News / USA

Black History Illuminated by Tracing Lives of Former Slaves

Black History Illuminated by Tracing Lives of Former Slavesi
X
February 09, 2013
February is Black History Month in the United States, a time for paying tribute to people and events that shaped the story of African Americans. One of those events was the Emancipation Proclamation, signed by President Abraham Lincoln 150 years ago. It began the process of freeing an estimated four million slaves. Afterwards, the 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolished slavery across the United States. As a result, many freed slaves came to Washington, D.C., looking for a better life. VOA's Chris Simkins has more on the people who are working to make sure that the story of former African American slaves live on.

Black History Illuminated by Tracing Lives of Former Slaves

TEXT SIZE - +
Chris Simkins
— February is Black History Month in the United States, a time for paying tribute to people and events that shaped the story of African Americans. One of those events was the Emancipation Proclamation, signed by President Abraham Lincoln 150 years ago. It began the process of freeing an estimated four million slaves. Afterwards, the 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolished slavery across the United States. As a result, many freed slaves came to  Washington, D.C., looking for a better life.

Arlington National Cemetery is just outside Washington, D.C. Before it became America's most prestigious military cemetery, it was a thriving community of slaves and then former slaves.

"Here as we look is my great-great-great grandfather Charles Syphax, with my grandfather sitting on his lap," said Craig Syphax. For him, these restored slave homes in Arlington House have special meaning. He's been working on his family history.  

"The Syphax story is one that will empower. It will also show you that, no matter how far down you think you are, you can still get up and get to the top of your potential," said Syphax.

Rich history

Craig has spent 15 years unearthing his ancestry. He discovered the Syphaxes were an influential slave family in Arlington and that Charles was owned by the nation's first president, George Washington. He lived at the Washington's home in Mount Vernon and was one of 57 slaves moved to Arlington House with Washington's adopted grandson.

"Every time I research certain aspects of the Syphax family, I find more exciting things that spark my interest to want to keep going and delve into that," he said.

In 1863, thousands of newly freed slaves converged on Washington. So the government set aside land in Arlington, Virginia, called Freedman's Village as a camp for former slaves.

Matthew Penrod is a Park Service Ranger. He said tens of thousands of former slaves lived in Freedman's Village for nearly 40 years in some 100 wooden houses. The community had schools, churches, hospitals and an orphanage.  

"It was a place where people could find work. In fact, many of the men and women too would find pretty well-paying jobs working for the Army. It was meant to be a transitional place for people - a sort of way station towards living as free people as well," said Penrod.

Thriving village

Syphax said Charles, his ancestor, became a leader in Freedman's Village.  

 "The Syphax's became people that could read and write. So they freely taught people how to read and write without charge or anything because we knew that was how you would succeed here in America," he said.

Syphax is working on a documentary about his family and on a new history museum next to Arlington Cemetery. Talmadge Williams is a leader of that effort.

"History not taught could be history repeating itself, and we don't want history to be repeated. We don't need slavery again," said said Talmadge Williams of the Black Heritage Museum of Arlington.

Some former slaves were buried at Arlington Cemetery.

Many say they should be as much a part of history as the fallen soldiers buried here.

You May Like

Algerians Vote in Presidential Election

There were few media reports of protests and clashes around the country, but so far no significant violence More

Sharks More Evolved than Previously Thought

The discovery could “profoundly affect our understanding of evolutionary history” More

Pakistan Military Asked to Protect Polio Workers

Request comes as authorities say a Taliban ban on vaccinations in 2012 and deadly attacks on anti-polio teams have prevented thousands of children from getting inoculated More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Google Buys Drone Companyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
George Putic
April 15, 2014
In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ray Bonneville Sings the Blues and More on New CD

Singer/songwriter Ray Bonneville has released a new CD called “Easy Gone” with music that reflects his musical and personal journey from French-speaking Canada to his current home in Austin,Texas. The eclectic artist’s fan base extends from Texas to various parts of North America and Europe. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin.
Video

Video Millions Labor in Pakistan's Informal Economy

The World Bank says that in Pakistan, roughly 70 percent work in the so-called informal sector, a part of the economy that is unregulated and untaxed. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Islamabad on how the informal sector impact's the Pakistani economy.
Video

Video Passover Celebrates Liberation from Bondage

Jewish people around the world are celebrating Passover, a commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. According to scripture, God helped the Jews, led by Moses, escape bondage in Egypt and cross the Red Sea into the desert. Zlatica Hoke reports that the story of the Jewish Exodus resonates with other people trying to escape slave-like conditions.
Video

Video Police Pursue Hate Crime Charges Against Kansas Shooting Suspect

Prosecutors are sifting through the evidence in the wake of Sunday’s shootings in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri that left three people dead. A suspect in the shootings taken into custody is a white supremacist. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, he was well-known to law enforcement agencies and human rights groups alike.
Video

Video In Eastern Ukraine, Pro-unity Activists Emerge from Shadows

Amid the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine, there is a large body of activists who support Ukrainian unity and reject Russian intervention. Their activities have remained largely underground, but they are preparing to take on their pro-Moscow opponents, as Henry Ridgwell reports from the eastern city of Donetsk.
Video

Video Basket Maker’s Skills Have World Reach

A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. As VOA’s Julie Taboh reports from Washington, one artist lucky enough to be selected says sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.
Video

Video UN Report Urges Speedier Action to Avoid Climate Disaster

A new United Nations report says the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to control the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report (Sunday) following a meeting of scientists and government representatives in Berlin. The comprehensive review follows two recent IPCC reports that detail the certainty of climate change, its impacts and in this most recent report what to do about it. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble has the details.
AppleAndroid