African Americans in the Civil War
"Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letter, U.S., let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pocket, there is no power on earth that can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship."
- Frederick Douglass
The issues of emancipation and military service were intertwined from the onset of the Civil War. News from Fort Sumter set off a rush by free black men to enlist in U.S. military units.
They were turned away, however, because a Federal law dating from 1792 barred Negroes from bearing arms for the U.S. army (although they had served in the American Revolution and in the War of 1812). In Boston disappointed would-be volunteers met and passed a resolution requesting that the Government modify its laws to permit their enlistment.
The Lincoln administration wrestled with the idea of authorizing the recruitment of black troops, concerned that such a move would prompt the border states to secede.
When Gen. John C. Fremont in Missouri and Gen. David Hunter in South Carolina issued proclamations that emancipated slaves in their military regions and permitted them to enlist, their superiors sternly revoked their orders. By mid-1862, however, the escalating number of former slaves (contrabands), the declining number of white volunteers, and the increasingly pressing personnel needs of the Union Army pushed the Government into reconsidering the ban.
As a result, on July 17, 1862, Congress passed the Second Confiscation and Militia Act, freeing slaves who had masters in the Confederate Army. Two days later, slavery was abolished in the territories of the United States, and on July 22 President Lincoln presented the preliminary draft of the Emancipation Proclamation to his Cabinet.
After the Union Army turned back Lee's first invasion of the North at Antietam, MD, and the Emancipation Proclamation was subsequently announced, black recruitment was pursued in earnest. Volunteers from South Carolina, Tennessee, and Massachusetts filled the first authorized black regiments. Recruitment was slow until black leaders such as Frederick Douglass encouraged black men to become soldiers to ensure eventual full citizenship. (Two of Douglass's own sons contributed to the war effort.)
Volunteers began to respond, and in May 1863 the Government established the Bureau of Colored Troops to manage the burgeoning numbers of black soldiers.
Text from "The Fight for Equal Rights: Black Soldiers in the Civil War"
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We are often asked by persons in the street as well as by letter, what our people will do in the present solemn crisis in the affairs of the country. Our answer is, would to God you would let us do something! We lack nothing but your consent. We are ready and would go, counting ourselves happy in being permitted to serve and suffer for the cause of freedom and free institutions.
But you won't let us go..
- Frederick Douglass, HOW TO END THE WAR, from Douglass' Monthly, May, 1861
The son of a slave woman and an unknown white man, "Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey" was born in February of 1818 on Maryland's eastern shore. He spent his early years with his grandparents and with an aunt, seeing his mother only four or five times before her death when he was seven. (All Douglass knew of his father was that he was white.)
During this time he was exposed to the degradations of slavery, witnessing firsthand brutal whippings and spending much time cold and hungry.
When he was eight he was sent to Baltimore to live with a ship carpenter named Hugh Auld. There he learned to read and first heard the words abolition and abolitionists. "Going to live at Baltimore," Douglass would later say, "laid the foundation, and opened the gateway, to all my subsequent prosperity."
Douglass spent seven relatively comfortable years in Baltimore before being sent back to the country, where he was hired out to a farm run by a notoriously brutal "slavebreaker" named Edward Covey. And the treatment he received was indeed brutal. Whipped daily and barely fed, Douglass was "broken in body, soul, and spirit."
In 1851 Douglass announced at a meeting in Syracuse, New York, that he did not assume the Constitution was a pro-slavery document, and that it could even "be wielded in behalf of emancipation," especially where the federal government had exclusive jurisdiction. Douglass also did not advocate the dissolution of the Union, since it would isolate slaves in the South.
This led to a bitter dispute between Garrison and Douglass that, despite the efforts of others such as Harriet Beecher Stowe to reconcile the two, would last into the Civil War. 1861 was a time of war, and the abolitionist Frederick Douglass knew that you had to be in it to win it. But the Union government wasn't letting the negro in.
That led Douglass, the most prominent African American of the 19th century, to fight a rhetorical war on two fronts: first, to convince the Union government to allow the negro to fight; and second, to convince blacks that they should fight what some saw as a "white man's war." He would do so with the passion and eloquence that made him famous.
At the start of the Civil War, African Americans were, by law, prohibited from serving as soldiers for the United States.
Frederick Douglass Appealing to President Lincoln
Mural by William Edouard Scott
The mural above shows Frederick Douglass asking President Abraham Lincoln to allow black soldiers to serve in the Union army during the Civil War. Gideon Welles, the Secretary of the Navy, and Salmon P. Chase, Secretary of the Treasury, are the two men standing in the back. The image surely depicts a fictional event: although Lincoln and Douglass met three times at the White House, those meetings took place after Congress approved the use of blacks as soldiers in the Union armed forces.
The Militia Act of 1792, passed around the time of the slave revolt in Saint-Domingue (now called Haiti), specified that enrollment in the military (state militias) was for "free able-bodied white male citizen(s)."
Although some blacks, free and slave, did fight under then Major General Andrew Jackson during the War of 1812, in the Battle of New Orleans.
Historian Daniel Walker Howe notes that "Jackson addressed the blacks as 'brave fellow citizens' and had promised them pay and respect the equal of whites.. (but when) the battle was over, Jackson ignored his promise to secure equal rewards for the black men who stood with him.." But that's a story for another day.
Despite the law, all throughout the North - in Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, or anywhere with a sizable free black population - negroes volunteered to join the fight against the southern secessionists, but saw their efforts rebuffed.
