winner redefines "Jim Crow" era
Robert Brickhouse and Katherine Jackson
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
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 Universitys interdisciplinary
American Studies Ph.D. program in the fall. The highly competitive
fellowships pay tuition and living costs for the first year of
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
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.
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 Charlottesvilles history, thrived
during the Jim Crow era and contributed greatly to community life.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.