Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Then & Now: Where slaves were sold in Alexandria, Va.

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When I visited Alexandria, Va., last spring, I walked up and down Duke Street several times, not once stopping to read the black-and-white historical sign standing in front of a nondescript, three-story brick building. Cursory research about the site since then reveals a rich, and shameful, history.

For more than three decades before the Civil War, owners of the business at 1315 Duke Street sold precious "goods": human beings. Beginning in 1828, Franklin and John Armfield operated the most prosperous slave-trading operation in the country from the building, imprisoning blacks in holding pens and auctioning them to owners in the Deep South. Before the outbreak of the war, the business had transferred to new owners, who had their company's name and their ugly trade -- "Dealers in Slaves" -- painted on the front of the building below the second floor

When Union soldiers occupied Alexandria a little more than a month after the Civil War began, they found the Price, Birch & Co. business abandoned, thankfully closed forever. During the war, the Federal army used the building as a jail for Rebel prisoners and Union soldiers. Significantly renovated since then, the building ironically has been headquarters since 1996 for the Northern Virginia Urban League and home of a museum that tells the sad tale of slavery in the United States.

Taken during the Civil War, the "Then" image is available in jpg and TIF formats on the Library of Congress web site. The "Now" image, taken from a slightly different vantage point, is a cropped version of a Google Street View shot. For all Then & Now images on my blog, go here.

An enlargement of the original image clearly shows the sign below the second floor ...
... while in this enlargement, six Union soldiers stare intently at the camera...
... and in another enlargement of the original image, four Yankees stand at attention.


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