Douglass' newspaper, Douglass' Monthly, reported that in New York City, a group of black men was performing drills in anticipation of being called up to serve; the police told them to stop, apparently out of fear that the sight or sound of militant blacks would anger local whites and cause a riot.
Medal of Honor Recipient Christian Fleetwood
But even more than the law, there was another reason why negro enlistment was seen as problematic: it would infuriate the strategically important slave-holding Border States (Delaware, Kentucky Maryland, Missouri).
If Maryland had joined the secession, Washington, DC would have been surrounded by Confederate states.
Meanwhile, the loss of Kentucky to the Confederacy would have exposed the old North West states (such as Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois) to a border with their Confederate enemies.
It is no wonder, then, that in his March 1861 inauguration speech, Lincoln declared "I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists."
Arming even free negroes, who might have ties with their enslaved brethren, was understood by the Union government to be an unacceptable and dis-unifying policy.
Text from "Jubilo! The Emancipation Century - African Americans in the 19th Century: Slavery, Abolition, the Civil War, Emancipation, Reconstruction, and the Nadir"
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The Frederick Douglass House - Washington DC
The Frederick Douglass house in Washington D.C. was built between 1855 and 1859 by John Van Hook, an architect from Philadelphia, PA. The house consisted of between 6 to 14 rooms.
On September 1, 1877, Douglass paid $6,700 to the Freedmen's Savings and Trust company for the home and 9 and 3/4 acres of land. In 1878, Douglass purchased an additional 5 and 3/4 acres of land from Ella R. Talburtt and moved into the home with his first wife, Anna Murray Douglass, during the fall of 1878.
The Frederick Douglass Museum and
Caring Hall of Fame - Washington DC
The Frederick Douglass Museum and Caring Hall of Fame is located in the heart of Capitol Hill. The museum was the first Washington, DC, home of the famed statesman and abolitionist Frederick Douglass who moved to the District in the mid-1870s and occupied the town house at 316 A Street, NE for over seven years.
Today, the historic property has been restored to its original splendor and reopened as a tribute to caring past and present.
It is now home to exhibits honoring its former occupant and the very special people of his spirit who have received a Caring Award.
This honor is given each year to the world's most caring adults and young adults. Like Douglass, they're committed to doing the right thing on behalf of justice, equality, and human rights.
Text Courtesy Frederick Douglass Museum & Caring Hall of Fame
Harriet Tubman is perhaps the most well-known of all the Underground Railroad's "conductors." During a ten-year span she made 19 trips into the South and escorted over 300 slaves to freedom. And, as she once proudly pointed out to Frederick Douglass, in all of her journeys she "never lost a single passenger."
Tubman was born a slave in Maryland's Dorchester County around 1820. At age five or six, she began to work as a house servant. Seven years later she was sent to work in the fields. While she was still in her early teens, she suffered an injury that would follow her for the rest of her life. Always ready to stand up for someone else, Tubman blocked a doorway to protect another field hand from an angry overseer. The overseer picked up and threw a two-pound weight at the field hand. It fell short, striking Tubman on the head. She never fully recovered from the blow, which subjected her to spells in which she would fall into a deep sleep.
Around 1844 she married a free black named John Tubman and took his last name. (She was born Araminta Ross; she later changed her first name to Harriet, after her mother.) In 1849, in fear that she, along with the other slaves on the plantation, was to be sold, Tubman resolved to run away. She set out one night on foot.
With some assistance from a friendly white woman, Tubman was on her way. She followed the North Star by night, making her way to Pennsylvania and soon after to Philadelphia, where she found work and saved her money. The following year she returned to Maryland and escorted her sister and her sister's two children to freedom.
She made the dangerous trip back to the South soon after to rescue her brother and two other men. On her third return, she went after her husband, only to find he had taken another wife.
Undeterred, she found other slaves seeking freedom and escorted them to the North.
Tubman returned to the South again and again. She devised clever techniques that helped make her "forays" successful, including using the master's horse and buggy for the first leg of the journey; leaving on a Saturday night, since runaway notices couldn't be placed in newspapers until Monday morning; turning about and heading south if she encountered possible slave hunters; and carrying a drug to use on a baby if its crying might put the fugitives in danger. Tubman even carried a gun which she used to threaten the fugitives if they became too tired or decided to turn back, telling them, "You'll be free or die."
By 1856, Tubman's capture would have brought a $40,000 reward from the South. On one occasion, she overheard some men reading her wanted poster, which stated that she was illiterate. She promptly pulled out a book and feigned reading it. The ploy was enough to fool the men.
Tubman had made the perilous trip to slave country 19 times by 1860, including one especially challenging journey in which she rescued her 70-year-old parents.
Of the famed heroine, who became known as "Moses," Frederick Douglass said, "Excepting John Brown -- of sacred memory -- I know of no one who has willingly encountered more perils and hardships to serve our enslaved people than [Harriet Tubman]."
And John Brown, who conferred with "General Tubman" about his plans to raid Harpers Ferry, once said that she was "one of the bravest persons on this continent."
The Underground Railroad, Charles T. Webber, 1891
Courtesy of Cincinnati Art Museum Collection
Becoming friends with the leading abolitionists of the day, Tubman took part in antislavery meetings. On the way to such a meeting in Boston in 1860, in an incident in Troy, New York, she helped a fugitive slave who had been captured.
