A town of freed slaves was destroyed to make Arlington cemetery

A town of freed slaves — on Robert E. Lee’s old estate — was destroyed to make Arlington cemetery

Residents of Freedman’s Village reading books outside their barracks in Arlington, Virginia, between 1863 and 1865. (Library of Congress)

Freedman’s Village was a haven for so-called ‘contraband’ people

Sojourner Truth was outraged, but her feelings didn’t show in a letter she wrote about her meeting with Abraham Lincoln in October 1864. She’d gone to Lincoln to call his attention to the conditions at settlements for former slaves, including one called Freedman’s Village, where she asked to be appointed as a counselor. “I was never treated with more kindness and cordiality,” she wrote to a fellow abolitionist of her meeting with the president. Lincoln granted her request to work at the camp, and Truth lived there for a year, preaching and otherwise advocating for the people who lived there.

Freedman’s Village, which started in 1863 with 50 wooden houses, was touted as a model community when it was dedicated, with farms, a hospital, an orphanage, and a home for the elderly. By 1864, though, conditions were dismal. People were hungry, unwanted by the surrounding community, and exploited by opportunists. “I am a going around among the colored folks and find out who it is sells the clothing to them that is sent to them from the North,” Truth wrote to her daughter, deeply dismayed, shortly before her meeting with Lincoln.  Read more here.