Let us honor our local treasures in the community that paved the way through many obstacles and hardships. We are grateful for your perseverance.
“Never be limited by other people’s limited imaginations.”
—Dr. Mae Jemison, first African-American female astronaut
photo credit, USPS stamp image
- Enslaved African Americans are noted to have probably first come to Orange County in the 1730’s and were employed mostly in the iron mines established by Lt. Governor Alexander Spotswood around the Fort Germanna historical site located in Locust Grove.
- Pension records show that “Forgotten Patriots” from Orange County served in the military during the American Revolution and helped build a road through the county for the Marquis de Lafayette as he traveled south towards Yorktown in 1781.
- Paul Jennings was James Madison’s lifelong enslaved Black (African) American. He is credited with rescuing the Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington that was hanging in the White House as the British burned the nation’s fledgling capitol during the War of 1812.
Paul Jennings, photo from Wikipedia
Annual cultural festival to celebrate the African American community:” Juneteenth is the oldest nationally-celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. Marking the date that the last enslaved people learned of their freedom, the month of June and the nineteenth day were combined to form the term “Juneteenth.” From its Galveston, Texas, origin in 1865, observance of Juneteenth as African American Emancipation Day has spread across the United States, and is an official holiday recognized in 45 States and the District of Columbia.” James Madison’s Montpelier Annual Juneteenth Celebration honors and celebrates African American history, food, music, faith, family, and freedom, June 20, 2020.
Enterprising African American women in the 1840’s earned Gordonsville the title of Fried Chicken Capital of the Universe when they greeted arriving trains with baskets of fried chicken and homemade pies balanced on their heads. On June 15, 2002, a plaque honoring Gordonsville’s Legendary Chicken Vendors “Fried Chicken Capital of the World” was dedicated and recognized as an African American Memorial Site at the Civil War Museum at the Exchange Hotel.
Fried Chicken Vendors, Gordonsville VA.
In the middle of the 20th century, it was the best of times for citizens of downtown Orange when bustling businesses lined Railroad Avenue between East Main and Church Streets. Neighborhood children played on skates, Sunday league baseball players got a trim and a shave in the local barbershop, women shopped for fabric at the five-and-dime store, young couples danced on hot summer nights, and pool halls filled with joy at the workweek’s end. This is the life recognized by many African-Americans whose families still live, work, worship and play in this area of historic downtown Orange.
Mid 1940’s Church Street, Downtown Orange. Photo credit, Maher Washington
To learn and see photos of much more history and culture of the Orange County African American community enjoy a great read by Terry L. Miller, “Images of America, African Americans in Culpeper, Orange, Madison and Rappahannock Counties.”
“Orange Graded School, built in 1925 to replace the African American schoolhouse on West Main Street, stood adjacent to present day Prospect Heights School. Of the several county schools for black students, Orange Graded was the only one built using the Julius Rosenwald Fund, which was established in 1917 by the president of Sears, Roebuck and Company to construct schools for African Americans across the rural South. Of the $6,200 building cost, 40 percent was raised by the local African American community. This four-teacher standard plan school was one of the larger Rosenwalds built in Virginia. Gussie Baylor Taylor was recruited to teach in 1925 and later served as the school’s supervisor.” (language taken from DHR website and marker) A portion of the foundation is still visible at the site of the Orange Graded School.
Enjoy the exhibit and work of Darrell Rose, A New Vision 2020, at the Arts Center in Orange displayed in their Morin Gallery from February 6-March 31, 2020. Although widely known and celebrated as a musician, he has been painting for over twenty-five years, broadening his range considerably as a creative artist.
photo credit, The Arts Center in Orange