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African American Civil War Democracy Untold Stories

More of the History: An Additional Memorial at Palmyra

David Bearr Oct 11
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Summertime in the 1950s for this Army brat meant the much anticipated annual trip from across the country to a Virginia homecoming that lasted the entire season. An almost sacred destination was my grandmother Julia’s childhood home at Palmyra in Fluvanna County. Visits there included relatives and neighbors’ welcoming us to ancestral family homes and to various public landmarks. One recollection is standing on the steps at the front elevation of the temple-like courthouse that offered from atop that knoll a southward, unobstructed view of the village.  At the center of the panorama was the park with its tall obelisk that recognizes Confederate soldiers — one was a two-great uncle killed by friendly fire (a prank gone terribly wrong) before he ever engaged in battle. Fast forward many years to 2013 and the first thing we saw when my wife Dianne and I arrived in Palmyra was a recently placed sign: “Civil War Park.” Perhaps because I would soon attend a Fluvanna Historical Society publications meeting, which would include a discussion of the Sesquicentennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, an increased sensibility led me to ask myself: “Where’s the rest of the story?” The park despite its name was without a monument or any signage to commemorate the end of the war and its immediate impact.  Troubled, I took the concern to the meeting. There the immediate consensus was that the park needed an additional memorial to more fully give witness to the history behind its name.  
 
The eventual addition of the memorial was the outcome of more than five years of planning and debate at both the state and local level. The 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation prompted the General Assembly of Virginia to pass a joint resolution that called upon the people of the Commonwealth to commemorate one of the most important documents in American history. The broad timeline for celebrations reflected the delay between the 1863 signing of the proclamation and the 1865 surrender at Appomattox that ended the American Civil War and in effect abolished the institution of slavery in Virginia.

Additionally, state lawmakers would pass a resolution “Recognizing the African American members elected to the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1867-1868.” In response Fluvanna History (2014) presented a biography of the Rev. James D. Barrett, Fluvanna’s representative. That edition of the publication included suggested signage for a memorial to the sesquicentennials of the end of the war and the Proclamation. There was support for a memorial, but, for a place one holds in deep affection, the voices of opposition were disheartening.

 

In July 2015 state agencies sponsored the “Family Reunion” at the State Capitol in Richmond that further honored the African American delegates to the convention as “pioneers in elected office in Virginia.” Mozell Booker, Fluvanna supervisor and a member of Thessalonia Baptist Church founded by Barrett, and I, who wrote about the pastor, attended the event. There we resumed an earlier conversation from when she assisted me in the research for the previous year’s publication and discussed again the need for Palmyra’s Civil War Park to have a broader presentation of the history the name for this public space implied.  Historical Society president Marvin Moss presented the plan for the memorial to the Board of Supervisors and also insisted that the site in the park be made handicapped accessible. Mozell Booker, still a member of the board, worked incessantly – sometimes in the face of harsh resistance – to advance the plan. “I preached what I felt and why I felt it,” she confessed. Her firmness of purpose meant the new monument would join the existing memorial in the park to complement and not separate the histories they represented. Luck Quary would provide the granite stone.
 
On February 12, 2019, the 210th anniversary of the birth of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln who signed the Emancipation Proclamation, I found myself included when the Fluvanna community came together on a cold and rainy day for the dedication of the new memorial in the park just below the Historic Fluvanna County Courthouse. The plaque on the large stone reads:
 
COMMEMORATING
the
Sesquicentennial
of the
Emancipation Proclamation
and
End of the
American Civil War
______
Fluvanna Historical Society
 
By all accounts Dedication Day was both a joyful and sobering occasion. After the ceremony in the park, the dedication program resumed inside the historic courthouse. There Mozell Booker and Marvin Moss welcomed a full house, and the Rev. Phillip Carter offered a prayer of thanksgiving for the mission accomplished. Ben Hudson, president of the Fluvanna NAACP, read the Emancipation Proclamation, and a representative of U.S. Senator Mark Warner read his letter of congratulations for the auspicious occasion. Commonwealth’s Attorney Jeff Haislip addressed ongoing legal efforts to overcome the past and create a more equitable justice system.  Representatives of the Historical Society made presentations including director Tricia Johnson, who shared pictures and stories of Fluvanna men and women who had survived enslavement and after emancipation experienced a greater prosperity as free people. To commemorate the new Fluvanna memorial the United States Postal Service issued a pictorial postmark available that day at “Monumental Station” in the courthouse. Palmyra postmaster Guy M. Brice coordinated with the Historical Society to offer the special cancellation. He and postal employee Roberta Brown staffed the temporary post office station.
 
And, this Virginian-in-exile was “Fluvanna Proud!”
Editor’s note: Want to learn about the African American experience from the arrival of the first Africans in 1619 to present day? Mark your calendar for the Determined: The 400-year Struggle for Black Equality exhibition.
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