The Freedom House, a Building With a Notorious Past in the Slave Trade, Is For Sale: raceAhead

If only the walls could talk, as the saying goes, what stories they would tell.

Consider this investment summary for the Freedom House, a registered National Historic Landmark building, currently for sale on Duke Street in Alexandria, Va. The building is perfect for an office or residential property and priced at $2.1 million. But due to certain circumstances, it needs a new owner right away.

On one hand, the words used to tell this story could be the happy ones found in the ad, like “historic charm,” with “high ceilings, finished wood floors, original wooden railings, exposed brick walls, wood-burning fireplaces,” and proximity to “walkable amenities.”

But to tell the full story of the Freedom House, which is currently owned by the Northern Virginia Urban League, other words will be necessary. 

Words like, “slave pen.”

“Historians say it was one of the largest and cruelest slave depots in the country, sending tens of thousands of enslaved Africans from Virginia and surrounding states into the Deep South before the Civil War,” explains the Washington Post in this must-read story.

Of course, both “stories” are true. But one matters far more.

If walls could truly talk, the Freedom House would no doubt tell the tale of the lone enslaved Black man who had been found by Union soldiers in 1861, shackled and abandoned. He was the last of the thousands of people who had been held in a basement “slave pen” by slave-trading firms which began operating on the premises in 1828—the same basement that now has the names, ages, and sale prices of some of the humans held there inscribed on its walls. 

While this information is not found in the marketing materials for the property, it really should be. It’s a feature more American than original brick or hitching posts. 

The building’s first owners were Issac Franklin and John Armfield, who were among the most successful slave-traders of the day. Now, the Northern Virginia Urban League operates a small museum in the lower part of the building and maintains offices in the upstairs rooms once occupied by Armfield, who ran his business over the torture facilities below. 

But even with the 2017 opening of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture—and the country’s burgeoning capacity for truth-telling—they’ve struggled to keep the lights on.

Now it’s down to the wire.

Lyn Hoyt, a distant white relative of Isaac Franklin’s, was horrified to learn that “the horse traders” of family lore were, in fact, enslavers. “It’s difficult to hear,” Hoyt says in a different, but equally important, Washington Post story. “My family sold human beings. It’s a horrible, horrible thought. It’s like we descended from Hitler.” 

Along with some distant cousins, Hoyt has become a vocal supporter of the Freedom House, using her unique connection to the property to help raise awareness of the effort, while being careful not to play the role of a white savior dashing in to do the work that African Americans have already taken on. “A sustainable solution is what we would hope for in order to establish the Freedom House permanently as a place that matters in the bigger national discussion around our country’s enslavement history,” she says.

It’s a reminder that everyone has a role to play in telling the truth.

“Our decision to buy that first group of first twenty to thirty Africans would influence almost everything that would follow after,” the New York Times domestic correspondent Nikole Hannah-Jones says, referring to the 400th anniversary of the first official arrival of enslaved Africans in 1619. 

Hannah-Jones was the force behind The 1619 Project, a cross-platform journalistic effort from the New York Times Magazine to explore the ongoing legacy of slavery today. Speaking recently on CBS This Morning, she said the date is “as foundational to who we became as a country as our decision in 1776 to break off from the British.”

“Nobody wants to talk about their sins or the worst moments,” because this history is shameful, she says. “Slavery gives contradiction to our entire creation story of the United States. So we try to push it aside, we’ve tried to make it marginal,” marginalizing millions of African American people in the process. 

Only embracing the whole truth can set us all free, she suggests.

“Well then maybe we start to move past slavery and become what was written in our ideals in the Constitution and the Declaration [of Independence.]” 

And then maybe real estate developers wouldn’t get to decide which stories are more valuable than others.

