“Amanda: Colored Daughter of Virginia

Hidden History at Special Collections III

(In this on-again, off-again (mostly off-again) series, we look at interesting pieces found in unexpected placesnoteworthy items that, because they represent only a tiny part of a larger collection thats devoted to unrelated topicsremain concealed to all but the most thorough of researchers.)

Despite an increased interest in the past couple of decades, Blacksburgs early African-American experience remains an underrepresented piece of the towns history. Such projects as the restoration of St. Luke and Odd Fellows Hall as a museum of black history have done much to preserve a long-ignored history, but still African-American contributions to Blacksburgs early development remain greatly undocumented. With a dearth of primary sources, every scrap of information that comes to hand is a precious discovery. One such discovery is a brief, off-the-cuff essay found in the James Robbins Randolph Papers (Ms1971-001).

Born in 1891, James Randolph was the son of Lingan Randolph, a professor of mechanical engineering at Virginia Polytechnic Institute. The younger Randolph grew up in Blacksburg and obtained his own degree in mechanical engineering at VPI in 1912. After earning a masters degree at Harvard in 1921, Randolph taught physics and mechanical engineering at a succession of colleges and served in the U. S. Army Reserve Ordnance Department from 1931 to 1943.

Nearly all of Randolphs surviving papers consist of his notes and writings on various subjects. Not surprisingly, most of these writingsboth fiction and non-fictionfocus on science and technology, particularly rocketry. But within a collection of essays gathered under the title Maybe We Are Not Wanted on Mars is a brief, seemingly incongruous piece Randolph called Amanda: Colored Daughter of Virginia.

In his five-page essay, the professor offers his views of race relations in the South, focusing primarily on the Blacksburg of his youth. His viewpoints might today be considered at best nave, but they do offer some insights into race relations in Blacksburg a century ago. For example, Randolph attributes the necessity for the founding of New Town, a one-time historically black neighborhood near the present intersection of Main Street and Prices Fork Road, to an influx of new residents:

Before the Civil War in the South, Negroes and whites lived side by side because they belonged to each other, and seldom had occasion to move separately. After the war both found it expedient to stay where they were As the older people of both races died, or moved and were replaced by strangers, living side by side became less pleasant. So a group of Negroes bought a farm on the edge of town, divided it into lots, and called it Newtown.

Elsewhere in the essay, Randolph repeats his assertion that problems between the races resulted from disruptions by outsiders. Despite presenting a somewhat skewed look at the issue, Randolph recalls becoming aware at an early age that local relations between the races were not always easy, and that crises could erupt at any time:

Some of our students were from the mountains, where strange Negroes were apt to get shot, so we always feared a race riot, but it never came. As soon as we boys were big enough, Father told us how he planned to meet such an emergency. His plan was to round up as many as possible of our colored friends and get them into our house. Then he would take the front door, while we boys and the colored men took the back and sides. We were all good shots, and he explained that a man with peaceful intentions would come to the front door, whereas an enemy would try to sneak in somewhere else, so there was no harm in being trigger happy there.

It was around 1900, Randolph recalls, that two colored girls, Amanda and Ella began coming to us once a week to give the house a real cleaning. Thus began the familys lifelong friendship with Amanda, who eventually became the Randolphs cook. Later, when Amanda married, she and her husband John would live in the Randolph house while saving for a home of their own. Throughout the essay, Randolph writes of the couple with fondness and respect:

She and John were a thrifty industrious couple. He had his job. She worked part time for a white family, and she took in washing. She and John picked and canned fruits and vegetables on shares. They had fruit trees and a garden of their own. They had pigs and chickens. Their house was small and plain, but always neat. Their three daughters did well at school.

The Randolphs eventually left Blacksburg (James Randolph in 1914, his parents in 1918) but frequently corresponded with Amanda, and she visited the Randolphs in New Jersey on several occasions. James Randolph concludes his essay by remembering his last meeting with Amanda:

The last time I saw Amanda was when my fathers portrait was unveiled at the college where he had taught for so long Amanda and her three daughters were among the invited guests. Her oldest daughter, Clio [sic], took Mother there Amanda and I were talking when the meeting was called to order, and we sat down, side by side.

Randolph never provides Amandas last name, but a quick search of the census reveals the missing information. Among the inhabitants of the Randolph household in 1910, the census lists two servants named John B. and Amanda D. Rollins, aged 38 and 29, respectively. By 1920, John and Amanda owned a home of their own, which they shared with three daughters: Cleo, 10; Theriffee, 8; and Cuetta, 4. The census notes that the Rollins home was on a cross alley between Prices Fork Road and Main Street, placing it within the bounds of what was at that time New Town. The family continues to appear in Blacksburg through the 1940 census, which shows Amanda Rollins, a 61-year-old, widowed cook, living on New Town Alley with daughters Cleo Price, 30; and Quella Rollins, 23. Cemetery readings on findagrave.com reveal that Amanda Rollins died in 1950 and is buried in Blacksburg. John B. Rollins (1878-1931) is also buried there, as are the couples daughters, Cleo Rollins Price (1910-1974), Theriffa Rollins Christian (1911-1956), and Cuetta Virginia Rollins Webb (1916-1987).

For more on Blacksburg’s African-American history and Special Collections’ role in helping to preserve it, see Sam Winn’s post of October 19, 2015, “Uncovering Hidden Histories: African Americans in Appalachia.”

