One-hundred-fifty years ago the Emancipation Proclamation could not be enforced in areas still under rebellion, but as the army took control of Confederate regions, the slaves in those regions were emancipated rather than returned to their masters.
The Proclamation cleared the way for schools like Virginia State University to be chartered in 1882. Panelists, during a symposium will discuss the impact of the Emancipation Proclamation from 1863 to 1963, on Saturday, Feb. 16, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. One member of the panel will be Lucious Edwards, PhD, who is the archivist for VSU and teaches history at the University.
“Virginia had shares of stock in railroad companies and canals and things like that. They had gone to borrowing money from people in Europe because they did not have money to build these things,” Dr. Edwards said. “The railroad right here, south of the school, was one of the ones [railroad] that the State of Virginia sold its interest in. And some of the money from that sale was used to charter Virginia State.”
There were some people who believe that the money from that sale could not be used to charter a school for African Americans. The land for VSU was purchased right in the middle of Ettrick - a mill town. It took a number of years before the relationship between Ettrick and the college, or as Dr. Edwards called it towns and gowns, reached a mutual understanding. There were people, who said “why are they spending money over there and they’re not spending money on us.” But the Readjuster Party paved the way for schools of higher learning for African Americans.
According to “Jumpin’ Jim Crow” (Jane Dailey; Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore and Bryant Simon), The Party “was a political biracial coalition formed in Virginia in the late 1870s during the turbulent period following the Reconstruction era. Readjusters aspired ‘to break the power of wealth and established privilege’ among the planter elite of white men in the state and to promote public education. Their program attracted biracial support.”
John Mercer Langston, the first dean of the law school at Howard University was the first president of what is now Virginia State University. Langston was also the first black person elected to Congress from Virginia, and he was the last for another century.
Jim Crow laws (which was a belittling expression meaning, “Negro”) legalized racial segregation of public facilities, including all transportation; serving on juries or running for any office; and black’s lost political voice. Most were disfranchised until after the mid-1960s, when the civil rights movement enforced integration.
In the beginning, as it is today VSU was a walking campus. Students looked after each other. Yet it was an uneasy relationship. VSU is the oldest school in Virginia to be chartered as a teacher’s school. But they had a dual component, a teacher’s school and a collegiate school.
VSU had all the courses that you would expect at a liberal arts college. They had all of the courses that you would find at UVA; Greek, Latin, anatomy and other liberal arts programs.
“In fact,” said Edwards. “That was one of the things that the General Assembly questioned. Albert Harris, Virginia legislator, said, “Where would you go to find the people to teach all these courses? And, it’s written in the record ‘you do not know all of us’ Harris told the legislature.”
“Usually, when you ran into a HBCU (Historic Black Colleges and Universities), they would be a normal and industrial or agricultural school,” Edwards said. “It was the only school that I’m aware of that added a teaching school with the liberal arts program. Although in 1902 they converted it to industrial arts.”
After the Reconstruction there was a fusion party – there were dissidents and democrats and some republicans fused together and became the readjustment party. They paved the way for HBUCs.
“In the early days, all the teachers at VSU were black and all of the board of visitors except one was black. That was almost unheard of,” Edwards said. “That was an unusual thing but it showed the power of the black population in Virginia after the Civil War. People were free, and they interpreted that to mean we can do what we want to do, and that’s what they did.
“They were anticipating a great reaction to it, so there’s not another state-supported HBUC for African-Americans. They had a college degree program, an all black faculty and an entire board of visitors managing a $25,000 budget. Most people would’ve thought the money was just going to be stolen.”
In the early days of VSU, there were copious records kept, but there were some presidents who didn’t do such a great job, but Edwards has organized and logged them all. He has also accepted the papers and records of other alumni and even non-alumni such as Oliver Hill, the famous attorney who helped win landmark legal decisions involving equality in pay for black teachers, access to school buses, voting rights, jury selection, and employment protection. Hill also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, awarded by President Bill Clinton in 1999.
Edwards knows the history and sidebar information that has made VSU a viable HBUC that continues to grow. Six-thousand students registered for the 2012 fall semester and new construction is evident everywhere.
Edwards will be only one of the panelists on the panel Saturday but should not be overshadowed by other panelists, although he said laughing, “I’m not sure why they want me there.”
Dr. Edward Ayers, president of the University of Richmond, will be the moderator, and featured speakers will include Grady Powell, Emmanuel Dabney, Dr. Edna Greene Medford, Herbert Coulton, Dr. Lauranett Lee and Edwards.
The event is free, open to the public and presented by Chesterfield County Black History Month and Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War committees, in partnership with Virginia State University and the Chesterfield County Historical Society of Virginia. Lunch will be provided. Registration is required, and may be done online at chesterfield.gov or by calling 318-8181. For more information, including a list of Chesterfield County’s entire series of programs commemorating Black History Month, visit http://www.chesterfield.gov/blackhistorymonth/ .