The Journey from Slavery to Freedom
Richmond has been home to many influential African American leaders throughout the centuries – and the home of countless numbers less well known but perhaps just as important to our nation’s history. The Richmond-Petersburg Region has a rich history of African American slaves, former slaves and freemen who struggled against incredible odds to make a better life for themselves, their families and their fellow Americans.
Lucy Goode Brooks
In 1839, while a slave, Lucy Goode obtained permission from her master to marry and live with Albert Royal Brooks, another Richmond slave. The couple had seven children living in 1858 when Lucy Brooks and her three youngest children were sold. Her new owner allowed her husband Albert, who operated a livery stable and eating house, to pay him in installments over four years for their freedom. In order to keep the rest of her family together, Lucy Brooks found three local men to buy her older sons, who became free in 1865 when Union troops occupied Richmond. A fourth buyer purchased Brooks’ eldest daughter, but broke his pledge to keep her in Richmond and sold the girl to a buyer in Tennessee.
After Emancipation, former slaves flocked to Richmond seeking work and looking for missing family members. Having lost a daughter to the slave trade, Brooks had a special concern for the plight of parentless children. A leader of the Ladies Sewing Circle for Charitable Work, she convinced the group to support a home for orphans. The orphanage building was completed in 1871 in Richmond’s Jackson Ward neighborhood, and the General Assembly incorporated the Friends’ Asylum for Colored Orphans in March 1872. Today the renamed Friends Association for Children operates three family-support centers, one on the site of the original orphanage building. The Lucy Brooks Foundation, created in 1984 to raise funds for the association, was named in honor of its founder.
Henry "Box" Brown
In 1849, Henry "Box" Brown, a slave who worked in a Richmond tobacco factory, had himself shipped to Philadelphia in a box, as if he were a container of dry goods. Following the harrowing, 27-hour journey, Brown eventually became a speaker for the Anti-Slavery Society. A replica of Brown's shipping container is located on Richmond's Canal Walk.