 

Uncovering Hidden Histories: African Americans in Appalachia

One of our many roles in Special Collections is to shed light upon hidden histories, uncovering communities that are traditionally marginalized or forgotten by time. The long history of African-Americans in Appalachia, for example, has traditionally been overlooked. Through the communities of New Town, Wake Forest, and Nellies Cave (among others), Montgomery County has a particularly rich legacy to explore. We work with historians, genealogists, community members, and other institutions to document and preserve these stories for future generations.

Newman Library currently hosts New Town: Across the Color Line, an exhibit documenting a predominantly African-American community that bordered the Virginia Tech campus until the late 20th century. Developed by the Virginia Tech Public History program, the exhibit includes items from the Blacksburg Odd Fellows Records (Ms1988-009) held by Special Collections. The exhibit will be open from October 5 through November 20.

Brochure for New Town Exhibit on display in Newman Library, October 5 - November 20

The Odd Fellows Records help document an important African-American civic institution in early 20th century Blacksburg. Researchers interested in the experiences of African-Americans in Montgomery County and greater Appalachia can find many other resources in Special Collections.Manuscript collections, photographs, oral history interviews, and rare books provide insight into the experiences of African-American communities from antebellum times through the present day. The Christiansburg Industrial Institute Historical Documents (Ms1991-033) represent a collaboration between the Christiansburg Industrial Institute Alumni Association and Special Collections to document the prestigious institutionthat educated generations of Virginia students from the 1860sthrough school integration.

Black and white photograph of Baily-Morris Hall, a building on the campus of Christiansburg Industrial Institute. Several African American teachers stand on a staircase in front of the building.
Baily-Morris Hall on Christiansburg Institute campus with teachers, date unknown.

Another collection, entitled Hidden History: The Black Experience in the Roanoke Valley Cassette Tapes and Transcripts (Ms1992-049), includes approximately forty-six interviews with African-American residents of Roanoke, Virginia about the cultural, social, and political history of their community. The research papers of historian and community activist Richard Dickenson (Richard B. Dickenson Papers, Ms2011-043) include a wealth of information about local African-American history, including the free communities of antebellum Montgomery County and the many civic institutions of Christiansburg. The John Nicolay Papers, (Ms1987-027) include research files and oral histories that provide insight into churches, local institutions, and the historic African-American community of Wake Forest.

These collections represent a small fraction of the primary sources and publications that document African-American history in Special Collections. More importantly, these resources point to an abundant history still waiting to be uncovered.

Climbing the Water Tower: How Women Went from Intruders to Leaders at Virginia Tech

In the early 1920s, the first female students at Virginia Tech were not quite welcome. They had special rules to follow, there were no dormitories for women, and male students would throw water on them as they passed by the dorms. But one day, Ruth Terrett, a civil engineering student, decided to show the men she could do just as well as them. She donned a cadet uniform and climbed the university’s water tower, a tradition the male cadets undertook to prove their strength and ability. That day, Ruth proved that women, when given the chance, could do what men could.

Women throughout Virginia Tech’s history have encountered many obstacles, and have consistently overcome them. Sam Winn and I recently searched through Special Collections’ holdings to document these women and their achievements in the university’s history. Our work culminated in an exhibit at the Alumni Associations Women’s Weekend and a slideshow, entitled “Climbing the Water Tower: How Women Went from Intruders to Leaders at Virginia Tech.” Let me share with you a few of those milestones now, or you can view the PDF of our slideshow here.

Women join the student population

Many people know the story of the first female students: twelve women, including five full-time students, enrolled in 1921. Two years later, transfer student Mary Brumfield received a bachelor’s in applied biology, earning her master’s from VPI in 1925, the first woman to achieve either degree. But, did you know women began attending VPI several years earlier? They were allowed to sit in courses during the fall and spring for no credit and were admitted to summer classes, starting in 1916. 1921 was still a milestone year as it was the first all courses were open to women seeking a college degree, because there was “no good reason for not doing so,” as the university bulletin states.

First female graduates: Mary Ella Carr Brumfield (23; 25); Ruth Louise Terrett (25); Lucy Lee Lancaster (25); Lousie Jacobs (25); Carrie Taylor Sibold (25)
First female graduates: Mary Ella Carr Brumfield (’23; ’25); Ruth Louise Terrett (’25); Lucy Lee Lancaster (’25); Lousie Jacobs (’25); Carrie Taylor Sibold (’25)

The first coeds, it must be admitted, were more than likely all white, given that segregation was legal due to Jim Crow laws and the Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) upholding separate but equal racial segregation in the public sphere. It’s not clear when women of color were first admitted to the university, but international students from Mexico, China, Puerto Rico, and other places were already attending VPI by the 1920s. We believe the first woman from India to attend VPI was Kamini Mohan Patwary, who earned a master’s in statistics in 1955. However, it wasn’t until 1966 that the first six African American women matriculated, thirteen years after the first African American man and 55 years after the first women. In 1968, Linda Adams became the first African American woman to graduate from Virginia Tech. (Read more about her on our previously blog post.)

There wasn’t much for women to do athletically in the early years, so Ruth Terrett, mentioned above, started an informal women’s basketball team before graduating in 1925. Women joined the cheerleading team in 1941, but were not officially recognized as members until the 1955-1956 school year. The first intramural women’s sport was basketball in 1967. Three years later, swimming became the first intercollegiate sport for women, and women were allowed to compete on the gymnastics team.

