Sunday, February 25, 2007

First Baptist Church site of first Jefferson School

First Baptist Vhurch at 632 West MainThe Rev. Bruce A. Beard spoke for a few minutes before the Vinegar Hill presentation Saturday afternoon in the First Baptist Church at 632 West Main Street. He’s been pastor since 1993.

Beard said the church was founded by 800 blacks during the Civil War. Back in those days, it was against the law for blacks to congregate and they had to be sponsored by a white church, in this case First Baptist Church at 735 Park Street. The board of directors and first three pastors of the colored church were white.

He said the West Main church was built on the site of the old Delevan Hotel / Civil War hospital. But he did not make the connection to Jefferson School.

During the two-hour program Jefferson School was mentioned several times. Once Steven Meeks of the Historical Society called out to assistant city manager Rochelle Small-Toney, who is in charge of the Jefferson School renovation project, for the date of the origin of Jefferson School. She said 1894.

I was the only one in the 70-member audience who knew that this presentation on Vinegar Hill was taking place on the original site of Jefferson School.

At the end of the program when people were heading toward the basement for refreshments, I informed Small-Toney that I had made the connection to Jefferson School. I now know where the Delevan Hotel was located. She said she’s known all along and that the Delevan Hotel is actually the second Jefferson School, the 1894 building the third and the 1926 building the fourth.

The book, which details the 1865 origins of Jefferson School, cited the same newspaper The Chronicle used as a source in the Vinegar Hill report and was published by the same historical society that sponsored the forum. The book was on sale in the basement. Albemarle: Jefferson’s County 1727-1976 by John Hammond Moore. Excerpts from pages 230 to 234 in the hardcover edition: Origins of Jefferson School and Public Education in Virginia This week both The Hook and C-ville Weekly reported 1894 as the earliest known date for Jefferson School.

On its website, History of First Baptist Church, this is as close as they come to acknowledging the origins of Jefferson School:

“This building was called the Delevan Hotel, and the church came to be known as the Delevan Baptist Church….After the Civil War, education became a necessity and First Baptist was instrumental in holding instructions within its walls, whereby hundreds of freedmen were educated.”

The Delevan Hotel was eventually torn down and the current church building was erected in 1883.

History of First Baptist Church at 735 Park Street “First Baptist Church has a rich tradition both as a local church and as a Southern Baptist Convention pioneer in many areas. It was organized as Charlottesville Baptist Church in August, 1831, with thirty-one members who called as their first pastor Rev. Reuben Lindsey Coleman.”

Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society

Vinegar Hill Study

UVa historian Scot French spoke for the bulk of the 2-hour quarterly meeting of the Historical Society. Research associate Luanne Williams spoke briefly about the technical details of the data and software.

French said the documents in the archive under study came from the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority and from the Historical Society, which received a donation of assessment records presumably from the city assessor’s office.

He called out to fellow researcher Anique Downes for the total number of documents in the collection. Downes estimated between 14,000 and 16,000 documents.

French explained how a vibrant black community evolved in Charlottesville after the Civil War. During this period white Charlottesville was more tolerant of blacks owning property even as other parts of the deep south was already cracking down on blacks. French had no explanation for this but did say that blacks outnumbered whites in Charlottesville and that the white population has since grown mainly due to annexations.

Others have written that, in order for the minority to exert control as the nation marched toward war, the 1850s was bloody with spectacles of lynching and torture locally. After the Civil War nobody talked about it and most documents were lost. But the children remembered and began talking about it when they became adults. This collective memory lingered for decades. Charlottesville became less tolerant as a new generation came to power. Other communities had a more peaceful pre-Civil War history.

French said it wasn’t until the 1910s when Charlottesville began enacting segregation zoning laws. In 1912 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled such zonings Unconstitutional. But by then the “separate but equal” doctrine had taken hold. Other ordinances were passed that sought to create a sharp line between black and white.

But the fuzzy residential segregation patterns created a problem. You could have certain streets and certain blocks that were black or white. A few citizens protested but were unable to stop the west Belmont compromise of 1916. The development of that plantation would be for white people. So at the western edge along old Scottsville Road, blacks lived on one side and whites on the other side of the same street. Most people know this as 6th Street SE now mostly open space following the 1970s urban renewal.

French said deed covenants became the new tool to preserve residential patterns along racial lines. Paul Goodloe McIntire donated land to become a park on Preston Avenue for blacks to be named after Booker T. Washington. The park was actually named for George Washington the first president and later George Washington Carver. (McIntire also donated Belmont Park and stipulated in the deed that it be for white people.)

Booker T. Washington came to prominence in the mid-1890s when the backlash against blacks was at a peak. The principles of land ownership espoused by Washington for newly freed blacks were already paying dividends in Charlottesville. The rise of the black real-estate speculators was documented in The Chronicle. Booker T. Washington visited Vinegar Hill numerous times.

Researcher Luanne Williams talked about the actual project. When ready, anyone should be able to search online the names and addresses, deeds and assessments, photos and maps. Williams said the collection comprised

1,189 visual media files
6,845 physical documents
189 maps and blueprints
6,199 files related to GIS mapping

for a total of 14,422.

Luanne Williams
Luanne Williams

"Quarterly Meeting of the Historical Society"

Saturday, February 24 at 2:00 p.m. at First Baptist Church, 632 W. Main Street, Charlottesville
"Virtual Vinegar Hill: Preserving an African American Memoryscape"
Speakers: Reginald Butler and Scot French

An African American residential-business district born of late-19th and early-20th century black enterprise -- was declared "blighted" by local authorities and demolished under the federally funded Urban Renewal program. Civic leaders and project boosters hailed the demolition/redevelopment project, coupled with the opening of modern public housing complexes for those displaced, as a much-needed facelift for the downtown area. Yet, for Charlottesville's African American citizens, many with personal ties to the Vinegar Hill neighborhood, the urban "removal" project left a gaping hole in the landscape and produced a profound sense of loss that lingers to this day. The project came to symbolize the displacement of the African American working and business classes, the destructive impact of urban renewal/gentrification on African American community life, and the erasure of African American history from Charlottesville's commemorative landscape.

Today, researchers from the Carter G. Woodson Institute's Center for the Study of Local Knowledge are working with local residents, the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society, and the City of Charlottesville to digitize photographs, oral histories, and public records related to Vinegar Hill, with the aim of building an online archive and virtual tour of this urban "memoryscape." U.Va. historians Reginald Butler and Scot French and research associates Schuyler Esprit, LuAnn Williams, and Anique Downes will give a brief overview of the project and a demonstration of key features.

Butler and French are associate professors in the Corcoran Department of History at the University of Virginia and co-founders of the Carter G. Woodson Institute's Center for the Study of Local Knowledge (CSLK). "Virtual Vinegar Hill" is part of their "Race and Place" project, a longstanding collaboration between CSLK and the Virginia Center for Digital History.

Scot French at First Baptist Church

Scot French at First Baptist Church organized 1863


Anonymous Anonymous said...

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11/26/2007 1:14 PM  
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