Press Release


Preservation Virginia Announces 2024 Class of African American Fellows Program

For immediate release

For more information, contact:
Dr. Lisa Winn Bryan,
(804) 573-9676

The second cohort of community preservationist fellows will study historic preservation best practices and research projects throughout the Commonwealth.

Richmond, Va. (June 10, 2024) – Five community preservationists received fellowships through the African American Fellows Program as part of the Voices Remembered initiative at Preservation Virginia. Over the summer, the Fellows will work with Preservation Virginia staff, learn from mentors and continue research projects in their communities. Planning for the fellows program began in 2021 through the guidance of an advisory committee of Black leaders to increase the number of trained community preservationists helping save African American historic sites in Virginia. The curriculum includes “Preservation 101,” networking with historic preservation groups and professionals, experiential learning by visiting historic sites and identifying pathways to historic preservation careers. Through a grant from the Mellon Foundation, each participant will receive a $10,000 fellowship to help support their research. Final research presentations will occur at the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia (BHMVA) on August 15th at 6 p.m.

Dr. Lisa Winn Bryan, community outreach manager, leads this initiative at Preservation Virginia. “We received an incredible response for the second year of the fellowship, with over 40 applications representing preservation projects throughout Virginia and the nation,” said Dr. Winn Bryan. “Although this was a difficult decision once again, the five participants in the second cohort were chosen because of the importance of their research and their commitment to preservation projects that will benefit their communities.”

“We are thrilled with the response to this program and the potential impact of expanding the understanding and research related to African American historic sites and history in Virginia,” said Elizabeth S. Kostelny, Preservation Virginia CEO. “We are grateful for the support of the Mellon Foundation, which has allowed us to increase the number of fellows from three in the initial year to five this year.”

Only 2% of the 95,000 entries on the National Register of Historic Places focus on the Black experience. “We must cultivate as many of those interested in telling the fuller Virginia story as possible,” said Winn Bryan. “We decided to create a group that we refer to as The Collective, comprised of all applicants and those individuals who also want to be involved more in preserving the African American story in Virginia and learn about preservation best practices. The Collective will allow everyone to participate.”

The 2024 cohort of fellows include:

Lorenzo Dickerson, Filmmaker, Albemarle County, VA

Lorenzo Dickerson is a documentary filmmaker and a native of Albemarle County, Virginia, where his family has lived for generations. Lorenzo focuses his storytelling on African American history and culture in Virginia, and his films have played in numerous film festivals, are used as a teaching tool in K-12 and university classrooms across the country and are broadcast nationally on PBS. His film “Raised/Razed” won an Emmy Award in 2023 for Best Documentary-Historical and two Telly Awards. His latest film “Cash Crop” is now streaming on PBS. He serves on the board of directors at the Paramount Theater, Preservation Piedmont and VPM’s Community Advisory Board.

As a filmmaker who centers stories around Virginia’s Black history, Lorenzo’s experience with preservation is preserving the first-hand memories and experiences of community elders who have lived this critical history. In addition, Lorenzo serves on the board of the St. John Family Life and Fitness Center, formerly the St. John Elementary School. He has worked to preserve its history by designing and installing a memorial wall exhibit inside the school building that tells the complete story of the history of the St. John Elementary School. In 2023, his work was recognized by Preservation Piedmont with awards for Cemetery Preservation and Engagement for work done with Pen Park and the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society, as well as Disrupting Narratives of Destruction for his film “Raised/Razed.”

Lorenzo’s project as a part of the PVA African American Fellowship is an oral history and short documentary-style film that tells the story of the St. John Elementary School in Cobham, Virginia, which opened in 1922 to replace the previous school building and provide a better learning space for African American students. This school was one of seven historic Rosenwald Schools in Albemarle County, Virginia, and the only one still standing and open as a public space. It is also the school where Lorenzo’s grandparents met. The building is now being preserved and turned into a community center. This story not only centers on the 16 St. John Elementary School alumni that are still near but also tells the story of the historic Cobham, Virginia, neighborhood, where the descendants of the school alumni still live, and how these descendants additionally connect to their formerly enslaved ancestors at Castle Hill and Turkey Hill plantations steps away, the church of the same name just next door and the first 26 students to desegregate Albemarle County Public Schools years later.

