The Arlington Historical Society, in collaboration with the Black Heritage Museum of Arlington (BHMA), has launched a new Arlington history project: Memorializing the Enslaved in Arlington. This project aims to recover the largely unknown history of the county’s enslaved population and to chronicle their lives. This project will help bring African American experiences to light, confront a difficult history, and honor our shared humanity.
Newspaper Advertisements and the Enslaved in Arlington County
In its earliest history of European settlement, the land that is now Arlington County was lightly populated but a significant percentage of the population was enslaved. In 1801, about 1,000 people lived here, of which 300 were enslaved. That fact raises many questions about the ground on which we now live and the enslaved people who once lived here. Questions like:
- Did they try to flee from bondage?
- What might it have felt like to be held in bondage?
- Where did they live and where were they held in bondage?
- What conditions drove them to seek freedom?
- Where did they flee?
- What were their enslavers’ attitudes toward them?
Click here to see answers to these questions.
Virginia Humanities Grant Awarded
This project received a much needed infusion of funding from Virginia Humanities. The Arlington Historical Society (AHS) received $5,000 to be used exclusively toward funding this project. AHS, in partnership with Arlington Public Schools and the Black Heritage Museum of Arlington, is in the first phase of a longer-term effort to identify the men, women, and children who were enslaved in Arlington County; to uncover what can be learned about their lives; and to memorialize their lives through markers installed in locations County-wide.
A Community Partnership
The project was inspired by Tim Aiken, a Glencarlyn resident, who read an article by Michele Norris printed in 2021 in The Washington Post. In the article, she proposed marking the locations where slavery occurred by placing stumbling stones. Germany uses such stones to bear witness to locations where victims of the Holocaust lived.
Stones somewhat similar to these, would provide the names of the enslaved and whenever possible, birth and death dates and conditions of their toil.
In partnership with the Arlington Public Schools, AHS will develop teaching materials on the history of slavery in the county and a website with stories, documents, and an interactive online map of areas where the enslaved lived and toiled. Memorial markers linked to the website will be placed at these locations with the names of those held in bondage.
AHS and BHMA are making this project a reality
Here’s What’s Been Done So Far:
- Researchers are finding the names and history of enslaved individuals who lived in the county.
- Program managers are exploring applications to map the locations where the enslaved lived.
- AHS continues to raise money to fund the program.
- Arlington Public Schools will teach about slavery in Arlington in certain middle and high schools.
You Can Help
- Share family stories and history with us, especially those with deep roots in Arlington, with our researchers
- Network with your friends and family about the project and spread the word.