—The markers focus on African American history in Marion and Smyth County—
—The markers’ texts are reproduced below—
Three state historical markers issued by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (DHR) will be dedicated this week in the Town of Marion that highlight a high school established for black students during the early 1930s, a “crying” tree that evokes the story of a young enslaved girl who was sold away from her family, and a Methodist church founded by African Americans during the Reconstruction era.
The markers will be dedicated and unveiled sequentially at each one’s location beginning at 12 noon, this Friday, November 15, with “Carnegie High School,” located at 602 Iron Street in Marion. The markers “The Crying Tree,” located at 231 Main Street, and “Mount Pleasant Methodist Church,” at 320 South Main Street, will follow with unveilings in that order.
Marion Mayor David Helm will lead the ceremony along with other invited speakers. The event is open to the public.
The “Carnegie High School” marker states that the school was established after Amos Carnegie, a pastor in 1927 at Mount Pleasant Methodist Church, led the black community in raising money and securing a grant from the Julius Rosenwald Fund to build the four-teacher school building. The school opened in 1931 and closed in 1965, when schools in Smyth County were desegregated. The sign also notes that Katherine Johnson, who made crucial contributions to the U.S. space program at NASA, taught at Carnegie High School for several years.
The “The Crying Tree” marker relays the story of Sarah Elizabeth “Sallie” Adams (1841-1913), a young girl of about five when she, her mother, and other family members were sold at a slave auction at the Smyth County Courthouse. The results left the enslaved Sallie alone and a “body servant” to the sickly wife of Marion resident Thomas Thurman. Over the years, Sallie would express her grief by crying next to a white oak tree in the Thurman yard and “sometimes hug the tree and tell it about her burdens and sorrows.” The community named the oak “The Crying Tree.”
The “Mount Pleasant Methodist Church” marker recalls it formed around 1871 after African Americans in the area, reflecting a contemporary statewide trend, withdrew from white-led congregations to establish the church. The congregation shared a sanctuary with a Baptist congregation, before erecting a new brick sanctuary in 1914. After serving as a hub for the black community, Mount Pleasant Methodist Church closed in 2002.
The three markers were approved in September by the Virginia Board of Historic Resources, which is authorized to designate new state historical markers. The Town of Marion sponsored the markers and covered their manufacturing costs.
Virginia’s historical highway marker program, which began in 1927 with the installation of the first historical markers along U.S. Route 1, is considered the oldest such program in the nation. Currently, 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.
[PLEASE NOTE: DHR markers are erected 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, markers are not memorials.]
Texts of markers:
Carnegie High School
The Rev. Amos Carnegie came to Marion by 1927 as pastor of Mount Pleasant Methodist Church. Finding the town’s school for African Americans “hardly fit for a stable,” he organized a campaign for a new building. When the school board delayed, Carnegie raised money from the black community and secured a grant from the Julius Rosenwald Fund, which supported more than 5,000 schools for black students across the South. The four-teacher building, constructed by black craftsmen who donated their labor, opened in 1931 and closed in 1965, when local schools were desegregated. Katherine Johnson, who later made crucial contributions to the U.S. space program at NASA, taught here for several years.
“The Crying Tree”
Sarah Elizabeth “Sallie” Adams (1841-1913) was about five years old when she and her family were sold at a slave auction outside the Smyth County Courthouse. Thomas Thurman, whose house stood near here, bought Sallie to be a body servant for his sickly wife. A slave owner from Lynchburg purchased Sallie’s mother, whom she never saw again, and her siblings. In later years, Sallie told her children that, when possible, she would slip out of Thurman’s house and cry next to a white oak tree in the yard. She would sometimes hug the tree and tell it about her burdens and sorrows, and it became her friend and confidant. That tree ultimately became known in the community as “The Crying Tree.”
Mount Pleasant Methodist Church
African Americans, exercising newfound autonomy after the Civil War, withdrew from white-led congregations and established new churches, including Mount Pleasant Methodist Church in Marion ca. 1871. After sharing a frame sanctuary with a local Baptist congregation, Mount Pleasant erected a new brick sanctuary here in 1914. Black brickmasons constructed the building in the Gothic Revival and Romanesque Revival styles. The church became a cultural center for the African American community, hosting musical performances, lectures, and meetings of the local branch of the NAACP and other organizations. Mount Pleasant closed in 2002.
Updated December 2, 2019