I went to Arlington National Cemetery last week for research on a novel I’m writing. There are a lot of dead people there, mostly victims of U. S. Imperialism. I suppose excepting WWII where maybe we wore the white hat.
I learned the cemetery used to be a plantation owned by the wife of Robert E. Lee. Confiscated during the Civil War. Mid-war, it became a refugee camp for enslaved peoples freed by Sherman and other Union offenses. It became a thriving community of 1500 people. Of course, after Reconstruction, there were relentless efforts to retain the land for white people, but many people held legal titles to their land. They resisted until 1900, when the last black people sold the land for $17,000 total. Meanwhile, about that same time, the courts compensated the Lee family some $150,000 for confiscating his property.
Freedman’s Village is not mentioned in any of the cemetery’s brochures. The woman at the information booth did know what I was talking about, but she directed me to a nonexistent memorial. I went to the Lee mansion, Arlington House. A deteriorating museum of sorts, slated for a 2 million dollar restoration in the coming years.
Behind the mansion are two slave quarters, also part of the museum. In one was a bookstore. I asked the white clerk where I could learn more about Freedman’s Village. She directed me to a book about the history of the cemetery, and the Village earned a six page or so mention. As I was leaving, I noticed that the door was open to the other slave quarters 50 feet away from the bookstore. Inside there was a whole small room dedicated to Freedman’s Village, complete with a small model.
I’m going to write my Congresswoman Barbara Lee to see if she can get any of the restoration money to restore Freedman’s Village and do a publicity campaign to ensure people know this hidden history.