—Text of each marker reproduced below—
African American and women’s history in Virginia figures prominently in 15 state historical markers recently approved for placement along roads in the commonwealth including signs highlighting a “hidden figure” at NASA, two voting rights activists, and several markers about nationally known artists.
The Virginia Board of Historic Resources approved the forthcoming markers during a public quarterly meeting on September 17 that the Department of Historic Resources convened online.
A marker slated for Hampton will recall the career of Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson (1918-2020), a mathematician who was one of the African American women featured in the 2016 book and movie Hidden Figures. The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (later NASA) hired Johnson in 1953 to work in the segregated West Area Computing Unit at Langley Aeronautical Laboratory. “Soon transferred to the Flight Research Division, she performed crucial calculations for pathbreaking missions including the U.S.’s first manned spaceflight (1961), first orbital spaceflight (1962), and the first manned moon landing (1969). Before retiring in 1986, she also worked on the Space Shuttle,” according to the forthcoming marker.
The Lynchburg Museum System is the sponsor of the marker “Elizabeth Langhorne Lewis (1851-1946),” which recalls “one of the most influential women’s suffrage activists in Virginia,” according to the marker text. A vice president of the Equal Suffrage League (ESL) of Virginia (later, the League of Women Voters), Lewis founded the ESL of Lynchburg in 1910, the second-oldest local chapter in the state. After passage of the U.S. Constitution’s 19th Amendment established women’s voting rights, Lewis became a leader of the state and Lynchburg chapters of the League of Women Voters.
In Norfolk, a marker will rise to recall civil rights activist Evelyn Thomas Butts (1924-1993). Butts’ advocacy helped secure voting rights for African Americans, when in 1963 she initiated a federal lawsuit asserting that Virginia’s poll tax, which citizens had to pay before they could register to vote, violated the U.S. Constitution. Combined with a similar suit filed in Fairfax County, the case reached the U.S. Supreme Court in 1966, when the court ruled in Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections that the poll tax requirement in state elections was unconstitutional.
Five of the 15 new markers—including the signs about Johnson and Butts—students across the commonwealth proposed during Governor Northam’s inaugural Black History Month Historical Marker Contest earlier this year. The three other markers are—
Three markers will inform the public about women artists including a dancer and a writer.
Two other markers focus on political and social activists:
Three markers each highlight communities in Virginia. The organization Preservation Bath is sponsoring two markers in Bath County:
A marker bound for the City of Hopewell will identify the site of Kippax Plantation. London native Robert Bolling, a merchant and trader, acquired the plantation property in the latter part of the 1600s. According to tradition, Pocahontas’s son Thomas Rolfe and his daughter Jane Rolfe, who married Bolling, are buried there. Kippax, situated near a Native American trade route extending to the southwest, was a site of cultural interaction among Europeans, Native Americans, and enslaved Africans, according to the forthcoming marker.
After approval by the Board of Historic Resources, it can take upwards of three months or more before a new marker is ready for its sponsor to dedicate it. The marker’s sponsor covers the required $1,770 manufacturing expenses for a new marker.
Virginia’s historical highway marker program, which began in 1927 with installation of the first markers along U.S. 1, is considered the oldest such program in the nation. Currently there are more than 2,600 state markers, most of which are maintained by the Virginia Department of Transportation, except in those localities outside of VDOT’s authority.
More information about the Historical Highway Marker Program is available on the website of the Department of Historic Resources at https://www.dhr.virginia.gov/highway-markers/.
Full Text of Markers:
(VDOT must approve the proposed locations for each sign or public works in jurisdictions outside VDOT’s authority.)
Joseph R. Holmes (ca. 1838-1869)
Joseph R. Holmes, formerly enslaved in Charlotte County, campaigned for civil rights and education after emancipation. He served as a delegate to the Virginia Republican Party conventions in 1867 and 1869 and was elected to represent Charlotte and Halifax Counties in Virginia’s Constitutional Convention of 1867-68, held as a precondition for the state’s readmission to the Union. On 3 May 1869 Holmes was shot dead here on the courthouse steps. Brothers John and Griffin S. Marshall, along with William T. Boyd and Macon C. Morris, all white, were charged with his murder. The men fled and were never tried. The murder drew international attention to the plight of freedpeople during Reconstruction.
Sponsor: Kathy Liston
Locality: Charlotte County
Proposed Location: Charlotte County Courthouse
West Warm Springs
African Americans, exercising newfound autonomy after the Civil War, purchased land here on the western slope of Little Mountain and established the community of West Warm Springs. Many early residents worked at nearby resorts, including the Warm Springs pools, or were skilled artisans and craftsmen. Central to community life were John Wesley Methodist Episcopal Church (1873), Mount Pisgah Baptist Church (ca. 1880), and the Jones School, which served Black students early in the 20th century. Webb’s Store (ca. 1900), restaurants, and a dance hall provided gathering places for residents. Descendants of the founding families have been instrumental in preserving the history of West Warm Springs.
