Freedom House in the News
Freedom House in the News
Read news articles from 2018 to present. The City purchased the property in 2020, in order to preserve and interpret this National Historic Landmark and ensure it is open to the public for future generations.
Click on article links, where available, to see images.
News Articles: Freedom House Reopens (2022-2023)
How A Once-Notorious Site of Enslavement Became a Bastion of Black History in Alexandria, Virginia (Winter 2003)
How A Once-Notorious Site of Enslavement Became a Bastion of Black History in Alexandria, Virginia. By Tim O'Donnell, Preservation Magazine, Winter 2003. National Trust for Historic Preservation.
News Release: City of Alexandria’s Freedom House Museum Reopens with Three Powerful New Exhibitions (May 16, 2022)
For Immediate Release: May 16, 2022
The City of Alexandria is pleased to announce that the Freedom House Museum at 1315 Duke Street will reopen on Friday, May 27, with three new exhibitions showcasing Alexandria’s Black history and the Black experience in America. A grand opening event is scheduled for Monday, June 20, when the Juneteenth holiday will be observed. Details on this grand opening event will be announced in the coming weeks.
The museum will be open to the public Fridays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sundays and Mondays from 1 to 5 p.m. Admission is $5 per adult, $3 per child ages 5–12, and free for City of Alexandria residents. Due to high demand and limited capacity, it is highly recommended that guests reserve tickets in advance online.
The National Historic Landmark is what remains of a large complex dedicated to trafficking thousands of Black men, women and children between 1828 and 1861. The museum honors the lives and experiences of the enslaved and free Black people who lived in–and were trafficked through–Alexandria. This museum seeks to reframe white supremacist history and provide visitors opportunities to learn, reflect and advocate for change.
“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,” said Mayor Justin Wilson. “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.”
The exhibits depict the roles of the historic site and Alexandria in the domestic slave trade, and share inspiring stories of African Americans in our community on three floors of the museum:
- 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 Freedom House Museum at 1315 Duke Street closed on March 17, 2020 due to the pandemic and on March 24, 2020, the City of Alexandria purchased the building from the Urban League of Northern Virginia. Throughout the pandemic, work continued to protect and interpret the building including the completion of the Historic Structures Report, research, and the creation of three new exhibits. The Freedom House Museum site is integral to the understanding of Black history in Alexandria and the United States, and is part of Alexandria’s large collection of historic sites, tours, markers and more that depict stories of the Colonial era, through the Civil War and Civil Rights eras, to today.
Visit alexandriava.gov/FreedomHouse for more information.
For inquiries from the news media only, contact Andrea Blackford, Editorial Communications Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 703.746.3959.
For reasonable disability accommodation, contact email@example.com or 703.746.4554, Virginia Relay 711.
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This news release is available at alexandriava.gov/go/3625.
Reopened Freedom House Museum Focal Point For Exploring Alexandria, Virginia’s Rich Black History (August 9, 2022
Reopened Freedom House Museum Focal Point For Exploring Alexandria, Virginia’s Rich Black History, By Chadd Scott, Forbes, August 9, 2022.
How Card Donations Help the Freedom House Museum Shine a Light on Alexandria’s History of Slavery (August 3, 2022)
How Card Donations Help the Freedom House Museum Shine a Light on Alexandria’s History of Slavery. By Sean Roderick, CardRates.com, August 3, 2022.
The Reopening of the Freedom House Museum and "The Ledger and the Chain" (2022)
The Reopening of the Freedom House Museum and "The Ledger and the Chain". By Len Rubenstein, About Alexandria, n.d.
Once a Horrific Slave Pen, Now a Museum on Enslavement and Freedom (July 17, 2022)
Once a Horrific Slave Pen, Now a Museum on Enslavement and Freedom. By Deborah Block, VOA (Voice of America), July 16, 2022.
Journey to Freedom: Freedom House Museum celebrates grand opening (June 23, 2022)
Journey to Freedom: Freedom House Museum celebrates grand opening. By Jeanne Theismann, Alexandria Gazette Packet, June 23, 2022.
Alexandria celebrates Black history with new Freedom House Museum (June 20, 2022)
Alexandria celebrates Black history with new Freedom House Museum. By Lauren Hamilton, WTOPnews, June 20, 2022.
Once a notorious slave pen, it is now a museum on slavery and freedom (June 18, 2022)
Once a notorious slave pen, it is now a museum on slavery and freedom. By Teo Armus, The Washington Post, June 18, 2022.
PHOTOS: Alexandria's Reopened Freedom House Museum is a Must-See (May 28, 2022
PHOTOS: Alexandria's Reopened Freedom House Museum is a Must-See, Alexandria Living Magazine, May 28, 2022.
Freedom House on ABC 7 News (May 26 and 28, 2022)
Freedom House Museum opens in Alexandria with new focus on the lives of those enslaved (May 26, 2022)
Freedom House Museum opens in Alexandria with new focus on the lives of those enslaved. ALXnow, May 26, 2022.
Reopened Museum Reflects On Alexandria’s Origins As A Hub Of The Slave Trade (May 26, 2022)
Reopened Museum Reflects On Alexandria’s Origins As A Hub Of The Slave Trade, Northern Virginia Magazine, May 26, 2022.
Black History Museum in Alexandria Reopens, City’s Role in Slave Trade on Display (May 25, 2022)
Black History Museum in Alexandria Reopens, City’s Role in Slave Trade on Display, The Washington Informer, May 25, 2022.
Freedom House Museum to Reopen (May 18, 2022)
Freedom House Museum to Reopen, Alexandria Living Magazine, May 18, 2022.
Freedom House Museum in Alexandria To Reopen With Powerful New Exhibits (May 18, 2022)
Freedom House Museum in Alexandria To Reopen With Powerful New Exhibits, The Zebra, May 18, 2022
Freedom House Opening (May 2022)
Freedom House Opening , Garden & Gun, May 2022
Painting the full picture Freedom House Museum aims to reopen in April (February 17, 2022)
Painting the full picture Freedom House Museum aims to reopen in April
The Alexandria Times
February 17, 2022
With its purchase of Freedom House several years ago, the City of Alexandria took tangible steps to ensure that its African American history is not forgotten. Now, following a long closure due to the global COVID-19 pandemic and several renovations, the Freedom House Museum is getting ready to reopen its doors.
