Braden Smith, 12, gazed up at the names on the wall of the entryway, each listed beside an age not much older than his own.
Willis Brooks, 20 years old. Nancy F., 15 years old. Jacob Ransome, 12 years old.
“Back then, they could have possibly sold you from your family, too,” his mom, Erin Smith, told the Black middle-schooler as he clutched her arm. “You would be valuable. They would profit from it.”
“And they did all this inside this building?” Braden asked her. Smith nodded. As she explained to him and his two younger siblings, like the large sign next to them, this brick rowhouse in Old Town Alexandria had once served as the site of the largest operation for slave trading before the Civil War in the United States.
At least 8,500 enslaved people, including those listed by name and age on the wall, had been forcibly brought here from plantations around Northern Virginia and then shipped off to be sold in New Orleans and the city of Natchez in Mississippi.
For decades, a small exhibit recounting that story had occupied the basement of the house, while a local nonprofit, the Northern Virginia Urban League, used the three floors upstairs as offices. But as flooding damaged the basement and the group struggled to pay off the mortgage, the Alexandria city government swooped in to buy and save the property, which is known as Fr
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