Celebrating Black History Month

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February is Black History Month, and in the Shenandoah Valley, numerous businesses and agencies are taking an uplifting look at the achievements and involvement of Blacks in every aspect of American culture. Throughout the Valley there will be a number of events, lectures, programs and historical sites bringing many aspects of Black history into focus. Below we list a few examples you should know about.

In Winchester
Justin R. Kerns, Executive Director, Winchester-Frederick County Tourism Office, told us, “We’ve recently partnered with the City of Winchester to help get the story of Spottswood Poles out there. He was a standout Negro League baseball player and World War I hero from Winchester. Notable things from this past year: road named after him, interpretive marker placed at the baseball fields at Jim Barnett Park, and a state Historical Marker was just approved and will be installed early this year.

“Beyond that, Belle Grove Plantation is continuing its work on uncovering and telling the enslaved stories on their property. They partner with surrounding Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park to hold several events per year focused on this history. The calendars for 2020 are not solidified yet.”

On February 25, the Vocal/Choral Division faculty of Shenandoah University/Conservancy, will present a special recital dedicated to African American composers; at Goodson Chapel Recital Hall, 540-665-4569.

Also in Winchester, the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley will be hosting the following:

  • February 7—Eye of the Curator: Robert Cross.  Curator of Collections Nick Powers focuses on the whimsical and unique sculptures of African American folk artist Robert Cross.
  • February 9– Freedom Soundtrack and Protest Playlist.  Gospels, spirituals, and protest songs from the American Civil Rights Movement performed by Shenandoah University’s Harambee Gospel Choir and interpreted by Dr. James Coates.
  • February 20—Lunch and Learn: Civil Rights in Virginia. Learn about the Civil Rights Movement and school desegregation in Winchester with author/historian Judy Humbert, a 1965 graduate of Douglas School, Winchester’s African American high school during the days of segregation.

In Harrisonburg
At the Lucy F. Simms Continuing Education Center (620 Simms Ave., Harrisonburg, 540-437-9213), the following programs (all free admission) will be held:

  • February 8– Remembering Black Baseball in Virginia. A reunion of players from the Virginia Black Baseball League, in the Shenandoah Valley and beyond, with author Darrell J. Howard, who wrote Sunday Coming– Black Baseball in Virginia.
  • February 15– Send Judah First: The Erased Life of an Enslaved Soul. Author Brian Johnson will discuss his book and share his research and experiences.
  • February 22– The Genesis Project with Jeff Taylor and the Shenandoah Valley Black History Project. The recent discovery of a forgotten burial ground in Warren County and the work to recover others will be discussed.

In Bedford
Poplar Forest will be offering its “Enslaved Community Talks” on Saturdays and Sundays in addition to their regular house tours. The talks give more detail and insight into the enslaved men, women, and children who lived and worked at Poplar Forest. They are also given in the only intact slave quarter on the property: a triplex built in the 1850s by the Hutter Family, who owned the house after the Jeffersons.  Also offered are special Parlor talks on Saturdays on different topics pertaining to Jefferson, his time, and the house. The talk scheduled for Feb. 22nd is called “Fireball in the Night: Slavery and the American West,” and will be about the Missouri Compromise and how it affected slavery in the country as a whole.

Also in Bedford, on February 20 at the Bedford Area Welcome Center, there will be a lecture on “The Forgotten Rosies,” African American Women in WW II.

In Lynchburg
Lynchburg, considered a gateway to the Shenandoah Valley, is home to the Legacy Museum of African American History. Rotating exhibitions and programs communicate all aspects of local African American history and culture, from the first arrival of Africans in Central Virginia until the present day. On display are historical artifacts, documents and memorabilia relating to achievements of the African American Community in Lynchburg and the surrounding area. Open Wednesday – Saturday from 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. and Sunday 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Located at 403 Monroe St., 434-845-3455.

Research groups are always a good source of information on this topic. A good place to start is the Shenandoah Valley Black Heritage Project, 540-560-2560. They operate a Heritage Center at 425 Hill Street in Harrisonburg, open by appointment and on Wednesdays from 11:00 a.m.to 3:00 p.m.

Banner photo: painting by Ann Van de Graaf  for the Legacy Museum courtesy Virginia Tourism Corporation 

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