The Virginia Department of Historic Resources has approved 15 new historical markers around the state, seven of which are on this side of the state. Eleven of the 15 new markers deal in some way with Black historical figures or places associated with the civil rights movement, part of the department’s push to recognize previously-unrecognized parts of Virginia history.
Among those approved are a marker in Roanoke for the birthplace of Henrietta Lacks, who has become famous after her death because cells taken from her body — without her family’s permission — have been used in scientific research ever since. She was the subject of the book “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” and efforts are currently underway to raise statues to her in both Roanoke, where she was born, and Halifax County, where she grew up and is buried.
Others approved are for this side of the state are in Craig County, Lunenburg County, Lynchburg Mecklenburg County and Nottoway County. They are:
Birthplace of Henrietta Lacks, Roanoke
Approved text: Henrietta Lacks was born Loretta Pleasant on 1 Aug. 1920 in a house at this site. Her parents, John and Eliza Pleasant, had moved the family to Norfolk Ave. and 11th St. by 1923. After her mother’s death in 1924, she lived with relatives in Clover, VA. She married David Lacks in 1941 and had five children. On 4 Oct. 1951, she died of cervical cancer in Baltimore. Tissue was removed for research without permission, as was typical before such practices were abolished. Lacks’s cells, known as the HeLa line, were the first human cells to multiply indefinitely in a laboratory. Used by scientists worldwide, her cells have contributed to many medical breakthroughs. Lacks is buried in Halifax County.
Proposed Location: 28 12th St. NW, Roanoke
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Kenbridge
Approved text: St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, built in 1926, emerged from a Reconstruction-era mission school and chapel for African Americans known as Trinity. Mary McFarland Jennings, born into slavery nearby ca. 1823 and sent to the North by her white father, had returned to Lunenburg Co. and established Trinity in the 1870s in the now-vanished community of McFarland’s. Her successors moved the mission to Kenbridge and bought land here in 1921 for a new church to be called St. Luke’s. Among its trustees was the Rev. James Solomon Russell, prominent Episcopal priest and educator. The church served as a temporary classroom when local segregated schools were overcrowded in 1961. St. Luke’s closed in 2021.
Proposed Location: 409 N. Broad Street, Kenbridge
Wharton Memorial Baptist Church Complex, Mecklenburg County
Approved text: Faith leaders of the local Black community organized Beautiful Plain Baptist Church here in 1882. Pastor Jordan Mosley and the congregation first met in a two-room log building then in use as a school. Teacher George D. Wharton, a Hampton Institute graduate and pivotal force in the community, later served for 35 years as pastor. The church was renamed in his honor. The church burned in 1940 and was replaced with the present sanctuary. Averett School, built here ca. 1900, educated students in grades 1-7 until 1960 and later served as a gathering place for the community. A cemetery known as Wharton Memorial Garden was established nearby in 1894.
Proposed Location: 57 White House Road
Piedmont Tuberculosis Sanatorium, Nottoway County
Approved text: Piedmont Sanatorium opened in April 1918 as the first public residential facility in Virginia for African American patients with tuberculosis. More than 12,000 patients from across the state were treated here over the next five decades. The sanatorium offered residents an open-air treatment emphasizing rest, a healthy diet, and limited activities, including occupational therapy. Piedmont’s nurse-training program, a two-year course that provided Virginia’s only advanced training for African American women in tuberculosis care, graduated at least 350 nurses from 1920 to 1960. In 1967, the facility became Piedmont State Hospital, and tuberculosis care was gradually phased out.
Proposed Location: 5001 East Patrick Henry Highway, Burkeville
Bellevue, Craig County
This Federal-style house, one of Craig County’s few antebellum brick buildings, was constructed for merchant Robert Wiley ca. 1832, when the style was popular in western Virginia. Construction of the house coincided with the development of a turnpike that passed here, linking this area to the Cumberland Gap. Enslaved African Americans sustained the home and farm before the Civil War. Robert May Wiley, who represented Craig County in the House of Delegates and the Senate of Virginia, lived here, as did his brother Dr. Oscar Wiley, Confederate surgeon and president of the Medical Society of Virginia, who practiced medicine from the Greek Revival doctor’s office in the front yard.
Proposed Location: 14505 Cumberland Gap Road
Union Prisoner of War Camp, Lynchburg
Approved text: A transit prisoner of war camp for Union soldiers opened near here in June 1862 with the arrival of more than 2,000 men captured during the Shenandoah Valley Campaign. Lynchburg, at the confluence of three railroad lines, was an ideal location for such a facility. During the operation of the Dix-Hill Cartel, a system of prisoner exchange in effect from July 1862 until July 1863, soldiers held here were paroled near Richmond. Later, prisoners were sent to camps farther south. Officers were housed in empty factories in the city, and many prisoners were treated in local military hospitals. Most of those who died were buried in the City Cemetery and reinterred elsewhere after the war.
Proposed Location: 2111 Memorial Ave., Lynchburg
Crockett Springs Resort, Montgomery County
Approved text: Crockett Springs, just south of here, was a prominent resort that for 50 years attracted visitors from Virginia and beyond. Commercial development of the property began in 1889 when the Virginia Arsenic Bromine and Lithia Springs Company bought the springs from the Crockett family. The resort, with its large hotel, medicinal baths, and recreational activities, stimulated the local economy. Crockett Springs water, reputed to treat a variety of ailments from indigestion to diabetes, was bottled and distributed widely. The resort closed early in the 1940s. The Roanoke District of the Methodist Church acquired the property in 1957 and established a retreat facility known as Alta Mons on the site.