On Point

Houston Rockets star James Harden apologizes to China over GM’s pro-Hong Kong tweet The message came from Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, who tweeted on Friday, "Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong." Public outcry was immediate, and there’s real money at stake: China’s state broadcaster, along with Tencent Holdings, which streams NBA games in China, say they will take Rockets games off the air. Further, key sponsors say they will abandon them. Morey tweeted an extensive apology, the NBA issued an official statement of apology in English and Chinese, and Rockets star James Harden, standing alongside guard Russell Westbrook, did as well. "We apologize. We love China," he said. "We love playing there. Both of us, we go there once or twice a year. They show us most support so we appreciate them." The mess continues, click through for extensive background.
South China Morning Post

'Harvey Weinstein told me he liked Chinese girls' Rowena Chiu is a former assistant to Harvey Weinstein, she’s neither famous nor powerful. And yet, she says, she was subject to the kind of abuse, including attempted rape, that we’ve come to expect from Weinstein’s Hollywood accusers. This story is brutal, filled with the kinds of credible details that can help empathetic people understand why people who feel powerless stay in terrible situations. "I’ve had many years to ruminate on how I fell into Harvey’s trap, and the best way to understand it is through the four power dynamics of gender, race, seniority, and wealth," she says. Being a woman in a man’s industry was problematic. But the confluence of the "model minority" stereotype and Asian "exoticism" came into play. "As with many Asian women, this meant that I was visible as a sex object, invisible as a person," she says. "Harvey may not have created this imbalance, but he and many others have capitalized on it."
New York Times

Sade gets an award for being an outstanding mother The award came from her son, Izaak Theo Adu, in the form of an Instagram post in which he thanks the singer for supporting him through his transition surgery. "Thank you for fighting with me to complete the man I am. Thank you for your encouragement when things are hard, for the love you give me," he wrote. "Being transgender is hard. Every day is a struggle. You are constantly fighting for the world to accept you and sometimes you even fight yourself."

Holocaust deniers are not protected under freedom of expression laws This was the finding of a Strasbourg, France-based European Court of Human Rights, which ruled that a German man who said that the Holocaust never happened in a 2010 speech wasn't entitled to special protection. In protracted litigation, Udo Pastoers argued that he was covered under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, a provision which protects freedom of expression. The court found his claim to be "manifestly ill-founded," and that he "had intentionally stated untruths in order to defame the Jews and the persecution that they had suffered." More on the European Convention on Human Rights here.

On Background

Why do people believe extreme things? People who gravitate to extreme ideologies have certain psychological characteristics in common, regardless of what their beliefs are, new research suggests. Netherlands-based researchers Jan-Willem van Prooijen and André P. M. Krouwel have found four elements that largely define people who are vulnerable to extreme and often dangerous views. "We specifically examine the relationships between political extremism and (a) psychological distress, (b) cognitive simplicity, (c) overconfidence, and (d) intolerance." It’s fascinating stuff, but here's the short version: Psychological stress, which people experience when their lives feel meaningless and their economic lives are uncertain, leads to an attempt to find a black-and-white explanation for their troubled world. That explanation inspires a false sense of clarity, followed by a rejection of other explanations and groups. "Through the combined processes of cognitive simplicity and overconfidence, extremists may experience their moral judgments as moral absolutes that reflect a simple and universal truth."
Sage Journals

When Mr. Snuffleupagus finally felt seen For 14 years, Mr. Aloysius Snuffleupagus, a lumbering oversized anteatery-looking muppet, was a running gag on Sesame Street: Only his friend Big Bird could see him. Of course, the audience saw him too, but he would shuffle off stage before any of the humans on the show saw him. While they were generally kind to Big Bird, they never truly believed his pal wasn’t imaginary, recalls Mental Floss. But over the years, as reports of child abuse and abduction cases made it increasingly into the news and on milk cartoons, viewers became worried about the message it was sending. "If adults were ignoring Sesame Street's biggest star, would kids feel like they wouldn't be heard, either?" One child psychologist framed the debate this way: "Are we helping or hurting kids by keeping Snuffy in the imaginary closet, and do we have a moral imperative to respond to a real issue by changing something about the show?"
Mental Floss

Latino or Hispanic? A handy guide Terry Blas is a comic/graphic artist who grew up in a multi-cultural household, the happy product of a white father from Utah and a mother who grew up in Ameca Meca, Mexico. It led to some interesting questions about his own identity, and how to include his "Mexicanness" in his "Americanness." What follows is a charming comic explainer of what it means to be Latinx, Hispanic, both, or neither. (And also what it means to be Terry Blas.) "Latino is a word that is telling you about geography, and Hispanic is a word that is telling you about language." Follow him on Twitter @terryblas.

Tamara El-Waylly helps write and produce raceAhead.

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"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

—Thomas Jefferson, in the Declaration of Independence

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