During the Civil War Harriet Tubman worked for the Union as a cook, a nurse, and even a spy. After the war she settled in Auburn, New York, where she would spend the rest of her long life. She died in 1913.
Given the name Isabella at birth, Sojourner Truth was born in the year 1797, in Hurley, New York. She was enslaved for approximately twenty-eight years of her life. As "property" of several slave owners, when she was ten-years old, Isabella was sold for $100 and some sheep. Dutch was her first language, and it was said that she spoke with a Dutch accent for the reminder of her life. Although she was unable to read, Truth knew parts of the Bible by heart.
As an abolitionist and traveling preacher, Isabella understood the importance of fighting for freedom. After her conversion to Christianity, she took the name Sojourner Truth: "Sojourner because I was to travel up and down the land showing people their sins and being a sign to them, and Truth because I was to declare the truth unto the people."
This new name reflected a new mission to spread the word of God and speak out against slavery.
As a women's rights activist, Truth faced additional burdens that white women did not have, plus the challenge of combating a suffrage movement which did not want to be linked to anti-slavery causes, believing it might hurt their cause.
Yet, Truth prevailed, traveling thousands of miles making powerful speeches against slavery, and for women's suffrage (even though it was considered improper for a women to speak publicly).
In a speech given at the Women's Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio, in 1851, Truth proclaimed that "If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back and get it right-side up again." It was here, too, that Truth gave her most famous speech, entitled, "Ain't I a Woman." This speech sternly chastises those who feel women and blacks are inferior. The speech, like her preaching, is eloquent and passionate.
Sojourner Truth has the distinction of being the first African American woman to win a lawsuit in the United States; the first was when she fought for her son's freedom after he had been illegally sold. Later, when she was accused by a newspaper of being a "witch" who poisoned a leader in a religious group that she had been a part of, she sued the newspaper for slander and won a $125 judgement. Truth died at the age of 84, with several thousand mourners in attendance.
In December of 1883, just after her death, The New York Globe published an obituary which read in part: "Sojourner Truth stands preeminently as the only colored woman who gained a national reputation on the lecture platform in the days before the [Civil] War."
During the 1830s, 40s, and 50s, antislavery societies sprang up in cities across the North. In 1837, Philadelphia was home to three such organizations: the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society, the Philadelphia Young Men's Anti-Slavery Society, and the Philadelphia Anti-Slavery Society.
Philadephians were also involved with the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, whose executive committee is pictured here, in 1851. Standing, from left to right, are Mary Grew, E. M. Davis, Haworth Wetherald, Abby Kimber, J. Miller McKim, and Sarah Pugh; seated are Oliver Johnson, Mrs. Margaret James Burleigh, Benjamin C. Bacon, Robert Purvis, Lucretia Mott, and James Mott.
Buffalo Soldiers is the name given to the all-black regiments of the U.S. Army started in 1866. More than 20 Buffalo Soldiers received the highest Medal of Honor for their service - the highest number of any U.S. military unit. The oldest living Buffalo Soldier, Mark Matthews, died at the age of 111 in 2005.
Who are the Buffalo Soldiers?
African Americans have fought in military conflicts since colonial days. However, the Buffalo Soldiers, comprised of former slaves, freemen and Black Civil War soldiers, were the first to serve during peacetime.
Once the Westward movement had begun, prominent among those blazing treacherous trails of the Wild West were the Buffalo Soldiers of the U.S. Army. Throughout the era of the "Indian Wars," approximately 20% percent of the U.S. Cavalry troopers were Black, and they fought over 177 engagements. The combat prowess, bravery, tenaciousness, and looks on the battlefield, inspired the Indians to call them "Buffalo Soldiers."
Buffalo Soldiers participated in many other military campaigns: The Spanish American War, The Philippine Insurrection, The Mexican Expedition, World War I, World War II, and the Korean War.
Though African Americans have fought with distinction in all of this country's military engagements, some of their most notable contributions and sacrifices came during the Civil War. During that conflict, more than 180,000 blacks wore the Union Army blue. Another 30,000 served in the Navy, and 200,000 served as workers on labor, engineering, hospital and other military support projects. More than 33,000 of these gallant soldiers gave their lives for the sake of freedom and their country.
"Buffalo soldiers of the 25th Infantry, some wearing buffalo robes, Ft. Keogh, Montana."
(Photo Courtesy Library of Congress)
For Love of Liberty
Excerpts from For Love of Liberty: The Story of America's Black Patriots
Can be Viewed Below
In January 1863, Secretary of War Stanton finally gave John A. Andrew, the abolitionist governor of Massachusetts, authorization to form regiments that could "include persons of African descent. . ."
The governor had long been an advocate of raising black regiments from the free black population.
Like most abolitionists, he felt the surest path to citizenship for black Americans was for them to be allowed to fight and die for their freedom and their country.
Andrew chose the white officers for the new black regiment from wealthy families prominent in the abolition movement in his state.
These families could also be counted on to help finance the enlistment and
outfitting of the troops.
He solicited the aid of Frederick Douglass and other well known black abolitionists in attracting the cream of the black population for the new regiment. Two of Douglass's sons joined the regiment. Given the considerable opposition in the North to the idea of making soldiers of blacks, the new regiment was seen as a good test of the fitness of black men as soldiers and citizens. Supporters of the regiments spared no expense in the effort to prove that blacks were equal to the test.
