Saving the Dunbar Rosenwald School in Fluvanna County, Virginia

Saving the Dunbar Rosenwald School in Fluvanna County, Virginia

At the “back” side of the Bremo plantations, there’s a community of African American families, many of whom have ties back to the days of slavery on those plantations.  If you’ve read my book The Slaves Have Names, you know many of those families – the Creasys, the Thomases, the Smiths, and many more.

Within this community, there is a beautiful school called Dunbar. Dunbar was an original Rosenwald School, built in 1923-24, using funds from the local community, the Rosenwald Fund (started by Julius Rosenwald of Sears Roebuck, Inc.) and the local government.  These schools were often the ONLY source of education for African American children in rural areas of the South.

Dunbar was open until the 1950s, and so many people I know attended this school up through 8th grade or so before moving over to the local black high, Abrams, for the final years of their education.

As you may know, many Rosenwald Schools are in danger of collapse due to neglect and disuse, but my friends Carmen and Stanley Smith are working hard to save Dunbar. For the past few years, they have been tirelessly cleaning the school, shoring up its structure, and working to make it a community center for everyone in the area.  (You can see some phenomenal pictures of the school here.)

We Can Help

Carmen and Stanley are in the midst of a major fundraising campaign so that they can complete the restoration and the transformation of this building. If you would like to contribute – and I hope you will – please follow this link and make your donation. (Please note – there is a problem with the site at this moment, so please keep trying if you’d like to donate.)

If you’ve read my book Charlotte and the Twelve, then you know I believe these important pieces of history and community story are vital in our process of healing and knowing one another as a nation.  I cannot wait to see what Carmen and Stanley do here, and I hope you will join me in being part of this great work.

Make your donation here. 

The Slave Dwelling Project and the University of Virginia – An Opportunity to Present

The Slave Dwelling Project Conference at the University of Virginia

In October, researchers, historians, genealogists, and others are invited to attend the Universities, Slavery, Public Memory, and the Built Landscape Symposium put on by The Slave Dwelling Project and the University of Virginia. Currently, the Symposium is accepting presentation proposals, and I will be putting forth a panel proposal. I hope you’ll join me.

If you’d like more information about the Symposium, please visit this link. 

Hope to see you here in Virginia in October. 

A Threat to a Historic African American Neighborhood in Wingina, Virginia

threat to historic African American neighborhood in Wingina, Virginia

The Wingina Post Office Store that Woodsons constructed.

In several nearby counties, historic African American neighborhoods are under threat from pipelines that will cross through or set up pumping stations directly in their communities. Many people would prefer a utility pipeline not run near their homes, but African American neighborhoods are quite often targeted as places of “low impact” by utility companies.

Such is the case in the community of Wingina in Nelson County, Virginia.  Historically, Wingina was a riverfront community of several plantations. As is often the case in Virginia, the newl- freed individuals who once made up the enslaved communities on these plantations came to settle near the plantations on which they once worked and lived.  In Wingina, many people bought land and built their lives near Union Hill Plantation.

The Woodson Family – A Family of Distinction

Rhamonia Woodson, a descendant of enslaved people from Union Hill and Oak Ridge Plantations, recounts her family’s deep roots and rich contributions to this community in her letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission:

Our ancestors built the James River Canal and Kanawha Bridge.  . . Not only are our families’ properties, acquired after the Civil War, part of the cultural landscape of historically important houses and historic districts of Nelson County, but we were the builders of those historic resources. The Wingina Post Office Store, Montezuma, Bon Aire, just to name a few, are a portfolio of our accomplishments, recognized and often registered historic manifests that our Woodson ancestors helped to establish.

We started from the Union Hill and moved, not far, to Cabell Road. So proudly, we uphold our existence in this community, maintaining, amongst the families related by slavery, a cherished bond, which we still gather to celebrate. We are still here! It’s the truest form of life we know. I strongly believe that a decision to use this Wingina community on the ACP [Atlantic Coast Pipeline] proposed route a target practice of racial discrimination.

I couldn’t agree with Ms. Woodson more.  When government agencies and corporations discount – or worse even target – African American communities as lacking not only historic significance but also present day importance, they are acting out of the systemic, racist practices that have governed our country since the day it was created.  We cannot allow this practice to continue.

I stand with the Woodson, Venable, Dillard, Early, White, Rose, Fleming, Mayo, and Horsley families of Wingina as they oppose this threat to their home and their history.

If you know of African American communities under threat from actions such as these, please do let me know. I’d be happy to share this space as a way for you to spread the word about these terrible acts.  

Help Save The Buena Vista Colored School

Help Save the Buena Vista Colored SchoolIf you’ve read my book Charlotte and the Twelve*, then you know how much I treasure the stories and history found in black schools. The school in that story is very similar to a beautiful, old building full of history and stories that community members in Buena Vista are working so hard to restore and preserve.  The Buena Vista Colored School was the only school for African American children to attend grades 1-7 from the years 1892-1957, and this particular building was in use from 1914-1957 (the previous building was destroyed in a fire).

Even though I set both of my books, Steele Secrets* and Charlotte and the Twelve, in a town based on Buena Vista, which is where my father-in-law and husband were raised, it wasn’t until just a couple of months ago that I actually learned the rich history of the BV Colored School for the first time.  It’s tucked up and out of town a bit and now sits surrounded by apartment buildings.

But it’s an absolutely beautiful structure – all-brick with wide-plank floors and the chalkboards still ready and waiting on the walls.  You can get a great look around in the video for this news story.

I hope you’ll consider helping to spread the word and support this great work being down in this small mountain town here in Virginia.  We need to preserve these places so that the full story of our history is told and remembered.

Get more information about the school and how you can help here.