tv American Artifacts CSPAN September 5, 2016 2:16pm-2:37pm EDT
the theme here is division and reunion. well, division perhaps is easier to define but reunion, what does that really mean? we know the country was reunited north and south but culturally and racially and in many ways this country remains divided. and so what can be learned here at arlington house, the robert e. lee memorial that will help americans and people from other parts of the world, too, to examine that, examine their own beliefs and see what they can make of it moving into the future. you can watch this and other artifacts programs by visiting our website at
c-span.org/history. each week, american artifacts takes you to museums and historic places to learn what artifacts reveal about history. next, the arlington house to hear from descendants of one of the families. in about ten minutes, we'll hear from craig syphax who describes the story of freedman's village, a community established on the former plantation grounds to transition slaves into independent and free lives. but first, stephen hammond.
>> natural hazards dealt with earthquakes, landslides a variety of hazards that affected the united states. my connection with the syphax family is an interesting one. my third grade grandmother was a slave at the cater house in washington, d.c., and her brother is charles syphax who actually was a slave here on arlington national cemetery property. and we go way back in terms of their connections to mt. vernon and the local area here. charles was actually a dower slave in mt. vernon. we believe he was born about 1791. he basically became a support footman for george washington park custas. at one point he was actually living at the estate with his
grandparents and lived at the estate once martha died in 1802. in 1802, we believe that he actually had relations with a slave, ari carter, another dower slave at mt. vernon and together they have a daughter mariah carter who ultimately married charles syphax here at the arlington estate in 1821. it's interesting that they both grew up here. charles, i think, as a young man had an affinity to watch mariah grow up who worked at the house when she became of age. interestingly enough, george washington park custis allowed the couple to marry here in the parlor which is unheard of. not too many times did that happen. they were married in 1821.
shortly after that, they began to have children. the first child was born in 1823. a second one in 1825. and shortly after the second child was born, that was william syphax was born, george washington park custis decided to sell maria. the folk lower in our family is that he simply freed maria but in the last seven months we've actually found documents in the alexandria circuit courthouse that suggest that george washington park custis actually sold maria and her two children to a quaker. quakers, as you recall, were really abolitionists in terms of war and slavery and so it was their goal to try to help free slaves in the area. from the deed that we have here, in 1845, from william stabler,
we know that they actually freed maria and all of her children but this deed dates back to a previous deed that his father, edward staber, a shop owner in alexandria. it's interesting because in the laws in the state at that time were such that if you were freed and couldn't support yourself, you needed to leave the state in terms of being a freed slave. but george washington park custis wanted maria to be close by. so if you follow my story here, her husband, charles syphax, was not freed. he continued to be a slave. but maria and her two children were freed but were giving 17 acres of property at the south end of arlington estate where they lived free for the rest of their lives. and as a result of having
follow-on children, all of them were born free as well. there are a couple of children that are very prominent in the syphax family. very interestingly enough, once these children were freed, the -- they had an opportunity for education. one of the prominent older children, second child, first son of the syphax, is william syphax. we know that he was probably educated in alexandria, arlington area as well as georgetown. he ultimately went to work for the department of the interior in the 1850s. he worked for a number of secretaries of the interior and actually became head messenger for the department of the interior and went on to become the first president of the -- of colored trustees of the colored schools in washington, d.c. there are a number of ancestors and descendents of these folks, the syphaxes, that have made a
prominent impact on our country. one example would be credits stin gleed, a tuskogee air man. we have probably about 30 syphaxes that we know that attended howard university, several of which turned around and became teachers at howard university. we have a well-known surgeon, mickey syphax, who died just a couple of years ago, near the age of 100, who was a very prominent surgeon, professor, teacher at howard university. and we also have julian dixon who was a congressman from california who passed away in 2000 but served in the u.s. congress for close to just over a decade. the syphaxes have a long legacy here at arlington estate. in the 1860s when the civil war
began, the lees left the property. robert e. lee left, departed, became a general in the virginia army and his wife also left fearing that there would be problems with the federal government. arlington estate was taken over by the u.s. army. it was considered a stronghold, a way to protect washington, d.c., and so it was overrun by a number of u.s. army soldiers. the lees, when they left, asked the slaves to attend it. they had no idea how long the war would last but felt they would return. as a result of that, several years later the u.s. government modified the tax code stating that owners of property needed to pay their taxes in person. well, mrs. lee could not pay her taxes in person and, as a
result, the property was taken by the u.s. government as a result of taxes not being paid. in addition to that property being taken, the syphax property at the southern end of the estate was taken because there was no proof that the syphaxes owned that property. some years later, about 1866, the syphax's oldest son, working in the department of interior, actually had the opportunity to work with congress to make a plea to have the property returned. by 1866, the bill was taken up by the congress and to this day we know that a bill was approved and signed by the president, andrew johnson, i believe in june of 1866 which returned 17 acres to maria syphax to live there in perpetuity so that's a big deal for the family in terms of knowing that they had this
compound but couldn't prove that they owned it. but now we had congress here to prove that this was their property. i've been doing family history for close to 40 years. it's a passion of mine and something that my ancestors passed down to me in terms of understanding more about our history and it's been important to me and my cousins to basically pull together with the park service, with the research staff at mt. vernon, with the historical association as well as with the new african-american museum in washington, d.c., being opened by the smithsonian in a month or two to work together to try to help to tell a more clear, fully laid out story about the african-americans and particularly the syphaxes here in arlington. i believe that while the story of robert e. lee and george washington park custis is