Although there is not a hard date yet, Alexandria Black History Museum Director Audrey Davis said that the updated museum is tentatively set to open in April.
According to Davis, plans are moving along fairly smoothly, aside from some minor supply chain issues. Staff is currently reviewing proofs of the exhibit design and adding new lighting, paint coatings and an HVAC system.
“We’re just pulling all these pieces together. Some things have to happen in stages and we have to wait for one part to be done before the next part can move on. Our goal is to open in the spring and we’re keeping our fingers crossed that is still going to happen,” Davis said. “But we will be open this year. That’s our guarantee.”
Located at 1315 Duke St., the Freedom House Museum was once the site of one of the largest domestic slave trading firms in the country. Starting in 1828, Franklin and Armfield began operating out of the building, bringing enslaved people from the Chesapeake Bay area and forcing them to slave markets by foot or ship.
Although Franklin and Armfield was the first company to operate out of that building, many others followed suit until the Union Army occupied Alexandria on May 24, 1861. Freedom House now marks the last vestige of a large complex that trafficked enslaved men, women and children who would pass through the building on the way to bonding in the deep south.
“It was a very lucrative business,” Davis said. “It’s a very important part of American history and Alexandria’s role in the domestic slave trade, which a lot of people don’t think about as much.”
While many people are familiar with the transatlantic slave trade, where enslaved men and women were transported from Africa to America, not as many are well-versed in the workings of the domestic slave trade.
Davis speculated that this lack of awareness could be due to a variety factors, such as the desire to ignore the former existence of slavery or, if people do acknowledge slavery, a lack of understanding of the mechanisms and logistics behind how it worked.
“A single person [owned] another human being, but how did that person get there? How were they bought? Were they separated from their family? They don’t always understand or see the connections that happened,” Davis said.
Freedom House, however, aims to bridge the gap of understanding through telling the full story of Alexandria’s fundamental role in the domestic slave trade.
The city purchased the site from the Northern Virginia Urban League, which owned and maintained the building and created the original museum in 2008 to educate the public on internal slave trade. The city’s Office of Historic Alexandria began its collaboration with NVUL in February 2018.
The two partnered closely in ensuring museum upkeep and growing attendance. One concern city officials harbored when the building went up for sale was a private entity potentially acquiring the building and not making it accessible to the public, since it represents an integral piece of the nation’s history.
“It would have been an unknown. We didn’t know for sure, or what it could possibly be turned into. It really is a sacred site; it’s hallowed ground. There are many things you wouldn't want there,” Davis said. “This is really a sacred building and it’s a building that needs to be accessible to many, many people because slavery is a core part of American history and we don’t need to forget that.”
With former city manager Mark Jinks spearheading the effort, the city successfully purchased the building in March 2020 for $1.8 million.
Mayor Justin Wilson said at the time of the purchase that Freedom House is “vital to telling Alexandria’s story.”
“What happened at 1315 Duke St. had a terrible and lasting impact on America. Freedom House encourages us to speak truth to power and delve deeper to confront the hard, honest truths about race, class and equity in this country,” Wilson said.
According to Davis, the renovated museum will place a heavy emphasis on those who were enslaved rather than the business and business owners.
“While we will talk about how it operated and how the different traffickers operated, the most important thing to us is talking about the voiceless men, women and children who went though that building heading into years of horrible bondage, torture and abuse,” Davis said.
In order to effectively center Black voices, the museum will refrain from using legacy language such as “slave master” or “slave mistress” and instead focus on telling the stories of those to whom slavery was forced upon.
Davis said the museum’s renovations are being done with the goal of enhancing accessibility. For example, the core slave trade exhibit will move from the basement to the first floor in order to increase access. Additionally, visitors will now be able to travel up two levels, which “very rarely happened before,” Davis said.
The second floor will include a traveling exhibition from the Virginia Museum of History and Culture, titled “Determined,” that the museum will supplement with African American history, stories and artifacts specific to Alexandria.
Guests can then travel to the third floor, which features an African American Historic Site exhibition called “Before the Spirits are Swept Away.” This exhibit is filled with paintings by late artist Sherry Sanabria. The other part of this exhibit will be located at the Black History Museum, due to a generous amount of painting donations.
The museum also plans to implement an elevator system and bathrooms compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, so that visitors of all mobility levels can access every floor.
With both the renovations and the museum as a whole, Davis said the intention is to educate the public, remember the forgotten and paint a full portrait of the reality of domestic slave trade.
“Our opportunity with Freedom House is creating a museum dedicated to telling the story of the domestic slave trade and everything that it entailed from start to finish, and really focusing on those who were enslaved,” Davis said.
News Articles: Freedom House Preserved (2018-2020)
Historic Alexandria Foundation awards grants to Freedom House... (July 9, 2020)
Historic Alexandria Foundation awards grants to Freedom House...
Alexandria Times, July 9, 2020.
Freedom House Museum was awarded a $5,000 grant that will go toward digitizing about 151 folders of archival materials.
News Release: City of Alexandria Completes Purchase of Freedom House to Preserve Historic Museum (March 25, 2020)
City of Alexandria Completes Purchase of Freedom House to Preserve Historic Museum
For Immediate Release: March 25, 2020
On March 25, the City of Alexandria completed the purchase of the Freedom House Museum from the Northern Virginia Urban League (NVUL). This purchase will allow the City to preserve and interpret this National Historic Landmark and ensure it is open to the public for future generations.
“Freedom House is vital to telling Alexandria’s story,” said Mayor Justin Wilson. “What happened at 1315 Duke St. had a terrible and lasting impact on America. “Freedom House encourages us to speak truth to power and delve deeper to confront the hard, honest truths about race, class and equity in this country.”
Museum staff plan to expand the footprint of the museum beyond the current basement exhibit, starting with a series of changing exhibitions that relate to the history of the site. This will provide time to conduct research, plan exhibits and programs, and restore the building, which was once part of the headquarters for the largest domestic slave trading firm in the United States. From 1828 to 1861, five successive firms forced thousands of enslaved adults and children from the Chesapeake Bay area into the slave markets of Natchez, Miss., and New Orleans by foot or ship.
