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Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Contraband Historical Society and Grave Preservation in Hampton, Virginia

Our friends at the Contraband Historical Society are working to find, mark, and preserve a cemetery--and perhaps more--nearFort_monroe_aerial Fort Monroe, at Hampton Virginia.  This from Phil Adderley of the Society:

Fort Monroe, at Old Point Comfort, Hampton Virginia, is at risk of being developed.  The Contraband Historical Society has been, working for many years, asking the City and State Governments to provide leadership with financial support for our history to be made visible to the community.

Now that the Army is leaving in 2011, Hampton wants to develop the land for housing revenues. What most people, including African Americans, do not know is that Old Point Comfort is where the first ships landed before going to Jamestown. It is also where Captain John Smith sat down with the Indians. More over, it is where former slaves (James Townsend, Sheppard Mallory and Frank Baker) were freed by Gen. Benjamin Butler in May, 1861 over 1.5 years prior to Lincoln's Emancipation proclamation (over 10,000 slaves at the Fort at one time). This event is the most significant event for America as we know it today (the Union of States) because it caused the Union Army to confiscate slaves (Confiscation Act 1861) everywhere they went and used the slaves as laborers to support the war effort. Without this support the Union would not have won the Civil War; thus the beginning of the end of Slavery. As said by Professor Robert F. Engs -University of Pennsylvania, who wrote the book " Freedom's First Generation" {which recounts the achievements of the contrabands as the earliest enterprenuers and business owners in Hampton Va. from 1861 thru 1900} after the Civil War.

The Army has been over Fort Monroe for over 146 years and has not identified the burial grounds of former slaves nor have erected any monuments to our their achievements.

We the Contraband Society see the need for perpetual education of our community and the Nation to this history. A National Park is what America requires for preserving it's treasures and would thus preserve African American Heritage. However, Hampton and the Virginia Governor is continuing with business as usual ideas of development, as the first option for a re-use plan to submit to the Army. The coordinating group, FMFADA, has not considered the National Park option, nor the prospect of this history as an American untold story. Fort Monroe is like the African American's 'Ellis Island'{'Statue of Liberty'} since we as African Americans do not have a Monument from Slavery which speaks to our Ancestor's achievements (as slaves) in a good light. Something which we can and needs celebrating. Of note most African Americans celebrate 'Juneteenth' which is a Texas observance that signaled the end of Slavery but the 'Contraband story' is the beginning of the end of slavery and ultimately effected the end.

Please respond to our request to help get the word out by asking Congress to honor our Ancestors with a national monument at Fort Monroe and a National park for it's Preservation.

Issues of historical preservation--particularly when they involve graves--are near and dear to my heart.  It will be most interesting to see where this all goes.

The public domain aerial shot of Fort Monroe is from our friends at wikipedia (who got it from the federal government in turn).

Alfred L. Brophy
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