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Land Negotiations Could Affect Arlington Cemetery, Museum

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Close-up from "Freedman's Village, Arlington, Virginia" print that appeared in Harper's Weekly, May 7, 1864. 
Source: http://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/archivesmonth/2003/novirginia/nova_freedman_village.htm
Close-up from "Freedman's Village, Arlington, Virginia" print that appeared in Harper's Weekly, May 7, 1864. 

A land dispute over the footprint of Arlington National Cemetery could have implications for a planned museum and heritage center commemorating a 19th century village for freed slaves.  

The Department of Defense in late October notified the Arlington County government of its decision to terminate a 2008 land exchange agreement. The deal, more than a decade in the works, would have allowed the cemetery to expand burial space into land currently used by the county for a roadway. In exchange, Arlington would have gained land currently owned by the Army to create the Arlington Heritage Center at the site of the former freedman's village. 

Now, a new deal is in the works, according to Arlington Historical Society director Ali Ganjian.

"It was not that the deal was canceled and that everyone walked away," says Ali Ganjian. "It was perhaps more that the deal as stipulated 10 years ago may not suit all parties needs as effectively as a different deal could."

 The deal now being negotiated would give the cemetery more land for burial, and would push the heritage center south of Columbia Pike.

"There's not a disinterest in doing the land swap. All parties are still interested. It's just that the land given to the county is what's in question," Ganjian says.

To facilitate a new deal, county leaders need to complete a survey to determine which parcels of land can be swapped between local and federal officials. Meanwhile, Arlington County historians are making sure that everyone remembers that Freedman's Village, which sat on the land in question, is an important part of the county's history.

"It was there to teach freed blacks a trade, give them some land around it so they could garden and be self-sustaining," says Michael Leventhal, historic preservation coordinator for Arlington County. "And it was to be for a temporary time."

But the federal government ended up being a landlord for Freedman's Village for about 30 years. Then, around the turn of the 20th century, federal officials evicted the freedmen to use the land for burials at the national cemetery, Leventhal explains.

"The government was not in the business of helping people, you know," Leventhal says. "It was into helping business and defending the country and that was it. Rugged individualism, and you're on your own guys." 

Now Leventhal and others are hoping that Arlington County and military officials can strike some kind of deal so the Arlington Heritage Center can tell the story of the long-lost Freedman's Village.

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