Nicole Hannah-Jones . Photo by James Estrin, The New York Times.

Here’s a round-up of news briefs from around Southwest and Southside. Send yours for possible inclusion to

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Creator of “1619 Project” to speak at University of Lynchburg March 24

 Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones will present the 2022 Schewel Lecture at the University of Lynchburg. She will speak on “Truth, History, and The 1619 Project” at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 24, at Turner Gymnasium. 

The lecture is followed by a Q&A and is free and open to the public. Tickets are required and can be reserved by registering here. On Friday, March 25, there will be an invitation-only breakfast with Hannah-Jones with area school educators and administrators, community leaders, and elected officials.

Hannah-Jones is the Pulitzer Prize-winning creator of “The 1619 Project” and a staff writer at The New York Times Magazine, which published the collection of essays, short stories, and poems in August 2019. The ongoing project, which revisits U.S. history through the lens of slavery, has sparked praise, controversy, and debate. 

In her talk at Lynchburg, Hannah-Jones will discuss history, race, and democracy and speak “directly to our current moment,” according to a statement from her publicist. 

For more information about the lecture, please email

Masks are required when inside any University of Lynchburg facility, including Turner Gymnasium. 

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Library at WCC digitizes newspaper microfilm holdings for on-site or online use

The F.B. Kegley Library at Wytheville Community College has digitized its newspaper and other microfilm holdings and is making them available for online research in the library at WCC.

Last summer, the Kegley Library contracted with a Maryland firm to scan 234 rolls of microfilm and run optical character recognition (OCR) software on the images to allow them to be searched, downloaded, and printed from a hosted site.

According to Kegley Library Archivist Bill Veselik, the Kegley’s extensive holdings of local newspapers — some going back to the 1860s — have long been used by researchers who visit Wytheville. “Unfortunately, our old microfilm readers were worn out and keeping them in operating condition was just too expensive,” explained Veselik in a statement. “Consequently, it was decided that we’d digitize the collection and make the images available in an online format. The best part of the process was the OCR, which means a researcher can enter now keywords and the site will pop out matches. As an example, a researcher can search for keywords and every instance of the keywords will be shown in the results, whether the source was published in 1875 or 1945.”

When a researcher locates the desired article, it can then be clipped online and saved to a cart. From the cart, a patron can download or print the item, depending on which best suits the researcher’s needs. Previously, a researcher would have to scan through pages and pages of microfilmed newspapers, assuming a rough time period for the publication was already known, and it was still possible to miss the article in passing. “With the keyword search, a patron now has the power to narrow his or her search considerably. If you don’t know the exact date of an event, a keyword search will not only get you in the ballpark, but it’s likely to get you to the exact newspaper edition you need,” explained Veselik.

The Kegley Library did not digitize its holdings related to census records and other resources that are already available on many free and subscription databases. Veselik said the library focused its limited resources on those holdings that are not available elsewhere in a digital format. This includes issues of area newspapers dating back to the 1860s, as well as some courthouse records. “The problem with the latter records is that they were kept by hand and the OCR software does not easily recognize handwriting. Still, those records can be searched visually, as with any other microfilmed records.”

The website hosted on the Internet uses an interface that is similar to the display of a microfilm reader, so patrons used to perusing microfilm will feel quite at home. It is possible to scan slowly or scan ahead quickly, just by clicking an icon on the computer screen. If the researcher has used a keyword, he or she can also click on an icon that will advance them to the next occurrence of the word or phrase.

“This digitization process has been in the works for a couple of years,” said Veselik. “Long before the pandemic, we were planning to digitize our microfilm collection for the convenience of our patrons. The Kegley staff coordinated with WCC’s IT Director to locate a vendor that could provide the digitization work and hosting services at a reasonable cost. We even invited the contractor to come to the college and give us an in-person demonstration. Of course, once the digitization process was complete, there was a period of a couple of months where we were testing the results and the exploring the interface with the host site. Once we worked out the kinks, we were ready to make the images available to researchers.”