“As a nation, we must continue to uncover and elevate more stories that are fundamental to the founding of America,” said Brent Leggs, executive director of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund. “Many of these stories inform our understanding of American slavery and our shared past, while also informing our understanding of the often-overlooked places of African American sacrifice and resilience. We applaud the City of Alexandria and Northern Virginia Urban League for their collaborative efforts to ensure that Freedom House stands as a place of learning, reconciliation and healing. We are proud to partner with Historic Alexandria to develop a stewardship plan for this exceptionally rare remnant of the slave trading business in the U.S.”
The City and NVUL have collaborated for the past two years to ensure that the Freedom House Museum is open to the public on a regular basis. The City's Office of Historic Alexandria (OHA) began operating the museum in February 2018, while the property remained under the ownership of NVUL. Since that time, more than 2,000 visitors, including school, church and group tours, have visited the site. Over the last two years, visitation and educational resources expanded and fundraising for the site began. To ensure there is a continued commitment to the mission of the NVUL, the organization remains in residence at Freedom House.
“The Northern Virginia Urban League is pleased that Freedom House will be preserved for future generations,” said Diane McLaughlin, chair of the board of directors of NVUL. “The agreement between the NVUL and the City of Alexandria protects not only the site but permits NVUL to continue its mission of empowering minorities and other disadvantaged communities by giving them the opportunity to secure parity, economic stability and civil rights.”
The historic structure, originally built in 1812, will require a full restoration that complies with the terms of the easement held by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. Research and exhibition design meetings have started with initial new exhibits planned for the late summer. OHA plans to hold “Community Conversations” to share research progress and restoration plans as well as to solicit input on the interpretation of the site.
“OHA staff understand the importance of recognizing the thousands of adults and children who passed through the site to unknown horrors and unceasing labor in the Deep South,” said Audrey Davis, director of the Alexandria Black History Museum. “Enslaved labor built America and drove its economy. We must never lose sight of the humanity of those who had no voice.”
The Freedom House Museum will participate in ACT for Alexandria’s annual Spring2ACTion giving day on April 29, 2020. Donations will support the upcoming building restoration and exhibition development.
News Release: Alexandria plans to buy Freedom House, former slave pen now a museum (January 6, 2020)
City of Alexandria to Purchase Freedom House to Preserve Historic Museum
For Immediate Release: January 6, 2020
The City of Alexandria and the Northern Virginia Urban League (NVUL) reached an agreement on December 31 for the City to purchase the Freedom House Museum in order to preserve and interpret this National Historic Landmark for future generations. The building, located at 1315 Duke Street, was once part of the headquarters for the largest domestic slave trading firm in the United States. From 1828 to 1861, five successive firms forced as many as 50,000 enslaved adults and children from the Chesapeake Bay area to the slave markets in Natchez, Miss., and New Orleans by foot or ship.
“Preserving sites like Freedom House and making them accessible to the public are vital parts of the effort to connect the stories of our past to our present day conversation about race and equity, and ensure we are telling a broader, more candid account of Alexandria and our nation’s history,” said Mayor Justin Wilson. “The City plans to enlist partners to help us restore the building and expand the exhibits to tell the story of the domestic slave trade and those who were enslaved.”
The City and NVUL have worked together for the past two years to ensure that Freedom House stays open to the public. The City's Office of Historic Alexandria began operating the museum in February 2019, while the property remained under the ownership of NVUL.
“The Northern Virginia Urban League is pleased to reach this agreement with the City to place Freedom House in the public trust and ensure its important story will continue to be told,” said Diane McLaughlin, chair of the board of directors of NVUL. “The League will continue to focus on its primary mission to enable minorities and other disadvantaged communities to secure economic self-reliance, parity, power and civil rights.”
On December 17, Governor Ralph Northam recommended state funding of $2.44 million for Freedom House as part of his annual budget proposal to the Virginia General Assembly. The funds would be used to renovate and restore the existing building and build out the content of an expanded museum on the first and second floors. The current exhibit is in the basement of the museum.
The City envisions a partnership with the Commonwealth, as well with private grantors and donors who may wish to help fund elements of the restoration and museum expansion. Members of the community are encouraged to contribute to an account administered by the ACT for Alexandria community foundation, which will be used to supplement public funds for building restoration and museum development.
The $1.8 million purchase includes land, a three- and four-story, 9,810 square-foot building constructed primarily in the 1800s, all museum exhibits and furnishings, and an adjacent 1,648 square-foot parking lot. The building has been the home of the NVUL since 1996, and the City will continue to provide NVUL with office space in the building for five years. The purchase is subject to approval by the Planning Commission and City Council in February.
Alexandria plans to buy Freedom House, former slave pen now a museum (January 6, 2020)
Alexandria plans to buy Freedom House, former slave pen now a museum
The Washington Post
January 6, 2020
The city of Alexandria plans to buy and restore Freedom House, the site of one of the nation’s most notorious pre-Civil War slave pens, and expand exhibits inside the building that showcase its cruel history.
City officials announced the $1.8 million purchase agreement Monday after months of negotiations with the Northern Virginia Urban League, which has owned the 1812 brick rowhouse at 1315 Duke St. since 1996.
Mayor Justin Wilson (D) called the building’s preservation “vital . . . to connect the stories of our past to our present-day conversation about race and equity, and ensure we are telling a broader, more candid account of Alexandria and our nation’s history.”
Between 1828 and 1836, the property served as headquarters for Franklin and Armfield, at the time the richest and most successful slave-trading business in the United States. Other slave-trading firms operated there in later years, until Union troops arrived in Alexandria in 1861 and found a lone black man chained by the leg in the basement.
Historians say as many as 50,000 enslaved Africans passed through the depot on their way to servitude in the Deep South. After being herded off boats at Alexandria’s port and marched to the property, they were held in the dingy basement or in cells behind the house, then forced to walk in chains or sail on packed ships to bondage, primarily in Mississippi and Louisiana.
The local Urban League was praised for saving the four-story rowhouse from oblivion in 1996 when it bought the property and created a small basement museum that includes shackles and recordings of slave narratives.
But upkeep proved too much for an organization that focuses primarily on scholarships and economic self-reliance, parity, and civil rights for disadvantaged communities. In the summer of 2019, heavy rainstorms flooded the basement with three inches of water, damaging the flooring and some exhibits.
The league put Freedom House on the market for use as a commercial or residential property, with an asking price of $2.1 million.