Sponsor: Preservation Bath
Locality: Bath County
Proposed Location: off Route 39 near entrance to neighborhood
Elizabeth Langhorne Lewis (1851-1946)
The home of Elizabeth Lewis, one of the most influential women’s suffrage activists in Virginia, stood here. As a vice president of the Equal Suffrage League (ESL) of Virginia, she organized local leagues, gave speeches, and lobbied elected officials. In 1910 she founded the ESL of Lynchburg, the second-oldest local chapter in the state, and she was its president until 1920. Like many other all-white suffrage groups, the ESL failed to include African Americans in its work. After the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteed women’s voting rights in 1920, Lewis became a leader of the state and Lynchburg chapters of the League of Women Voters.
Sponsor: Lynchburg Museum System
Proposed Location: 601, 607, or 609 Court Street, Lynchburg
Sallie Blount Mahood (1864-1953)
Sallie Mahood, painter of landscapes and portraits for half a century, moved to Lynchburg as a young adult. She studied with prominent artists in Martha’s Vineyard, New York, and Paris and was frequently commissioned to paint portraits of notable Virginians. Her works are in the collections of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Virginia Museum of History and Culture, and the Supreme Court of Virginia, as well as educational institutions across the state. Mahood’s mother, Julia Morrison Blount (1831-1877), and her daughter, Helen Mahood McGehee (1892-1980), also had careers as artists. Her granddaughter, internationally known dancer Helen McGehee, lived here at 2907 Rivermont Ave.
Sponsor: Stewart Coleman
Proposed Location: 2907 Rivermont Ave.
Helen McGehee (1921-2020)
Helen McGehee was an internationally acclaimed dancer, choreographer, and teacher. From the 1940s until 1970, she was a leading performer in the Martha Graham Dance Company, which revolutionized American modern dance. Having studied Greek and Latin at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, she used her knowledge of Greek mythology to originate iconic roles in the Graham repertory and to design costumes for Graham and for her own company. A founding member of the Dance Division faculty at the Juilliard School, she taught there for more than 30 years. After 1978, she lived here at 2907 Rivermont Ave. with her husband, the Colombian-American artist known as Umaña (1908-1994).
Sponsor: Elizabeth Harris
Proposed Location: 2907 Rivermont Ave.
Lucy Harrison Miller Baber (1908-1996)
Lucy Baber helped to overhaul Virginia’s juvenile justice system in the mid-20th century. As a member of a Virginia Advisory Legislative Council subcommittee, she assisted in formulating legislation that in 1950 strengthened the juvenile court system, required separate juvenile detention facilities, and expanded probation services. Baber served on a Department of Welfare and Institutions advisory committee tasked with implementing these reforms. As chair of the Welfare Department of the 20,000-member Virginia Federation of Women’s Clubs, she encouraged activism to end children’s incarceration in adult jails. She was instrumental in organizing Lynchburg’s juvenile court system.
Sponsor: Jane Baber White and E. M. (Ned) Baber
Proposed Location: 909 Court St.
Creative Women of Fishers Hill
Three women who achieved national prominence for their creative endeavors, but were later largely forgotten, lived near Fishers Hill during the 1880s. Landscape painter Bertha Von Hillern (ca. 1857-1939), once renowned as a competitive endurance walker, shared a studio 1.5 miles northwest of here with painter Maria J. C. a’ Becket (1839-1904). The women, influenced by the French Barbizon Movement, drew inspiration from the rugged forests of this area, exhibited their works at elite galleries and World’s Fairs, and mentored one another. Emma Howard Wight (ca. 1863-1935) arrived here late in the 1880s and became a prolific author of novels, short stories, plays, radio dramas, and photoplays.
Sponsor: Fishers Hill Ladies Project
Locality: Shenandoah County
Proposed Location: 2753 Battlefield Road
London native Robert Bolling, merchant and trader, acquired this property in the latter part of the 17th century. According to tradition, Pocahontas’s son Thomas Rolfe and his daughter Jane Rolfe, who married Bolling, are buried here. Kippax, situated near a Native American trade route extending to the southwest, was a site of cultural interaction among Europeans, Native Americans, and enslaved Africans. The forced labor of the enslaved sustained the plantation for nearly 200 years. In the 18th century Kippax belonged to Theodorick Bland Jr., colonel in the Revolutionary War and member of the first U.S. Congress. The Archaeological Conservancy purchased the property in 2006.