The 54th Massachusetts Regiment was the first black regiment recruited in the North. Col. Robert Gould Shaw, the 25 year old son of very wealthy abolitionist parents, was chosen to command.
On May 28, the well equipped and drilled 54th paraded through the streets of Boston and then boarded ships bound for the coast of South Carolina. Their first conflict with Confederate soldiers came on July 16, when the regiment repelled an attack on James Island.
But on July 18 came the supreme test of the courage and valor of the black soldiers; they were chosen to lead the assault on Battery Wagner, a Confederate fort on Morris Island at Charleston.
In addressing his soldiers before leading them in charge across the beach, Colonel Shaw said, "I want you to prove yourselves. The eyes of thousands will look on what you do tonight."
Four Federal land batteries opened fire at 8:15 a.m., and soon 11 ships of Dahlgren's fleet were adding their salvos to the massive bombardment. After covering the fort's guns with sandbags in hopes of protecting them from the ravages of Yankee shellfire, the bulk of the Confederate troops scurried for the shelter of Wagner's bombproof. Brigadier General William B. Taliaferro, a 40-year-old Virginian and battle-scarred veteran of Stonewall Jackson's campaigns, commanded the Confederate garrison.
As the light of the setting sun cast a lurid glow through the pall of smoke that hung over Fort Wagner, Shaw formed his black soldiers in the vanguard of the Union attack force. Earlier, Strong had tendered the 54th the dangerous post of honor. 'You may lead the column,' the general told Shaw. 'Your men, I know, are worn out, but do as you choose!' For Shaw, there had been no possibility of refusing the offer there was simply too much pride at stake.
The men of the 54th advanced grimly, bayonets fixed and muskets at the right shoulder. The pace was at a quick time, and as the ramparts of Wagner loomed closer, Shaw ordered the men into a jogging double-quick.
At a point where the beach narrowed to a width of 100 yards between the Atlantic on the right and the swamp on the left, the orderly ranks began to crowd together, the formation assuming a V-shape, the colonel and the United States flag at its apex. Shaw gave the order to charge, and the bayonets of the front rank were lowered into a bristling wall of steel.
Wounded adjutant James of the 54th Massachusetts was being borne from the field when a shell decapitated one of his stretcher bearers. Carney had managed to get the 54th's colors away from the fort in safety, though he was shot twice in the process. Carney's fidelity to the flag would win him the Medal of Honor.
Daylight revealed the full extent of the Federal disaster. 'In front of the fort the scene of carnage is indescribable,' Taliaferro wrote. 'I have never seen so many dead in the same space.' At a cost of 36 killed and 145 wounded and missing, Taliaferro garrison had inflicted more than 1,500 casualties on their assailants.
The brave soldiers of the 54th Massachusetts had sustained the heaviest loss - 281 men, of whom 54 were killed or fatally wounded, and another 48 never accounted for.
William Carney,54th Massachussets.
Medal of Honor Winner
(Library of Congress)
More than a century after the war the Fifty-fourth remains the most famous black regiment of the war, due largely to the popularity of the movie "Glory", which recounts the story of the regiment prior to and including the attack on Battery Wagner. (SEE MOVIE CLIP BELOW)
Fascinating Fact: Black soldiers were paid $10 per month, $3 less than white soldiers.
Slavery By Another Name
The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans From the Civil War to World War II
Book by Author
Douglas A. Blackmon
Slavery: . . . that slow Poison, which is daily contaminating the Minds & Morals of our People. Every Gentlemen here is born a petty Tyrant. Practiced in Acts of Despotism & Cruelty, we become callous to the Dictates of Humanity, & all the finer feelings of the Soul. Taught to regard a part of our own Species in the most abject & contemptible Degree below us, we lose that Idea of the dignity of Man which the Hand of Nature had implanted in us, for great & useful purposes.
GEORGE MASON, JULY 1773 VIRGINIA CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION
NOTE TO READERS: On February 13, 2012, we viewed a remarkable and deeply disturbing documentary on PBS entitled Slavery By Another Name. This production was based on the book by Douglas A. Blackmon and chronicles the re-enslavement of African Americans from the Civil War through World War II.
We must admit that most of what we learned was totally new to us. Neither of us remembered any mention of a period of re-enslavement in late 19th and early 20th Century America during our formal educational experiences. Not in high school and not in college.
For previous visitors to this site, it should be apparent that one objective of our efforts has been to recount African American history, art and culture where it fits in within the context of our featured destinations. This is quite purposeful since our discussions with friends, relatives and acquaintances over the past few years have made it quite clear that few of them have taken the time to become knowledgeable in this area.
We recommend to all that you purchase and read Mr. Blackmon's book and view the PBS Series. We are including excerpts from the author's web page along with PBS and Georgia Weekly videos. We purchased the book (Kindle Fire Version) within minutes of the conclusion of the PBS presentation.
CLICK HERE for more on the book, the author Douglas A. Blackmon, and a Video Preview of the PBS Series on Slavery by Another Name.
The mission of the Anacostia Community Museum is to challenge perceptions, broaden perspectives, generate new knowledge, and deepen understanding about the ever-changing concepts and realities of 'community' while maintaining its strong ties to Anacostia and the D.C. Metropolitan region.
Founded on September 15, 1967, ACM has been a leader in providing a myriad of formal programs including exhibitions, research, tours, lectures, performances, and demonstrations, the Museum has afforded unique learning opportunities through its Museum Academy Program, which offers after-school and summer cultural enrichment programs, career awareness days, and internship components for children in the District of Columbia.
