Discovered Papers Of Early Black Educator Present Rich Resource
On Segregation-Era Rural Virginia
20, 2000 -- Dear
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. Rosa Bell Simpson
1910 letter from a young student at Virginia Normal Institute (now
Virginia State University) 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 at the University of Virginias
Alderman Library Special Collections and eventually to 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, 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 African-American children.
collection, filling three large boxes, includes more than 250 letters,
photographs and tintypes, and school documents shedding light on
rural education and community life in Virginia. "Its
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 education."
in the materials are rare issues of the "Childrens Edition"
of the NAACPs 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 community
material and artifacts such as a church congregation photo, mens
lodge cards and ribbons, wedding announcements, a scrapbook of national
African-American newspaper news, even a fire insurance policy for
the Yancey home and a pair of silk stockings and reading glasses.
Center for Digital Historys graduate students and undergraduates
from U.Va.s Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-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 across from todays school 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. "It should help
tell more about the society he lived and worked in."
Mack Tate, the current principal at Yancey School, said community
oral history has been a main source of information about the educator
for whom todays school is named. The turn-of-the-century era
of bad roads and horse and wagon transportation, and the worst inequalities
of segregated schooling demanded dedicated efforts of both teachers
and students, he said. Yancey headed the Mens League which
raised funds to buy the land on which a community school was built.
His daughter May Yancey taught at the Esmont school in decades following
her fathers death. When a new, still-segregated, school was
built in 1960, the PTA wanted it to be named for the schoolmaster
revered in community lore.
in the boxes of documents, Yanceys 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. "Were hoping that the papers will tell us
more about his life and will help make new connections."
and Place: An African-American Community in the Jim Crow South,"
a collaboration between the Virginia Center for Digital History
and Woodson Institute for Afro-American and African Studies, is
a World Wide Web site that combines searchable databases of important
primary sources with historical exhibits on African-American life
in Charlottesville and Albemarle County, Va., from about 1870 to
web site invites users to explore an extensive collection of archival
materials from the age of segregation, including hundreds of photographs,
newspaper articles, letters, and other documents drawn from various
collections at U.Va.'s Alderman Library.
and Place: An African-American Community in the Jim Crow South"
is on the World Wide Web at http://www.vcdh.virginia.edu/afam/index.html
interviews or additional information about the Yancey papers contact:
Bob Brickhouse, (804) 924-6856
William Thomas, director, Virginia Center for Digital History,
Michael Plunkett, director, Alderman Library Special Collections,
Mack Tate, principal, Yancey Elementary School, (804) 286-3768