Virginia State Seal Virginia Department of Historic Resources

17 New State Historical Highway Markers Approved, June 2021

Thumbnails of four photos—Markers cover topics in the counties of Bedford, Brunswick, Culpeper (2), Cumberland, Essex (3), Southampton; and the cities of Bristol, Falls Church, Lexington, Petersburg, Richmond (4)—

 —Text of each marker reproduced below—

Fifteen of 17 proposed historical markers approved for manufacture recall people, places or events in Virginia’s African American history, including five topics submitted by students who participated in Governor Northam’s Black History Marker contest in February. Among the student suggestions are forthcoming markers about a formerly enslaved man born in Virginia who joined John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry, the “Father of Black Basketball,” and a Richmond woman who was part of a racially integrated network that passed intelligence to the U.S. Army during the Civil War.

The Virginia Board of Historic Resources approved all 17 new markers during its June quarterly meeting.

In Culpeper County, the marker Dangerfield and Harriet Newby will relay that the formerly enslaved Dangerfield Newby, born in Virginia, settled in Ohio and saved money to purchase his wife, Harriet, and their children, all of whom remained enslaved in Virginia. After negotiations for their purchase failed, Newby joined John Brown’s effort to incite a slave revolt by attacking Harper’s Ferry, where he was the first raider killed.

In Falls Church, the marker Dr. Edwin Bancroft Henderson (1883-1977) will highlight Henderson’s pioneering work in the early 20th century to foster African Americans’ participation in athletics. The Harvard-educated Henderson popularized basketball in his hometown of Washington, D.C., organized leagues and associations for Black athletes and referees, and wrote The Negro in Sports (1939). Henderson was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013 as the “Father of Black Basketball.”

Richmond will see rise the marker Mary Richards Bowser Denman. The enslaved, Virginia-born Denman, who was given “de facto freedom” by owner Elizabeth Van Lew, was educated in New Jersey and spent time in Liberia. In 1860, Denman returned to Richmond and participated in a secret network of free and enslaved African Americans and pro-Union whites, which included Van Lew, who supported the Union during the Civil War.

Two additional markers result from the Governor’s Black History Month contest:

  • Col. John Lyman Whitehead Jr. (1924-1992) was born in Brunswick County. Trained at Tuskegee Army Airfield, he became one of the U.S. Air Force’s first African American jet pilot instructors. After flying 100 combat missions in Korea, Whitehead became the Air Force’s first Black experimental test pilot.
  • Samuel P. Bolling (1819-1900), born enslaved in Cumberland County, purchased lots in Farmville after the Civil War and founded a successful brickyard operation. He later entered politics and was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates, representing Buckingham and Cumberland counties. He donated land for a school, and his daughter, Eliza Bolling, became a noted educator.

The remaining 12 markers include two that will highlight African American schools:

  • The Lylburn Downing School in Lexington opened in 1927, after a local Black organization campaigned for equitable schools. Supported by the Rosenwald Fund, the Rockbridge County-wide school served grades one through nine and expanded to include a high school in the 1940s. It closed in 1965 with desegregation.
  • The Southside Rappahannock Baptist Association opened Rappahannock Industrial Academy in Essex County in 1902 to provide secondary education for Black students. Supported by churches, individuals, and the sale of timber and produce, the school served boarding and day students from the region and beyond. It closed in 1948.

Two signs will recall antebellum-era places:

  • The City of Richmond opened Shockoe Hill African Burying Ground in 1816 to replace a Black burial ground in Shockoe Bottom. The cemetery expanded greatly over time to include an estimated 22,000 interments, making it among the largest cemeteries for free and enslaved African Americans in the U.S. during its era. The city closed the cemetery in 1879 and eventually repurposed the burial ground.
  • Blackhead Signpost Road in Southampton County was so named after Nat Turner’s 1831 revolt, when white militias and residents murdered African Americans in retaliation. The road name referred to the severed head of a black man that was displayed on a post and left to decay to deter future uprisings against slavery. In 2021, the name became Signpost Road.