Construction of the NMAAHC is scheduled to begin on the Mall in 2012 and completed in 2015. Until then, we invite you to visit our Gallery located on the second floor of the National Museum of American History.
In many ways, there are few things as powerful and as important as a people, as a nation that is steeped in its history. Often America is celebrated as a place that forgets. This museum seeks to help all Americans remember, and by remembering, this institution will stimulate a dialogue about race and help to foster a spirit of reconciliation and healing.
Beginning with African American veterans of the Civil War, and the children of slaves who marched with them in Washington in 1915, African Americans have desired a space on the National Mall.
The work started by Union veterans and their supporters and descendants led to 1929 legislation that authorized the construction of a National Memorial Building to serve as a museum and "a tribute to the Negro's contributions to the achievements of America."
President George W. Bush signs H.R. 3491, the National Museum of African American History and Culture Act, in the Oval Office Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2003. The act authorizes the creation of a Smithsonian Institution museum dedicated to the legacy of African Americans in America. White House photo by Paul Morse.
Unless otherwise noted, the attendees are members of the Presidential Commission on the Development of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. From left, they are: Dr. Robert Wright, commission Chairman; Renee Amoore; Vicky Bailey; Andrew McLemore, Jr.; Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C.; Senator Rick Santorum, R-Penn.; Michael Lomax; Congressman John Lewis, D-Ga.; Harold Skramstad, Jr.; Barbara Franco; Robert Wilkins; Senator Sam Brownback, R-Kan.; Cicely Tyson; Lerone Bennett, Jr.; Congressman John Larson, D-Conn.; Eric Sexton; Claudine Brown; Larry Small, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution; Currie Ballard
Congressman John Lewis, D-GA, picked up the charge and The National Museum of African
American History and Culture (NMAAHC) Plan for Action Presidential Commission was established on December 28, 2001 by Public Law 107-106 to create an implementation plan for the NMAAHC. Following the work of the Plan for Action Presidential Commission which investigated eleven potential sites in Washington D.C., four sites were chosen by Congress for further investigation. After the
completion of the Commission's work, Congress considered legislation to establish the Museum.
The Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art is the only national museum in the United States dedicated to the collection, exhibition, conservation and study of the arts of Africa. The building houses the museum's collection, exhibition galleries, public education facilities, an art conservation laboratory, a research library and photographic archives.
Founded in l964 by the late Warren M. Robbins as a private educational institution, the Museum of African Art occupied a town house once owned by Frederick Douglass, a former slave, newspaper editor, abolitionist and statesman.
The museum had a few examples of Douglass memorabilia, and was given a fine collection of 19th-century paintings by African American artists. The collection of African material was relatively small and so exhibitions of African art were often of loaned materials.
The museum's entrance pavilion is a welcoming introduction to Africa, its art, peoples and cultures.
Visitors are greeted with traditional and contemporary African music, as well as a film that runs continuously. The space also is home to interactive computer stations that allow visitors to access information about museum exhibitions and programs, objects in the permanent collection and facts about Africa-related events taking place at other Smithsonian venues.
In 1979, the Museum of African Art became part of the Smithsonian Institution following an Act of Congress, and in 1981 it was officially renamed the National Museum of African Art. In 1983, Sylvia H. Williams and Roy Sieber joined the museum as director and associate director for research and collections, respectively.
Plans were made for a new facility on the National Mall that would be accessible to a new and larger audience, and in 1987, under the leadership of Williams, the museum was relocated to its current facility at 950 Independence Avenue S.W.
Entrance on the Mall
The museum's collection of more than 9,000 African art objects represents nearly every area of the continent of Africa and contains a variety of media and art forms - textiles, photography, sculpture, pottery, painting and jewelry and video art - dating from ancient to contemporary times.
The museum has the largest publicly held collection of contemporary African art in the United States.
The museum has nearly 22,000 square feet of exhibition space, which is reconfigured periodically to meet the requirements of the museum's changing exhibitions. The Sylvia H. Williams Gallery, located on sub-level one, is devoted primarily to contemporary art; the Walt Disney-Tishman African Art Collection has a dedicated space in the museum to rotate a selection of the 525 objects from this collection; and the remaining galleries offer exhibitions on various subjects.
President Lincoln developed the Emancipation Proclamation while living here at the Soldiers' Home in Washington, DC. Lincoln's time here bookends the Civil War--he first visited the grounds three days after his inauguration and last rode out to the site the day before his assassination. While living at the Cottage for 13 months from 1862-1864, Lincoln regularly commuted to the White House. The Cottage opened to the public in 2008.
On a hill overlooking downtown Washington is a cottage built for George W. Riggs around 1842. Architect John Skirving designed the house in the Gothic-Revival style popularized by A.J. Downing.
In 1851, the estate was sold to the Federal Government, which purchased it in order to found a home for veteran soldiers.
During the Civil War, President Lincoln lived in that cottage on the grounds of the Soldiers’ Home from June into November to escape the heat and distractions of life at the White House.
The tranquil surroundings at the Soldiers’ Home offered refreshing breezes and relative privacy during a period when the President confronted all-consuming decisions about military strategy, domestic policy, and foreign relations, and could not escape Washington or his responsibilities.
At the Soldiers’ Home, Lincoln made some of the momentous decisions that defined his presidency. He met and consulted with Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, Secretary of State William Seward, Vice President Hannibal Hamlin, and many others.
