May 18-24, 2001
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Waters' mission runs deep
Two graduates honored for their service to humanity
Student aids the homeless

Mellon winner redefines "Jim Crow" era

Pre-med student shares his passion for music
Fast-track grad driven to help his family
Student leads effort to install Braille on Lawn room doors
Creative recycling: Students convert crate into studio
Lawson lives richly
Can you go home again? Issues facing international students
Education delayed but not denied
Weaver finds election laws discriminatory
Quilter gets A+
Students to go abroad on Fulbright scholarships
Weddle will research Peruvian women
Graduate rich in lessons learned
Anthony defender of public good
Affinnih plays her cards strategically
After earning degree in two years, graduate going for two more
Student develops new sign language system
Student trio pushes for late-night joe
Brandi Hughes
Stephanie Gross
Brandi Hughes

Mellon winner redefines "Jim Crow" era

By Robert Brickhouse and Katherine Jackson

Brandi Hughes’ groundbreaking research into African-American history in Charlottesville has created a new picture of life under “Jim Crow” laws. Her efforts have earned her an Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship.

Hughes of Yorktown, Va., one of 85 students throughout the country and one of only three at Virginia colleges chosen to receive a 2001 Mellon award, will enter Yale University’s interdisciplinary American Studies Ph.D. program in the fall. The highly competitive fellowships pay tuition and living costs for the first year of doctoral study.

“Throughout her undergraduate career she has always been a strong, careful and thoughtful scholar,” said William G. Thomas, one of her U.Va. teachers and director of the Virginia Center for Digital History. Hughes’ research, and that of other students who work with the center and U.Va.’s Carter G. Woodson Institute for Afro-American and African Studies, has unearthed new historical information about Central Virginia that is placed on a World Wide Web archive called “Race and Place.”

An English and American Studies major elected to Phi Beta Kappa, Hughes has been a major contributor for three years to the archive, which focuses on the Jim Crow era of racial segregation in Charlottesville. Drawing on hers and other students’ research into the period from the late 1880s to the mid-20th century, the archive contains extensive photos, letters, census data, maps, business records, newspaper collections and other material that offer new glimpses into the life of a segregated southern community of that era. Several leading U.Va. historians work closely with the project.

“It was fascinating to me to see the sheer number of African Americans who owned land and property here,” said Hughes, who spent the last two summers reading early-20th century land records in local courthouses. She and other students have brought forth considerable data showing that, despite many obstacles, a strong black middle class, largely overlooked in Charlottesville’s history, thrived during the Jim Crow era and contributed greatly to community life.

Local churches played key roles in helping African Americans “network” together to improve their financial resources. Long before the 1960s, strong civil rights activities were under way here. Charlottesville was a “locus” for close connections among the Richmond, Washington, D.C. and Hampton-area black communities of the time, Hughes said. Despite segregation laws, there was more interracial cooperation and collaboration and less neighborhood segregation than was previously supposed. Such findings “call for a reinterpretation of the Jim Crow South,” especially in small cities outside the Deep South, she said.

Hughes’ contributions to humanities research on the Web have been so strong she was one of just a few students selected to participate last year in an “e-summit” conference with U.Va. alumni heading major technology companies.

“The Web is great for sparking interest,” she said. “It can lead you to further research.” But historical research will always involve the hands-on work of reading and interpreting real documents and oral histories, she said.

Like many students, Hughes was unclear about her direction when she arrived at college. Through the mentoring program in the Office of African-American Affairs she became interested in American Studies, with its interdisciplinary focus, and the Woodson Institute, which chose her for its “emerging scholars” program. Now, “she is not just emerging any more,” Thomas said.

Hughes’ advice to entering undergraduates, whether sure or unsure of directions: “Be flexible in your interests. Stay as open and creative as you can. Be willing to explore.”




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