Lynchburg’s first Black mayor, M.W. “Teedy” Thornhill Jr., will be honored with a life-sized bronze statue in the center of the roundabout on Fifth Street that’s set to be unveiled Saturday.
Thornhill was chosen for the statue because of his work in helping revolutionize the Lynchburg political scene and his dedication to Fifth Street’s historic presence, said Ted Delaney, director of the Lynchburg Museum.
Thornhill was a lifelong Lynchburg resident, and city politics was always a passion of his, said Carl Hutcherson, another former mayor. For years, Thornhill was president of the Voters League, which Hutcherson called “probably the strongest African American voters’ organization in the city.”
He was instrumental in developing the city’s Ward II, which was created to satisfy federal requirements for racial balance in local politics, Delaney said. Ward II was intended to guarantee that one seat on the city council would provide minority representation.
“He wanted to make sure that Blacks would have representation on the city council,” Hutcherson said. “And of course, once the new ward system was instituted, he became the first Ward II candidate, and he won by a landslide.”
Thornhill took office in 1976 and became known as someone who advocated for fairness and equal hiring.
“He worked very hard [with] the city managers at the time to hire Blacks to work in city hall,” Hutcherson said. “His statement was always, ‘We need some more pepper in the salt.’”
This work spanned across the city, Hutcherson said. Thornhill was an instrumental figure in getting more African Americans hired at steady jobs around Lynchburg.
In 1990, Thornhill was chosen mayor by the city council. He served in that role until 1992, when he retired from the council.
Honoring Mayor Thornhill
The statue of M.W. “Teedy” Thornhill Jr. will be unveiled at 10 a.m. Saturday.
Remarks will be made by Lynchburg Mayor Stephanie Reed; Alvin Elliot, president of the Fifth Street Community Development Corporation; and Frances Scruggs Thornhill, Teedy Thornhill’s wife. Ted Delaney, director of the Lynchburg Museum, will provide a historical perspective, and former Lynchburg Mayor Carl Hutcherson will close out the ceremony.
The Greater Lynchburg Transit Co. will offer roundtrip shuttle service from the Lynchburg Grand Hotel at 601 Main St. to the event. The shuttle will run from 9 to 9:40 a.m. and then again following the event’s conclusion.
On Saturday from 8 a.m. until noon, Fifth Street will be closed from Jackson Street to Harrison Street, and Federal Street will be closed from Fourth Street to Sixth Street. a press release from the city said.
Public parking will be available at the following locations:
- 601 Fifth St. parking lot
- Community Funeral Home, 909 Fifth St.
- Court Street Parking Lot, 200 Court St.
- Elks Lodge, 507 Polk St.
- Fifth Street Baptist Church, 1007 Fifth St.
- Johnson Health Center, 3320 Federal St.
- St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Sixth and Madison streets
“It [was] a big deal, especially considering people of color have always made up a substantial part of the community,” Delaney said. “To have that representation at that level, that’s something special.”
According to the Lynchburg Museum, Thornhill graduated from Eckels College of Embalming and Funeral Services in Philadelphia and came back to Lynchburg to manage the Community Funeral Home on Fifth Street. He later became the owner and worked there until he died in 2016.
According to the Fifth Street Corridor Master Plan, in the early 1900s, Fifth Street became a Main Street for the Black community of Central Virginia. Businesses on the street included a carriage works, greengrocer, shoemaker, blacksmith, barbershop, saloon, butcher shop and fish market. Dentists, doctors and lawyers practiced on Fifth Street.
The Fifth Street plan, which was developed in 2006, wanted to keep this historic street alive and honor the contributions the Black community made to Lynchburg.
Thornhill’s business on Fifth Street was a large part of Black history in Lynchburg, Hutcherson said. Thornhill fought to keep black businesses and restaurants open and wanted to retain the history built there.
“[Thornhill] was very sensitive,” Hutcherson said. “He was a person of integrity.”
Hutcherson, who served as mayor from 2000 to 2006, said Thornhill helped him and Junius Haskins, a former Black Ward II city council representative, get elected to office. Thornhill instructed both of them to work twice as hard and know what was going on in the city so they could help the council.
“We’ve had some tremendously significant people in this community all across the board,” Hutcherson said. “And he certainly was one of them. I applaud the fact that he is being recognized by having the statue erected.”
The corridor plan for Fifth Street has been a part of city planning since before 2006, said Tom Martin, city planner and secretary to the planning commission.
“If you look back at the master plan, the rendering for the roundabout always suggested that it could contain a statue of an influential or historic person,” Martin said.
The Fifth Street Community Development Corporation began to plan out the statue using surveys done throughout the neighborhood, Martin said. Ideas ranged from an earthen mound with landscaping to a symbol for the community. The group eventually landed on Thornhill because it wanted someone who had a history with the street.
The corporation worked to raise money to commission the statue but were never able to raise enough funds, Martin said. However, a few years ago, the city put together an African American cultural committee that reported that one thing the city could do to improve the lives of Black residents was to get the city to fund the rest of the statue.
“Wiley and Wilson did the engineering work pro bono,” Martin said. “And then Hill Studio did the design [of the base] and kind of architectural work pro bono. A lot of different groups came together to make this happen.”
The total cost of the statue was about $191,000, according to city spokesperson Anna Bentson. The Fifth Street CDC raised $28,104, she said, and the donated design and engineering services were worth more than $46,000. The city covered the rest with American Rescue Plan Act funds, she said.
The statue was designed by sculptor Ed Walker and crafted by Carolina Bronze in Seagrove, North Carolina.
“He was a man of all people,” Hutcherson said. “He was always a proponent … of civil rights, but he was also a proponent of human rights.”
Clarification 9:30 a.m. Aug. 18: Hill Studios designed the base of the statue; the statue itself was designed by sculptor Ed Walker. This was unclear in an earlier version of the story.