Avid letter-writer and Penny Post staff member Carly Boerrigter caught up with Audrey Davis, Director of the Alexandria Black History Museum to talk about the Alexandria Community Remembrance Project (ACRP). The ACRP researches and disperses the history of Alexandria's racial terror with the goal of community members coming together to move towards repair. Beginning August 8th through September 24th, Penny Post is holding a raffle with all proceeds supporting the transformative work of the ACRP.
Keep reading to learn more about the ACRP and all the ways that you can learn about and get involved with the initiative.
Carly Boerrigter: What is the Alexandria Community Remembrance Project?
Audrey Davis: The ACRP (as we call it) is Alexandria’s social justice initiative that advocates for local social justice issues in addition to examining our history of racial terror hate crimes. This includes the two lynchings of Joseph McCoy on April 23rd, 1897, and Benjamin Thomas on August 8th, 1899, which occurred here in Alexandria. We began the ACRP through our work with the author and attorney, Bryan Stevenson, his Equal Justice Initiative, and the affiliated museum, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. The National Memorial for Peace and Justice has a pillar for every county in America where a lynching occurred. Alexandria has our own pillar that recognizes McCoy and Thomas. Once counties complete a variety of community engagement initiatives in collaboration with the EJI, they can earn a replica of their pillar from the EJI in Montgomery. In 2019, Alexandria began this process and in October of this year, the community will take a pilgrimage with the soil from our lynching sites and deliver it to Montgomery, Alabama.
(First image courtesy of City of Alexandria. Second image courtesy of EJI: "National Memorial for Peace and Justice Corridor 3".)
The image above shows Alexandria’s pillar along with the other pillars at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. The 800 pillars represent the 800 counties where lynchings also occurred in America.
CB: What spurred the founding of this community remembrance project in Alexandria?
AD: I think that there was always a lot of interest in the work and mission of the Equal
Justice Initiative (EJI). I had been talking to members of the public about EJI and Bryan Stevenson's work in 2017, and there was interest. Both Gretchen Bulova, Director of the Office of Historic Alexandria and her predecessor were supportive. And then for me, as the director of the Alexandria Black History Museum, while we knew about the lynchings, we did not have staff to do the deeper dive into this period. It took a network of local historians and genealogists to focus on this. Our ACRP research team used existing research on Joseph McCoy and Benjamin Thomas from local historians, like Amy Bertsch, to set the groundwork for us. They expanded on this body of work and created a detailed narrative. It really did take a village of like-minded people in Alexandria coming from different backgrounds, some loving research, some interested in the social justice aspect of it, all wanting to be a part of this.
CB: Why is it important for Alexandrians to recognize and reflect on this history of racial terror now in the present?
AD: We want the community to see all these things holistically. The trafficking of enslaved individuals was racial terror, we see racial terror used again as a means of controlling African Americans in our lynching history of the late 19th and 20th centuries. Both tried to destroy Black families and communities. Eradicating this legacy of hate motivates the work of the ACRP as well as highlighting the achievements of Black Americans - despite everything they have endured in the United States.
We hope our work breaks down barriers and that people can learn from our fact-based African American history. We want our audience to understand the horrors of the transatlantic and domestic slave trade, the restrictions imposed during the years of Jim Crow, and continued rise of racial terror hate crimes in our country. We want people to understand this history and know why so many people continue to fight for social justice. A community needs to understand its history in order to be strong warriors in the fight for equality.
(First image courtesy of City of Alexandria.
Second image courtesy of Erik Patten.)
Above, two images of Freedom House, one taken between 1861 and 1865 and the other taken in the present. The newly opened Freedom House Museum, located in this exact structure on 1315 Duke was at one point the home to one of the largest slave trading companies in the country and is the site where thousands of Black men, women, and children were trafficked in Alexandria.
CB: Can you talk a little bit about the ACRP’s upcoming events that are open to the community?
AD: Our first upcoming event is the annual remembrance for Benjamin Thomas, who was lynched on August 8, 1899. The remembrance will take place on Monday, August 8th from 6-8 pm. More official information about programming details will be coming out the week of the first from the office of communication. Then on Saturday, September 24th, we will have our official soil collection at Market Square where the public will actually have the opportunity to scoop soil from the lynching sites into jars that will then be transported to Montgomery. If you’ve ever gone on the EJI website, you see the jars of soil that are on display at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. The soil for Thomas and McCoy’s lynching sites will soon be represented there. Alexandria is getting six jars. One pair, we will deliver on our pilgrimage, another pair will go to the Black History Museum, and we hope two jars will go to City Hall.
(Image courtesy of City of Alexandria.)
Above, a photograph from Joseph McCoy’s remembrance ceremony on April 23, 2022, where McArthur Myers led a procession of community members to Joseph McCoy’s lynching site at the corner of Cameron and N. Lee Streets.
Then we have our pilgrimage, which is happening on Indigenous Peoples Day weekend from October 6th through 10th. The pilgrimage will leave Thursday, October 6th from Alexandria and we hope to take close to 200 people, including 50 ACPS students and faculty. We will all be traveling by bus to Montgomery, Alabama. On Friday we’ll have the formal soil dedication ceremony as we bring our soil from McCoy and Thomas to EJI, and then the group will have a chance to tour the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and explore the Legacy Museum that highlights Alexandria’s history in its core exhibit. Every evening there will be dinners with different community members or civil rights leaders. We are using African American caterers for our evening events, all of whom use locally sourced food when possible. And on our last day, we will go to Selma and walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. We are really excited to share this history in Montgomery with so many venues.
All members of the community are welcome to learn about this history that surrounds us and to participate in these events, including the upcoming remembrance and community pilgrimage.
To educate yourself in more detail about these topics, take Alexandria’s 30-Day Social Justice Challenge.
And remember, through September 24, to purchase a raffle ticket to support this essential organization. You may also be the lucky winner of a gift basket stocked with featured products curated by Carly Boerrigter.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.