Dozens Gather for Beverly Heritage Center Black History Celebration  February 2020

BHC Black History Month Presentation 2020

More than 50 people gathered at the Beverly Heritage Center, in the future home of the Beverly Public Library, on Sunday for a special presentation on local African-American history as part of Black History Month celebrations in the region. The lecture and Q&A session was led by Christopher Mielke, PhD and focused on the experiences, successes, and struggles of black Americans in Randolph County from the 1700’s onward, including their quest for freedom, equality, and justice.

Stories included the case of Enoch Thomas, the Reverend of the Presbyterian Church here in Beverly as well as the Old Brick Church in Huttonsville. Thomas wrote to the American Colonization Society in 1849. The Society was dedicated to sending free Black and Mixed-Race people to Africa to live in the modern-day country of Liberia. Rev. Thomas wrote saying that one of his parishioners, Margaret See, wished to emancipate 11 enslaved people she owned – a man named Peter, a woman named Philis, their nine children, and a woman named Prudence and her three children– on the condition that they go to Liberia. Thomas also writes that Mrs. See’s daughter had a woman named Prudence and her three children who she wished to free and send to Africa. Mrs. See even offers $200 to support their journey – the equivalent of about $6,700 today.

In a more inspiring story, Lydia Ann, a freed Black woman, petitioned the Randolph County court in 1838 to remain in the Commonwealth of Virginia and in Randolph County. The law at the time required that she must leave the state within a certain period of time after being granted her freedom from slavery. Two months after filing her petition, she made history when all nine Justices of the Virginia Supreme Court unanimously granted her petition to remain in the state.

“The population of African-Americans in Randolph County never reached higher than about 4%,” said Dr. Mielke, “but their contributions to our laws, society, culture, and heritage were immeasurable. By exploring the history of people who have been largely erased from our local historical narratives, we not only learn about them, but also about ourselves.”

Dr. Mielke will be continuing his research in Randolph County this Spring/Summer and has offered to present to local groups in the region who are interested. A video of his presentation is available on the Beverly Heritage Center Facebook page.

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