Updated: Jan 30
There are many things I never learned in history class growing up here in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. It's funny that when I look back and think about my history classes the things that stand out in my memory are centered around instances like Christopher Columbus, the first Thanksgiving, the German Holocaust, The Great Depression, and World War I and II. In this quick memory list alone, there are no mentions of about the origins of the Atlantic Slave Trade, African American contributions, or any stories of bravery or courage. Sure, I can recall MLK and the carefully planted memories of the Civil Rights Era, but that’s about it. I cannot recall ever learning about the origins of the United States other than Christopher Columbus or who Malcom X was to the Bladk community. I didn’t learn about these key figures until well into my adulthood. When searching my personal memory bank, I realize the absent key moments in the American timeline that were not in our textbooks. There weren’t any school projects detailing Black America or research papers or any assignments to learn about major accomplishments of Black people. In the end, when I think about Virginia specifically, I wonder to myself why were these key factors left out of our shared histories? Was it by accident or by design? More importantly, why did it take me to reach adulthood to learn about what happened? So, with this thought in mind, I decided to briefly detail 10 things that weren’t taught in my elementary or high school education pipeline.
Key Unaware Moments
Some people believe that History defines one's culture. Yet, when the case arrives of fraudulent History or half-truths, how then is a society defined? The following list are 10 things that weren’t taught or never discussed in my Virginia educational journey:
A Pirate Ship Delivery Service: In 1619, the first slaves were traded by the “White Lion,”, a Portuguese Pirate Ship (History would dub them Privateers, but in real terms that means PIRATE), to gain food and supplies for the trans-Atlantic journey back home.
Contraband Kryptonite/Freedom’s Fortress: During the Civil War, General Butler, the General in command at Olde Pointe Comfort coined the runaway slaves as “contraband.” This was significant because in those times if a slave ran away, it was law to return the slaves back to their owners. However, since the South had separated from the North, General Butler made the decision that those rules no longer applied for Confederate slave owners. In essence, General Butler created “leverage,” a sort of kryptonite that crippled the South’s economy by creating a safe-haven and a pathway to freedom. It is because of these actions, Old Pointe Comfort, present day Ft. Monroe, became forever known as Freedom's Fortress.
A Waterside Slave Market: The domestic slave trade was a booming business in Norfolk, VA. The Downtown Norfolk Slover Library has compiled massive research on the matter about the areas major slave market/port. The Sheraton Hotel and Waterside District is the location of where our ancestors once stood, shackled and bound. According to the Historic New Orleans Collection, more than 37K humans were shipped out of Richmond, Alexandria, Petersburg, and Norfolk to the port of New Orleans alone.
Loving v. The Commonwealth of Virginia: A Landmark Supreme court case that centered around the interracial marriage of Richard and Mildred Loving.
Black Wall Street/Tulsa Massacre: Detailed a booming economic ecosystems of African Americans that built a prosperous city that included Black-Owned Banks, Schools, Hospitals, and more. The Tulsa Massacre of 1921 erased this city from the map and from common knowledge.
Real Estate Redlining: Redlining was a process that banks and mortgage lenders used to block out African Americans from predominately white neighborhoods. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 was one way to combat this unfair act. As recent as 2021, the United States Justice Department continues to combat redlining. So, essentially this discriminatory act is still regulated and remains a key issue for African American homebuyers.
The Emancipation Tree: Emancipation landmark that marks the very place that enslaved “contraband” started their educational journey to read and write. This magnificent tree still lives today on the campus of Hampton University.
The Green Book & Sundown Towns: The Green book was a ‘traveler’s guide” for African Americans to mark safe places for food, gas, and lodging. Essentially African Americans had to create a sort of “survival guide” due to the racial climate. The Green book was published religiously from 1937 until 1966. Sundown Towns: Sundown towns were areas that were extremely dangerous for people of color. Most had signage that announced their racial views for the town or county. In current times, these places still exist. Mind Blowing! Scholastic studies and reviews created a database to make these locations public knowledge. Any sundown towns in your State? Click the link to check for yourselves.
o Lucy Addison: Responsible for paving the way for Blacks to attain a high school education in 1924. Her efforts led to her school becoming the largest African American school in Virginia under female leadership.
o Henrietta Lacks: Played a major role in medical research to this day. Without her consent, the study of her cells, also called the HeLa immortal cell line, provided breakthrough medical achievements, including the development of the polio vaccine, chemotherapy, and HIV/AIDS treatments.
o Ella Fitzgerald: (1917-1996) Newport News; "The First Lady of Song;" Grammy Award-winning Jazz Singer.
o Mary Kenner: Mary Kenner is the sole woman that owns the patent for inventing sanitary supplies for women. She is also the only African American women in history on file to have five patents that helped to solve real issues for women.
The Negro Museum: One of the many World Fairs and Expositions was held here in Virginia in 1907. At this world fair, the very FIRST African American Museum of its kind was built to showcase the history of Black people from slavery to that current time. The fair was the Jamestown Ter-Centennial Exposition of 1907 and the museum was called the Negro Building. The land and the buildings built were later sold to the U.S. Navy and is the present site of the Norfolk Naval Base in Norfolk Virginia.
Library of Congress. (n.d.). Jamestown Exposition, 1907. Retrieved from https://www.loc.gov/item/mp76000116/
Library of Virginia. (2021, February 11). The Negro building at the Jamestown Ter-Centennial exposition. Retrieved from https://encyclopediavirginia.org/1107hpr-109e12859a79111/
New Journal Guide. (2020, May 16). Norfolk’s slave trade largest on East Coast. Retrieved from https://thenewjournalandguide.com/norfolks-slave-trade-largest-on-east-coast/
Petras, G., & Loehrke, J. (2021, February 19). A look inside the green book, which guided Black travelers through a segregated and hostile America. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/in-depth/travel/2021/02/19/black-history-month-inside-green-book-travel-guide/4357851001/
Tougaloo University. (2022, February 23). Sundown towns by state. Retrieved from https://justice.tougaloo.edu/sundown-towns/using-the-sundown-towns-database/state-map/