Published July 14, 2020

“In this country, there’s no museum to the domestic slave trade,” notes Audrey Davis, director of the Alexandria Black History Museum

The Franklin & Armfield Office may become the first.

From 1828 to 1836, Isaac Franklin and his nephew John Armfield sought to perfect the business of human trafficking. Their Alexandria slave dealing headquarters-compound encompassed an entire block. By owning their own ships, they further cut out additional middlemen. “Everything was pure profit for them” as they sold and moved 10-20 thousand enslaved people to the Deep South. “If you look at any slave dealer in this country, there’s less than six degrees of separation from Franklin and Armfield,” says Davis. Other dealers would learn from and attempt to emulate them. 

After Franklin and Armfield, a series of slave dealing firms owned the property until Union troops declared it a contraband camp for freedpeople and refugees. 

In 1996, the Northern Virginia Urban League (NVUL) civil rights organization purchased the townhouse for their headquarters and opened the Freedom House Museum on the building’s basement level in 2008.

Today the National Historic Landmark needs several million dollars’ worth of preservation and repairs, says Davis. “It is an endangered site.” The Office of Historic Alexandria, which employs Davis, is now working with NVUL to prevent the building’s foreclosure and reimagine its future. They were among the first to receive an African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund planning grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Davis envisions a fully restored site and domestic slave trade museum that reconnects descendants and examines human trafficking and refugee crises today.

“Everyone wants the right to have control over their own body, to make decisions for themselves, to be able to have a better life for their family and to be able to have an education,” she says. “That’s universal.”

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