In October, Urban League board chair Diane McLaughlin said the Alexandria government was interested in taking over the building. Wilson said the city wanted to keep the property from falling into private hands, and City Manager Mark B. Jinks predicted a deal by year’s end.
The Alexandria City Council will officially vote whether to buy the building in February. Last month, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) included $2.44 million in his proposed budget to help restore the property and expand the museum to the first and second floors.
Wilson said the city plans to seek out partners to help with those efforts.
An exhibit of business items belonging to the Franklin and Armfield slave dealers. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)
McLaughlin, in a statement Tuesday, declared the league was pleased to put the house in the city’s hands to make sure its story continues to be told. The organization will be allowed to keep its offices in the building for five years, city officials said.
For the past year, the city and the league have jointly operated the museum, although the Urban League retained ownership.
Alexandria provided a $63,000 interest-free loan to stabilize finances in 2018, established an entrance fee and sent city historians to operate weekend tours.
A memo outlining that loan for the City Council said: “Possible loss of this site to private ownership would deprive historians, and those interested in slave history the understanding of an important aspect of our Nation’s and City’s heritage. This site should remain accessible to the public, so what was once a place of horrors may be held for the public trust.”
The Freedom House is open to the public on Fridays and Saturdays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, its website is alexandriava.gov/FreedomHouse.
Alexandria Envisions an Expanded Freedom House Museum (December 19, 2019)
Alexandria Envisions an Expanded Freedom House Museum
December 19, 2019
The City is working to purchase the historic Franklin and Armfield building at 1315 Duke St.
An expansion of the Freedom House Museum and renovations to the historic building it is in are in the works.
Earlier this year, the Northern Virginia Urban League put the historic townhouse at 1315 Duke St. it owns up for sale for $2.1 million, after going through a difficult period keeping up payments on the property, according to The Washington Post.
The townhouse was once the headquarters of the country's largest slave-trading company, Franklin & Armfield, and the Freedom House Museum is housed in the basement.
Now, the City of Alexandria is planning to purchase the building with City funds for an undisclosed sum, allowing the Northern Virginia Urban League to keep a few offices in the building for five years.
Moving forward, the City has envisioned a partnership with the Commonwealth of Virginia and with private donors to fund the building's restoration and an expansion of the museum onto the first and second floors of the building.
Gov. Ralph Northam's recently proposed budget includes $2.443 million to help fund the restoration of the building and renovation and expansion of the Freedom House Museum. (Private donations specifically designated for the Freedom House will be accepted by ACT for Alexandria. Contact ACT for Alexandria for more information on how to donate.)
The City describes the property as once being "part of the headquarters for the largest domestic slave trading firm in the United States, Franklin & Armfield. Enslaved people were brought from the Chesapeake Bay area and forced to the slave markets in Natchez, Mississippi and New Orleans either by foot or ship." The building also used by another slave trading company, Price, Birch & Co.
According to the National Park Service, "The Freedom House is a three-and-a-half-story structure of gray-painted brick with a large, three-story rear brick L-shaped addition. Despite alterations to both its exterior and interior, the Franklin & Armfield building still stands as a reminder of a dark chapter in U.S. and human history."
They were once America's cruelest, richest slave traders. Why does no one know their names ? (September 14, 2019)
They were once America's cruelest, richest slave traders. Why does no one know their names ?
The Washington Post
September 14. 2019
Isaac Franklin and John Armfield committed atrocities they appeared to relish
The two most ruthless domestic slave traders in America had a secret language for their business.
Slave trading was a “game.” The men, Isaac Franklin and John Armfield, were daring “pirates” or “one-eyed men,” a euphemism for their penises. The women they bought and sold were “fancy maids,” a term signifying youth, beauty and potential for sexual exploitation — by buyers or the traders themselves.
Rapes happened often.
“To my certain knowledge she has been used & that smartly by a one eyed man about my size and age, excuse my foolishness,” Isaac Franklin’s nephew James — an employee and his uncle’s protege — wrote in typical business correspondence, referring to Caroline Brown, an enslaved woman who suffered repeated rape and abuse at James’s hands for five months. She was 18 at the time and just over five feet tall.
Franklin and Armfield, who headquartered their slave trading business in a townhouse that still stands in Alexandria, Va., sold more enslaved people, separated more families and made more money from the trade than almost anyone else in America. Between the 1820s and 1830s, the two men reigned as the “undisputed tycoons” of the domestic slave trade, as Smithsonian Magazine put it.
As the country marks the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in Jamestown, Americans are being forced to confront the brutality of slavery and of the people who profited from it. Few profited more than the two Virginia slave traders.
Their success was immense: The duo amassed a fortune worth several billions in today’s dollars and retired as two of the nation’s wealthiest men, according to Joshua Rothman, a professor of history at the University of Alabama who is writing a book on Franklin and Armfield. Several factors set the pair apart, Rothman explained: For one thing, their timing was impeccable. They got into the domestic slave trade just as the cotton economy — and American demand for enslaved labor — exploded, and quit right before the United States sank into the financial panic of 1837.
Their location was also prime, perched so they could collect enslaved people from plantations across Virginia and Maryland and sending them on forced marches — in groups of several hundred known as “coffles” — or on tightly packed ships along the Atlantic Coast to the Deep South. While their business strategy was not especially innovative, it was conducted on a scale “bigger and better than anyone else,” Rothman said. Franklin and Armfield transported an estimated 10,000 enslaved people over the course of their careers, according to Rothman.
“They’re the ones who turned the business of selling humans from one part of the U.S. to another ... into a very modern, organized business — no longer just one trader who might move a few people from one plantation to another,” said Maurie D. McInnis, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin who studies the cultural history of slavery. “They created a modern machinery to support the business of human trafficking.”
That was possible largely because of the traders’ willingness to be unusually cruel and heartless — even for a business built around the sale of human beings — as they committed atrocities they appeared to relish.
“In surviving correspondence, they actually brag about raping enslaved people who they’ve been processing through the firm,” said Calvin Schermerhorn, a professor of history at Arizona State University. “This seemed to be as much a part of Franklin and Armfield’s culture of business as, say, going to the bar after a successful court case might be the culture of a successful law firm’s business.”
Yet today, almost no one knows their names.