Because the Corps of Cadets did not admit women, Patricia Ann Miller was denied permission to enroll in Corps classes. Despite this, in 1959, she became the first woman commissioned during graduation when she successfully applied for a commission from the Army Women’s Medical Specialist Corps. Finally, in 1973, the Corps formed the L Squadron, exclusively for female cadets. Deborah J. Noss became the first female squadron commander and Cheryl A. Butler the first Black female cadet (and first Black female squadron leader the next year). In 1975, women were admitted to join the cadet band, and four years later, the L Squadron was disbanded to order to integrate women into the formerly all-male companies. In 1987, Denise Shuster became the first female regimental commander and in 2005, Christina Royal the first African American female regimental commander.

Female students who were not athletes or cadets had other ways of breaking the glass ceiling. In 1953, Betty Delores Stough became the first woman to receive a doctorate, in parasitology. Jean Harshbarger was the first woman elected class president for the Class of 1974. In 1968, Jaqueline D. Dandridge was the first woman of color in the homecoming court, and Marva L. Felder became the first Black homecoming queen in 1983.

Women join the workforce

What about the women working at VPI? Ella Agnew is often remembered as the first female home demonstration agent in the nation in 1910. When VPI became the headquarters for the Virginia Cooperative Extension in 1914, Agnew and the other agents became staff of the university. Agnew was also the first woman to receive VPI’s Certificate of Merit in 1926, and Agnew Hall was the first campus building named after a woman, in 1949. However, few realize she was not the first woman to work at Tech. In 1902, Frances Brockenbrough became Superintendent of the Infirmary, and the next year Mary G. Lacy became the first female Librarian and Margaret Spencer the President’s Secretary.

Other female agents worked for Extension during its early years at the university. In fact, although the African American division was headquartered at Hampton Institute, the agents were considered non-resident staff of VPI, first listed in the 1917 university catalog. One of these women was Lizzie Jenkins, who became the first Black female home demonstration agent in Virginia in 1913.

Women faculty members are first listed in the university catalog for 1921-1922. Mary Moore Davis ranked as a professor and worked as a state home demonstration agent in the Extension Division. She also established the home economics degree program at VPI. The first Dean of Women was Mildred Tate, who served from 1937 to 1947, and the first female academic dean was Laura Jean Harper, who in 1960 became the first Dean of the School of Home Economics. (Read more about her on our previously blog post.) Heidi Ford in 1970, Ella L. Bates in 1974, and Johnnie Miles in 1974 became the first female African American faculty members at Virginia Tech.

Women began achieving executive positions in the 1980s and 1990s. Sandra Sullivan was named Vice President for Student Affairs in 1982, and Peggy S. Meszaros served as the first (and currently only) female Provost from 1995 to 2000. Women started serving on the Board of Visitors in 1944, when VPI and Radford College merged. However in 2014, Deborah L. Petrine became the first female Rector in the university’s then 142-year history.

Women by the numbers

Virginia Tech has gone through enormous changes since its founding in 1872, especially in the growth of opportunities for women. Women on the staff have grown from one female administrative officer in 1902 to five women faculty members (only 4.7% of the faculty) in 1921 to 1,525 or 39.5% of the faculty in 2014. The student population has grown from 12 women or 1.3% of the students in 1921 to 13,241 women or 42.4% of the student population in 2014.

According to the Digest of Education Statistics, in Fall 2013, women accounted for 54.6% of enrolled students, 48.8% of faculty, and 54.5% of total employees (including faculty) in degree-granting public institutions in the U.S. However, the Digest also shows that women received only 30.8% of the degrees conferred by STEM schools in 2012-2013. So, as far as women have come, there’s still more to do.

An Uneasy Birth

Marking the 100th Anniversary of D. W. Griffiths Controversial Landmark Film, The Birth of a Nation

While recently pulling materials for an exhibit on silent films, I happened upon a small promotional flyer, probably from Blacksburgs Lyric Theatre, for D. W. Griffiths Birth of a Nation, which saw its initial theatrical release on March 3, 1915.

Though Griffith’s work is considered a watershed in cinematic history, few today can claim to have watched it in its entirety. The films relegation to a remote corner of public consciousness can be attributed to its silent film format (considered quaint or boring by most modern viewers) and to its treatment of a subject matter that is today widely seen as repugnant.

The Birth of a Nation purports to tell the story of Americas Civil War and the origin of the Ku Klux Klan during Reconstruction. In doing so, the film portrays the Klan as a noble organization devoted to protecting Southern society from marauding bands of brutish, lecherous Freedmen and their manipulative, hypocritical carpetbagger allies.

The Birth of a Nation flyer cover, depicting a cross-wielding Klan member in full regalia sitting astride a rearing horse, hints strongly at the films content and point of view.
The Birth of a Nation flyer cover, depicting a cross-wielding Klan member in full regalia sitting astride a rearing horse, hints strongly at the films content and point of view.

 

The plot for The Birth of a Nation was based on Thomas F. Dixon Jr.s novel The Clansman, the second volume in a trilogy about the Reconstruction South. A North Carolina Baptist minister, attorney, and state legislator, Dixon became a popular author around the turn of the 20th century, publishing more than 20 novels. The Clansman

The Clansman is among five of Dixons novels held by Special Collections. The librarys main collection holds several more titles.
The Clansman is among five of Dixons novels held by Special Collections. The librarys main collection holds several more titles.

is today remembered as his most famous (or infamous) work, and from it was drawn the films Southern apologist version of the Klans origins.