Two new markers will highlight events in Civil War- and segregation-era history:

  • S. Colored Troops in the Overland Campaign relays that on May 5, 1864, thousands of United States Colored Troops entered Culpeper County, marking the first time Black troops served alongside the Army of the Potomac. The troops soon marched south to join Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s Overland Campaign. Confederates captured three USCT soldiers in Culpeper and summarily executed them.
  • During Jim Crow segregation, Thomas Washington was lynched on March 23, 1896, for allegedly attempting to assault the young daughter of a prominent white citizen. It is Essex County’s only documented lynching and drew statewide publicity. No one was ever charged for the lynching.

Five forthcoming markers will discuss colonial-, antebellum- and Reconstruction-era churches:

  • Morgans Baptist Church, organized in 1771, is the oldest existing Baptist church in Bedford County. Until the 1860s its congregation included African Americans. Among the congregants were the owners of the plantation where Booker T. Washington was born enslaved in 1856.
  • The African Church of Manchester originated in the antebellum era, when a group of free Blacks began meeting in 1821 for worship in a private home. In 1823, the worshippers acquired a meetinghouse, and, in 1858, they completed construction of a new sanctuary. In 1881, the African Church of Manchester relocated and eventually became the First Baptist Church of South Richmond, which built its current Romanesque Revival building in 1892. For more than 200 years, the church has been distinguished by strong ministerial leadership and service to the community.
  • Angel Visit Baptist Church in Essex County and Lee Street Baptist Church in Bristol are Reconstruction-era churches, both founded by African Americans who broke away from white-led churches. Established in 1866, Angel Visit church is one of the oldest African American churches in Essex County. Lee Street church formed in 1865, and the congregation has occupied various buildings through the decades.

A sign slated for Petersburg will recall 20th-century aviation executive William Langhorne Bond (1893-1985). As manager of the China National Aviation Corporation during World War II, Bond was the driving force behind organizing and promoting the high-altitude air route between India and China known as “the Hump.” The difficult route proved an essential link to China for enabling the U.S. to deliver nearly 740,000 tons of supplies, which fortified American troops and allowed China to remain in the war against Japan.

After approval by the Board of Historic Resources, it can take upwards of three months or more before a new marker is ready for installation. The marker’s sponsor covers the required $1,770 manufacturing expenses for a new sign.

Virginia’s historical highway marker program began in 1927 with installation of the first markers along U.S. 1. It is considered the oldest such program in the nation. Currently there are more than 2,600 state markers, mostly maintained by the Virginia Department of Transportation, except in those localities outside of VDOT’s authority.

Full Text of Markers:

(VDOT must approve the proposed locations for each sign or public works in jurisdictions outside VDOT’s authority.)

Angel Visit Baptist Church
Angel Visit Baptist Church, one of the oldest African American churches in Essex County, was formed in 1866 when African American members withdrew from white-led Ephesus Baptist Church after Emancipation. The congregation purchased land here in 1867 and erected a sanctuary, which they replaced with a larger building after acquiring an adjoining lot in 1893. Ozeana School, one of the county’s first public schools for African Americans, stood just south of the church for decades. The church burned in 1917, and the present 350-seat sanctuary opened in 1919. In the early 20th century, students and faculty from Rappahannock Industrial Academy, a nearby Baptist-run boarding school, worshiped here.
Sponsor: Angel Visit Baptist Church
Locality: Essex County
Proposed Location: 29566 Tidewater Trail

 

