ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Alexandria's archives are a historical goldmine, filled with documents dating back to the 1800's. But the stories of Black Alexandrians, long the subject of legal discrimination, were often excluded.
On Saturday, the city celebrated a new initiative to fix that.
It's not a new part of the city's history. But in Alexandria, like in many American cities, it has been an often overlooked chapter.
"We have holes in our history that, quite honestly, were intentional in a lot of places," acknowledged City of Alexandria mayor Justin Wilson.
"You don't know where you're going if you don't know where you came from," said Erich Napper, who traces his family history in Alexandria back generations.
"My great, great, great grandmother said that when they freed us, we didn't have sense enough to leave," recalled Napper.
On the same library doorstep where, in 1939, police arrested five Black men for holding a sit-in protesting the library's then whites-only policy, the Alexandria Library on Saturday celebrated a project highlighting the legacy of Black Alexandrians.
The project, known as the Alexandria Library Black Family Reunion, is an open call for Black citizens to share their family documents with the city's public archives to help better reflect Alexandria's whole history.
According to a library spokesperson, roughly 1,000 items have already been submitted.
Alvah Beander shared some of her family's history. To her, it was a chance to honor those who are no longer here.
"This family went through a lot, but they were the most loving, caring people," she said.
For Erich Napper, sharing family documents was an opportunity to share a legacy with the next generation.
"I have old written letters from my great, great grandmother who was probably the first one who could read in our family," said Napper. "All that kind of stuff is important because it helps my grandkids know the struggle and the shoulders that they stand on."
The call for submissions is ongoing, according to a library spokesperson. For information on how to donate, visit the Alexandria Library's website here.
Archived material can be found online here.