In bringing Dixons tale to the screen, Griffith spared no expense and pioneered a number of moviemaking techniques and technologies: The Birth of a Nation is said to have been the first film to employ night photography, panning motion shots, the iris effect, the intercutting of parallel action sequences, and many more advances that would become mainstays of cinematic narrative. Griffith also employed hundreds of extras in staging epic Civil War battle scenes and interspersed his story with accurate tableaux of scenes from American history. The film was unlike anything that movie-going audiences had seen to that time.

 

Inside, the flyer lists some of the innovations and enormous costs associated with the films production.
Inside, the flyer lists some of the innovations and enormous costs associated with the films production.

Griffiths accuracy and attention to detail exploited the publics willingness to take its history lessons from fictionalized accounts. An uninformed audience, seeing accurately portrayed historical scenes presented side-by-side with Dixons skewed view of events, might be partially forgiven for accepting all as fact. Even supposedly knowledgeable viewers, however, were enthralled by Griffiths prowess as a storyteller. The film is said to have been the first to be screened in the White House. After seeing it, President Wilson, himself a historian, reportedly said, It is like writing history with lightning. And my only regret is that it is all so terribly true. The films widespread popularity and its audience’s impressionability are credited with being partially responsible for the KKKs resurgence and rise to political prominence during the 1910s and 1920s.

CAPTION: A page from the flyer illustrates how The Birth of a Nation mixed historic events with a subjective, fanciful view of the Klans origins.
A page from the flyer illustrates how The Birth of a Nation mixed accurate historical depictions of the Civil War with with a subjective, fanciful interpretation of events.

Even in 1915, however, the film spurred controversy. The NAACP staged protests in several major cities and made repeated efforts to have the film banned from theaters. Letter-writing campaigns sought to educate the public on the facts of Reconstruction and to warn of the films inflammatory nature, while boycotts attempted to provide economic deterrents against the film’s release. Such efforts were in fact successful in having the film banned from the theatres of a handful of large cities but could not prevent its nationwide release.

Testimony to its immense popularity at the time, The Birth of a Nation continued to enjoy periodic revivals for years, and it is said to have remained Americas highest-grossing film until being toppled by another Civil War / Reconstruction epic, Gone with the Wind, more than twenty years later.

Despite his films overwhelming commercial success, Griffith was not immune to criticism. Partially in response to negative comments on his films racially intolerant themes, Griffith released his magnum opus, Intolerance, the following year. The three-and-a-half hour epic tells four parallel stories from different time periods of human history, each illustrating the catastrophic consequences of intolerance. Griffith would continue to make films throughout the silent era with varying degrees of success, but he never again matched the achievements of The Birth of a Nation and Intolerance.

Should The Birth of a Nation be considered an early cinematic masterpiece that is marred by its skewed interpretation of history and its outdated, hateful view of racial relations, or should any film (or other work of art) be considered a masterpiece when it advocates a point of view that is later almost universally abhorred as destructive and wrongheaded? In answering this question in his 2003 review of the film in 2003, critic Roger Ebert wrote: The Birth of a Nation is not a bad film because it argues for evil… [I]t is a great film that argues for evil. To understand how it does so is to learn a great deal about film, and even something about evil.

A New Look at the Diary of Jeffrey Wilson

A page from Jeffrey Wilson’s 1913 diary.

Our latest collection with a full transcription online is the Jeffrey Thomas Wilson Diary, which covers the entire year of 1913 in the life of Jeffrey Wilson, a prominent member of the African American community in Norfolk/Portsmouth, Virginia. The transcription project was funded by the Visible Scholarship Initiative, a collaboration between the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences and the University Libraries to provide mini-grants for projects that make visible the stages of research and creative scholarship in the liberal arts and human sciences. This particular project was a partnership between several faculty members in the History department, an undergraduate history student, and several members of the faculty here in Special Collections. The transcriptions for each of the 365 daily entries has been visually formatted and displayed as they appear on the page, and many words and phrases have been annotated with popup notes throughout.

The diary was written in a Wanamakers Diary (produced by the department store chain) actually designed for 1911. As Wilson states early on in the diary, I found myself unable to buy a diary like I wanted, therefore, I had to utilize this obsolete one changing days and dates. (January 6, 1913) Wilson hand-corrected the days of the week throughout to reflect 1913. What makes the diary so fascinating are the references Wilson makes to people, places and events that span nearly 70 years- from his childhood as a slave in antebellum Virginia, through the Civil War, the Reconstruction, the American Industrial Revolution and right up to the present time of his writing in 1913, as the early 20th century ushered in the modern world.

Jeffrey Thomas Wilson was born a slave in Portsmouth, Virginia, in 1843, and, according to his obituary, his mother was a slave owned by Mrs. Eliza Edwards, second wife of Thomas E. Edwards, one of Portsmouth’s wealthiest citizens of his day According to the obituary, he never attended school and learned to read and write in secret as a slave boy. At some point in his childhood, Wilson became owned by the Charles A. Grice family, who he lived with beginning in 1853. Wilson writes:

This day 60 years ago, the writer was a little slave boy living on Bermuda street in Norfolk with my dear mother and wicked stepfather. he was a hackman, and my mother was a laundress. It was from there a year or two later, that old man C.A. Grice, and his wife, came and arbitrarily carried me back to Portsmouth, and put me at work in the garden, planting Irish Potatoes. and it no more living with Mammie for me. I learned then that I was indeed a slave. All of them are gone from earth. Mammie to heaven I believe, since then, of course. Fifty eight years ago my brother John and me walked down to the ferry landing in Norfolk, and he got into a boat, and boarded a vessel lying in the stream, loaded for Boston, and made good his escape. I never seen him again for a eleven years. That was what termed the U.G.R.R. [Underground Railroad] The Yellow fever was so serious. White people had no time to look after runaway Negroes, but after the dying whites.(August 14, 1913)

In his teens, Wilson was the valet servant of Alexander Grice, the son of his owner, and traveled with him as he served with Company A, Cohoon’s Battalion, Virginia Infantry, at least during a part of 1862. In 1866, after being freed, Wilson enlisted with the U.S. Navy and traveled through Europe and the US. After his years of service, Wilson returned to Portsmouth and worked at the Portsmouth Navy Yard, as a laborer, and as a bailiff for the Federal Court at Norfolk.