When Franklin and Armfield retired, they passed easily into elite white society, achieving respectable dotage without a murmur. History, too, has largely “let them off scot-free,” Schermerhorn said. Few, if any, American high school or college students ever learn about the duo.
“I think America continues to be uncomfortable talking about the original sin of slavery,” McInnis said. “And this is one of its most horrific chapters.”
‘The whole thing was so evil’
The slave trade was all Isaac Franklin ever knew.
He was born in 1789 to a wealthy planter family in Tennessee that owned “a significant number” of enslaved people, according to Rothman. In his late teens, right around the time the United States passed a law barring the transatlantic slave trade, Franklin and his older brothers grew interested in the domestic version: They began transporting small numbers of enslaved people between Virginia and the Deep South.
Franklin developed a taste for the business and, after taking a brief break to fight in the War of 1812, dedicated himself to slave trading full-time. It was all he did for the rest of his professional life, right up until he retired.
“His brothers never got back into the slave trade, but Isaac really decides this is going to be his game: He’s good at it, he likes it, he can make money at it, he sticks with it,” Rothman said.
Franklin worked with a few partners over the years but connected with his longest-lasting collaborator — the man who became his closest friend, confidant and nephew by marriage — in the early 1820s. At the time, John Armfield was lacking in purpose: Shiftless and footloose, he had recently been chased away from a county in North Carolina for fathering a child out of wedlock, Rothman said.
His path to the slave trade was less clear-cut than Franklin’s. Born in 1797 to lapsed Quakers who farmed several hundred acres in North Carolina and owned a small number of enslaved people, Armfield spent his early adulthood pursuing a variety of unsuccessful ventures, including a small mercantile shop — which he was forced to abandon after his affair.
Though unsure what he wanted to do, Armfield was clear on what he didn’t: He loathed farming. So, “floundering about” in the wake of the sex scandal, Armfield decided he would “just dabble in the slave trade,” according to Rothman.
Franklin and Armfield met a few years after that in the course of business and immediately developed a rapport, Rothman said — an intimacy that continued for decades and fueled their profitability. In 1834, the two men became family when Armfield married Franklin’s niece.
“They are each other’s closest friends and that’s rooted in their working relationship,” Rothman said. “Part of the reason they’re successful is they work well together: Each understands the other’s strengths, they trust and respect each other.”
The two men launched the slave trading firm Franklin & Armfield and moved into the Alexandria townhouse — today a museum — in 1828. From the beginning, they divvied the work according to each man’s strength: Armfield, based in Virginia, managed the “buying side of things” and arranged transportation, Rothman said. Franklin, meanwhile, stayed mostly in Natchez, Miss., and was responsible for selling their human cargo to plantations in the Deep South.
It worked like this: Relying on a network of headhunters spread across Virginia, Maryland and the District, Armfield would round up enslaved people, holding them in an open-air pen behind the house in Alexandria — or sometimes in its crowded, filthy basement — until he’d amassed a sufficient number: usually between 100 and 200. Then, he’d send the group on an arduous 1,000-mile march to slave markets in Natchez or New Orleans — or he’d stuff them into one of the company’s three massive ships to make the same journey by water.
At the peak of their business, the two men were moving roughly 1,000 people a year, historians said.
They placed ads in local newspapers seeking enslaved people almost every single day they remained in business. They developed cruel stratagems to boost their bottom line: For example, they “designated less space per person [on their ships] than the trans-Atlantic slave trade vessels did,” Schermerhorn said.
While enslaved people waited in Franklin and Armfield’s “holding pen” in Alexandria, the two men most likely adopted classic techniques employed by slave traders to enhance enslaved people’s salability, McInnis said. That meant feeding their captives large amounts of corn pone and pork to “fatten them up,” dying gray hair black “so they looked younger,” and — if an enslaved person’s skin was scarred with whip marks — smearing wax into the wounds “so they looked healthier,” according to McInnis.
“The whole thing was so evil,” McInnis said.
Through it all, both regularly raped the women they bought and sold and joked about it in letters, a shared habit that deepened their friendship. Franklin and Armfield each fathered at least one child with an enslaved woman, Rothman said. He suspects the abuse, which had no financial purpose, stemmed from a desire for raw power: “They did it because they could, and they felt like it.”
When Franklin wed a rich socialite in 1839, he had been “raping the same enslaved woman” for about five years and had fathered a child with her, Rothman said. Franklin sold the enslaved woman and her baby right after his wedding.
Her fate is unknown.
‘No indication … they felt guilty’
One of the most persistent misconceptions about slavery in the United States is that the white upper class refused to associate with slave traders on principle, Rothman said — a myth the case of Franklin and Armfield disproves.
Even while actively trading slaves, the two men enjoyed an excellent reputation and moved in top-tier social circles, according to Rothman. Franklin went to the theater with other rich whites and threw dinner parties, earning a reputation as a “gregarious” host with “the best liquors,” Rothman said.
Armfield may have been less extroverted, but he, too, drew accolades for his social graces. When visitors came to the Alexandria townhouse, he always opened the door for them, made elegant small talk and offered them something “nice” to drink, McInnis said.
He was so smooth he managed to impress even a New England abolitionist who visited Alexandria in the 1830s. The abolitionist, knowing full well Armfield’s profession, nonetheless wrote: He is “a man of fine personal appearance, and of engaging and graceful manners.”
Their good reputations persisted after retirement. Franklin and Armfield quit the business around 1837. Franklin, who was approaching his 50s, “was tired and didn’t want to do it anymore,” Rothman said. Armfield had no wish to continue without his longtime partner.
Franklin divided his retirement between a large mansion he built in Tennessee and several Louisiana plantations he acquired over the course of his career. He whiled away his final years managing his estates and spending time with his three children and wife, Adelicia Hayes, whom records indicate he adored. Franklin died in 1846 of intestinal issues.
Armfield, meanwhile, purchased an old hotel in the Tennessee mountains and converted it to a luxury summer getaway for the wealthy. He ran it with great success in his final years, earning visits from “very prominent people,” including archbishops and the mayor of Nashville, according to Rothman. (Armfield’s hotel, which still stands, is used to host events including Methodist retreats.) He died of old age in 1871.
Armfield’s marriage never yielded any children, and Franklin’s children with Hayes all died without producing offspring, according to Rothman, so the two men have no direct white descendants living today. Armfield has at least one direct black descendant, Rodney Williams, who wrote about his heritage — which he said he discovered through DNA testing — in an essay included in “Slavery’s Descendants,” published in May.