Rappahannock Industrial Academy
The Southside Rappahannock Baptist Association opened the Rappahannock Industrial Academy here in 1902 to provide secondary education for African Americans at a time when no public high schools were available to them in the area. Supported by churches, individuals, and the sale of timber and produce, the school served boarding and day students primarily from this region but also from other parts of Virginia and beyond. It offered a range of academic courses and extracurricular activities and was accredited by the state in 1934. Its nearly 300-acre campus included a working farm. Enrollment declined after public high schools were established, and the school closed in 1948.
Sponsor: Rappahannock Industrial Academy Alumni Association
Locality: Essex County
Proposed Location: 28861 Tidewater Trail

 

The African Church of Manchester
The African Church of Manchester, later known as First Baptist Church of South Richmond, originated ca. 1821 when a group of free African Americans began meeting for worship in a private home near here. The congregation acquired a meetinghouse just south of here in 1823. Led by a white pastor, as required by Virginia law after 1832, they completed construction of their first sanctuary on this site in 1858. The Rev. Richard Wells was the church’s first African American pastor after the Civil War. Under the leadership of Dr. Anthony Binga, pastor for nearly 50 years, the rapidly growing congregation dedicated a new church here in 1881 and relocated to 15th and Decatur Streets in 1892.
Sponsor: First Baptist Church of South Richmond
Locality: Richmond
Proposed Location: corner of 7th and Perry Streets

 

First Baptist Church of South Richmond
The First Baptist Church of South Richmond, originally known as the African Church of Manchester, traces its origins to 1821, when a group of free African Americans began meeting for worship. Under the leadership of Dr. Anthony Binga, pastor from 1872 to 1919, the congregation relocated from 7th and Perry Streets to a new sanctuary here in 1892. Binga played a central role in designing the Romanesque Revival building. Dr. William L. Ransome, pastor for five decades and a local civil rights leader, oversaw the construction of an annex in 1969. For more than two centuries, the church has been distinguished by strong ministerial leadership and service to the community.
Sponsor: First Baptist Church of South Richmond History Committee
Locality: Richmond
Proposed Location: 1501 Decatur Street

 

Lee Street Baptist Church
In 1865, at the dawn of their freedom from slavery, 42 former members of the white-led Goodson (now First) Baptist Church organized the Anglo African Baptist Church. The congregation met in a series of buildings until, under the leadership of the Rev. Charles Henry Johnson, they built a new edifice just across the street from here in 1905. The Rev. Johnson served the church, later renamed Lee Street Baptist, until he died during his 42nd year as pastor in 1932. After six decades here, the original brick-veneer church, weakened by the periodic flooding of adjacent Beaver Creek, was razed. In 1966, the congregation moved into a new building at 1 West Mary Street.
Sponsor: Bristol Historical Association
Locality: Bristol
Proposed Location: Cumberland Park, near the corner of Lee and Cumberland Streets

 

U.S. Colored Troops in the Overland Campaign
On 5 May 1864, thousands of United States Colored Troops entered Culpeper County at Kelly’s Ford, six miles southeast of here, marking the first time Black troops served alongside the Army of the Potomac. These men, including some who had escaped slavery in Culpeper and nearby counties, served in the 19th, 23rd, 27th, 30th, 39th, and 43rd USCT and the 30th Connecticut Colored Infantry, which made up the 4th Division of IX Corps. After a brief stay in Culpeper County, the troops marched south across the Rapidan River to join Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s Overland Campaign. While in Culpeper, at least three Black soldiers were captured by Confederates and summarily executed along the roadside.
Sponsor: The Freedom Foundation
Locality: Culpeper County
Proposed Location: Intersection of Old Brandy Road and Alanthus Road

 

Blackhead Signpost Road
In Aug. 1831, following the revolt led by enslaved preacher Nat Turner, white residents and militias retaliated by murdering an indeterminable number of African Americans–some involved in the revolt, some not–in Southampton County and elsewhere. At this intersection, where Turner’s force had turned toward Jerusalem (now Courtland), the severed head of a black man was displayed on a post and left to decay to terrorize others and deter future uprisings against slavery. The beheaded man may have been Alfred, an enslaved blacksmith who, though not implicated in any revolt killings, was slain by militia near here. The name of this road was changed from Blackhead Signpost to Signpost in 2021.
Sponsor: Citizens for Change
Locality: Southampton County
Proposed Location: Intersection of Route 658 and Route 35 (Meherrin Road)