Erin Carlson Mast, Executive Director of President Lincoln’s Cottage, discusses this important moment in the history of President Lincoln’s Cottage in the following video.
He also formulated his thoughts on freedom that became the Emancipation Proclamation and mourned the death of his son, 12-year-old Willie, from typhoid. At the Cottage, Lincoln read Shakespeare, the Bible, poetry, and treatises on war.
On one occasion, he and his family were evacuated from the grounds when nearby Fort Stevens came under Confederate attack in July 1864.
Abraham Lincoln’s country home offers students of all ages a remarkable window into Lincoln’s life as father, husband, and Commander-in-Chief. Our unique, multimedia guided tour and hands-on exercises bring to life Abraham Lincoln’s personality, wartime decision making, political maneuvers, emancipation policy, and relationships with family, friends, and colleagues. A visit to President Lincoln’s Cottage inspires young minds to consider the example of Lincoln’s leadership and character and his impact on students’ lives today.
NOTE: The above text, photo and video courtesy of President Lincoln's Cottage.
What was once headquarters for the largest and most successful domestic slave trading firm in America is now the home of the Freedom House Museum. Opening on February 12, 2008, the museum tells the unimaginable story of the domestic slave trade and the people who both benefited from, and suffered because of it. But it also tells a story of triumph—the triumph of the human spirit to survive and thrive in even the worst of circumstances.
Here is the text of the historic plaque at 1315 Duke Street in Alexandria, Virginia:
"FRANKLIN AND ARMFIELD, SLAVE OFFICE (1315 DUKE STREET) - Isaac Franklin and John Armfield leased this brick building with access to the wharves and docks in 1828 as a holding pen for enslaved people being shipped from Northern Virginia to Louisiana. They purchased the building and three lots in 1832. From this location Armfield bought bondspeople at low prices and shipped them south to his partner Franklin, in Natchez, Mississippi, and New Orleans, Louisiana, to be sold at higher prices. By the 1830s they often sold 1,000 people annually, operating as one of the largest slave-trading companies in the United States until 1836. Slave traders continuously owned the property until 1861."
From 1828 to 1836, the Franklin and Armfield Company purchased local slaves and sent them to the Deep South for sale. At its peak, the business — also known as the Alexandria Slave Pen—was transporting 1,800 slaves a year to Louisiana and Mississippi. The men who owned the firm reaped substantial profits from the domestic slave trade, an industry which flourished at 1315 Duke Street for more than 30 years under various slave traders.
However, in a spin of poetic justice, the Northern Virginia Urban League moved into Freedom House in 1996 and dedicated it to Rev. Henry Louis Bailey—a former slave who was sold through the slave pen to a family in Texas. Freed in 1863, he returned to Alexandria and founded several churches and schools in Virginia, still in existence today.
This, and many other stories of the domestic slave trade, is told in vibrant visuals, compelling narrative, and captivating video.
Visit the Freedom House Museum and experience the fascinating history of 1315 Duke Street — a legacy of triumph and foundation for the future.
One could not even conceive of it from its size, but this slender rowhouse on Duke Street had more slaves sold during the slave trade than all the slave traders put together.
The home later became the business grounds for four other slave traders—Kephart & Co (1836-1845), Bruin & Hill (1845-1852), Millan & Grigsby (1852-1858) and Price, Birch & Co. (1858-1861).
One man who made his way through the home was Rev. Lewis Henry Bailey, who was born into slavery in Drainesville; taken from his mother; marched to New Orleans; and in 1863 walked back to Alexandria looking for his family. Rev.
Bailey later went on to found Ebenezer Baptist Church in Occoquan, Little Zion Baptist Church in Burke, Mount Pleasant Church in Floris, Prosperity Church in Coklin, Summit School (the first black school) in Occoquan and others in Neabsco, and spearhead the Northern Virginia Baptist Minister’s Association.
In 1878, the building was Alexandria Hospital, the first civilian hospital in Northern Virginia. Currently, the building is home to the headquarters of the National Urban League. 1315 Duke St., Alexandria; www.freedomhousemuseum.org —LN
Above text taken from the Museum's web site as well as an article in Northern Virginia Magazine, April 2012 - "No Freedom at Freedom House"
Freedom House Museum Photos
Click on Each for Larger Images
|Photos by Ron Patterson - January 8, 2013|
Dealers in Slaves - Located at 283 Duke Street, in Alexandria, Virginia, the dealership of Price, Birch & Co. was an important center of trade. The offices occupied three stories while the slave pens flanked the central building.
(Photo Courtesy of Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture Web Site)
Southern Paternalism - Slaveholders were preoccupied with presenting slavery as a benign, paternalistic institution in which the planter took care of his family, "black and white," and slaves were content with their fate. In order to perpetuate this romanticized version of life under slavery, the slave trader had to be painted as a social outcast.
Eastman Johnson (American, 1824-1906). Old Kentucky Home (Negro Life at the South), 1859. Oil on canvas. 36 x 45 1/4 in. (91.4 x 114.9 cm). The Robert L. Stuart Collection. (S-225). Collection of The New York Historical Society, on permanent loan from The New York Public Library.
The mission of the Black History Museum is to enrich the lives of Alexandria's residents and visitors, to foster tolerance and understanding among all cultures and to stimulate appreciation of the diversity of the African American experience.
The institutional complex is composed of the Museum, the Watson Reading Room, and the Alexandria African American Heritage Park.
