7 New State Historical Highway Markers Approved

Published July 6, 2023

Virginia Department of Historic Resources
(dhr.virginia.gov)
For Immediate Release
July 6, 2023

Contact:
Ivy Tan
Department of Historic Resources
Marketing & Communications Manager
ivy.tan@dhr.virginia.gov
804-482-6445

—Markers cover topics in the counties of Charles City, Cumberland, Nottoway, and Northampton; and in the cities of Richmond and Suffolk—

—Text of each marker reproduced below—

PLEASE NOTE: 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.

RICHMOND – Among the seven new historical markers coming to roadsides in Virginia are signs that will highlight three distinct communities founded by formerly enslaved African Americans after the Civil War; the City of Richmond’s first municipal African burial ground; and the life and work of Arthur Crudup, a 20th-century blues musician of the Eastern Shore whose song “That’s All Right” launched the career of Elvis Presley.

The Virginia Board of Historic Resources approved the markers on June 15, 2023, during its quarterly meeting hosted by DHR.

A forthcoming marker in Nottoway County will recall the Luther H. Foster High School, which provided secondary education to Black students during the Jim Crow era of segregation. Constructed at a cost of $680,000, the school first welcomed students in 1950, and was named for Halifax County native Dr. Luther Hilton Foster (1888-1949), a well-known leader in Black higher education who served as the fourth president of what is now Virginia State University from 1943 until his death in 1949. The school closed in 1970 after the county fully desegregated its schools. Despite facing the obstacles of racial discrimination, many of the school’s alumni went on to become educators, lawyers, doctors, civil servants, and military service members.

Three newly approved markers center on the communities settled by freed or formerly enslaved African Americans after the Civil War (1861-1865):

  • In Cumberland County, the Rev. Reuben T. Coleman (1844-1909), born into slavery, became an entrepreneur after the Civil War and established Lucyville, which he named after his daughter. In the 1890s, Lucyville included a bank, post office, newspaper, and a mineral springs resort that attracted Black and White visitors from across the country. Coleman, who served as the pastor of Mount Olive Baptist Church, challenged segregation during the Reconstruction era as a local Republican leader and officeholder. His brother-in-law Shed Dungee, who was also enslaved at birth, represented the area in the House of Delegates from 1879 to 1882 and supported the Readjuster Party, a biracial political coalition founded in Richmond with the goal to reduce the state’s pre-war debt. The Readjusters led major legislative reforms through the General Assembly during the early 1880s and supported public education. Many Lucyville residents left Cumberland County during the Great Migration.
  • Emancipated African Americans who settled in the City of Richmond after the Civil War organized St. John Baptist Church in ca. 1868 and built a sanctuary in 1893 in the neighborhood now known as Washington Park. First Baptist Church was established in 1921. The Washington Park community included the Market Inn nightclub, which was listed in the Green Book, a guide for Black travelers during Jim Crow, and featured performances by such acts as Redd Foxx, the Shirelles, and the Drifters. In 1914, the city annexed a part of the neighborhood from Henrico County before acquiring the rest of the area in 1942. Richmond’s second Black mayor, Dr. Roy West, grew up in Washington Park.
  • The origins of the Belleville community in the City of Suffolk can be traced to 1896, when William Saunders Crowdy (1847-1908), who escaped enslavement during the Civil War, founded in Kansas the Church of God and Saints of Christ, which is today a predominantly African American Judaic community with members and missions in the United States, Jamaica, and Africa. In 1903, Crowdy bought 40 acres of land in Suffolk. The site became the international headquarters of the church in 1919, and the Belleville community developed around the church in the 1920s. At the height of its existence, Belleville encompassed more than 700 acres and included a sacred tabernacle, farms, a school, a home for widows and orphans, stores, an electric plant, a music hall, and athletic facilities.

