The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

News

November 9, 2013

Film ’12 Years a Slave’ has ties to DC-area site

LEWISBURG — ALEXANDRIA, Va. — The painful story of a free black man lured from his home in New York in 1841 to be sold into slavery, now the basis of the new film “12 Years a Slave,” has a little-known connection to a slave site that still stands near the nation’s capital.

Alexandria’s one-time slave pen complex, based out of a colonial-style rowhouse, was once the epicenter of the domestic human trade in the United States after the importation of slaves was banned, according to historians. The last slave trader at the site, James H. Birch, was the same dealer who paid kidnappers $250 for Solomon Northup of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and sold him into slavery in Louisiana.

Northup’s story of 12 years in slavery, published in 1853, is the basis of the new film from British director Steve McQueen. Now curators hope the film will spark new interest from visitors and historians in a rare slave site that still stands near the Capitol. It has been open to visitors for five years as the Freedom House Museum, now a place to learn about American history.

“What’s very unique about this building is it’s one of the few remaining buildings that the slave trade actually took place in,” said curator Julian Kiganda, who designed the exhibits. “Everyone who’s come through there, they feel moved.”

Northup’s story is among several narratives illustrating the slave trade at the time. Exhibits in the brick basement that once served as slave quarters include artifacts found there, along with the original bars and door of this slave jail.

While there’s no evidence Northup was sold through this particular site, Kiganda said it’s similar in design to other slave jails at the time. Northup wrote about being held at Williams’ Slave Pen, located near the National Mall. In the film, his cell is depicted within view of the Capitol.

Northup was captured at a time of rising demand for slaves in the Deep South to cultivate cotton. The slave-trading firm Franklin and Armfield began operating in Alexandria to help move a surplus of slaves in Maryland, Virginia and Delaware to selling centers in New Orleans and Natchez, Miss., either by boat or by land. Later, Birch operated the Alexandria slave pen until Union troops liberated the area, according to a history of the site.

Today, the house stands on a busy commuter corridor in a wealthy Washington suburb. An outdoor plaque provides a brief explanation of the National Historic Landmark site, but most passers-by likely never notice.

“I think a lot of Alexandrians would be shocked to know their city was a major hub of the country’s slave trade,” Kiganda said. “It’s a story that’s not told often enough.”

The Northern Virginia Urban League bought the building in 1996 to serve as its headquarters and created the museum five years ago. Last year, it drew about 1,000 visitors. Organizers are hoping to reach a broader audience.

Cynthia Dinkins, the president and CEO of the Urban League chapter, said the museum will likely work with Fox Searchlight Pictures to create educational curriculum for students to accompany “12 Years a Slave” when it’s released as a DVD.

The group also is working with the Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association to create an African-American heritage tour to launch next year. And the museum hopes to draw future visitors from the Smithsonian’s future black history museum who would want to see a real slave site.

“I think this movie will really inspire people and really make them realize more about their own history,” said Audrey Davis, acting director of the nearby Alexandria Black History Museum. “Slavery is America’s story, and we have to face it.”

1
Text Only
News
  • Arizona tribe set to prosecute first non-Indian under a new law

    PASCUA YAQUI INDIAN RESERVATION, Ariz. — Tribal police chief Michael Valenzuela drove through darkened desert streets, turned into a Circle K convenience store and pointed to the spot beyond the reservation line where his officers used to take the non-Indian men who battered Indian women.
     

    April 19, 2014

  • Danville parents hope strike ends quickly

    DANVILLE ““ First-grader Madison Wild was sad she missed school Thursday.

    April 19, 2014

  • Schools ask state to waive 180-day rule

    Three area school districts have asked the Pennsylvania Department of Education to add up their hours instead of their days in order to reach the required amount of instruction time in the school year.

    April 19, 2014

  • Former Bucknell star in NBA playoffs

    ATLANTA — It really hit Mike Muscala a few days ago when he was listening to the Nets’ starting lineup at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

    April 19, 2014

  • State: Discard raw milk from Greenfield Dairy

    MIDDLEBURG — Consumers should discard raw milk purchased recently from the Greenfield Dairy of Middleburg, which also has temporarily suspended production after Listeria monocytogenes was discovered in the product following routine testing, the state Department of Agriculture announced today.

    April 18, 2014

  • Penn State police: Three posed nude at Nittany shrine

    STATE COLLEGE — Penn State police say three male students who reportedly posed nude for a photo at the university’s Nittany Lion Shrine face school discipline.

    April 18, 2014

  • State unemployment rate drops to 6 percent in March

    HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania’s jobless rate has continued its steady decline. The state Department of Labor and Industry says unemployment fell two-tenths of a percentage point to 6 percent in March.

    April 18, 2014

  • Report: Pennsylvania forests impacted by drilling

    PITTSBURGH — A small portion of Pennsylvania state forest land has been impacted by shale gas drilling, but many questions remain about how to manage the politically sensitive issue that is opposed by many residents, according to a new report.

    April 18, 2014

  • TRAFFIC ADVISORY: Route 45 east of Montandon

    MONTANDON — A paving project is slowing traffic today on Route 45 east of Montandon.

    April 18, 2014

  • Accident victims remain in critical condition this morning

    DANVILLE - Victims from serious traffic accidents the past two days remain in critical condition this morning at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville.

    April 18, 2014

The Daily Marquee
Poll

How do you eat your chocolate Easter bunny?

Feet first
Tail first
Ears first
     View Results
Photo Galleries
The Valley

Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.