Little-known stories of black history in Virginia

Manassas, Va.—A new Manassas Museum exhibit, opening in time for Black History Month, will highlight 27 unique African American stories and events depicted on Virginia highway historical markers.

The exhibit, “Sites and Stories: African American History in Virginia,” illuminates the often little-known stories told in those familiar silver and black roadside historic markers found throughout the state.

Several biographies of prominent African Americans are included in the exhibit:

John Mercer Langston (1829-1897) was Virginia’s first African American congressman, serving one term for seven months in 1890. Born a free man in Louisa County, Langston graduated from Oberlin Col-lege before he became president of Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute (1885-1887) which is today known as Virginia State University.

William Mack Lee (1835-c.1930) served as Gen. Robert E. Lee’s valet and cook throughout the Civil War. He was with Lee at Appomattox and witnessed the surrender. After the war, Lee used money left to him by Gen. Lee to seek an education and in 1881 was ordained a minister.

James Leonard Farmer (1920-1999) was a major force in the civil rights movement, organizing the Free-dom Rides in 1961. The goal of the rides was to force compliance with court orders to desegregate inter-state transportation.

The exhibit also commemorates events and movements important to African American history:

n In August 1831, Nat Turner, an African American from Southampton County, rebelled against the institu-tion of slavery. He led a group of 70, that killed 60 white men, women and children in two days before armed civilians quelled the insurrection. Turner and about 30 of his followers were hanged after being tried and convicted.

n In 1951, students at the R. R. Moton School in Farmville, named after Tuskegee Institute President Robert Moton, boycotted classes to protest overcrowded conditions and inadequate facilities. The lawsuit, Davis v. Prince Edward County Schools, was one of the five cases decided jointly by the Supreme Court on May 17, 1954, when it held that separate schools for blacks and white were unconstitutional.

Virginia was one of the first states to launch a historical highway marker program. When the initial markers were erected in 1927, patriots, presidents, early homes and Revolutionary and Civil War sites were well represented.

The exhibit hopes to encourage visitors to travel to the physical sites of the markers. The exhibit and open-ing reception are included with admission.

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Consuela Lee, Jazz Pianist and Educator, Dies at 83

Consuela Lee, a jazz pianist who fought to establish an arts school for children in rural Alabama on the grounds of the moribund academy founded by her grandfather, died Dec. 26 in Atlanta, where she had lived since 2007. She was 83.

Her death was confirmed by her daughter, Monica Moorehead; her mother had Alzheimer’s disease, she said.

Ms. Lee was a classically trained pianist who recorded distinctive arrangements of compositions by Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin and others, playing in a style influenced by the likes of Mary Lou Williams and Art Tatum. She studied music at Fisk University in Nashville and Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and had a long career teaching theory and composition at historically black colleges including Alabama State University, Hampton Institute (now Hampton University), Talladega College and Norfolk State University.

By the late 1970s Ms. Lee had returned to her hometown, Snow Hill, just south of Selma, Ala., determined to awaken the legacy of her grandfather William J. Edwards.

In 1893, armed with a degree from Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute, Edwards had founded a log-cabin school in one of Alabama’s poorest areas. . By 1918 the school, known as the Snow Hill Institute, owned 24 buildings on more than 1,900 acres and had between 300 and 400 students pursuing both academic subjects and vocational training. Edwards retired a few years later, but the school survived until 1973.

Ms. Lee’s notion was to resurrect the spirit of her grandfather’s enterprise by creating a performing arts school for local black children. For the right to open the school, she negotiated with the Wilcox County Board of Education, which operated the buildings on a 10-acre tract of the former campus that is owned by the state. What became known as the Springtree/Snow Hill Institute for the Performing Arts opened in June 1980, running daily after-school music programs and summer programs for nearly a quarter-century.

Consuela Edmonia Lee was born in Tallahassee, Fla., on Nov. 1, 1926, but grew up mostly in Snow Hill, graduating from the Snow Hill Institute. Her father, Arnold W. Lee, was a cornet player and the band director at Florida A & M University. Her mother, Alberta G. Lee, was a classical pianist and teacher.

“When I got to Fisk, and this was the odd thing about black colleges, they didn’t want us to play jazz, which they thought quite a cut below Bach, Beethoven and Chopin and the boys,” Ms. Lee told The New York Press in 2001. “They wanted us to concentrate on the Europeans. Of course we’d play jazz anyway.”