James Harrison, Genealogist, Surry, VA

Rev. Dr. James Mitchell Harrison is the fourth Executive Minister for American Baptist Churches of the South, one of 34 regions making up the national denomination, American Baptist Churches, U.S.A. He came to this position in August 2015. He leads a co-vocational professional life and has been the pastor of Main Street Baptist Church in Smithfield, Virginia, since 1996.

Rev. Harrison was born in the Kenner Army Hospital at Fort Lee, Virginia, and reared in Surry County, where his ancestors have a historical nine-generation presence. He graduated from Surry County High School, Dendron, Virginia; the University of Virginia, B.A., Charlottesville, Virginia; the School of Theology at Virginia Union University, M.Div., Richmond, Virginia; and United Theological Seminary, D.Min., Dayton, Ohio.

Rev. Harrison is developing research on Black American Land Ownership on Gray’s Creek. This study is designed to archive the history of land ownership among Black Americans living near Gray’s Creek between 1860-1960 in Surry County, Virginia. It will include an examination of deeds, wills, tax records and other records to substantiate ownership and the presence of Black Americans along this creek recently designated as a Scenic River by the Department of Conservation and Recreation. This project also examines subjects such as forestry, architecture, cemeteries, religion, employment and industry among recently freed Black Americans.

Michael Johnson, Cemetery Preservationist, Alexandria, VA

Michael Johnson is a fifth-generation Alexandrian. With the help of a few close family members and friends, Johnson co-founded the Social Responsibility Group (SRG), which advocates for the success of disenfranchised and marginalized residents in Alexandria and surrounding communities. His family dates back to 1790 in Virginia, and he has seven family members buried at Douglass Memorial Cemetery in Alexandria. According to records, the cemetery was named after the great abolitionist Fredrick Douglass, who spoke in Alexandria in 1894 and passed shortly after that in 1895.

Seven years ago, Johnson’s late mother Bernice Johnson told him that family members were buried at Douglass. Johnson was in disbelief, as the cemetery was overgrown and not preserved. Now, there is also an apartment complex directly beside the cemetery. His older brother would take him through Douglass when he was a child, and he recalled barely seeing any headstones. In 2018, six months after his mother’s passing, Johnson visited the cemetery. The site was filled with water after a heavy rainstorm, and he found this was the case after each rain event. On record, there are 2,000 individuals buried at Douglass, yet only 650 headstones are visible today. Johnson asked the question, “Where are the other 1,350 burials located?”

Many of the individuals interred at Douglass had been born into slavery and saw a form of freedom later in life. Johnson’s research located more than 125 descendants throughout the nation of those buried at Douglass. His Fellowship will focus on recording as much of their family oral history as possible while working to restore Douglass Memorial Cemetery and share the history of those buried there with younger generations. Johnson’s research located more than 125 descendants throughout the nation of those buried at Douglass. He is working with partners to correct the flooding issues and is researching to understand what happened to the other 1,350 burials not currently marked at the cemetery.

Johnson’s work at Douglass Memorial Cemetery inspired him to return to school and obtain a degree in Public History from Coppin State University. He is the winner of the 2022 Fannie Jackson Coppin Award given to the top history student at CSU.

Michelle Evans-Oliver, Genealogist, Richmond, VA

Michelle Evans-Oliver is a distinguished leader and scholar with a unique blend of genealogical and historical research expertise and over 20 years of experience in the financial, insurance and marketing industries. As the President and Wealth Advisor of The Oliver Financial Group, she has dedicated her career to helping individuals across the United States secure their financial futures and create lasting legacies for their families. Evans-Oliver excels at guiding her clients through critical financial decisions, ensuring they are well-informed and confident in their choices. She combines her passion for financial literacy with her dedication to historical and genealogical research, applying the same principles of education and empowerment to both fields.

Evans-Oliver’s outstanding contributions have earned her numerous accolades, including AARP Virginia’s “Rookie of the Year,” the Richmond Free Press “Personality of the Week,” and the Visionary Award from Urban Views Weekly. She has been featured in the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s “People You Should Know” business section and has appeared on several radio shows. Her expertise has been widely quoted in various publications, including, Black Enterprise, Essence, Heart and Soul and the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Additionally, she has served as the CVS Pharmacy Personal Finance Expert Spokesperson.

