spotlights Virginia's African-American historical sites
Dowell-Vest directs the African-American Heritage Program,
a project of the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and
Public Policy. The foundationšs president, Robert Vaughan,
at right, says the foundation is concerned with defining what
is most valuable in our cultural history and preserving it.
July 1944, Irene Morgan refused to give her seat to a white passenger
when she was riding on a Greyhound bus from Gloucester, Va., to
Baltimore. The driver called a sheriff; when he tried to pull
her off the bus, Morgan fought back, assaulting him.
took her case to the Supreme Court, assembling a legal team that
included Thurgood Marshall and Oliver Hill. In 1946, nine years
before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a municipal bus,
the court ruled that interstate buses could not be segregated.
Gloucester homeplace is one of more than 340 historical sites
being catalogued as part of the statewide African-American Heritage
Program. Based at the Virginia
Foundation for the Humanities and Public Policy, the program
aims "to educate people about the contributions of African
Americans from Virginia and to help promote sites associated with
them," said coordinator Teresa Dowell-Vest.
program has three parts: building a database, which will be available
on the Web this fall; dispensing about 25 grants of up to $3,000
each over three years to museums and history-marking projects;
and developing "trails" around the state to help lead
people to the various sites. The last of these is a joint project
of the VFH and Virginia Tourism Corporation, which will work together
to create a travel guide to be published next spring.
Gilmore wants Virginia, which currently ranks 10th in the nation
for tourism revenues, to be in the top five," said Dowell-Vest,
adding that the state has given the program $500,000 to be used
over three years.
Fork one-room school, ca. 1910. Courtesy: Bland Co. History
Archives, John Dodson, director.
constructing a database of sites across the state, encouraging
organizations to increase their programming," she said, gesturing
toward a map of Virginia covered with 340-plus push pins, each
representing a historic place.
sites range from such well-known tourist attractions as Monticello
and Colonial Williamsburg to such seemingly insignificant ones
as the Bannaker Boundary Stone in Northern Virginia, showing where
Benjamin Bannaker helped lay out the city of Washington, D.C.
a small stone with a fence around it, and doesn't look that impressive,
but it's important for people to know where it is," Dowell-Vest
the larger sites, Montpelier is making plans for the 250th anniversary
of James Madison's birth.
presenting a more complete story of his life as an entrepreneur,
a farmer, a framer of the Constitution," she said. "He
couldn't have done all these things if he hadn't had the labor
of slaves. They're encouraging the descendants of those slaves
to visit, and [they're] collecting oral histories."
towns in Virginia, including Petersburg, Richmond, Lynchburg,
Winchester, Gloucester and Hampton, have maps to African-American
Many of the sites are dilapidated, because, "for so long,
we as black people were not in the habit of preservation, unless
it was a functional building like a church," she said.
"History has become important to African Americans [in the
last decade]. 2000 has been a big push to collect oral histories
and artifacts that tell the stories of our people," she said.
"We're trying to catalog our legacy."
lot of the sites in the database are on the National Register
of Historic Places, including the Mt. Zion Baptist Church on Ridge
Street in Charlottesville; the Booker T. Washington National Monument
in Hardy (Franklin County); and the Ann Spencer House in Lynchburg,
commemorating a poet from the Harlem Renaissance.
Other sites include the Black History Museum and Cultural Center
in Richmond; the Christiansburg Institute, the only secondary
school for blacks in Southwest Virginia for much of this century;
and Hampton University, founded in 1868 to educate newly emancipated
African Americans, as well as Native Americans.
of the sites are not open to the public, but people still want
to see them.
history is often invisible. So many sites have been erased. They
may have been paved over to create a mini-mall or [a] hotel,"
she said, alluding to Charlottesville's Vinegar Hill district,
an African-American neighborhood and business district that was
razed in the 1960s to make way for "urban renewal."
(Dowell-Vest wrote a play about the neighborhood's history that
was performed in Charlottesville earlier this year.)
"I hope this program will encourage people to visit places
like Pittsylvania and Gutenberg counties, which are filled with
small, rural towns. ... They've been home to African Americans
for a long time," she said.