“James H. Burch was a slave-trader – buying men, women, and children at low prices, and selling them at an advance. He was a speculator in human flesh…” - Solomon Northup, 12 Years a Slave.
Excellent piece by Brett Zongker of the AP and at his blog DC Art Beat.
He points out that James H. Birch (spelled Burch in Northup’s book), the slave trader whose infamous pen was located on Duke Street in Alexandria, and now houses the “Freedom House” Museum, was the dealer who kidnapped Solomon Northup and sold him into slavery in the Deep South.
In 1853, Northup wrote a stirring account of his kidnapping and captivity. “12 Years a Slave” is in its third week on the silver screen, a very difficult movie to watch, but one that is getting Oscar buzz and brings to light the horrors of enslaved life.
I read the book a couple of weeks ago and remember seeing Birch’s name. I meant to write something about it, but I got so wrapped up in Northup’s story.
It should be noted, as Zongker points out, that Northup, as depicted in the movie, was brought to a slave pen in Washington, not Alexandria. Nevertheless, the town house where thousands of enslaved humans were held until they were marched in coffles to the foot of Duke and shipped to New Orleans, or even forced to walk to the plantations, serves as a reminder of the issue that split the nation in half 150 years ago.
If watching “12 Years a Slave” is too much, and apparently it is with less than stellar box office numbers so far, Alexandrians and visitors should consider visiting the Freedom House Museum. Ran by the Northern Virginia Urban League, it is partly located in the basement of the townhouse, a haunting metaphorical walk to the very place where the slaves were held in captivity.
Zongker also notes that the Northern Virginia Urban League and the Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association have their sights set on creating an African American heritage tour in Alexandria that would begin next year.