Through the course of his long life, Wilson outlived four wives and had at least twelve children. At the beginning of this 1913 diary, he was 70 years old, and married to his fourth wife of 3 years, Blanche, who was only 34. Their first son, Wendell, whom Wilson talks about frequently throughout the diary, was just a few months old. The couple would have five more children before Blanches death. Another topic frequently mentioned throughout the diary is the Emmanuel AME Church in Portsmouth, where he taught Sunday school and served on the Official Board, the governing body of the church. Wilson was a devoutly religious man, and each of his daily entries starts with quotes from Biblical verses, sometimes in reference to the events of the day, and sometimes referring or in some way similar to the daily sayings supplied by the Wanamaker Diary itself.

In his later years, from 1924 until his death in 1929, Wilson wrote a column called “Colored Notes” for The Portsmouth Star. The column included social news, Wilson’s political views, and issues of race relations, all themes that occur throughout the diary as well. Wilson was one of the first prominent African American newspaper columnists, and as well-known and outspoken member of the Portsmouth African American community, his column is a notable resource for studying the history and outlook of the community in this time period.

With the diarys pages and transcript now available and fully-searchable online, this can hopefully be another valuable resource for studying the life of this fascinating man, as well as the African American community of Portsmouth and more generally of the minority experience during this time period. The diary is available online here.

Beatrice Freeman Walker Video Interview

Image of Beatrice Freeman Walker
Beatrice Freeman Walker

In a video interview on March 12, 2013, Beatrice Freeman Walker talked about growing up in Blacksburg during segregation, the changes she has observed in the town, and the historical significance of the St. Luke and Odd Fellows Hall. Mrs. Walker, who died on December 31, 2013, was a dynamic community member and cared deeply about the preservation of Blacksburgs African American history.

Born in 1926, the youngest of five siblings, Mrs. Walker grew up in Blacksburg at 202 Jackson Street. Her familys property went all the way to Progress Street where her father, Alonzo Freeman, had his dry cleaning business. Their home was on the border of the towns original grid of 16 blocks, which was laid out by William Black in 1797 and bounded by Draper Road, Jackson Street, Wharton Street, and Clay Street. In the 1970s, the town acquired her family home though eminent domain in order to expand the fire department, and she lived the remainder of her life in Christiansburg.

In the interview she recalled that when she was growing up, the children were unconscious of segregation. There were blacks on one side of the street and whites lived on the other. The problem, she said, It isnt the children. Its the parents.

At various times, her family also owned a beauty salon, an ice cream parlor where they served homemade hand-cranked ice cream, and a recreation place called Paradise View on what was then Grissom Lane, but is now called Nellys Cave. Daddy just owned it because we had croquet, horseshoe, badminton, bands, and sandwiches and sodas, she said. They would go up there for recreation. It was open on Saturdays and Sundays. People as far as Bluefield, West Virginia would come in and down there.

Among other jobs, Bessie (Briggs) Freeman, Mrs. Walkers mother, traveled in order to encourage membership in the St. Luke and Odd Fellows. This organization was important to the African American community because it helped people find opportunities for learning different trades and it sold insurance that people could borrow from when they wanted to send a child to college or when there was a death. The St. Luke and Odd Fellows Hall, built in the early 1900s, provided a gathering place for meetings, social events, and fundraisers.

Junior class, Christiansburg Institute, 1942. Beatrice Freeman, a class officer, is second row, second from the right.
Junior class, Christiansburg Institute, 1942. Beatrice Freeman, a class officer, is second row, second from the right.

After graduating from Christiansburg Institute in 1943, Mrs. Walker did civil service work in Washington, D.C. Later, she returned to Blacksburg and worked for several local businesses including Spudnuts (later called Carol Lee Doughnut Shop) on College Avenue, Litton Poly-Scientific, and in 1975, Volvo White Motor Company in Dublin, Virginia. While at Volvo, she was active in the United Auto Workers (Local 2069) and a strong advocate for her fellow employees.

St. Luke and Odd Fellows Hall
St. Luke and Odd Fellows Hall

Beatrice Freeman Walker was instrumental in the renovation of the Order of St. Lukes and Odd Fellows Museum Hall in Blacksburg. In 2004, Mrs. Walker, Walter Lewis, and Aubrey Mills were appointed as trustees.

Beatrice Freeman Walkers video oral history interview, which was conducted at the St.Luke and Odd Fellows Hall, may be accessed from Virginia Techs institutional repository, VTechWorks, managed by the University Libraries at http://vtechworks.lib.vt.edu/handle/10919/24714 Mrs. Walkers granddaughter, Latanya Walker, was present at the interview conducted by Tamara Kennelly. Scott Pennington was the videographer.

To learn more about the St. Luke and Odd Fellows Hall visit http://www.blacksburg.gov/index.aspx?page=73

Subject of Langston Hughess Scottsboro Limited is back in the news.

