in 1960 directly over the cemetery. Now underground, the building's slab was left in place to protect the graves that may remain below.

Uncovering the Story

In 1967, historical research
Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery Memorial Marker image. Click for full size.
By Allen C. Browne, August 1, 2015
2. Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery Memorial Marker
brought the cemetery's history to light. Both moved and outraged by the story of the Contrabands and Freedmen, a committed advocacy group and city officials were inspired to protect what remained of the cemetery. In 2007, the encroaching structures were dismantled, and a respectful archaeological study was completed, revealing the location of more 540 of the cemetery's graves. The graves were preserved and are now marked in the Memorial.

A Living Memorial

In 2013, the cemetery was re-dedicated, with a full listing of the names of the dead. While the story told here lies in the past, it also is a part of Alexandria's present and future. Through genealogical research, many descendants of the people buried here have been identified, some of whom still live nearby. These descendants, as well as all who visit the memorial seeking to understand our history, honor the memory of those buried here and sustain the connection to our past.
 
Location. 38° 47.689′ N, 77° 3.013′ W. Marker is in Alexandria, Virginia. Marker is at the intersection of Church Street and South Columbus Street when traveling north on Church Street. Click for map. Marker is in this post office area: Alexandria VA 22314, United States of America.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Former USCT Burial Ground (within
❶ Brickyard image. Click for full size.
By Allen C. Browne, August 1, 2015
3. ❶ Brickyard
The Washington Post reported in 1892: “Of late the owners have allowed neighboring brick yards to dig clay from which the outer edges of the graveyard with which to make brick. This digging, seconded by heavy rains, has resulted in unearthing many coffins and skeletons and leaving the outer graves in very bad conditions.” Brick manufacturers like the one whose wagon is shown here most likely excavated for clay on the western edge of the cemetery.
Close-up of photo on marker
Alexandria Library
shouting distance of this marker); Freedmen’s Cemetery (within shouting distance of this marker); a different marker also named Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery Memorial (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line); First Catholic Church in Virginia (about 300 feet away); The Original Saint Mary's Church (about 500 feet away); Jones Point (approx. ¼ mile away); The Lost Village of Cameron at Great Hunting Creek (approx. 0.3 miles away); Battery Rodgers (approx. 0.4 miles away). Click for a list of all markers in Alexandria.
 
Categories. African AmericansCemeteries & Burial Sites
 
❷ Gas Station, 1955 image. Click for full size.
By Allen C. Browne, August 1, 2015
4. ❷ Gas Station, 1955
The tanks and foundation of a gas station destroyed many graves. Leaking oil andgaloline further contaminated the site.
Close-up of photo on marker
Alexandria Archaeology
❸ Office Building, 1960 image. Click for full size.
By Allen C. Browne, August 1, 2015
5. ❸ Office Building, 1960
The construction of an office building and its adjacent parking lot had a great impact on the cemetery. Grading removed large amounts of soil from parts of the site, leaving many graves very close to the surface.
Close-up of photo on marker
Coffin Hinge image. Click for full size.
By Allen C. Browne, August 1, 2015
6. Coffin Hinge
Archaeological investigation led to the discovery of some artifacts associated with burials. Coffin hardware, such as this hinge, was discovered only in places where 20th-century grading had cut into the graves. In undisturbed areas, archaeologists found a few objects, like oyster shells, that could have been placed on top of a grave and may speak to African American burial practices. All artifacts associated with the graves were left in place and now protected.
Close-up of photo on marker
Oyster Shells image. Click for full size.
By Allen C. Browne, August 1, 2015
7. Oyster Shells
Close-up of photo on marker
Archaeology image. Click for full size.
By Allen C. Browne, August 1, 2015
8. Archaeology
Close-up of photo on marker
Luminaries image. Click for full size.
By Allen C. Browne, August 1, 2015
9. Luminaries
As part of the re-dedication of the site in 2007, Alexandria schoolchildren created luminaries for each of the individuals believed to buried in the cemetery.
Close-up of photo on marker
Luminary image. Click for full size.
By Allen C. Browne, August 1, 2015
10. Luminary
Close-up of photo on marker
Map of Cemetery Site image. Click for full size.
By Allen C. Browne, August 1, 2015
11. Map of Cemetery Site
❶ Brickyard, ❷ Gas Station, ❸ Office Building.
Close-up of map on marker
Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery image. Click for full size.
By Allen C. Browne, August 1, 2015
12. Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery
Path of Thorns and Roses<br>Sculpture by Mario Chiodo image. Click for full size.
By Allen C. Browne, August 1, 2015
13. Path of Thorns and Roses
Sculpture by Mario Chiodo
I am thankful... image. Click for full size.
By Allen C. Browne, August 1, 2015
14. I am thankful...
“I am thankful there is a beginning. I am full of hope for the future. A Power mightier than man is guiding this revolution; and though justice moves slowly,it will come at last. The American people will outlive this mean prejudice against complexion.” — Harriet Jacobs, freedwoman, author, educator and dedicated aid-worker in Alexandria during the Civil War.
1955 Gas Station image. Click for full size.
By Allen C. Browne, August 1, 2015
15. 1955 Gas Station
Under this plaza is the concrete floor of a gas station, the construction of which desecrated many graves. The flooring was kept in place to protect the graves that may remain below.
Detail of Path of Thorns and Roses image. Click for full size.
By Allen C. Browne, August 1, 2015
16. Detail of Path of Thorns and Roses
Detail of Path of Thorns and Roses image. Click for full size.
By Allen C. Browne, August 1, 2015
17. Detail of Path of Thorns and Roses
M. Chiodo image. Click for full size.
By Allen C. Browne, August 1, 2015
18. M. Chiodo
Mario Chiodo's signature on his Path of Thorns and Rose Sculpture.
Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery Memorial<br>Path of Thorns and Roses image. Click for full size.
By Allen C. Browne, August 1, 2015
19. Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery Memorial
Path of Thorns and Roses
Grave Markers image. Click for full size.
By Allen C. Browne, August 1, 2015
20. Grave Markers
Lillie Finklea and Louise Massoud image. Click for full size.
By Allen C. Browne, August 1, 2015
21. Lillie Finklea and Louise Massoud
Lillie Finklea (left) and Louise Massoud (right) created Friends of Freedmen's Cemetery in 1997 to preserve, commemorate, and research this burying ground.
Close-up of photo on marker
 
 
Credits. This page originally submitted on , by Allen C. Browne of Silver Spring, Maryland. This page has been viewed 383 times since then and 20 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21. submitted on , by Allen C. Browne of Silver Spring, Maryland. • Bill Pfingsten was the editor who published this page. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016.
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