Two forthcoming markers feature the stories of noteworthy figures in Black history:

  • Born enslaved in 1842 at the Shirley plantation in Charles City County, Stephen Bates eventually became the earliest-known Black sheriff in the North. Bates began his life as a domestic worker at Shirley before claiming his freedom during the 1862 Peninsula Campaign during the Civil War. He went on to work for a Union officer at Harrison’s Landing, located along the James River in Charles City County, after the Battle of Malvern Hill, and subsequently left Virginia with the army in August 1862. Bates was then hired in Washington, D.C., as a coachman for Frederick E. Woodbridge, a congressman for the state of Vermont. In 1869, Bates moved with Woodbridge to Vergennes, Vermont, where he would later serve as the city’s constable for four years starting in 1875. The White electorate selected Bates for the role of sheriff in 1879. He continued to get re-elected as sheriff and was consistently appointed chief of police until his death in 1907.
  • The blues singer, songwriter, and guitarist Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup was born in Forest, Mississippi, on August 24, 1905. Sometimes referred to as “The Father of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” Crudup gained prominence as a recording artist in Chicago in the 1940s. In 1954, Elvis Presley’s career took off after he recorded a version of “That’s All Right,” a song originally written and performed by Crudup in Chicago. Presley later covered two more of Crudup’s songs, “My Baby Left Me” and “So Glad You’re Mine.” Others who covered Crudup included The Beatles, B.B. King, and Elton John. A self-taught musician who lived through poverty and oppression, Crudup rarely received royalties for his work and instead supported his family as a laborer and farm worker. He moved to Franktown in Northampton County in ca. 1960 and performed with his sons, James, George, and Jonas, as The Malibus in the Eastern Shore communities of Weirwood and Nassawadox. Crudup died on March 28, 1974, and is buried in Nassawadox.

Richmond’s first municipal African cemetery is highlighted in one new marker:

  • Richmond’s First Municipal African Cemetery, historically known as the “Burial Ground for Negroes,” came into existence in 1799 on land the city acquired in what is now the neighborhood of Shockoe Bottom. The burial ground contained the graves of enslaved and free Africans and people of African descent. Free Black Richmonders took offense at the cemetery’s location as it was also the site of one of the local gallows and, among other indignities, experienced frequent flooding that disturbed burials. They petitioned for a new cemetery, which led the city to open the Shockoe Hill African Burying Ground, located about a mile away, in 1816. By the 1950s, much of the original cemetery was covered by Interstate 95 and parking lots. Starting in the early 2000s, Richmond activists led a successful campaign to reclaim, protect, and memorialize the city’s First Municipal African Cemetery, which is now referred to as the Shockoe Bottom African Burial Ground.

Following the Board of Historic Resources’ approval of the markers, it can take upwards of eight months or more before a new marker is ready for installation. The marker’s sponsor covers the required $2,880 manufacturing expenses for a new sign.

Virginia’s historical highway marker program began in 1927 with installation of the first markers along U.S. Route 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.)

Luther H. Foster High School
This school, built at a cost of more than $600,000, provided secondary education to Black students from 1950 until 1970, when Nottoway County fully desegregated its schools. Although planning for the new high school had begun by 1946, the county proceeded with urgency in 1948 after a federal court ruled for the plaintiffs in equalization lawsuits elsewhere in VA. The school was named for Halifax County native Dr. Luther Hilton Foster (1888-1949), a nationally known figure in Black higher education and former president of what is now Virginia State University. Despite racial discrimination, many graduates became educators, attorneys, physicians, civil servants, and military service members.
Sponsor: Luther H. Foster High School Alumni Association
Locality: Nottoway County
Proposed Location: 5285 Old Nottoway Road, Blackstone

Lucyville
The Rev. Reuben T. Coleman, enslaved at birth, became an entrepreneur after the Civil War. About 1.5 miles north of here he established Lucyville, named for his daughter, which in the 1890s featured a bank, post office, newspaper, and mineral springs resort that drew visitors from afar. Coleman, who challenged segregation, was the pastor of Mount Olive Baptist Church and a local Republican leader and officeholder. His brother-in-law Shed Dungee, formerly enslaved, represented the area in the House of Delegates (1879-1882) and aligned with the Readjusters, a biracial coalition that achieved major reforms and supported public education. Many Lucyville residents left during the Great Migration.
Sponsor: Cumberland Middle School
Locality: Cumberland County
Proposed Location: Trents Mill Road (Route 622) at the intersection with Oak Hill Road

