City of Alexandria to Purchase Freedom House to Preserve Historic Museum
For Immediate Release: January 6, 2020
The City of Alexandria and the Northern Virginia Urban League (NVUL) reached an agreement on December 31 for the City to purchase the Freedom House Museum in order to preserve and interpret this National Historic Landmark for future generations. The building, located at 1315 Duke Street, was once part of the headquarters for the largest domestic slave trading firm in the United States. From 1828 to 1861, five successive firms forced as many as 50,000 enslaved adults and children from the Chesapeake Bay area to the slave markets in Natchez, Miss., and New Orleans by foot or ship.
“Preserving sites like Freedom House and making them accessible to the public are vital parts of the effort to connect the stories of our past to our present day conversation about race and equity, and ensure we are telling a broader, more candid account of Alexandria and our nation’s history,” said Mayor Justin Wilson. “The City plans to enlist partners to help us restore the building and expand the exhibits to tell the story of the domestic slave trade and those who were enslaved.”
The City and NVUL have worked together for the past two years to ensure that Freedom House stays open to the public. The City's Office of Historic Alexandria began operating the museum in February 2019, while the property remained under the ownership of NVUL.
“The Northern Virginia Urban League is pleased to reach this agreement with the City to place Freedom House in the public trust and ensure its important story will continue to be told,” said Diane McLaughlin, chair of the board of directors of NVUL. “The League will continue to focus on its primary mission to enable minorities and other disadvantaged communities to secure economic self-reliance, parity, power and civil rights.”
On December 17, Governor Ralph Northam recommended state funding of $2.44 million for Freedom House as part of his annual budget proposal to the Virginia General Assembly. The funds would be used to renovate and restore the existing building and build out the content of an expanded museum on the first and second floors. The current exhibit is in the basement of the museum.
The City envisions a partnership with the Commonwealth, as well with private grantors and donors who may wish to help fund elements of the restoration and museum expansion. Members of the community are encouraged to contribute to an account administered by the ACT for Alexandria community foundation, which will be used to supplement public funds for building restoration and museum development.
The $1.8 million purchase includes land, a three- and four-story, 9,810 square-foot building constructed primarily in the 1800s, all museum exhibits and furnishings, and an adjacent 1,648 square-foot parking lot. The building has been the home of the NVUL since 1996, and the City will continue to provide NVUL with office space in the building for five years. The purchase is subject to approval by the Planning Commission and City Council in February.
Freedom House is currently open to the public on Fridays and Saturdays from 1 to 5 p.m. For schedule updates, to make a donation or more information, visit alexandriava.gov/FreedomHouse.
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This news release is available at alexandriava.gov/113071.