Little-known stories of black history in Virginia

Manassas, Va.—A new Manassas Museum exhibit, opening in time for Black History Month, will highlight 27 unique African American stories and events depicted on Virginia highway historical markers.

The exhibit, “Sites and Stories: African American History in Virginia,” illuminates the often little-known stories told in those familiar silver and black roadside historic markers found throughout the state.

Several biographies of prominent African Americans are included in the exhibit:

John Mercer Langston (1829-1897) was Virginia’s first African American congressman, serving one term for seven months in 1890. Born a free man in Louisa County, Langston graduated from Oberlin Col-lege before he became president of Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute (1885-1887) which is today known as Virginia State University.

William Mack Lee (1835-c.1930) served as Gen. Robert E. Lee’s valet and cook throughout the Civil War. He was with Lee at Appomattox and witnessed the surrender. After the war, Lee used money left to him by Gen. Lee to seek an education and in 1881 was ordained a minister.

James Leonard Farmer (1920-1999) was a major force in the civil rights movement, organizing the Free-dom Rides in 1961. The goal of the rides was to force compliance with court orders to desegregate inter-state transportation.

The exhibit also commemorates events and movements important to African American history:

n In August 1831, Nat Turner, an African American from Southampton County, rebelled against the institu-tion of slavery. He led a group of 70, that killed 60 white men, women and children in two days before armed civilians quelled the insurrection. Turner and about 30 of his followers were hanged after being tried and convicted.

n In 1951, students at the R. R. Moton School in Farmville, named after Tuskegee Institute President Robert Moton, boycotted classes to protest overcrowded conditions and inadequate facilities. The lawsuit, Davis v. Prince Edward County Schools, was one of the five cases decided jointly by the Supreme Court on May 17, 1954, when it held that separate schools for blacks and white were unconstitutional.

Virginia was one of the first states to launch a historical highway marker program. When the initial markers were erected in 1927, patriots, presidents, early homes and Revolutionary and Civil War sites were well represented.

The exhibit hopes to encourage visitors to travel to the physical sites of the markers. The exhibit and open-ing reception are included with admission.

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