Over 1 million people per year visit Arlington National Cemetery, but very few who visit realize that a camp of former slaves (contraband of war) lived on these grounds (the former plantation of Robert E. Lee) as free people as early as 1863 and became known as Freedmen's Village...something our tour guide did not know or failed to mention!
Freedmen's Village was originally 50 houses that accommodated 2 families each, several schools and churches, a hospital, and an old folks home and was intended to protect slave refugees, train them in skilled labor, and begin to provide a formal education. Eventually, over 1,000 people called Freedmen's Village their home. Of course, many died here and are some of the small percentage of civilians buried at and near Arlington Cemetery.
Of course, this was not as idealistic as it sounds. Although slavery had been abolished in Union occupied territory, the North was not interested in blacks moving to northern cities. Freedmen's Village was created by the government to prevent integration and freedom in order to keep Black people segregated.
Freedmen's Village was closed by the government in 1900 due to increased racial tension in the area, local business development, and the construction of the Potomac Bridge.
Are any of you thinking that this may have been the government's first gentrification program?!
No organized excavation of Freedmen's Village has ever been done, but parts of the cemetery were uncovered by recent construction (Sheraton Hotel) projects.
It is sad that the truth is not told at Arlington or deemed important by my tour guide...maybe someday the important lessons of Freedmen's Village will be more widely told (and government-sponsored racism/ gentrification will end.