memorial + site design, 2008
When Federal troops occupied Confederate states during the Civil War, slaves escaped their bondage and fled to safety behind Union lines. Thousands of these freedmen, or "contrabands," sought freedom and a refuge from slavery in towns such as Alexandria, Virginia. In less than three years, the population of Alexandria almost doubled. Despite this newfound freedom, freedmen and contrabands also encountered horrible living conditions, sickness, disease, and death. In January 1864, the federal government seized property near S. Washington and Church streets to establish a burying ground for the freedmen in Alexandria. During the five years that the federal government managed the cemetery, more than 1,800 African Americans were buried there.
In 1869, after the war the government abandoned the cemetery, and it last appeared on a local map in 1939. Unfortunately, the cemetery has been compromised and hundreds of graves lost due to extensive development of the site over the years. A service station with underground gas tanks, an office building with parking lots, a brick factory, and an interstate highway were all built there, disrupting what was once above and below the ground.
This proposal seeks to: 1. Reinstate the presence of the cemetery within the fabric of the city, 2. Register the irreverent disturbance that occurred to the burial grounds, and 3. Engage the entire nation to cultivate the memory of the grounds. Unmarked headstones populate the sacred ground to memorialize the undisturbed graves as well as reveal where graves have been compromised. School + church groups from across the nation are able to participate in the assembly of the memorial by fabricating one of the 1,800 unmarked headstones.