Proposed Location: 2842 Crockett Springs Road, Shawsville
The ones elsewhere in Virginia are:
Antioch Baptist Church, Middlesex County
Approved text: Antioch Baptist Church, the oldest Black church in Middlesex County, was formed in 1866 by Black members of white-led Clark’s Neck (later Saluda) Baptist Church. They acquired an acre of land just north of here in 1867 and added two more acres in 1881. Civil War soldiers are buried there. Antioch was one of four founding churches of the Southside Rappahannock Baptist Association and hosted its first meeting in 1877. An early black public school, Antioch School, was adjacent to the church. Two Antioch pastors, the Revs. R. E. Berkley and C. R. Towles, were founders of Baptist-run Rappahannock Industrial Academy in 1902; buildings there were named for them. Four churches came out of Antioch.
An African American Family of Doctors, Winchester
Here, in the late 1800s, Charles and Maria Fairfax Brown raised six children who became doctors of medicine or pharmacy based in Washington, D.C., and Pittsburgh, PA. Sara, a physician, was the first female graduate of Howard University named to its board of trustees. John, also a physician, was a founder of the Pittsburgh NAACP. Edward co-founded one of the first Black-owned pharmacies in PA. At Williams College, an organization for Black pre-med students was named for Harrison, an internist. Nancy earned a Phar. D. and co-founded the National Association of University Women. James, a urologist, was an instructor at the University of Pittsburgh. The siblings were noted for their philanthropy.
Colbrook Motel, Chesterfield County
Approved text: The Colbrook Motel opened here in 1946. Listed in the Green Book, a national tourist guide for Black travelers during the segregation era, the business featured a brick motel, log cabin cottages, an air-conditioned restaurant, and a service station. It was owned and operated until 1982 by William E. Brooks, an officer of the Nationwide Hotel Association, and Audrey W. Brooks, a college educator and an administrator at Carver High School, Chesterfield County’s only Black high school from 1948 to 1970. Dr. Cortlandt M. Colson, a professor at Virginia State College, was also an original owner. The Colbrook Motel served for years as a meeting place for local educators and civil rights activists.
Black Political Activism in Charles City, Charles City County
Approved text: In 1959, Ebony magazine identified Charles City as “Virginia’s Model County,” recognizing years of political activism by its majority-Black population. Edward T. Banks and the local Civic League had mobilized Black residents since the 1940s to pay poll taxes and register to vote despite Virginia’s restrictions on Black suffrage. Banks was elected to the Board of Supervisors in 1951. Every county board and commission had a Black member by 1960. In 1965, local NAACP leader Richard Bowman filed a federal lawsuit seeking school desegregation. In 1967, James N. Bradby and Iona W. Adkins became Virginia’s first Black citizens in the modern era to be elected sheriff and clerk of court, respectively.
School Desegregation Controversy, Chesterfield County
Approved text: In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. Because of residential segregation and resistance to Brown, Richmond-area schools were still largely segregated in 1970. The Richmond School Board and black plaintiffs sued for a merger with the school systems of predominantly white Henrico and Chesterfield Counties. Federal judge Robert Merhige Jr. ordered this consolidation in Jan. 1972, prompting a campaign of opposition from many county residents. Merhige’s ruling was overturned on appeal. A 4-4 decision in the Supreme Court in May 1973 affirmed the appeals court and ended plans for the regional merger.
Clementina Rind (ca. 1740-1774), York County
Approved text: Clementina Rind, the first female printer in Virginia, had moved to Williamsburg by 1766. She likely worked alongside her husband, William Rind, who ran a print shop, published the Virginia Gazette, and printed official government documents for the colony. After his death in 1773, she took over the shop and newspaper, was elected public printer in her own right, and supported the couple’s young children. As publisher of the Gazette during a crucial period of deepening divisions between the colonies and Great Britain, Rind helped shape public perceptions of the conflict. She printed Thomas Jefferson’s tract A Summary View of the Rights of British America in 1774, shortly before her death.
Approved text: African Americans acquired property in this area shortly after the Civil War and established the community of Lincolnsville, likely named for Pres. Abraham Lincoln. The City of Portsmouth annexed it from Norfolk County in 1894. Churches, schools, fraternal organizations, social clubs, and Black-owned businesses served the vibrant, close-knit community. Notable residents included educator I.C. Norcom, journalists Jeffrey T. Wilson and Lee F. Rodgers, and musician Graham W. Jackson Sr. Lincolnsville’s infrastructure had deteriorated by the mid-20th century. Despite opposition from residents, the city razed much of Lincolnsville under an urban renewal plan early in the 1960s.
Dr. Gordon Blaine Hancock (1884-1970), Richmond
Approved text: Gordon B. Hancock, born to formerly enslaved parents, was a leader in the struggle for racial equality in the decades before the Civil Rights Movement. A Harvard-educated sociologist, he taught at Virginia Union University for more than 30 years. In frequent speeches and in a weekly column published in more than 100 Black newspapers, he promoted Black economic solidarity and self-help. In 1942 he helped organize and was director of a conference of Southern Black leaders that issued the Durham Manifesto, a call for interracial cooperation to achieve social reforms and end racial injustice. Hancock was pastor of Moore Street Baptist Church in Richmond from 1925 to 1963.
The department always notes that “DHR creates markers not to ‘honor”’their subjects but rather to educate and inform the public about a person, place, or event of regional, state, or national importance. In this regard, erected markers are not memorials.”