A program of Virginia Foundation for the Humanities
Unsubscribe  |  No Images?

Big News!

Encyclopedia Virginia is thrilled to announce a grant of nearly $367,000 over three years from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to create content related to the African American experience in Virginia (1619–1861). We've been at work on this material for awhile—see the Underground Railroad, Sally Hemings, Gabriel's Conspiracy—but now we'll be able to move it to the front burner. More than that, we'll be partnering with teachers to find the best ways to present slavery-related scholarship in the classroom and with projects such as the Virtual Curation Lab at Virginia Commonwealth University. The folks there will be helping us find three-dimensional objects to scan and upload to the site. Here's an example of a quartz crystal found at a Montpelier slave site.

By the time we're finished we hope to be the most thorough and authoritative online resource on the subject.

You may have heard—we've certainly heard!—that federal cultural agencies such as the NEH and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) may face severe funding reductions under the new administration. Funding from the NEH allows Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the encyclopedia to develop content and foster experiences that enrich people's lives in every Virginia county and municipality. While we haven't seen an actual proposal or recommendation that would threaten the future of NEH, we've always found strong bipartisan support for our work at the state and federal level. So we're optimistic that the new administration will see the value of all our work and the impact it has had on communities across Virginia and the nation.

(Image courtesy of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation)


First-grade Pocahontas

The encyclopedia's managing editor, Brendan Wolfe, and programmer, Peter Hedlund, traveled to Fairfax County twice last month to talk with elementary school librarians. One of the topics of discussion was what teachers call "scaled" content—or entries written for different grade levels. We've begun to try it out with three first-grade entries. One's on Pocahontas. Read about the other two.


Pocahontas, courtesy of the Virginia Historical Society.


From Spooner’s Vermont Journal, July 9, 1810.


Fake News?

On the Encyclopedia Virginia blog, we look at an instance of fake news, but from way back in 1810. That summer a "letter from Richmond" began making the rounds in northern newspapers claiming a slave uprising had occurred there. It hadn't. So what gives? The answer might tell us a little bit about the world we're living in today.


A Month to Celebrate and Learn

February is Black History Month, a commemoration that began back in 1926 with Virginian Carter G. Woodson's Negro History Week. A week was expanded into a month in 1976. In honor of the occasion, here's a few of our best entries on the African American experience in Virginia.

Virginia's First Africans
"20. and odd Negroes" arrived at Point Comfort on the James River in 1619, perhaps the first African slaves in Virginia. But who were they? Where did the come from? And what was their legacy?

Free Blacks in Colonial Virginia
The lives of free blacks might surprise readers. Especially in Virginia's early days, they sometimes worked alongside and socialized with whites. Some, such as Anthony Johnson, of Northumberland County, even owned slaves.

Slave Ships and the Middle Passage
Nearly 12.5 million enslaved Africans were transported from Africa to the Americas between 1500 and 1866. Our entry explains how the Middle Passage worked and contains links to accounts of the men who worked on the ships.

Gabriel's Conspiracy (1800) and "The Confessions of Nat Turner" (1831)
African Americans resisted their enslavement in many ways, including through violent rebellion. Gabriel's Conspiracy, in 1800, was thwarted at the last minute. Nat Turner's rebellion, three decades later, resulted in great bloodshed.

Henry Box Brown, Anthony Burns, and Shadrach Minkins
Another way African Americans resisted enslavement was through escape. Brown climbed into a box and had a friend mail him to freedom in Philadelphia. Burns and Minkins made it to Boston but were tracked down by the law.

The Abolition of Slavery of Virginia
Nearly half a million African Americans were enslaved in Virginia in 1860, the largest slave population of any state. Five years later they were all free.

Readjuster Party and Disfranchisement
For a brief period after the Civil War, African Americans in Virginia regularly voted and held office. In fact, the Readjuster Party, which included many African Americans, controlled all of state government in 1881. But by the end of the century, conservative whites had largely disfranchised the black population in Virginia.

Maggie Lena Walker and Anne Spencer
The daughter of a former slave, Walker (pictured above) was the first woman—white or black—to establish and become president of a bank in the United States. Her Richmond home is now a National Historic Site. Spencer, meanwhile, was a respected poet of the Harlem Renaissance who lived not in Harlem but in Lynchburg. Her home and garden are now a museum.

Oliver W. Hill, Moton School Strike, and Massive Resistance
Hill stood at the heart of the civil rights movement in Virginia. As the NAACP's leading attorney in the state, he agreed to take on a case brought to him by students at Moton High School, in Farmville. That turned into Brown v. Board of Education, a Supreme Court decision that, in turn, led Virginia officials to close down some public schools rather than desegregate them.

L. Douglas Wilder
The encyclopedia generally does not publish entries on people who are still living, but Wilder is just too important. The grandson of slaves, he was the first African American to be elected governor of any state, North or South.

(Image of Maggie Lena Walker courtesy of the National Park Service.)