The Kegley has stored away its full microfilm collection in its climate-controlled vault, so none of its collection was discarded: however, its microfilm readers and printers have since been sent to state surplus. “Some claim that microfilm is, for all intents and purposes, a dead media format. It was regularly used from the 1920s into the 1970s to create stable images of documents and publications that could be accessed by more people, but for the genealogy researcher the result was a cumbersome process of short-term interlibrary loans that required the user to go to his or her local library to visually scan images on microfilm. So many records are available in microfilm format from so many sources,” said Veselik, “but most libraries and state agencies haven’t had the funds or the impetus to convert those microfilmed documents to digital images. We at the Kegley decided to take the plunge and bring a crucial part of our collection into the 21st Century for the benefit of our patrons.”

The Kegley Library has developed a set of procedures for accessing its digital microfilm collection. Local patrons will be expected to visit Smyth Hall on the WCC campus. Access to the microfilm is available from any computer in the LRC with a provided username and password. Researchers from further afield, especially those in other states who cannot travel to WCC, may request a temporary username and password to access the collection via the Internet. The Kegley has also developed a very basic instruction document that covers the basics of using the online collection.

For more information about WCC’s digitized microfilm collection, please email

The F.B. Kegley Library at Wytheville Community College is a regional historical and genealogical archive funded by private donations. The collection was established by a bequest from local historian F.B. Kegley upon his death in 1968. While WCC provides staff and facilities for the Kegley Library, development and preservation of the collection is funded entirely by private donations.

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Backpack Run returns to Roanoke County

The Backpack Run, presented by the Roanoke County Public Schools Education Foundation, is back for a ninth year.

This year’s Backpack Run offers both in-person and virtual races for the 5K, 10K and all new 8-miler distances.  The in-person 5K and 10K races will take place on March 19 at Green Hill Park, starting at 9 a.m.  5K and 10K races will begin at the same time. 

A new distance has been added this year.  The Backpack Run 8-Miler will take place on Sunday, March 20 at Green Hill Park at 9 a.m. 

The Backpack Challenge is back as well.  Participate in all three race events (5K, 10K, and 8-miler) to earn all three individual finisher medals and a fourth exclusive custom Backpack Challenge medal.  Challenge runners may participate in all three events in-person or virtually.

Registration fees for the 5K are $25-$40.  Fees for the 10K are $40-$60.  Registration for the new 8-Miler is $65-$80.  The Backpack Challenge (5K, 10K, & half) is $140-$160.  Prices vary depending on age (student or adult) and team participation.  Register at

Register for the 5K, 10K, 8-Miler or Backpack Challenge by March 1 to guarantee an event t-shirt on March 19 & 20.  Finisher medals and event t-shirts for virtual events will be available for pickup or shipping this Spring.

Proceeds go to support the Roanoke County Public Schools Education Foundation, a 501©3 non-profit organization that, since 1991, has provided more than $1.5 million in support including grants for teachers and scholarships for students in Roanoke County.

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Parkway foundation to host webinar about Black History and the National Park Service on Feb. 15

The Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation will explore the topic of Black History and the National Park Service during an online conversation 11 a.m., Tuesday, Feb. 15, with Ajena Rogers, Supervisory Park Ranger at Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site in Richmond.

Rogers is a Roanoke native whose National Park Service career started on the Blue Ridge Parkway. She has also worked at Booker T. Washington National Monument, Valley Forge, and Independence National Historical Park. Since 2010, she has served as Supervisory Park Ranger at Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site in Richmond, Virginia. Join us to hear Rogers’ first-hand perspective on how the National Park Service — through individual rangers and as a large national agency — shares the stories of African Americans.

The free, 30-minute webinar is the latest installment of the Insider’s Report series, which highlights the nonprofit’s projects and programs, ways to enjoy the national park unit, Parkway history, and more.  To register, visit