Center Puts Yancey Collection on the Web
Offer A Rare Glimpse Of African-American Life And Education In The
Rural South Of The Early 1900s
6, 2001-- In the early 1900s, an African-American
schoolmaster named Benjamin Franklin Yancey traveled each summer
from his rural Virginia home to work at low-paying jobs in white
hotels in Richmond, Norfolk or West Virginia to support his family.
He wrote often to his wife asking about his one-room school, their
childrens clothes and shoes, the corn and potatoes hed
planted, and whether the cow had had her calf.
a few years, graduates of the school hed founded were writing
to him, and later to his widow, about such topics as their college
exams, life in the U.S. Air Force, and preparations for a doctoral
of some 250 letters and papers of the B. F. Yancey family of Esmont
in Albemarle County, one of the most extensive family collections
offering glimpses of rural southern African-American life and education
during the early-20th century segregation era, was discovered
two years ago in the attic of a boarded-up house.
sorted and summarized by University of Virginia history graduate
students, the letters have been transcribed and placed on the World
Wide Web as part of U.Va.s "Race and Place" project
on the history of the Jim Crow period in central Virginia. Meant
to be useful to
schoolchildren studying history, to scholars researching the era,
to genealogists, or anyone interested in southern history, the Yancey
archive may be read and searched at www.vcdh.virginia.edu/afam/raceandplace/personal.html
collection will be essential to any scholar of early 20th
century African-American family life," said Kimberly A. Tryka,
associate director of the Virginia Center for Digital History, which
sponsors the "Race and Place" project with U.Va.s
Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American Studies.
African-American historical material about the era consists of census
and other official records and newspaper accounts, she said. "A
collection of letters such as this offers a much more personal picture."
who died in 1915, came to rural Albemarle County in the 1890s to
found, raise money for, and teach at the Esmont school for African-American
children. One of the first black educators in Central Virginia in
the decades following slavery, he and his wife Harriet Yancey corresponded
often with family members, former students, friends and relatives
throughout the country about topics ranging from community life
to education and church matters to local gossip.
family appeared close-knit and supportive of one another,"
said William G. Thomas III, director of the digital history center.
"Scrapbooks collected by family members indicate their interest
and pride in being African-American and the importance education
had in their lives."
current elementary school in Esmont is named for Yancey, who is
revered in community lore, but his descendants have long moved out
of the area. To supplement the
Papers archive, graduate research assistants with the "Race
and Place" project have begun conducting oral histories with
longtime residents in the Esmont area, and that material too will
eventually be published.
About "Race and Place: An African-American Community in the
Jim Crow South." It 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,
from about 1870 to 1930. The 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.
The Yancey Papers manuscripts are now in the librarys Albert
H. Small Special Collections Library.
is on the Web at http://www.vcdh.virginia.edu/afam/index.html
Bob Brickhouse, (434) 924-6856