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Virginia Department of Historic Resources

State Historical Highway Marker “John Chilembwe” to be Dedicated in Lynchburg

John Chilembwe in 1914.
John Chilembwe in 1914. (Wikipedia)

—Chilembwe led the first major African uprising against colonial authorities in the British Protectorate of Nyasaland (Malawi); the British later blamed his education in the U.S. at Virginia Seminary in Lynchburg for his role in the revolt—

 The marker’s text reproduced below

The Ambassador of Malawi will join sponsors this Saturday in dedicating a state historical marker issued by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources that highlights the life of John Chilembwe, who led a revolt against British colonial authorities in 1915 in present-day Malawi. The British government later claimed that Chilembwe’s actions resulted from his schooling at Virginia Seminary, today’s University of Lynchburg.

Ambassador Edward Yakobe Sawerengera and Malawi First Secretary Alinafe Chikonde will participate in the dedication ceremony along with Lynchburg Mayor Mary Jane Dolan and Dr. James Coleman of Virginia University of Lynchburg (VUL). The ceremony begins at 1 p.m., November 14, at the site of the marker, located on the VUL campus. The Kuumba Dance Ensemble will perform at the ceremony. Following the marker’s unveiling, the Anne Spencer House will host a socially distanced reception in its gardens, where the Kuumba Dance Ensemble will perform again. The dedication and reception are open to the public.

Born around 1871, Chilembwe came to Lynchburg in 1897 to study at Virginia Seminary under its president, Gregory Hayes. By 1900, Chilembwe had returned to Africa and set up Providence Industrial Mission before launching “the first major African uprising against colonial authorities in the British Protectorate of Nyasaland (Malawi),” according to the marker.

On February 3, 1915, a military patrol shot and killed Chilembwe. Later, “the British Official Commission asserted that a main cause of the revolt had been Chilembwe’s education in the United States,” the marker states.

Malawi became an independent nation in 1964, and as a symbol of liberation, Malawi celebrates John Chilembwe Day annually on January 15.

Grants from the University of Lynchburg’s Schewel Student Faculty Research Fund and the Turner Fund supported the marker’s manufacturing costs. The Virginia Board of Historic Resources, which has the authority to designate new historical markers, approved the marker in June 2020.

In 1927, Virginia’s historical highway marker program erected the state’s first historical markers along U.S. Route 1. The program is considered the oldest such public roadside history initiative in the nation. Today there are more than 2,600 official state markers, most maintained by the Virginia Department of Transportation and by local partners in jurisdictions outside of VDOT’s authority such as Lynchburg.

NOTE: DHR issues markers not to “honor” their topics or subjects but rather to educate and inform the public about a person, place, or event of regional, state, or national importance. In this regard, markers are not honorific memorials.

Text of marker:

John Chilembwe (ca. 1871-1915)

John Chilembwe was the leader, in 1915, of the first major African uprising against colonial authorities in the British Protectorate of Nyasaland (Malawi). Chilembwe had come to Lynchburg in 1897 to study at Virginia Seminary under its president, Gregory Hayes. He returned to Africa by 1900 and set up Providence Industrial Mission before launching the revolt of 1915. A military patrol shot and killed Chilembwe on 3 Feb. 1915. The British Official Commission asserted that a main cause of the revolt had been Chilembwe’s education in the United States. Malawi, where Chilembwe remains a symbol of liberation, became independent in 1964. John Chilembwe Day is celebrated annually on 15 Jan.

Updated November 16, 2020