In addition to her financial career, Evans-Oliver is a renowned family historian. Her research interests include pre-Civil War African American history, the post-Reconstruction Era, African American cemeteries, slavery businesses and the application of artificial intelligence in genealogy. She has extensively studied the Black Randolphs and Woodsons of Virginia and the impact of slavery life insurance. Michelle is an influential member of the genealogical community. She is the Immediate Past President of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society (AAHGS) Richmond Chapter and the current Marketing and Communications Chair for AAHGS National. She founded the Richmond, Virginia, branch of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). She was a Planning Committee Member for the Virginia African American Summit.

Her speaking engagements and presentations are numerous, including keynotes at the Sons and Daughters of the Middle Passage Conference and national conferences for AAHGS and ASALH. She has been an invited descendant at the Descendant Communities Social Innovation Lab and has led significant events such as the ancestral veneration ceremonies at Berkeley Plantation in Charles City, Virginia, and Ampthill Plantation in Cumberland County, Virginia.

Evans-Oliver’s Fellowship will focus on genealogical research and preservation efforts at Evergreen Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia. Her contributions to preserving African American history are further highlighted by her additional fellowships, including the Virginia Black Public History Summer Institute and the New Leaders Council. Her work in media includes serving as a casting agent and genealogist for PBS’s “Legacy List with Matt Paxton” and appearing on NPR to discuss her African American lineage.

Horace Scruggs, Filmmaker, Palmyra, VA

Teaching and conducting professionally since 1985, Horace Scruggs is an active musician, conductor, composer, educator and documentary filmmaker. He holds a Bachelor of Music Education with a concentration in voice from Longwood University and a Master’s in Music Education with a choral conducting concentration from Shenandoah Conservatory. He also holds a Certificate in Music Production from Berklee College of Music.

Over his 35 years as a music educator, Scruggs has had varied experiences. He taught all grade levels (K-12) and worked professionally with school, community and church choirs and ensembles. He has also conducted all-county and all-district choirs throughout Virginia. A multi-instrumentalist and recording studio owner, he has produced recordings for many local musicians, bands and choirs.

His educational experience has included teaching four levels of choral Music: Piano, Guitar and Music Technology at the High School level. Mr. Scruggs has also been an adjunct faculty member at Piedmont Virginia Community College, where he conducted the PVCC Chorus and taught classes in Music Appreciation and the History of Jazz. A choral composer and arranger, Scruggs’s publications focus on authentic renditions of African American Music. He has also taught classes for the University of Virginia’s Osher Life-Long Institute.

Scruggs also performs lectures and concerts, providing in-depth presentations on the history of African American music and cultural history. Whether performing solo or with a full band and vocal ensemble, these concerts are entertaining and informational. Subjects have included “The Odyssey of Soul,” “The History of Gospel: Not So Straight and Narrow,” “Love, Peace and Soul-diers: The Defiant Music of the Civil Rights Movement” and “A View from a Train: Music of the Underground Railroad.”

Upon retiring from public education in 2020, Scruggs began producing documentary films about African American history and culture. He has produced documentaries for Virginia Humanities, James Monroe’s Highland, the Fluvanna Historical Society and the Fluvanna Arts Council. His films include “Resilience, Recovery, and Rebirth: Sustaining Hope in Trying Times” (2021), “Reconstructed: The Rebuilding of African-American Communities Through Faith and Education” (2022) “Reclaiming the River” (2022), “Traveling Our Ancestors’ Journey: A Descendants’ Reunion” (2023).

To share the history and culture of African Americans, Scruggs will utilize his Fellowship to map historic sites in Fluvanna County and engage the community’s descendants in discovering its storied past.

About Preservation Virginia

Voices Remembered is an initiative of Preservation Virginia to mine the past for Black voices that have fallen silent: the voices of the first Black preachers in Virginia; the voices of families in rural Virginia, newly freed and pondering the future; the voices of long-forgotten ancestors who still have lessons to teach. Across Virginia, we want to help bring these voices to life, connecting them to modern communities and building capacity in localities to cement these historic places in the American story.

Preservation Virginia is a private, nonprofit organization seeking to inspire and engage the public in fostering, supporting and sustaining Virginia’s historic places through leadership in advocacy, education, revitalization and stewardship. Learn more at