Scottsboro Limited by Langston Hughes with illustrations by Prentiss Taylor. The Golden Stair Press, 1932
Scottsboro Limited by Langston Hughes with illustrations by Prentiss Taylor. The Golden Stair Press, 1932

Langston Hughess Scottsboro Limited: Four Poems and a Play in Verse was published in 1932 by The Golden Stair Press of New York. It was written in response to a legal case, a miscarriage of justice, a notorious and infamous example of injustice in the Jim Crow South. . . that appeared again in the news this week.

On 25 March 1931, nine young black men, aged 12 to 19 were removed from a freight train by police and arrested at Paint Rock, Alabama. The authorities had been alerted by a group of young white men who, after a confrontation with the black teenagers aboard the train, had been forced off near Stevenson, Alabama. Two young white women, mill workers from Huntsville, were also taken from the train at Paint Rock. When in the custody of the police, the two women reported that they had been raped aboard the train by the young black men. A mob gathered that first evening in Scottsboro, but Alabamas governor, Benjamin Miller, ordered the National Guard to prevent the mob from lynching the young men.

Twelve days later, what became known as the trials of the Scottsboro Boys began. The defendantsOlen Montgomery, Clarence Norris, Haywood Patterson, Ozzie Powell, Willie Roberson, Charlie Weems, Eugene Williams, and brothers Andy and Roy Wrightwere divided into four groups and four separate trials were held. Five days later, eight of the nine had been convicted and sentenced to death by all-white juries. Roy Wright, the youngest of the nine, had been found guilty, but only eleven of the twelve jurors voted for the death penalty, even though the prosecution had requested a sentence of life-in-prison. Executions were scheduled for 10 July, the earliest possible date, according to law.

Justice

That Justice is a blind goddess
Is a thing to which we black are wise.
Her bandage hides two festering sores
That once perhaps were eyes.

Langston Hughes, from Scottsboro Limited

Over the next seven years a series of trials occurred that involved state and federal courts. Twice, cases were appealed before the U.S. Supreme Court. In November 1932 the Court ordered new trials for all the defendants, ruling that the right of the defendants to retain competent legal counsel under the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause had been denied by Alabama. In Haywood Pattersons second trial, which took place in April 1933, Ruby Bates testified that she and Victoria Price had made up the accusations of rape to deflect attention from their own violations of the law. Physical evidence was also introduced that lent credence to the testimony that no rape had taken place. Patterson was again found guilty and sentenced to death.

In April 1935, the Court, hearing arguments in the Patterson and Norris cases, held that the system of jury selection in Alabama that excluded African-Americans was unconstitutional. Convictions were again reversed. The state chose again to prosecute, and by January 1936, Haywood Pattersons fourth trial had begun. He was again convicted and given a 75-year sentence. After testifying at the trial, Ozie Powell was shot in the head by a sheriffs deputy while riding in the backseat of a car following an argument between the two men and an attack by Powell with a penknife that seriously injured the deputy. Powell was handcuffed to Clarence Norris and Roy Wright at the time. Though he survived, Powell was seriously disabled. The sheriff said that Powell was trying to escape.

The poem, Scottsboro was first published in the December 1931 issue of Opportunity:

"Scottsboro," a poem by Langston Hughes from Scottsboro Limited.
“Scottsboro,” a poem by Langston Hughes from Scottsboro Limited.

Scottsboro

8 Black Boys in a Southern Jail.
World, turn pale!

8 Black Boys and one white lie.
Is it much to die? . . .

 
 
 
 
Hughes spent much of the fall of 1931 writing about the Scottsboro case and visited Kilby Prison in Montgomery where eight of the nine young men were held in early 1932. His short verse drama, Scottsboro, Limited, had first been published in the October 1931 issue of New Masses and then republished in 1932, along with his four Scottsboro poems and illustrations by Prentiss Taylor in the Golden Stair Press edition (a copy of which is displayed here and is among the holdings at Special Collections). The play opened in Los Angeles in 1932 and was later performed in Paris and Moscow. Writing in The Cambridge History of African American Literature, Nicole Walingora-Davis describes the play in the following terms:

Hughes offers a caustic description of the collusion of the court with mob violence in Scottsboro, Limited. His compactly staged trial sequence captures the lethal efficiency of the Jim Crow court. By eliminating the prosecutor, defense attorney, and any evidence, and by interpolating the audience into the jury, Hughes stresses the cumulative effect of the procedural irregularites that marred the Jim Crow court: here the Judge presupposed the defendants guiltthe female plaintiffs testimony only confirms his presumption. Hughess concluding call to interracial solidarity and a revolutionary labor movement among black and white laborers functioned like an anthem in his writings, and sought to promote social and economic justice.

By the time Clarence Norriss third trial began on 12 July 1937, seven of the Scottsboro nine had been in prison for six years. By Wednesday of that week, Norris was again sentenced to death. Next to be tried was Andy Wright, who received a sentence of ninety-nine years. Charles Weems, whose sentence was delivered on 24 July, was given seventy-five years. Also that summer, all charges against Willie Robertson, Olen Montgomery, Eugene Williams, and Roy Wright, the youngest of the group, were dropped. The five others remained in Alabama prisons. Weems was paroled in 1943. Powell and Norris in 1946. After a parole violation, Andy Wright received parole in 1950. Patterson escaped from prison in 1948, and, after publishing a book while still a fugitive, was arrested by the FBI in 1950. The governor of Michigan refused Alabamas request for extradition. Clarence Norris published his own book, The Last of the Scottbsoro Boys, in 1979. He died ten years later, truly the last of the group of nine, on 23 January 1989.

