The City of Alexandria will officially dedicate the Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery Memorial on Saturday, September 6, at 10 a.m. The recently completed memorial, located at 700 Church Street, honors the memory of hundreds of African Americans who died in the city during the American Civil War, many of whom were refugees who had escaped bondage in Maryland and Virginia, seeking protection behind Union Army lines. Freed African Americans also sought protection under the Union soldiers in Alexandria. In the early years of the Civil War, slaves who had escaped to freedom to areas under Union control were called contrabands, after the term “contraband of war,” which protected their refugee status and prevented their return to the Confederacy.
The memorial is located on the site of the Freedmen’s Cemetery, established by Union military authorities in 1864 in response to an overwhelming health and humanitarian crisis in Alexandria. Ultimately, more than 1,700 freed and formerly enslaved African Americans were buried in the cemetery during and just after the war, more than half of whom were women and children. The cemetery fell into disrepair and nearly faded from memory before being restored and rededicated in 2007. Now, in the sesquicentennial of both the Cemetery and the Civil War, a new memorial honors this site and those who were laid to rest there. Their descendants now live in nearly all 50 states.
The ceremony, which is free and open to the public, will feature period music, local church choirs, ceremonial bell ringing, and a formal address. Several hundred descendants of those buried at the Cemetery have been located, and many will be on hand for the dedication ceremony. The dedication caps three days of events featuring Alexandria’s Civil War and African American history. To learn more about these events, visit the Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery Memorial Celebration Events page,
The Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery Memorial project was completed under the stewardship of the City of Alexandria and the Friends of Freedmen’s Cemetery. Funding was provided by the City, the Federal Highway Administration and Virginia Department of Transportation through the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project, and a grant from Save America’s Treasures, a public-private partnership between the National Park Service and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
The memorial features artist Mario Chiodo’s sculpture “The Path of Thorns and Roses,” an allegorical depiction of the struggle for freedom; the memorial’s bas-reliefs depicting the flight to freedom and contraband education were created by local sculptor Joanna Blake. The environmental design firms of AECOM (formerly EDAW) and Howard + Revis Design comprised the design team for the memorial.
Those attending the memorial dedication are encouraged to bring chairs, mats and seating, as chairs at the ceremony will be reserved for the descendants and honored guests. Due to the solemnity of the dedication ceremony, attendees are asked to refrain from smoking or bringing food into the memorial. Pets are not permitted.
For more information about the ceremony and the memorial, contact Robin Moscati at 703.746.4717.