 

Thomas Washington Lynched
Thomas Washington, an African American man, was lynched on 23 March 1896 for allegedly attempting to assault the young daughter of a prominent white citizen. A boy found Washington’s body hanging from a tree about 1/8 mile southwest of here. A coroner’s jury did not identify the killers. The body, buried near the tree, was later given a proper burial by relatives. This was the only documented lynching in Essex County. The case attracted publicity across the state, but no one was ever brought to justice. More than 4,000 lynchings took place in the U.S. between 1877 and 1950; more than 100 people, primarily African American men, were lynched in Virginia.
Sponsor: Mr. Reginald Carter
Locality: Essex County
Proposed Location: 20 yards south of 31248 Tidewater Trail

 

Morgans Baptist Church
Morgans Baptist Church, earlier known as Goose Creek Church, was organized in 1771 and is the oldest-existing Baptist church in Bedford County. The congregation, consisting of black and white members until the 1860s, met along Goose Creek and in several other locations before moving here in 1882. James and Elizabeth Burroughs, on whose Franklin County plantation Booker T. Washington was born into slavery in 1856, were members of this church who departed in 1841 when the congregation split over the issue of supporting missionaries. The present sanctuary opened in 1925. At the northwest corner of the cemetery is a 19th-century sign rock directing travelers to Greer’s Ford and Hales Ford.
Sponsor: Morgans Baptist Church
Locality: Bedford County
Proposed Location: 2086 Morgans Baptist Church Road

 

William Langhorne Bond (1893-1985)
Langhorne Bond, aviation executive, grew up in this neighborhood. He served in the U.S. Army during World War I. In 1931 he became manager of the China National Aviation Corporation, founded as a joint venture between the American aircraft company Curtiss-Wright and the Chinese government. During World War II, Bond was the driving force behind organizing and promoting the high-altitude air route between India and China known as “the Hump,” which provided an essential link to China after the Japanese shut down other points of access. Over this difficult route the U.S. delivered nearly 740,000 tons of supplies, fortifying American troops and enabling China to remain in the war against Japan.
Sponsor: Pegram Johnson
Locality: Petersburg
Proposed Location: southwest corner of Adams and Washington Streets

 

Lylburn Downing School
Lylburn Downing School opened here in 1927 after the Home and School League, an organization of local Black parents and citizens, campaigned for equitable schools. Built with financial support from the Black community, Rockbridge County, and the Rosenwald Fund, the countywide school first served grades 1-9 and expanded to include a high school in the 1940s. Desegregation closed the original edifice in 1965, but the newer buildings became Lexington’s middle school. Lylburn Downing (1862-1937) was born enslaved in Lexington, attended Lincoln University, and was pastor of Roanoke’s Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church for more than 40 years. He was a longtime advocate for African American education.
Sponsor: DHR
Locality: Lexington
Proposed Location: 300 Diamond St.

 

Shockoe Hill African Burying Ground
The City of Richmond opened the Shockoe Hill African Burying Ground here in 1816 to replace the Burial Ground for Negroes in Shockoe Bottom. The new cemetery, laid out along the northern end of Fifth Street near the city’s poorhouse, began as two adjoining one-acre plots, one for free people of color and one for the enslaved. The grounds expanded greatly over time, eventually spreading down the slopes and into the valley. With an estimated 22,000 interments, it was among the largest cemeteries for free and enslaved African Americans in the U.S. during its era. After closing the cemetery in 1879 due to overcrowding, the city repurposed the site, making the burial ground unrecognizable today.
Sponsor: DHR
Locality: Richmond
Proposed Location: N. 5th St., just north of intersection with Hospital St.

