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‘Untold story’ tellers honored

History isn’t dead.

Certainly not to the men and women of the Fredericksburg area’s Trail to Freedom Committee and their supporters.

The group, which arose from last fall’s “To Freedom” history programs in Fredericksburg and Culpeper County, is dedicated to sharing the inspiring, and sometimes troubling, stories about African–American history.

On Saturday, it honored four area residents’ work in unearthing and bringing forth bits of that important heritage.

As the capstone to the region’s first daylong symposium on black history, the committee presented its first annual William H. Carney Awards for service to the community and excellence in preserving local history.

The awards are named for Carney, the Medal of Honor winner in the 54th Masssachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment’s 1863 fight for Fort Wagner near Charleston, S.C. Born a slave in Norfolk, Carney was the first black American to receive the military’s highest honor.

In his name, the committee honored Frank White of Stafford County, Zann Nelson of Culpeper County and Rixeyville residents Robert and Kathy Ellis.

White was lauded for many years of disseminating Stafford’s black history and recent months of effort in getting Stafford’s Rowser Building (aka the Stafford Training School) included on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places.

Built in 1939 by the Public Works Administration on land purchased with donations from black citizens, it was the county’s only African–American high school during the segregation era. In 1960, its students were the area’s first to attempt school integration. That try failed, but was followed by successful efforts in 1961 and 1962 at Stafford High School.

The Ellises were recognized for preserving a cemetery on their Culpeper County farm that is the final resting place of enslaved people, and for working to learn more about those individuals and share their stories with others, including their descendants in other states.

Nelson was praised for eight years of researching what she calls “the untold stories”—a phrase the committee adopted as the name for its symposium.

They include revealing the story of young Allie Thompson, murdered by vigilantes after being wrongly accused of assaulting a white woman; discovering that Baseball Hall of Famer “Pete” Hill was born in Culpeper County, not Pittsburgh; and organizing last September’s Crossing to Freedom commemoration of President Lincoln’s Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.

The symposium, held at Central Rappahannock Regional Library and the Courtyard Marriott, hosted eight speakers on a wide variety of topics and was attended by more than 40 people from the region, Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C.


Clint Schemmer: 540/368-5029