News / USA

Black History Illuminated by Tracing Lives of Former Slaves

Black History Illuminated by Tracing Lives of Former Slavesi
X
February 09, 2013 4:59 AM
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
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

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

1855 Slave Brochure Starkly Details Sale of Black Americans

Document lists entire families that were up for sale in New Orleans, offering graphic insight into the slavery trade More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries 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.
Survivor Video Testimonies Recount Horrors of Guatemalan Genocidei
X
Elizabeth Lee
August 31, 2015 8:23 PM
Next year marks the 20th anniversary of the end of the civil war in Guatemala. During the conflict that spanned more than three decades, tens of thousands of indigenous Mayans were killed in what is known as the Guatemalan genocide. Researchers are now collecting video testimonies of the survivors to preserve the memories of what happened to prevent future genocides. Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Survivor Video Testimonies Recount Horrors of Guatemalan Genocide

Next year marks the 20th anniversary of the end of the civil war in Guatemala. During the conflict that spanned more than three decades, tens of thousands of indigenous Mayans were killed in what is known as the Guatemalan genocide. Researchers are now collecting video testimonies of the survivors to preserve the memories of what happened to prevent future genocides. Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs