Hundreds of documents that may provide a rare first-hand view of the lives of blacks in Northern Virginia during the post-Civil Watergate have been found in Alexadria.
The documents consist of records kept by the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows in Alexandria, a black group that appears to have been active in the city during the turbulent period following the Civil War.
Richard Bierce, Alexandria's historic properties coordinator, said the discovery is especially valuable because of the scant knowledge about the lives of ordinary blacks in the South at the end of the war.
Bierce said the documents "will provide a large body of first-hand documentation of the black community, orat least that part of it affiliated with the lodge."
The documents were found last Friday by Bierce. Vola Lawson, director of Alexandria's Community Block Grant program, and Teresa Edwards, past president of the Southwest Quadrant Citizens Association, while they were on an inspection tour of the old Odd Fellows building at 411 S. Columbus St. The building, which Bierce describes as a Victorian structure built in the 1950s or early 1860s, was scheduled for demolition as part of the Dip urban renewal project, but the city recently made plans to preserve the structure.
Bierce said that large piles of documents were found strewn about the floors of the first-floor meeting room and several smaller rooms on the second and third floors. He and Lawson picked up some samples of documents.
These are mainly ledgers listing expenditures and several membership lists, which Bierce believes may prove of particular interest to historians because they may be able to trace the lives of individuals. Alexandria at one time served as a slave-trading center, with many blacks passing through the city.
One book recovered contains the minutes of meetings regarding a planned celebration on the 23th anniversary of the lodge, believed to have been founded in 1868. A Feb. 8, 1897, entry reports that "Chas (Charley) H. Gray moved that (a) committee recommend a parade and banquet on our 9th anniversary motion carried."
By march 10, the record shows, the membership had added "speaking at one of the churches" as part of the anniversary program. No record was available yesterday of the event itself.
One of the ledgers, for the year 1892, shows that on Feb. 19 Robert Darnell was paid $2 in sick dues. A janitor named Henry Williams received a fee of 58 cents on Feb. 24. The gas bill on Jan. 13 came to $3.20 and an entry on Feb. 23 read as follows: "Paid Distressed odd Fellow sum of 2.50."