The Museum, devoted to exhibiting local and regional history, incorporates the Robert H. Robinson Library as one of two exhibition galleries.
The Robert H. Robinson Library was originally constructed in 1940 following a sit-in at the segregated Alexandria Library.
The Watson Reading Room, established in 1995, provides an environment for learning about the diversity of African American cultural traditions.
African American Heritage Park: A nine-acre green space and wetland, the Park offers a place for celebration, commemoration and quiet reflection.
Rediscovered after thirty years, 29 intriguing portraits by Horace Day are featured in the exhibition Style and Identity: Black Alexandria in the 1970s. Ricky McNeil, J.C. Chase, and Walter Hollis are among the young African American Alexandrians who were portrayed in the 1970s by the artist and educator. This distinctive body of work provides us with a unique view into a moment in the history of black Alexandria from the perspective of an important artist and compassionate chronicler of American life.
The exhibit remains on view through May 7, 2011. Patrons may take home a keepsake of this informative Alexandria exhibition, which looks at Alexandria's African American community during the 1970s. The catalog for Style and Identity: Black Alexandria in the 1970s, Portraits by Horace Day is available for purchase at The Alexandria Black History Museum, The Lyceum, the Office of Historic Alexandria's Waterfront Shop and On-Line.
In 1790, when the first federal census was taken, 52 free blacks were recorded as living in Alexandria. This population increased dramatically to 836 by 1820 and continued to expand until 1846 when Alexandria retroceded to the Commonwealth of Virginia from the District of Columbia.
The black population began increasing again after 1860 and reached 5,300 by 1870. Prior to the Civil War, Alexandria was also home to one of the largest slave-trading operations in the country.
In the 20th century, American's first Sit-Down Strike took place at the Alexandria Library, ushering in the very early days of the Civil Rights movement.
Franklin and Armfield Slave Pen
Franklin and Armfield Slave Pen, at 1315 Duke Street was one of the largest slave trading companies in the country. The Franklin and Armfield building, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is now the office of the Northern Virginia Urban League. The Freedom House Museum is open to the public.
The three-story brick building with mansard roof was built as the residence of Robert Young, Brigadier General of the second Militia of the District of Columbia.
By 1828, it was leased by Isaac Franklin and John Armfield and used as a "Negro Jail" or slave pen for slaves being shipped from Northern Virginia to Louisiana.
Franklin and Armfield were active until 1836, exporting over 3,750 slaves to cotton and sugar plantations in the Deep South. Later, other firms continued trading in slaves here.
A sign seen in Civil War period photographs has the name of Price, Birch & Co.
During the Civil War the building and its surrounding site were used as a military prison for deserters, the L'Ouverture Hospital for black soldiers and the barrack for contraband-slaves who fled the confederate states and sought refuge with Union troops.
During the Civil War the building and its surrounding site were used as a military prison for deserters, the L'Ouverture Hospital for black soldiers and the barrack for contraband-slaves who fled the confederate states and sought refuge with Union troops.
Archaeological excavations took place at the site in the 1980s, and the site report includes additional history.
The Bruin Slave Jail
The Bruin Slave Jail, at 1707 Duke Street, is on the National Register of Historic Places, and featured on the National Park Service website "Aboard the Underground Railroad." The building is not open to the public.
Joseph Bruin, a slave dealer in Alexandria, Virginia, used this brick Federal-style dwelling as his holding facility, or "slave jail" for slaves awaiting sale to individuals and other dealers. Bruin purchased the large house in 1844. Bruin had been a slave dealer in the Alexandria area since 1840, and with the purchase of the Duke Street house and its adjacent two acres (used as an exercise area), he had sufficient space in which to conduct his trade. In December 1845, he and partner Henry Hill advertised in the Alexandria Gazette: "NEGROES WANTED: All persons having Negroes to sell will find ready sale and liberal prices for them by calling at the new establishment of BRUIN & HILL."
Harriet Beecher Stowe, in The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin (1854), described how she employed her knowledge of Bruin's slave jail as background for her explosive 1852 novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin.
In The Key, she described the escape of a number of slaves from Washington, DC, on April 15, 1848, in the ship Pearl, who were later captured and returned for eventual sale in New Orleans. Bruin & Hill purchased a slave family known as the Edmondsons, and brought them to the slave jail.
According to Stowe, Bruin's daughter begged that Mary and Emily Edmondson be excluded from the group that was eventually sent to New Orleans for sale there, a group that included other Edmondson siblings. Their father, Paul Edmondson, traveled north to try and raise funds for the purchase of two of his daughters.
He eventually met Reverend Lyman Beecher, Stowe's father, who raised the sum overnight. Bruin and his "large slave warehouse" are mentioned approximately 20 times in The Key. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Bruin fled Alexandria but was captured and then confined in the Old Capitol Prison in Washington, DC, until the end of the war. In his absence, his slave jail was used as the Fairfax County courthouse until July of 1865.
A statue was erected in 2010 as a memorial to the Edmondson sisters and others who passed through the Slave Jail.
By National Trust for Historic Preservation on May 11th, 2011
Written by Eric Wills
It's one of the forgotten stories of the Civil War.
One hundred fifty years ago, on the evening of May 23, three enslaved men named Shepard Mallory, Frank Baker, and James Townsend helped change the course of that great conflict.