 

Governor’s Black History Month Contest Winners:

Dangerfield and Harriet Newby
Dangerfield Newby (ca. 1820-1859), born enslaved, grew up about nine miles southwest of here. He became free in 1858 when his white father and enslaved mother took their children to Ohio. Working as a blacksmith, Newby saved money to buy his wife, Harriet (d. 1884), and their children, who remained enslaved in Virginia and were in danger of being sold to the Deep South. When negotiations for the purchase failed, he joined the abolitionist John Brown in planning an attack designed to incite a slave revolt. During the raid on Harpers Ferry in Oct. 1859, Newby was the first of the raiders to be killed. Harriet and the children were sold to Louisiana but returned to Virginia after the Civil War.
Sponsor: Office of the Secretary of Education
Locality: Culpeper County
Proposed Location: Route 211 at intersection with Route 229

 

Dr. Edwin Bancroft Henderson (1883-1977)
B. Henderson, whose pioneering work fostered African American participation in athletics early in the 20th century, lived in Falls Church from 1910 to 1965. After studying physical education at Harvard, he popularized basketball in his hometown of Washington, D.C., organized leagues and associations for Black athletes and referees, and wrote The Negro in Sports (1939). He helped organize the NAACP’s first rural branch, in Falls Church, was president of the Virginia NAACP, and fought segregation in education, housing, and public facilities. Known as the “Father of Black Basketball,” he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013.
Sponsor: Office of the Secretary of Education
Locality: Falls Church
Proposed Location: 307 South Maple Ave.

 

Lt. Col. John Lyman Whitehead Jr. (1924-1992)
John L. Whitehead Jr., fighter pilot, was born in Lawrenceville. He joined the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II at the age of 19, completed pilot training at Tuskegee Army Air Field in Sept. 1944, and was deployed to Italy with the 301st Fighter Squadron. In 1949 he became one of the U.S. Air Force’s first African American jet pilot instructors. After flying more than 100 combat missions in Korea early in the 1950s, he became the Air Force’s first Black experimental test pilot. Whitehead flew combat missions in Vietnam before retiring in 1974. He later served as national president of Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., an organization dedicated to preserving the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen.
Sponsor: Office of the Secretary of Education
Locality: Brunswick County
Proposed Location: U.S. 58 near Airport Drive, Lawrenceville

 

Mary Richards Bowser Denman
Mary Richards Bowser Denman was born enslaved in Virginia ca. 1840. Given de facto freedom by Elizabeth Van Lew, whose family enslaved her, she was educated in New Jersey and sent to live in Liberia before returning to Richmond in 1860. During the Civil War, she participated in a secret network of free and enslaved African Americans and pro-Union whites, including Van Lew, who assisted federal prisoners of war and passed intelligence to the U.S. Army. Denman, who used various names throughout her life, later taught in schools for the formerly enslaved in Virginia, Florida, and Georgia, gave lectures in the North, and was an activist for equal rights and full citizenship for black Americans.
Sponsor: Office of the Secretary of Education
Locality: City of Richmond
Proposed Location: TBD

 

Samuel P. Bolling (1819-1900)
Samuel P. Bolling was born enslaved in Cumberland County and became a skilled mechanic. After the Civil War he purchased several lots in Farmville, where he established a successful brickyard by 1874. He later acquired more than 1,000 acres in Cumberland. About 1880 he aligned with the Readjuster Party, a biracial coalition that refinanced the antebellum state debt to pay for public education and other services. In 1885 he was elected to represent Buckingham and Cumberland Counties in the Virginia House of Delegates; his son, Philip S. Bolling, had won this seat in 1883. Bolling later donated land to establish a school. His daughter, Eliza Bolling, was a noted local educator.
Sponsor: Office of the Secretary of Education
Locality: Cumberland County
Proposed Location: Route 45 just north of Farmville


Updated: June 22, 2021