Papers of early black
sheds light on segregation-era rural Virginia
By Robert Brickhouse
Dear Mr. Yancey, ...Do you have many scholars this year?...
I thank you for all the instruction you have given me. I will
never forget you and your family.
čRosa Bell Simpson
1910 letter from a young student at Virginia Normal Institute
(now Virginia State College) in Petersburg, back to her rural
schoolmaster, is among hundreds of rare documents offering an
extensive picture of early African-American education in Virginia.
They were recently discovered in the attic of a boarded-up house
about to be torn down in Albemarle County.
being arranged and described by Alderman
Library Special Collections staff, the trove of documents
and artifacts are the family papers of Benjamin Franklin Yancey,
one of the first black educators in central Virginia and for whom
the current elementary school in Esmont is named. Yancey, who
died in 1915, came to rural southern Albemarle County in the 1890s
to found, raise money for, and teach at a one-room school for
papers will eventually be placed for research on the World Wide
Web through U.Va.'s "Race
and Place" project on the history of the Jim Crow era.
Filling three large boxes, the collection includes more than 250
letters, photographs and tintypes, and school documents shedding
light on rural education and community life in Virginia.
extremely valuable and rare to have a collection of such size
for an African-American family in the South in this period,"
said William G. Thomas, a historian and director of the Virginia
Center for Digital History, which will place the documents
and photos on the web. "They are a rich source about early
in the materials are rare issues of the "Children's Edition"
of the NAACP's magazine The Crisis, founded and edited by W.E.B.
DuBois; pupils' rolls and attendance records with names and ages,
official state school correspondence and teachers' ledgers, report
cards, extensive family letters and cards, diaries and letters
to African-American colleges in Virginia. There are also artifacts
such a scrapbook of national African-American newspaper clippings,
a fire insurance policy for the Yancey home, a pair of silk stockings
and reading glasses.
students affiliated with the Center for Digital History and undergraduates
from U.Va.'s Carter G. Woodson Institute for Afro-American and
African Studies will further evaluate and describe the documents
this summer and eventually help place them on the "Race and Place≤
web project, where they will be linked to other central Virginia
historic material available on the Internet to anyone researching
African-American segregation-era history.
papers were found last fall in the old Yancey house, which had
been abandoned since the mid-1950s and was being torn down. The
papers were brought to school officials, who contacted U.Va. archivists.
"There are not many such substantial African-American family
collections from that time," said Michael F. Plunkett, director
of Special Collections.
Mack Tate, the current principal at Yancey School, said the worst
inequalities of segregated schooling, along with bad roads and
horse and wagon transportation, demanded dedicated efforts of
both teachers and students.
in the boxes of documents, Yancey's contract stipulated that he
start a fire in the stove each morning and make sure the floors
were swept, for a salary of $25 a month. "He did it all,"
Tate said. "We're hoping that the papers will tell us more
about his life and will help make new connections."
a new, still-segregated, school was built in 1960 across from
the house, the PTA wanted it to be named for the schoolmaster
revered in community lore.