Sponsor: City of Hopewell
Proposed Location: Cedar Level Road parallel to Kippax Plantation
The courthouse town of Warm Springs reflects more than 200 years of settlement in the Warm Springs Valley. Located near the center of Bath County, this community encompasses a small village core and its surrounding rural landscape. The flanking mountains, Warm Springs Run, and the historic thermal springs are significant natural resources. Notable properties include the early-19th-century Oakley Farm, writer Mary Johnston’s home at Three Hills (1913), the Greek Revival courthouse (1914), the Homestead Dairy Barns (1928), Miller’s mill (ca. 1901), the 19th-century Warm Springs Bath Houses, two antebellum churches, and the 1840s courthouse and jail near the springs, which later became an inn.
Sponsor: Preservation Bath
Locality: Bath County
Proposed Location: in village of Warm Springs, TBD
Amos and Mary Janney, Quakers from Bucks County, PA, settled here ca. 1733. Others soon followed, forming a manufacturing and commercial center that served the surrounding farmland. By mid-century the village was known as Janney’s Mill after its most important enterprise; it was renamed Waterford about 1780. By 1830, free African Americans headed a quarter of Waterford’s households. During the Civil War, most residents opposed slavery and supported the Union. From the 1930s, local property owners—and the Waterford Foundation they established in 1943—have worked to preserve the 18th- and 19th-century village and its rural setting. The area became a National Historic Landmark district in 1970.
Sponsor: Waterford Citizens’ Association
Locality: Loudoun County
Proposed Location: in front of the mill on Main St., Waterford
Marker Topics Selected During Governor’s Black History Month Marker Contest
Angelo (fl. 1619-1625)
Angelo (Angela) was likely born in the West African kingdom of Ndongo, part of present-day Angola. Captured and sold to slave traders, she was forced onto a Portuguese ship. Two English privateers, the White Lion and the Treasurer, attacked the ship as it neared Spanish America, removing Angelo and some 60 other Africans. The White Lion arrived at Point Comfort, VA, in Aug. 1619, followed by the Treasurer, with Angelo aboard. There she and about 30 others, the first documented Africans in Virginia, were sold. Angelo labored in the Jamestown household of Capt. William Peirce, planter, merchant, and political and military leader. She last appears in colonial records in the muster of 1625.
Locality: James City County
Evelyn Thomas Butts (1924-1993)
Evelyn Butts, civil rights activist and community organizer, worked to secure voting rights for African Americans. In 1963 she initiated a federal lawsuit asserting that Virginia’s poll tax, which citizens had to pay before they could register to vote, violated the U.S. Constitution. The case, combined with a similar suit filed in Fairfax County, reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections (1966) that the poll tax requirement in state elections was unconstitutional. Butts conducted voter registration drives and helped establish Concerned Citizens of Norfolk, which resulted in the election of African Americans to public office.
Gowan Pamphlet (ca. 1748-ca. 1809)
Gowan Pamphlet, ordained Baptist preacher, led clandestine religious gatherings of enslaved and free African Americans by the late 1770s. To avoid patrollers, they met in wooded areas outside Williamsburg. An enslaved worker at the Kings Arms Tavern and likely literate, Pamphlet molded the loosely knit worshipers into an organized Baptist church by 1781. In 1793, he gained membership for the 500-member church in the white regional Dover Baptist Association. Freed in 1793, Pamphlet owned part of a lot in Williamsburg and 14 acres in James City County by 1805. The congregation, later known as First Baptist Church, began worshiping on Nassau Street in Williamsburg early in the 19th century.
Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson (1918-2020)
Katherine Johnson, mathematician, graduated from West Virginia State College and was a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. She was a teacher before the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (later NASA) hired her in 1953 to work in the segregated West Area Computing Unit at Langley Aeronautical Laboratory. Soon transferred to the Flight Research Division, she performed crucial calculations for pathbreaking missions including the U.S.’s first manned spaceflight (1961), first orbital spaceflight (1962), and the first manned moon landing (1969). Before retiring in 1986, she also worked on the Space Shuttle. Pres. Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015.
Maggie Lena Walker (1864-1934)
Maggie Walker, an African American entrepreneur and civil rights activist, promoted economic empowerment for the Black community. In 1899 she was elected head of the Independent Order of Saint Luke, a mutual aid society and insurance company facing a dwindling membership. Under her leadership, the organization grew to more than 100,000 members. Walker founded the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank in 1903, becoming the first Black woman in the U.S. to establish and serve as president of a bank. She helped organize a major boycott of Richmond’s segregated streetcars in 1904 and served on the national boards of the NAACP and the National Association of Colored Women.
Locality: City of Richmond
Originally posted: September 23, 2020
Updated: September 9, 2021