My Story of Wrightsville
My name is Dr. Calvin Andre McClinton and I am a third generation descendent of Colonial Servitude in Virginia. My Great Grandparents were slaves on the Allen-McElwee farm. The Allen-McElwee farm was one of the largest farms in Alleghany County. At the time, approximately 28 slaves worked the farm. Over the years parts of the farm, bit by bit, have been sold off.
On August 23, 1871, John Allen died and willed his estate to his daughter Rebecca Allen McElwee, who was married to Charles M. McElwee, January 5, 1859. Charley was managing the farm for John as his Depot Agent up until his death. Archie Wright, my great grandfather was a field slave on this farm. He also did masonry work around the farm whenever needed. He was charged with the deliveries and pickup at the depot, where he learned how to barter and trade with some of the local land owners. This would prove valuable to his success later in life.
Archie was married to Mary Robinson, my great grandmother who was a house slave also born on the Allen farm. They met and married sometime after they were freed in the mid 1870ʼs, the data is inconclusive as to the exact date when they were married. However, Archie had settled and was doing some farming in the Mill Armentrout area just 2 miles outside of Covington in 1867, which would become known as Wrightsville.
In the Alleghany County court house tax records, it shows where Archie had amassed a certain amount of wealth for a freed black man of that period. It records him having 1 horse; 2 cows; 11 sheep; 3 hogs; 1 wagon; 2 watches; 1 clock; and 1 musical instrument. This is only two years after he received his freedom for the Allen-McElwee farm. It also records him purchasing several parcels of land for his growing family in the area known to be Wrightsville which still is the only Black community remaining in Alleghany County today.
As the community grew so did the need for a place of worship emerge. At the time most of the families in Wrightsville were members of the First Baptist Church in Covington and would walk two and a half miles into town to attend services there. However, as the winters became more difficult to traverse and the conditions of traveling back and forth in a segregated and sometimes hostel city, the need for a place of worship in the Wrightsville community became more of a necessity, for security and safety.
In 1904, the members of the community began to meet at Rev. G.W. Whiteʼs general store which had a meeting hall in the rear where services could be held. And when the weather permitted, services would be conducted outside under an arbor bush in the yard of the hall. The hall was located on the South side of old Rt. 60/220, what is now Interstate 64 towards Mallow. The congregation met in Rev. Whiteʼs hall for two years, after which a church was to be erected in 1906 on land that had been donated by Archie and Mary Wright. The building was constructed of white weatherboard siding on the exterior, with blue, yellow and Burgundy lead glass windows.
As the community grew, so did the need for the children of the community to have educational instruction. However, there were no school in the county or city for blacks. For a while some classes were held in the hall of Rev. G.W. White, with classes being taught by Mrs. Delia Brown and later in the basement of the new church where Ms. Carrie Anderson Hembry taught.
At the turn of the century, Wrightsville was the only self-contained black community in the county. It was a safe haven for blacks. The community hit itʼs peak during the 30ʻs, 40ʻs, and 50ʻs. During that time, the community consisted of 42 families, it had its own school, church, general store and restaurant. It was a prospering little community with its own taxi service, barber shop, playground, park, boarding house and Masonic Lodge, which was the first African American lodge in Alleghany County, Lodge No. 311, now merged with the Crescent Lodge of Covington.
Somewhere around the late 30ʼs, early 40ʼs a one room school was built in Wrightsville to accommodate grades 1-3 where Ms. Shepherdson and Ms. Hembry taught. When the highway Rt. 60/220 came through the community in 1945, the Wrightsville school was moved to the campus of the Watson school in Covington, where it was used as the Home Economic and Science building.
In 1960, once again the community changed when Interstate 64 divided the community and displaced nearly half of its residence. Many of whom relocated to the far side of the community near the church and others move into the nearby cities of Covington, Clifton Forge, Low Moor and Roanoke. In 1965 all the area white schools were integrated, no black school remained open and the children from the Wrightsville community were being bussed to near by white schools in the county.
Today, Wrightsville sits unassumingly on the side of the road near Rt. 60/220 and Interstate 64 at exit 16. There are only approximately 10 families remaining in the community. However, it is still holding on to its place in the history of this region. The church there is still in operation since 1904 and the Golden Arrow Restaurant is still the only black owned and operated restaurant in the area and now the community host its own museum that houses the history of the community and surrounding area, The Wrightsville Heritage Museum.
And now I have returned to my home community as a resident after a 50 year career. And why is all of this important to us today. Well, it is a testament to all of us, that each contribution we make, no matter how great or small, is important in the development of who we are as a society and a nation. Remembering, celebrating and honoring those pioneers who struggled and suffered for freedom, justice and equality is our duty in preserving the past and creating a foundation for the future.
When I graduated from Alleghany High School and left the area in 1968. I could not wait to get out of this town. I had no intention of returning home and no interest in the history of the area or of Wrightsville. But look, here I am promoting historical preservation and the revitalization of the Wrightsville community. Why! Well, because I realized, the importance of all histories and their contributions, within the context of the American Dream, is “The American Dream”.
That promise, that vision of a democratic society, is what the world looks to emulate. What each of us, our families and communities have to offer the collective mind of this nation, is vital to our survival as a society. It is important for us to know from where we have come, in order for us to know where we are going.
Editor’s note: Want to join the 2019 Commemoration in recognizing the experiences of African Americans dating back to the 1619 arrival of the first Africans? Join us for the African Arrival Commemoration and Fort Monroe Visitor & Education Center Dedication.