You might find yourself saying, what exactly is the Contrabands & Freedmen Cemetery? To which I will respond, only one of Alexandria’s most thought-provoking historical sites! After fleeing slavery to Union-occupied Alexandria during the Civil War, more than 1,700 African-American men, women and children (then referred to as “contrabands”) were buried in the Contrabands & Freedmen Cemetery. After years of research and restoration, the cemetery has been fully refurbished and comes equipped with a new memorial park and sculpture, which will be honored and officially dedicated at a ceremony open to the public on September 6, 2014.
It could be said little is known publicly about this newly restored and moving site, so here are a few important tidbits to bring you up to speed:
1. Falling Off the Map
What might be the only image of Freedman Cemetery, which was located atop the hill behind this wagon.
Image courtesy of Friends of Freedmen’s Cemetery
Needing a place to bury freed African Americans once disease ran rampant through their quarters in Alexandria, a designated cemetery was established in 1864. However, the cemetery fell into disrepair over time and soon, there was little to nothing left of grave markers above ground, which resulted in a gas station and an office building being built on site. Only in 1987, when a historian noticed reference of the cemetery in the Alexandria Gazette, was it brought back onto the map, and in 1996, archaeological remote sensing detected graves within close proximity to gas pumps. Since then, historians, Alexandria officials and Friends of Freedmen’s Cemetery have worked diligently to identify and restore graves of these long-lost citizens.
2. New Sculpture
The newly constructed memorial park designed by architect CJ Howard also features a bas relief sculpture by artist Mario Chiodo titled, “The Path of Thorns and Roses,” which aims to depict African Americans’ struggle for freedom.
3. Guests of Honor
After finding and publishing a list of burials in the cemetery, officials were able to identify and reach out to descendents of those interred on Freedmen grounds, hundreds of whom are set to attend the official dedication ceremony.
Learn more about the Contrabands & Freedmen Cemetery here.