A group of Franklin’s indirect white descendants learned of their relationship to the slave trader a few years ago and, in 2018, donated money and relics to the Alexandria museum located where their ancestor’s business once stood.
Neither Franklin nor Armfield earned recrimination from their peers during their lifetimes — and neither man felt the slightest remorse, according to their papers.
“It never occurs to them to think slavery might be bad: Slavery is what made their society work, it made them rich, it was a given that that was what black people were for,” Rothman said. “There’s no indication anywhere in the record that they felt guilty over what they did.”
Rothman is one of a small handful now fighting to remember the two men who arguably served as the founding fathers of America’s domestic slave trade. He became interested in Franklin and Armfield after perceiving a relative paucity of books or articles about the duo — what he called “a gaping hole in all of the literature on the slave trade.”
It’s been six years since Rothman began his research, crisscrossing the country to scour old documents such as property transactions in Louisiana, court cases in Mississippi, ship manifests in Alexandria.
Sometimes, he finds it difficult to keep going. He is loath to spend yet another day probing the dark activities and darker minds of Franklin and Armfield.
Then he remembers why he wanted to write the book.
“People are still talking about how the slave trade was marginal, slave traders were these ostracized dirtbags, and slaveholders only bought and sold people when they had to,” Rothman said. “Those kinds of stubborn myths — they need demolition.”
News Release: City of Alexandria Awarded National Trust for Historic Preservation Grant to Support Freedom House Museum (July 6. 2018)
City of Alexandria Awarded National Trust for Historic Preservation Grant to Support Freedom House Museum
For Immediate Release: July 6, 2018
The City of Alexandria has been awarded a $50,000 planning grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation's newly established African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund for the preservation of the Freedom House Museum, located at 1315 Duke St., which formerly housed the headquarters of one of the nation’s largest slave traders.
The City is one of 16 grantees that received support totaling $1 million for the first grant cycle of the African American Cultural Action Fund. This $25 million, multiyear national initiative is aimed at uplifting the largely overlooked contributions of African Americans by protecting and restoring African American historic sites and uncovering hidden stories of African Americans connected to historic sites across the nation.
“We are honored to receive this generous grant and be a part of the inaugural class of grantees that will help further preserve and interpret important African American cultural sites like Freedom House Museum,” said Gretchen Bulova, acting director of the City’s Office of Historic Alexandria. “The site was once a slave pen, where five successive companies profited from the sale of more than 10,000 enslaved men, women, and children. Preserving Freedom House is critical to ensuring that the stories of these African Americans, and their role in the history of Alexandria and the nation, are fully told.”
The Freedom House Museum is owned by the Northern Virginia Urban League and operated in partnership with the City of Alexandria. The Museum was once the headquarters and holding pen for the largest domestic slave trading firm in the country, Franklin & Armfield, from 1828 to 1836. Enslaved men, women, and children were purchased in the Chesapeake Bay area and forced to the slave markets in Natchez, Mississippi and New Orleans either by sea or over land. Similar operations continued on the site until Union occupation of Alexandria in 1861.
The grant will be used for development of a preservation plan to guide the collaborative efforts of the City and the Northern Virginia Urban League in the expanded interpretation, management and preservation of the Freedom House Museum. The broader vision for Freedom House is that it becomes a vital part of the City’s vibrant community of museums and historic sites, providing visitors with a greater understanding of slavery and the African American experience in early Alexandria.
Alexandria council loans $63,000 to stabilize slave-trading museum (February 14, 2018)
Alexandria council loans $63,000 to stabilize slave-trading museum
The Washington Post
February 14, 2018
The Alexandria City Council unanimously agreed Tuesday night to make a $63,000 interest-free loan and donate the time and talents of city historians to help save a financially struggling museum housed on the site of the largest slave-trading operation in the pre-Civil War United States.
The short-term loan is intended to prop up Freedom House, a decade-old museum in the basement of the Northern Virginia Urban League headquarters. The money will cover the building’s mortgage through November and a portion of its utilities. The city will work with the Urban League to improve the museum, expand its hours and attract more visitors to the house at 1315 Duke St., through which as many as a million slaves are thought to have passed between 1828 and 1861 on their way to bondage in Mississippi and Louisiana.
The house is what’s left of a compound once owned by the Franklin and Armfield Co., which was the biggest and most successful slave trader in the pre-Civil War United States, historians say.
After the Urban League’s financial straits became known late last fall, the city’s Office of Historic Alexandria proposed opening the museum on Saturday afternoons in February for Black History Month and providing professional staff to guide visitors through the small exhibits. Almost 200 people attended the first two Saturdays this month and another 53 have signed up for the coming Saturday as of Tuesday night, city officials said.
Under the agreement, the city will operate the museum Thursdays through Saturdays, from 1 to 5 p.m., with a $5 admission fee, starting in March.
The short-term loan will eventually be paid back to the city under the terms of the agreement, and the Urban League plans to launch a campaign to raise at least $2.5 million, said Tracey Walker, chair of the league’s board. The league’s offices will continue to occupy the upper floors of the building.
City Council members, while emphasizing their support for the loan, wanted reassurances that the Urban League would be able to pay the money back, noting that the city has multiple budget demands this year. City Manager Mark Jinks said he’s comfortable the loan will be “a solid bridge” for the future.
The talk of repayment was too much for City Council member Willie Bailey (D), who described himself as “a little upset, a little teed off by some of the emails we’ve received that said we should not preserve this.” The council spent hours in 2016, he reminded them, discussing whether to put money into the Murray-Dick-Fawcett House, another historic home in Old Town.
“As a black man on this dais, I come into this building and I look out there and I imagine my ancestors being sold on [Market Square],” he said. “ . . . We sat up here tonight and had proclamations for the George Washington parade, and he owned slaves. Alexandria had the largest slave trade in the United States of America and that part of history needs to be told, too.”
Council member John T. Chapman (D), who runs walking tours of significant African American sites in the city, agreed and noted that while historians have done “a ton of research” on Washington, “we’re just starting to get under the surface of African American history and tell the whole story of Alexandria.”
