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

French Refugee Drama Wins Cannes Top Prize

Dheepan is about a group of Sri Lankan refugees who pretend to be a family in order to flee their war-torn country for a housing project in France More

Photogallery Crisis in Macedonia Requires Meaningful and Swift Measures

The international community has called on Macedonian leadership to take concrete measures in support of democracy in order to exit the crisis More

Activists: IS Executes 217 Civilians, Soldiers Near Palmyra

British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on Sunday said the victims include nurses, women, children and Syrian government fighters 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.
Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmakingi
X
Bernard Shusman
May 24, 2015 2:55 PM
According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.
Video

Video Scientists Testing Space Propulsion by Light

Can the sun - the heart of our solar system - power a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system? The answer may come from a just-launched small satellite designed to test the efficiency of solar sail propulsion. Once deployed, its large sail will catch the so-called solar wind and slowly reach what scientists hope to be substantial speed. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video FIFA Trains Somali Referees

As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers. Abdulaziz Billow has more from Mogadishu.
Video

Video With US Child Obesity Rates on the Rise, Program Promotes Health Eating

In its fifth year, FoodCorps puts more than 180 young Americans into 500 schools across the United States, where they focus on teaching students about nutrition, engaging them with hands-on activities, and improving their access to healthy foods whether in the cafeteria or the greater community. Aru Pande has more.
Video

Video Virginia Neighborhood Draws People to Nostalgic Main Street

In the U.S., people used to grow up in small towns with a main street lined by family-owned shops and restaurants. Today, however, many main streets are worn down and empty because shoppers have been lured away by shopping malls. But in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, main street is thriving. VOA’s Deborah Block reports it has a nostalgic feel with its small restaurants and unique stores.
Video

Video Effort Underway to Limit Damage from California Oil Spill

Cleanup crews are working around the clock to remove oil from the waters off the coastal city of Santa Barbara, in California. About 380,000 liters of oil may have leaked out before a rupture in an onshore, underground pipeline was discovered Tuesday. The environmental disaster hit the popular West Coast resort area before the Memorial Day weekend. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports investigators have yet to determine what caused the incident.

VOA Blogs