* * * * *

But this post started by saying that the Scottsboro Boys were back in the news. Indeed. On 19 April 2013, the Governor of Alabama, Robert Bentley, signed House Joint Resolution 20, passed by the Alabama legislature on 4 April. The resolution formally exonerates all nine of the Scottsboro Boys. The signing ceremony was held at the Scottsboro Boys Museum and Cultural Center.

Its important to clear the names of the Scottsboro Boys, Governor Bentley said in a statement. This is the result of a bipartisan, cooperative effort, and I appreciate everyone who worked together to make this legislation a reality.

Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard added, The Legislatures unanimous passage of this important legislation and Governor Bentleys signature show that todays Alabama is far removed from the one that caused such pain for so many so long ago.

From Scottsboro Limited, the first pages of the play by Langston Hughes
From Scottsboro Limited, the first pages of the play by Langston Hughes in the 1932 edition

Hidden History at Special Collections: The Hammet Family Papers

When not discarded out of hand, personal papers and organizational records can sometimes-through a series of bequeathals, purchases, and other transfers-make their way into the most unexpected places. And no matter how detailed the guide to a manuscript collection may be, sometimes these items can go unnoticed by researchers. Such seems to be the case with the collection Im going to tell you about today: the Hammet Family Papers, which made their way into the papers of Virginia Governor J. Hoge Tyler and have remained there in relative obscurity despite being every bit as interesting as anything in Tyler’s own papers.

Long-time residents of the New River Valley and in-laws to Governor Tyler, the Hammets became owners of Mississippis Lammermoor cotton plantation through William Henry Hammet (1799-1865), Edwards brother. After graduating from the University of Virginia, William moved to Mississippi and established a medical practice in Vicksburg. In 1837, he married Evalina Metcalfe, and property laws of the era gave Hammet ownership of Lammermoor, which had passed to Evalina following the death of her first husband. Whether the plantation later passed to his brother following Williams death or had been purchased earlier is unclear. Among the papers, however, is Edwards written offer to purchase Lammermoor and its slaves for $300,000, an enormous amount of money at the time.

Some weeks after Mississippi seceded from the Union--and some weeks before Virginia would take the same step--Edward Hammet offered his brother $300,000 for Lammermoor and its slaves, plus another $50,000 for another plantation in a neighboring county.
Some weeks after Mississippi seceded from the Union–and some weeks before Virginia would take the same step–Edward Hammet offered his brother $300,000 for Lammermoor and its slaves, plus another $50,000 for another plantation in a neighboring county.

The Hammet Family Papers contain a treasure trove of records detailing the plantations operations, chronicling both antebellum and post-war cotton sales, as well as accounts with freedmen employed by the plantation. Also within the collection is Hammets medical ledger. With entries beginning in Vicksburg in 1836, then moving to Lammermoor after his 1837 marriage and continuing through 1851, Hammet lists the names of his debtors and briefly notes medicines dispensed and services performed. He seems to have been often called upon to treat injured and ailing slaves on neighboring plantations.

A sample page from William Hammet's medical practice account book. The first entry, from March 10, 1837, reads, "Col. Pursey To seting [sic] fractured leg for negro + 3 subsequent visits for [ditto] [$]50--." The larger handwriting at bottom left is that of Governor Tyler, who used this and other account books of the Hammets to record his own business transactions some decades later.
A sample page from William Hammet’s medical practice account book. The first entry, from March 10, 1837, reads, “Col. Pursey To seting [sic] fractured leg for negro + 3 subsequent visits for [ditto] [$]50–.” The larger handwriting at bottom left is that of Governor Tyler, who used this and other account books of the Hammets to record his own business transactions some decades later.
Also included in the collection are the papers of James P. Hammet (1832-1879), son of Edward Hammet and a graduate of the University of Virginia medical school. Following the death of his uncle William, James Hammet lived in Mississippi for a time, managing affairs at Lammermoor. Among Hammets papers are various records describing the work of freedmen, presumably at Lammermoor. The records include lists of workers names, days worked, rations issued, goods provided, and pay vouchers. Elsewhere, Hammet details infractions by workers, together with the fines he imposed on them for damages and as punishment.

Many of the journal entries made by James P. Hammet while managing operations of Lammermoor relate to fines he imposed on freedmen working at Lammermoor. The entry for March 30, 1866 reads: "Isaiah Green Wm Rayford overturned a wagon, Bale of Hay in water...  By [cause?] - Carelessness - Refused to pick it up - laid over night. Damages $10-." Elsewhere Hammet says of the workers, "A more triffling [sic] set never were congregated together."
Many of the journal entries made by James P. Hammet while managing operations of Lammermoor relate to fines he imposed on freedmen working at Lammermoor. The entry for March 30, 1866 reads: “Isaiah Green Wm Rayford overturned a wagon, Bale of Hay in water… By [cause?] – Carelessness – Refused to pick it up – laid over night. Damages $10-.” Elsewhere Hammet says of the workers, “A more triffling [sic] set never were congregated together.”
A tally of days worked by hands on Lammermoor Plantation, 1866. The number of hands listed (50) hints at the size of the plantation.