Washington Park Community
Emancipated African Americans settled in this area after the Civil War. They organized St. John Baptist Church ca. 1868 and built a sanctuary here in 1893. First Baptist Church was founded in 1921. Two planned developments, Oak Park and Washington Park, constituted what is now known as Washington Park early in the 20th century. The neighborhood’s Market Inn nightclub featured performances by such acts as Redd Foxx, the Shirelles, and the Drifters, and was listed in the Green Book, a guide for Black travelers during the segregation era. The City of Richmond annexed part of the community from Henrico Co. in 1914 and the rest in 1942. Dr. Roy West, Richmond’s second Black mayor, grew up here.
Sponsor: Washington Park Civic Association
Locality: City of Richmond
Proposed Location: 4317 North Avenue

Belleville Community
William Saunders Crowdy (1847-1908), who escaped enslavement during the Civil War, established the Church of God and Saints of Christ, a now predominantly African American Judaic community, in Kansas in 1896. He purchased 40 acres here in 1903 that later formed the nucleus of Belleville, which emerged in the 1920s. Expanding to more than 700 acres at its peak, this self-sufficient community featured a sacred tabernacle, farms, a school, a home for widows and orphans, stores, an electric plant, a music hall, and athletic facilities. In 1919 the site became the international headquarters of the Church of God and Saints of Christ, which has members and missions in the U.S., Jamaica, and Africa.
Sponsor: Church of God and Saints of Christ/Temple Beth El
Locality: City of Suffolk
Proposed Location: Near the intersection of Bridge Road and Townpoint Road

Stephen Bates (1842-1907)
Stephen Bates, the earliest-known Black sheriff in the North, began life at Shirley enslaved as a domestic worker. Along with many other people enslaved in the region, he claimed his freedom during the Peninsula Campaign of 1862. After the Battle of Malvern Hill, he worked for a Union officer at nearby Harrison’s Landing and departed with the army in August. Bates became a coachman for VT Congressman Frederick E. Woodbridge in Washington, DC, and in 1869 moved with him to Vergennes, VT. The city council appointed Bates constable (1875-79), and in 1879 the overwhelmingly White electorate chose him to be sheriff. He was regularly elected sheriff and often appointed chief of police until his death.
Sponsor: Charles City County Richard M. Bowman Center for Local History, Larry Schuyler for the Bates family, Liz Ryan for the Stephen Bates Historic Marker Team (Vermont), and Charles Carter for Historic Shirley
Locality: Charles City County
Proposed Location: Near the intersection of Route 5 and Shirley Plantation Road

Arthur Crudup (1905-1974)
Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup, a blues singer, guitarist, and songwriter sometimes called “The Father of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” was born in Mississippi and gained prominence as a recording artist in Chicago in the 1940s. A cover of Crudup’s “That’s All Right” launched the career of Elvis Presley, who later recorded two more of Crudup’s works. Among others who covered Crudup were the Beatles, B.B. King, and Elton John. Rarely receiving royalties, Crudup supported his family as a laborer and farm worker and moved to Franktown ca. 1960. He toured internationally and performed with his sons James, George, and Jonas as The Malibus in Weirwood and Nassawadox. He died on 28 March 1974 and is buried near here.
Sponsor: DHR
Locality: Northampton County
Proposed Location: Nassawadox

Richmond’s First Municipal African Cemetery
In 1799 the City of Richmond acquired land in this area for its first municipal burial ground for enslaved and free Africans and people of African descent. One of several town gallows was located here. Objecting to this and other indignities, including frequent flooding that disturbed burials, free Black Richmonders petitioned for a new cemetery. In 1816 the City opened the Shockoe Hill African Burying Ground a mile north of here. By 1957, Interstate 95 and parking lots covered much of the original cemetery. Beginning in the early 2000s, community activists led an ultimately successful campaign to reclaim, protect, and memorialize the Shockoe Bottom African Burial Ground.
Sponsor: DHR
Locality: City of Richmond
Proposed Location: E. Broad St. just east of I-95

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