Virginia’s historic places offer vital lessons about our diverse and complex history for present and future generations. Through Preservation Virginia’s statewide advocacy efforts, it seeks to amplify the often untold stories of marginalized communities by helping to preserve the historic places that matter most to them and educating the public through unflinching, honest narratives of our history.
Our current efforts span the state. Our focus on African-American resources includes locating and researching African-American schools, including those built with the support of Julius T. Rosenwald, and supporting the local communities in their efforts to share their histories. We also work with local and national groups to promote a community-based effort to preserve the historic Shockoe Bottom area in Richmond and with community groups and legislators to protect historic cemeteries across the Commonwealth.
Explore our website to learn about the people and places that help define Virginia’s history.
Rosenwald School Preservation Initiative
Rosenwald Schools: The Pathway to an Education for African Americans in the South
Between 1917 and 1932 and in the midst of racial segregation and chronic under-funding of African-American schools, more than 380 Rosenwald schools were built in rural areas across Virginia. After seeing the desperate need, Booker T. Washington and the Tuskegee Institute developed a rural school building program and enlisted the help of Sears-Roebuck president Julius T. Rosenwald to provide funding to local communities across the South. African-American communities and localities in which they lived raised money to match the Rosenwald Fund’s contributions and build schools. Local governments were essentially incentivized to apply for the funding in order to create educational opportunities for African American students that better lived up to the “separate but equal” rule of law.
After the ruling of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, most schools fell out of use and many were lost. Even worse for some, their legacy was forgotten. With our statewide Rosenwald School Architectural Survey, we need your help to rediscover these schools and rebuild their legacies.
Help Find Virginia’s Historic Rosenwald Schools
In 2013, we listed Rosenwald schools on our Most Endangered Historic Places list. Since then, we have worked with community groups and individual Rosenwald school owners providingadvice and guidance to help restore Rosenwald schools that are still standing and find ways to commemorate those that have been lost.
We recently launched an architectural survey of Virginia’s Rosenwald schools in partnership with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (DHR). We developed an online survey using geo-location software for this initiative and are asking community members, students, Rosenwald alumni and volunteers to share their intimate, local knowledge of the schools in their area with a wider audience in order to help preserve this important history.
Through the online survey, users can record preliminary information about a school, tag its exact location, and upload images in real time. Ultimately, this information will be verified and used to advocate for both the commemoration and the adaptive re-use of Rosenwald-funded school buildings so that they can once again be vibrant community resources.
Funds from the Jessie Ball duPont Fund and National Park Service, through a grant from DHR, are supporting this project.
Shockoe Bottom Memorial Park
Richmond can lead the nation in creating a space that provides balance and perspective in promoting reconciliation and telling a more complete story of slavery and the Civil War in the city. The proposed Shockoe Bottom Memorial Park offers a place to explore the contradictions between the American ideal of personal freedom and the reality of American slavery.
Shockoe Bottom was named to our Most Endangered Historic Places list in 2014 and we have worked with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project and the Center for Design Engagement at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, to promote a community-based approach to preserving this historic area. We’ve helped develop a conceptual plan that complements the ongoing work of the Slave Trail Commission and includes appropriate development in Shockoe Bottom to enhance the city’s economy.
Historic African American Cemeteries
Protecting historic cemeteries has been a significant part of our advocacy efforts for nearly a decade. In 2010, historic family cemeteries made our Most Endangered Historic Places list and in 2016, we included historic African American cemeteries. Some of the African American cemeteries Preservation Virginia has been helping to protect include the Daughters of Zion Cemetery in Charlottesville, the Flippen Cemetery in Danville, Brandon on the Dan Cemetery in Halifax County, Belmont Cemetery in Loudoun County and the Oak Hill Hairston Cemetery in Pittsylvania County.
The awareness raised by the Most Endangered listings helped to encourage collaborators including Delegate Delores McQuinn to work on legislation resulting in the passing of House Bill 1547. The bill will provide equal state recognition to historic African American cemeteries and funding to better preserve and tell the history of African Americans in Virginia. McQuinn also sponsored House Bill 284, which extends state funding to every African American cemetery established before 1900 and allows the caretakers of those sites to receive maintenance funds from the state. This legislation, along with the continued help of many volunteers around the state, will help to promote the ongoing preservation and interpretation of the many important historic cemeteries in the Commonwealth.