Other council members agreed on the importance of the museum, saying it’s a national treasure, not just a local one. They then voted to apply to the National Trust for Historic Preservation for a grant to help create a long-term sustainable plan to save the museum.
Alexandria council to vote on rescue plan for Freedom House slavery museum (February 12, 2018
Alexandria council to vote on rescue plan for Freedom House slavery museum
The Washington Post
February 12, 2018
The Alexandria City Council on Tuesday will consider a short-term rescue plan for Freedom House, a financially struggling museum housed on the site of the largest slave-trading operation in the pre-Civil War United States.
The Northern Virginia Urban League, which founded the museum a decade ago, nearly defaulted on its $1.5 million mortgage in the fall.
Under the proposal the council is schedule to vote on Tuesday night, the city would temporarily take over the league’s $6,000-a-month mortgage payments, pay for a facilities assessment and apply for a $125,000 grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation to develop a “long-term sustainable plan” for the museum at 1315 Duke St., the site of the former Franklin and Armfield Slave Office.
“What good news,” said Lyn Hoyt, who with her cousins recently approached Freedom House to donate money and inherited artifacts after discovering they were descended from slave trader Isaac Franklin.
“We feel like we’ve started a conversation,” Hoyt said. “I’m glad they’re going to continue the conversation.”
The Office of Historic Alexandria, including staff from the city’s Black History Museum, would operate the museum and stage special events during the next nine months. The Urban League, in turn, would launch a fundraising campaign to repay the city for covering the mortgage, make building repairs and create an endowment aimed at ensuring the museum’s survival.
“Since Virginia was the front end of the pipeline of the slave trade, this building has national significance, not just city historical significance,” said City Manager Mark Jinks, who is making the proposal to the council. “This is intended to be short-term assistance intended to keep the museum open to see if we can generate enough attention to find a long-term solution.”
The Urban League bought the property in 1996. After falling behind on mortgage payments, the organization worked out a temporary accommodation with the bank, said board chair Tracey Walker.
The financial crisis drew the attention of former Alexandria mayor Bill Euille, who used to sit on the organization’s board, and Bill Dickinson, former chairman of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority. They worked with current council members and city employees to forge a rescue plan.
Jinks said he hopes to create a partnership with the Urban League to find a long-term solution that could result in another entity operating the museum.
“The important thing is to make sure the building is preserved and the space provides a real educational experience,” Jinks said. “This is part of the city’s responsibility: to make sure its history is preserved and the story, the good, the bad and the ugly, is told. It doesn’t mean the government has to run everything.”
The Office of Historic Alexandria began a pilot program this month to open and staff the museum on Saturday afternoons. A total of 79 people attended the first Saturday’s events, and more than 100 came last Saturday.
Gretchen Bulova, acting director of the historic office, said that if the council adopts the proposal, the city would change the museum’s operating hours, starting March 1, to 1 to 5 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and institute a $5 admission charge. Currently the museum is open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays, with no entrance fee; all tours are self-guided.
Admission and event revenue would be dedicated to improving the museum experience.
The city would not charge the Urban League interest on the mortgage loan for the first three years. The loan would come due in five years, with 2 percent interest charged in the final two years.
‘Like we descended from Hitler’: Coming to terms with a slave-trading past (February 8, 2018)
‘Like we descended from Hitler’: Coming to terms with a slave-trading past
The Washington Post
February 8, 2018
The family secret lurked in the background as the cousins grew up in Maine, Maryland and Tennessee. Something about the Southern ancestors, back in the Civil War days, that most of the adults wouldn’t talk about, although those who married into the family would occasionally give hints.
“My grandmother was never really forthright about it,” said Lyn Hoyt, 53, of Nashville. “She called [her husband’s ancestors] ‘horse traders’ and said, ‘You don’t really want to hook your wagon to the Franklins.’ ”
When Hoyt and her cousins finally put the clues together, what they discovered horrified them: This family of educators, scientists and physicians was indirectly descended from Isaac Franklin, the biggest and most successful slave trader in the pre-Civil War United States, who with his partner John Armfield shipped thousands of black people from their “slave pen” in Alexandria into brutal servitude in the Deep South.
Over a period of years, the cousins grappled with the revelations, found other relatives scattered around the country, and debated their responsibility as fourth- and fifth-generation descendants.
They learned that what remained of the slave-trading headquarters, a brick townhouse in Old Town, was now owned by a civil rights organization that had built a small basement museum called Freedom House. It has few exhibits and its hours are limited, but the cousins began to think it might be a good place to direct their reconciliation efforts. By last summer, they quietly started to reach out to the museum.
What they did not know was that the Northern Virginia Urban League, which owns and runs the site, was struggling to pay the $1.2 million mortgage, and that Freedom House was at risk of closing.
Then Charlottesville happened.
In Maine and Tennessee, Maryland and Texas, the descendants of Isaac Franklin were galvanized by the news of white supremacists rallying against the removal of Confederate statues in Charlottesville, and the death of a counterprotester struck by a car driven by a white nationalist, an incident that left 19 others injured.
The time to act was now, the cousins decided.
They would visit Freedom House as soon as possible.
The slave pen
Franklin and Armfield’s large compound originally housed a hospital, kitchens, separate women’s and men’s quarters, and an outdoor space, surrounded by a high fence. Only the townhouse at 1315 Duke St. is left.
The truth of its sordid history is visible down the basement steps, where a strongly grated iron door reminds visitors that between 1828 and 1836, about 10,000 blacks were imprisoned here before they were shipped south and sold to cotton and sugar planters in Mississippi and Louisiana.
The captives were mostly enslaved people who had worked the tobacco farms of Virginia, Maryland and Delaware — although some free blacks were kidnapped off the streets, a story most recently told in the film “12 Years a Slave,” based on the memoir by Solomon Northup, who was captured by one in a succession of slave traders who bought the Alexandria property from Franklin and Armfield after they left the business.
When Union troops seized the property at the start of the Civil War, they found an elderly black man left alone in the basement, chained by the leg.
Armfield lived above the business, collecting enslaved people brought in by brokers and headhunters and eventually sending them south on one of his company’s ships, or on a forced 1,000-mile march to Natchez, Miss., or New Orleans. Franklin lived mostly in Gallatin, Tenn., overseeing those marches and the sales to new masters.