important, there is so much richer story in terms of the enslaved people that lived here and our goal is to really try to help fill -- you know, inform the public about what actually occurred there. and one of the things that we would like to do as a result of the land being taken away is to really recognize the lives and the effort that people put into this. one of the goals that i have for this is that one day we'd be able to in the tours that we have here at arlington to be able to say, this area over here is where the syphaxes live. they had a prominent role along with many other enslaved american who is are free and have done things for our country. american artifacts. next we'll hear from craig syphax, a descendant of one of the enslaved families on this 19th century plantation. he discusses freedman's village built on the grounds of the
original 1100-acre estate. >> i am craig syphax, descendant of arlington and president of the black heritage museum of arlington. the black heritage museum has a website and we are a virtual museum and our main -- one of our focuses is to enrich the story of freedman's village and in doing that we have worked with the park service, we have worked with marymount university and with the smithsonian and giving understanding of the freedman's village story. freedman's village was built in 1863 to combat -- there was an outbreak of small pox because of the emancipation. they created an outbreak of small pox and during this outbreak the army contacted the
american military association, which was a group of women who were nurses that cared for injured soldiers and they asked them, what was the best way to contain the small pox and they came out with the idea to put them all in one area of containment and contain it that way and that created freedman's village. the residents were emancipated slaves who came this way because there were jobs in the washington, d.c., area. they were building the capitol, they were building the monument, washington monument, they were building federal buildings and things of that sort. so washington, d.c., was building up so there were construction jobs in this area and everyone heard about it so they migrated to this area. as far as we know that the park service has told us is that henderson hall is the actual 17 acres that is located where
freedman's village is. it's the military base that is on ft. meyer today and that is where they told us the 17 acres of freedman's village is. there is a marker across the street -- because you can't put a marker on a military installation and have people come see it. so across the street, there is a marker, a placard telling the information of freedman's village. when they established freedman's village, they put in a school, they put in a post office, they -- citizens erected their own churches and they also had a home for the senior citizens, an elderly home, their own marketplace and everything. most of the people went outside of freedman's village to work on neighboring farms and brought the money back and survived through that way. the main plan was to teach these people how to read and write and
how to survive on their own, work, create a family and live the american way out and live the american dream. in 1898 or '99, they had to disband freedman's village because they started building graves from the south end of freedman's village and were bringing them in the direction of the house, the arlington house. so freedman's village was in between where they started the graves all the way to the house. it was in between. so they said you all have to disband and go somewhere else while we use this property to put graves on. when freedman's village disbanded in 1898, 1899, the citizens createded it african-american communities of arlington. and these neighborhoods were created out of the land owners, the people who owned these farms, neighbors farms outside
of freedman's village, allowed these people parcels of land to bring their church so the church was erected there first to create a community. when people expired or passed away in freedman's village, they had a burial ground called section 27. section 27 is adjacent to the her row jeem ma memorial. that's where the slaves that were here during arlington house days before freedman's village and the freedman's village expirees were buried as well. the graves were mark. there wasn't anything special about them. if it was after emancipation, the gravestone said citizen. if it was before, some of it
said slave and some said resident, some didn't. the model that was here on this site at arlington cemetery was the first model for the rest of the country. this was the first design, the actual first one that they had and improved on it as time went on. so the story of freedman village is one that tells how they -- the american government tried to help the slaves, the newly freed slaves, build a life and stay over here. they didn't deport anyone. they just had to work with these people because they realized they still needed a workload. they still needed people to work and farm things. so they already had a system in place for people here. they just wanted them to blend in together and everyone work together. in the slave quarters, there is a model of the original
freedman's village that howard university's architectural students did for the black heritage museum of arlington. we had it commissioned to be done and our chairman at the time was dr. williams who was the leader in making that happen. so we found out when miss truth was here, she told times of slavery and how people were empowered to get out of slavery and go north where they could be free. she was an abolitionist and someone who would teach how to read and write. she would teach other slaves how to read and write and she was a stop on the way pushing people through the underground railroad. i am a direct descendent of the syphax family through charles and maria's son, ennis syphax.
ennis had a son as well named shelter syphax, which is my grandfather, and shalter had kids and one of his kids was archie d. syphax, which was my father. sometimes i walk these grounds and i feel like i'm in the shoes of those before me and i look around and i feel empowered sometimes and i feel a new strength to want to carry on with the work that i am doing. >> you can watch this and other american artifacts programs by visiting our website at c-span.org/history. you're watching american history tv, all weekend every weekend on c-span 3. to join the conversation, "like" us on conversation at c-span history. next, on american history
tv, author walter borneman is the author and the macarthur memorial in norfolk, virginia, hosted this conference. this portion is about 1:10. the timing of this symposium is intentional. 75 years ago next week, general macarthur was recalled from retirement to service that helped define both him and asia for many years to come. in asia as in much of the world, 1845 is yesterday and to understand the modern world, or to understand much of the modern world, you have to understand the stories we'll be exploring today. the general was buried with his wife jean and we have