Willing To Explore": Mellon Fellowship Winner And Colleagues
Draw A New Picture Of "Jim Crow" Era In Central Virginia
2, 2001-- Intensive research in African-American
history and culture, including contributions to important new findings
about the Charlottesville area, helped win a prestigious Andrew
W. Mellon Fellowship for a graduating University of Virginia literature
and history student.
Hughes of Yorktown, one of 85 exceptionally promising 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, offered by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, pay tuition
and living costs for the first year of doctoral study.
her undergraduate career, she has always been a strong, careful
and thoughtful scholar," says 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 African American 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 honors 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 undergraduate and graduate student research into the
period from the late 1880s to the mid-20th century, it contains
extensive photos, letters, census data, maps, business records,
newspaper collections and other material that offer new glimpses
of life in a segregated southern community of that era. Several
leading U.Va. historians work closely with the project.
has researched census, land and business records in libraries and
courthouses, deciphering handwriting, transcribing documents, printing
microfilm and discussing and writing interpretations. Web experts,
she and student-colleagues digitize new historical material so it
can be searched on the Web by genealogists, historians, students
and anyone wanting to learn more about the areas history.
(The Race and Place Web site is at www.vcdh.virginia.edu/afam/raceandplace)
she spent the last two summers reading early-20th century land records
in local courthouses, Hughes says, "it was fascinating to me to
see the sheer number of African Americans who owned land and property
here." She and other students have brought forth considerable data
showing how, despite many obstacles, a strong black middle class,
largely overlooked in Charlottesville's history, thrived during
the Jim Crow era and contributed hugely to community life. A local
black-owned real estate company, the Piedmont Industrial Land Co.,
was one of the first and largest in Central Virginia. Prominent
black entrepreneurs, such as John West, a barber, became major property
holders and community figures. 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 locally. And Charlottesville was a "locus" for close
connections among the Richmond, Washington, D.C. and Hampton-area
black communities of the time, Hughes says. 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 says.
contributions to humanities research on the Web have been so strong
she was selected by faculty members last year to participate in
an "E-summit" conference with U.Va. alumni heading major
technology companies. Despite her commitment to placing useful information
on the Web, she says historical research will always involve the
hands-on work of reading and interpreting real documents and oral
histories, and much thinking. "The Web is great for sparking interest,"
she says. "It can lead you to further research."
many students, Hughes was unclear about her direction when she arrived
at college. She knew she loved to read. "It became facisinating
to me to see how history was written and can have many interpretations,"
she says. 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,
she was chosen for its "emerging scholars" program. Now, "she
is not just emerging any more," says Thomas, the historian
who heads the digital research center.
Yale with a Mellon fellowship, Hughes wants to teach. Her wide curiosity
includes literature and law as well as history. Her 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
Bob Brickhouse, (804) 924-6856 or Katherine Jackson, (804) 924-3629