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Autograph Book Autograph Book

Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial

Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial

Autograph book kept by William Syphax while working as Chief Messenger at the Secretary of the Interior’s office. William Syphax was a free black man and the son of Charles and Maria Syphax, two influential slaves at Arlington House. William went on to become a prominent figure in the local African American community. Educated first at Arlington, in his early teens he attended private schools in Alexandria and in Washington, D.C. Because of his education, William was able to secure work in the Secretary of the Interior’s office, where he rose to the position of Chief Messenger. During his tenure, he developed contacts with many government officials and won deep respect for his abilities and intellect. William also kept an autograph album which contains a total of 209 signatures from prominent people such as George Washington Parke Custis, Abraham Lincoln, Chief Justice Roger Taney, John Jay, William Lloyd Garrison, and Frederick Douglass. In 1868, Syphax was appointed to the D.C. Board of Trustees of Colored Public Schools, where he served a total of three years. Public respect made him widely sought in several different aspects of civic and racial advancement. He was a large contributor to schools for black children. William Syphax was a dedicated man who strove to create equality between the races and relentlessly challenged policies that he felt were unjust. He was a vocal advocate for the desegregation of public schools, for example, and promoted the integration of residential communities. William Syphax died on June 15, 1891, at the age of sixty-six. The book was donated by Mary Gibson Hundley, the last surviving descendent of William Syphax.

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