(Photo: Library of Congress)
Taken by their owner to Sewell's Point, near present-day Norfolk, Va., the three men were put to work building an artillery battery for the Confederacy.
When they learned their owner planned to take them to North Carolina, where they would help construct another rebel outpost, they decided to risk everything for their freedom, rowing a small boat across Hampton Roads to Fort Monroe, one of the only Union-controlled outposts in the South.
Realizing the absurdity of honoring the Fugitive Slave Law (these men had been helping to construct a Confederate battery that posed a strategic threat), the fort's commander, Gen. Benjamin Butler, struck upon an ingenious solution. He had no constitutional obligation to return the runaways, he argued, because Virginia had seceded from the Union. Rather, he could seize the three runaways as contraband - property to be used by the enemy against the Union.
Gen. Benjamin Butler's decision to seize runaways as contraband is a milestone often overshadowed in Civil War history by tales of generals and battlefield strategy. When other enslaved people heard the news of Butler's decision, they began flocking to Fort Monroe.
By the end of the war, approximately half a million enslaved people and other African American refugees had sought protection behind Union lines. Their bravery not only influenced the political climate, but hastened the formal emancipation.
These contraband, as they became known, helped make slavery a central issue of the war.
They also helped secure their freedom, aiding the Union cause in numerous ways, such as digging trenches and taking up arms.
(Photo: Library of Congress) Text from "The Contraband of America and the Road to Freedom"
- National Trust for Historic Preservation Web Site
Click Here for More
Contraband History in Alexandria Virginia
Contrabands and Freedmen's Cemetery Memorial
The site for The Contrabands and Freedmen's Cemetery Memorial is approximately 3 acres in size and is located at the southwest corner of Church and South Washington Streets in historic Old Town Alexandria, Virginia.
The Contrabands and Freedmen's* Cemetery was established in 1864 as a burial ground for African Americans who fled slavery, seeking a safe haven in Union-controlled Alexandria during the Civil War. More than 1,800 people were buried there over the five years that the federal government managed the cemetery.
After 1869 the cemetery may have been used unofficially by families as a burial ground but was likely not maintained formally.
Laundry day at "Volusia," a farm off Duke Street near
Holmes Run, 1860s. More than half of the burials in
Freedmen's Cemetery were of children. Special thanks
to Michael Musick for use of the photograph.
Photo Courtesy The Friends of Freedmans Cemetery Web Site
Over the years, the site has been compromised and hundreds of graves lost from a number of actions: the removal of soil from the cemetery for brick making; the adjacent development of two major highways; and the construction of a gas station and office building on the sacred site.
Most people were unaware that a burial ground survived under the pavement on the commercial property until historical research began to reveal the presence of the cemetery in 1987.
Community interest and archaeological investigations over the last ten years have resulted in an appreciation for the cemetery, the largest historic African American burial site in the city, and its long forgotten story.
While other physical sites that recalled the once-considerable African American presence in Alexandria have been lost, the City of Alexandria acquired the property in 2007 in order to remove the buildings, reclaim the cemetery, and create a memorial.
It was novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton who first said, "The Pen is Mightier than the Sword", but it was artist Thomas Nast who demonstrated the profound truth of the adage.
While Thomas Nast is almost forgotten today, there is perhaps no person of the latter half of the 1800's who had a larger impact on defining American culture, and influencing American history.
Thomas Nast 1840 - 1902
He was responsible for creating the popular American icons of the Republican Elephant, the Democratic Donkey, Uncle Sam, Santa Claus, and Columbia.
Thomas Nast was a staunch Abraham Lincoln supporter, defender of the Union Cause in the Civil War, and strong opponent to Slavery. Nast used his art to show the Nation a picture of how things could be.
He created artwork on the topic of Slavery, in the days that Slavery was still a thriving institution in our land. Thomas Nast's dramatic illustrations helped our Nation understand the moral outrage of slavery. The images capture the important events related to Slavery in the 1860's.
The collection on the "Son of the South" web page contains all Slavery Artwork created by Thomas Nast during the Civil War years. Each leaf is original, and over 135 years old. This artwork was critical in helping to lead our Nation out of the Corrupt and Bankrupt Institution of Slavery, and onto a path of freedom and equality for all men.
His artwork played an instrumental role in securing Abraham Lincoln's second election to the presidency, in the election of Ulysses S. Grant, and in the downfall of the corrupt political machine of Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall.
Nast began to emerge as an artist, satirist, and political commentator (through his artwork), in 1862. His art was not only stunning in its visual impact; it was profound in its political message. The result of this unique combination of properties resulted in his artwork having an incredible ability to direct or steer public opinion.
His work touched people, and impacted how they thought about a particular topic. During the Civil War years his work was staunchly pro Lincoln, pro Union, and anti Slavery.
His artwork portrayed Southerners as the enemy . . . not just the enemy, but a cruel and barbarous people.
"Southern Chivalry" by Thomas Nast
Courtesy Son of the South Web Site
His work has been featured in Charleston Magazine, Kiawah Island's Legends Magazine, Garden & Gun magazine, the Charleston City Paper, The South magazine (based out of Savannah) and Links magazine (based out of Hilton Head Island).
According to an article in The Post and Carrier, "With his career beginning in film, Williams grew tired of the medium and didn't know in which direction to turn his creative energies. His says his father gave him poignant advice: "Do whatever you want. If you do it long enough, you'll become good at it. If you're good enough at it, someone will pay you for it. And then, you're just getting paid to do what you love."