Edward Ball, who described this “Slavery Trail of Tears” in Smithsonian magazine, called the duo the “undisputed tycoons of the domestic slave trade, with an impact that is hard to overstate.”
They were also among the richest men in the United States, said Joshua Rothman, a University of Alabama historian who is writing a book about Franklin and Armfield. At the time of his death in 1846, Franklin owned more than 600 enslaved people and was worth the modern equivalent of $40 million.
The Duke Street property passed through many owners, serving as a hospital and boardinghouse. In 1978, the building was designated a National Historic Landmark. The Urban League’s Northern Virginia chapter bought the property in 1996 and opened the museum in 2008. The organization has struggled to attract visitors and maintain funding for the site despite a growing local and national interest in African American history and slavery, and a deep desire on the part of community leaders to preserve the slave pen’s story.
“All the horrors and terror that went on in the basement of that building,” said Tracey Walker, chair of the Urban League’s local board of directors. “We have to imagine people prayed that good things could happen there.”
Neither Franklin nor Armfield have any known direct descendants. William T. Whitney, 82, a retired pediatrician from Maine, Hoyt and their cousins trace their lineage to Franklin’s brothers, one of whom is said to have introduced Franklin to the slave-trading business.
“Everyone was complicit in this,” Hoyt said.
But no one wanted to talk about it.
Whitney remembers an older relative from Harford County, Md., insisting that her mother’s family had suffered mistreatment by Union troops during “the War of Northern Aggression.” He said he grew up aware of the overt racism of some family members, an impression that stayed with him when he began volunteering in the 1950s for the NAACP in New York.
Whitney’s cousin, Jenny Van Bibber Orr, recalls her beloved grandfather, Armfield Franklin Van Bibber, walking out of her third-grade concert when they sang “Marching Through Georgia,” which celebrates the destructive march of Major Gen. William T. Sherman’s Union troops from Atlanta to Savannah.
“It didn’t make much sense to me, and nobody would explain it,” said Orr, 79, of West Paris, Maine. Months later, visiting him in Bel Air, Md., she sang the same song once more. Her normally sweet-tempered grandfather confronted her, she said, and “in a very, very angry voice told me never to sing that song again.”
Just eight years ago, Hoyt, a public school advocate, was researching family history when she found a cousin from nearby Gallatin, Tenn. The cousin stunned her by mentioning the family’s link to Isaac Franklin.
“It’s difficult to hear,” Hoyt said. “My family sold human beings. It’s a horrible, horrible thought. It’s like we descended from Hitler.”
Later, Hoyt received an email from a 35-year-old Houston social worker named Joy Franklin, who had stumbled across Hoyt’s name online while researching her own family tree.
Joy Franklin explained that her ancestors, too, were from Gallatin, and her family’s oral history said they descended from the slave-trading Franklins. But her branch of the family is African American.
“We know at some point, her family owned my family,” Franklin said. “Everything Lyn told me matched up with everything my great-aunt told me.”
As Hoyt learned more, she shared the information with cousins. About 10 of them wanted to consider some kind of reckoning with the past. Other relatives were not interested, or said that they bore no responsibility for the actions of their ancestors. Joy Franklin and her family watched the deliberations of their white cousins with something like bemusement.
“We always knew there were white people in our family, but we were taught to shut up about it,” Franklin said. “Because it’s nothing new for us, we don’t have any bitterness. To have bad feelings about white people in our family is to have bad feelings about ourselves.”
Down the basement stairs
Across the country, Whitney — who had visited Freedom House years earlier while in Washington on business — was designated by other cousins to contact the museum on the family’s behalf. He sent a letter in July outlining their connection and desire to offer amends, along the lines of how Germans and South Africans have expressed regret and tried to educate younger generations about the Holocaust and apartheid.
“Until now, our family has been silent about family members’ participation in racial oppression,” Whitney’s letter said. “We think it’s time now that we acknowledge our family’s role and that we speak out in some fashion against the crimes that were committed.”
On Sept. 25, a contingent of six Franklin descendants arrived at Freedom House. An additional six sent written statements full of pain, apologizing for their family’s role in perpetrating slavery, and its failure over the years to speak out about it.
The family’s wealth from Isaac Franklin is long gone, and although members came with gifts — a $1,000 donation, a family clock and a set of 11 silver spoons thought to be from Franklin’s household — the cousins wanted to be careful not to pose as white saviors arriving to salvage an institution that African Americans had already rescued and restored.
The best they could offer, they said, was to help raise awareness of the museum and make sure the truth of slavery’s impact is told to younger generations.
Walker, of the Urban League, took the family down the basement stairs, where the names of some of the people who had been held there, and their sale prices, are painted on the wall. The group passed through the iron gate, past the iron-barred window and into the brick-sided basement, where shackles share space with exhibits on the slave trade, the cotton industry and recordings of slave narratives.
“You realize that 150 people were held in these rooms,” Orr said later. “You can just imagine them squeezed together, filled with fear, parents trying to quiet their children. It’s very clear that huge amounts of suffering went on here.”
Susanna Grannis, Whitney’s sister, was there from New York with her adult daughter. A retired dean of several schools of education, Grannis described the impact of the day as “in a way, overwhelming.”
“The other horror is the silence in my family over all those generations since,” said Grannis, who has begun work on a family history that she hopes will tell the full story. “It’s that silence that supported racism. . . . The real villains were all of us.”
In the months following the cousins’ visit, the Urban League worked out the mortgage problem, renegotiating terms of the loan with the bank, and began planning a spring fundraising drive. Local activists in Alexandria, including former and current elected officials, started talking about what they could do to put Freedom House on more secure footing, including whether the city should take over its operations permanently.
The city’s Office of Historic Alexandria and the city’s Black History Museum agreed to provide staff to run the museum on Saturday afternoons in February, which is Black History Month. Seventy people came for the first set of tours on Saturday; city officials say they hope crowds will increase as word spreads.
The Franklins say they applaud the museum’s efforts and are still trying to figure out how they can have an impact on the nation’s understanding of slavery, through the townhouse on Duke Street and whatever other avenues they find.
“While I do not feel directly responsible for my ancestor’s actions, I feel a shame,” Hoyt, of Nashville, said. “My hope is that being honest and telling my family’s story could help people better understand a very difficult aspect of our country’s history. Could that be a form of individual reparations? Maybe. Acknowledging the truth is important.”