by Aila Boyd
The Botetourt County Historical Society and Museum is celebrating Black History with a display that highlights the lives of African- American residents of Botetourt County.
The display is largely the fruit of Judy Barnett’s labor. She explained that she fi rst started researching the lives of African-American residents of Botetourt back in 2004 after her brother, Edward, sparked her interest in local history.
“He was very big into history and could retain a lot of information,” Barnett said of her brother. When they fi rst combined resources, Barnett and her brother went and conducted interviews with the oldest members of all of the communities throughout the county. Barnett explained that the interviews were very fruitful and provided them with many leads. Edward passed away in 2009, leaving Barnett to continue what he had started. After retiring in 2007, Barnett has been able to spend considerably more time researching local history. “People are very nice about giving us information and pictures about their families,” Barnett said.
Barnett, a Botetourt County native, said that she’s been able to trace her roots back to her great-great-grandparents. Unfortunately, the records stop there due to the fact that very few records were kept about slaves. Barnett said that she remains hopeful that more information about her family will emerge as she continues her research. In addition to seeking more information about her own family history, Barnett said that she’d like to be able to fi nd out more about Lithonia M. Gibbs, the founder of the Botetourt County-Wide League. Some of the other exhibits on display include: The Jeanes Fund The Jeanes Fund was founded by Anna T. Jeanes.
Jeanes, born a Quaker in Philadelphia in 1822, inherited her family’s wealth and used it to construct and endow The Jeanes Fund, which supported “supervisors of Negro education” until 1968. The goal of the program, as indicated in her will, was to “encourage moral infl uence and social refi nement which shall promote peace in the land, and goodwill among men.” Georgia Meadows Various newspaper clippings highlight the life and career of Georgia Meadows, a Botetourt County native. Meadows, an African-American, graduated from the Virginia Normal Industrial Institute and Virginia State College (later renamed Virginia State University), before returning to Botetourt County to teach in a two-room schoolhouse. She was employed by Botetourt County Public Schools from 1923 to 1971, teaching at Lignite School, Buchanan Elementary School, and Eagle Rock Elementary School.
During that time, she spent one year teaching in Amherst County. In addition to her work as an educator, Meadows was an activist and church leader. Rosenwald Fund The Rosenwald Fund was established by Julius Rosenwald, former president of Sears, Roebuck and Company, to address a wide range of social issues. Most notably, the fund assisted in the building of rural schools for African-Americans.
Information from the Fisk University Rosenwald Fund Card File Database about local schools built in part with the assistance of the Rosenwald Fund is on display. The information indicates that Eagle Rock School, which sat on two acres of land, was built during the 1925-1926 budget year. The total cost of the school was $3,892. Funding sources included: $800 from Negroes, $2,392 from the public, and $700 from the Rosenwald Fund.
Pictures of the school are also included. Buchanan School, which sat on two acres of land, was built during the 1924-1925 budget year. The total cost of the school was $7,272. Funding sources included: $1,000 from Negroes, $5,372 from the public, and $900 from the Rosenwald Fund. Indian Rock School, which was a two-teacher school, cost $3,200 to build. Funding sources included: $400 from Negroes, $100 from whites, $2,400 from the public, and $300 from the Rosenwald Fund.
Roanoke-Botetourt County, which was a four-teacher school, was built during the 1920- 1921 budget year, costing $11,500. Funding sources included: $1,800 from Negroes, $1,000 from whites, $7,500 from the public, and $1,200 from the Rosenwald Fund. Maggie Pogue Johnson Maggie Pogue Johnson, a poet, was born in Fincastle in 1881. After receiving her degree from what is now Virginia State University, Johnson began teaching. She went on to be published, winning notices in “The Negro in Virginia,” “Who’s Who in the Negro Race,” and “American Contemporary Poets.” Johnson passed away in 1956. Norvel Lee Norvel Lee, born in 1924 in Eagle Rock, was an Olympic Gold Medal winning boxer. He won his Gold Medal at the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki, Finland. A member of the military, Lee trained to become a pilot in Tuskeegee, Ala.
After retiring from boxing, Lee served as chief judge on the Washington D.C. Boxing Commission, in addition to working at the Offi ce of Emergency Preparedness as a special assistant to the Chief of Operations Division. Teachers’ Directory A Botetourt County Public Schools teachers’ directory from the 1924- 1925 school year, which is divided into two categories: white teachers and colored teachers, is also on display. There are listings of “colored teachers” from the following schools: Blue Ridge, Hollins, Cloverdale, Gravel Hill, Indian Rock, Buchanan, Springwood, Valley, Glen Wilton, Lick Run, Iron Gate, Hughes Hill, Eagle Rock, Gala, Wesley’s Chapel, and Fincastle. There are photos of Academy Hill School, both the elementary and high school building, located in Fincastle. A chart is also on display, which includes the population of Botetourt County from 1790 to 1980.
The chart is broken down by race. 10,524 individuals resided in Botetourt County in 1790 • There were 9,241 whites. • There were 1,282 African-Americans, of which 24 were free. 10,427 individuals resided in Botetourt County in 1800 • There were 8,773 whites. • There were 1,654 African-Americans, of which 135 were free. 13,301 individuals resided in Botetourt County in 1810 • There were 10,726 whites. • There were 2,575 African-Americans, of which 300 were free. 13,589 individuals resided in Botetourt County in 1820 • There were 10,493 whites. • There were 3,096 African-Americans, of which 290 were free. 16,354 individuals resided in Botetourt County in 1830 • There were 11,793 whites. • There were 4,556 African-Americans, of which 386 were free. 11,679 individuals resided in Botetourt County in 1840 • There were 8,377 whites. • There were 3,302 African-Americans, of which 377 were free. 14,908 individuals resided in Botetourt County in 1850 • There were 10,746 whites. • There were 4,162 African-Americans, of which 426 were free. 11,516 individuals resided in Botetourt County in 1860 • There were 8,491 whites. • There were 3,075 African-Americans, of which 306 were free. Barnett also said that she has quite a bit more information at her home that she’s currently working through and will hopefully be able to display in the near future. The exhibit will be on display at the museum until the end of the month. Barnett said that she’s happy to discuss the displays with the public. She’s normally at the museum on Mondays and Tuesdays.