A tally of days worked by hands on Lammermoor Plantation, 1866. The number of hands listed (50) hints at the size of the plantation.
Voucher for wages due Charlotte Miller, freedwoman, by Lammermoor Plantation in 1866. Miller acknowledged receipt, by making her mark, on the reverse side of the slip.
Voucher for wages due Charlotte Miller, freedwoman, by Lammermoor Plantation in 1866. Miller acknowledged receipt, by making her mark, on the reverse side of the slip.
Among the business records of Lammermoor Plantation is what appears to be the account book of the plantation's store. This page details tobacco sold by the store. Many--perhaps all--of the purchasers were freedmen employed by the plantation.
Among the business records of Lammermoor Plantation is what appears to be the account book of the plantation’s store. This page details tobacco sold by the store. Many–perhaps all–of the purchasers were freedmen employed by the plantation.

In addition to the Mississippi records, Hammets papers contain his Virginia financial records, including those of his medical practice. A ledger maintained by Hammet includes detailed descriptions of a number of casesamong them the delivery of several babiesapparently while he studied medicine in Philadelphia. Hammets papers contain general account documents and a daybook (1873-1878) for his Christiansburg medical practice. The doctor lists patients names, services rendered, and fees. Elsewhere are a number of invoices from Hammet for services rendered to various patients, among them a number of African Americans.

A page from the Reconstruction-era daybook of James P. Hammet's medical practice in Christiansburg. Hammet records patient name, an abbreviated description of services rendered ("v" for "visit," "pres" for "prescription"?), and his fee. The first entry is for services rendered to Eliza Wood but charged to the county's overseer of the poor.
A page from the Reconstruction-era daybook of James P. Hammet’s medical practice in Christiansburg. Hammet records patient name, an abbreviated description of services rendered (“v” for “visit,” “pres” for “prescription”?), and his fee. The first entry is for services rendered to Eliza Wood but charged to the county’s overseer of the poor.

Though theyre buried in our collections, the Hammet papers are well worth the dig and would be a valuable resource forresearchers interested in Southern plantations, race relations during Reconstruction, 19th century medicine, or southwestern Virginia history. Further information on the Hammet Family Papers, comprising Series XI of the J. Hoge Tyler Family Papers, may be found in the collections finding aid.

Power to the People! The Revolutionary Literature of the Black Panthers

 

In celebration of Black History Month, the Special Collections reading room is currently displaying an exhibit on the Black Panther Party and the Black Power movement. The exhibit includes Black Panther newspapers and pamphlets published in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as earlier civil rights literature from the American Communist Party.

The Black Panther Party (originally the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense) was an African-American revolutionary socialist organization active in the United States from 1966 until 1982. It was founded in Oakland, California by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale. The partys inflammatory speech and advocation of violence for political gain made it extremely controversial, even within the Black Power movement. The Panthers were famous for organizing armed citizens patrols to evaluate behavior of police officers. Chants such as The Revolution has come, it’s time to pick up the gun. Off the pigs! pitted them against the establishment and increased racial tensions. The Panthers took advantage of a California law that permitted carrying a loaded rifle or shotgun as long as it was publicly displayed and pointed at no one. In their most famous incident, in May, 1967, 30 members entered the California State Assembly carrying their armed weapons- an event which was widely publicized, and which prompted a major overhaul in gun legislation. Despite the social program work performed by the Panthers, including the creation of a community school and free food programs, the criminal activities of Black Panther members and their confrontational, militant, and violent tactics against police caused the party to lose support in the civil rights community. To this day, the Black Panthers are infamous figures, representing a violent turn in the Black Power movement.

Special Collections owns six original issues of the Black Panther Partys official newspaper, The Black Panther, which are featured in this exhibit. The issues contain stories of injustice and police brutality, cartoons and information on how to carry out guerrilla attacks against the people and institutions the Black Panthers considered oppressive. Additionally, the front and back covers are adorned with the iconic art illustrations made by artist and Black Panther Minister of Culture Emory Douglas.

The pamphlets in the exhibit feature essays by important Black Panther leaders, including co-founder and self-appointed Minister of Defense Huey P. Newton. There is also a comic book titled The Adventures of Black Eldridge recounting the mythical exploits of Eldridge Cleaver. As Minister of Information, Cleaver was editor of the The Black Panther newspaper and exerted a lot of influence on the message and direction of the party.

Also included are pamphlets of earlier Black Power literature, all of which was affiliated with the American Communist Party. From the 1930s through the 1950s, the American Communists were at the forefront of promoting equal rights for African Americans and were intimately connected with the Black Power movement. One such pamphlet, entitled Equality, Land and Freedom: A Program for Negro Liberation, was published by The League of Struggle for Negro Rights, a group organized by the American Communist Party in 1930. The League campaigned for a separate black nation in the South, as well as against police brutality and Jim Crow laws. Langston Hughes, the famous Harlem writer and activist, became its President in 1934. Published between 1934 and 1935, this pamphlet sets out a Bill of Civil Rights for the Negro People decades before the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Another pamphlet, The Road to Liberation for the Negro People, was published in 1937 by the Daily Worker, a Communist newspaper. The Meaning of Black Powerwas written by James E. Jackson Jr., an official in the American Communist Party. During the McCarthy era in the early 1950s, he was indicted on charges of conspiracy and spent five years in hiding. In this pamphlet, published in 1966, Jackson works to define Black Power as a movement to bring about equal rights for African Americans by mobilizing these populations to vote and secure their rightful share of government power.

These are artifacts from a volatile period of American history as we struggled to achieve equality, documents that demonstrate the intensity and passion of those working for African American freedom and recognition.The exhibit will be up through the end of the month, so come take a look!