LYNCHBURG, Va. – The Legacy Museum of African American History and the Lynchburg Museum System are announcing a collaborative public history project called Silent Witnesses: The History of Enslavement in Lynchburg, Virginia.
The mission of the project is to document the enslaved experience of people of African descent and associated sites in Lynchburg and educate citizens of all ages about this history.
“If we’re going to honor it, if we’re going to own it, if we’re going to live it, we need to start at grassroots,” Treasurer at the Legacy Museum of African American History Vivian Carr Miller said.
The two partner museums will lead the creation of a series of historical markers throughout the city, as well as a digital archive of primary and secondary sources that explore the full history of enslavement in the Hill City.
Silent Witnesses was approved by both the Legacy Museum of African American History Board of Directors and the Lynchburg Museum Advisory Board in the fall of 2021.
“This is a story that needs to be told, and I am excited to share our discoveries with the public,” Lynchburg Museum Director Ted Delaney added. “We are exploring primary sources that have never been studied before and are incorporating the latest scholarship by professional historians.”
One of the project’s primary goals is to make the history of enslavement visible in the city’s landscape, connecting the institution to local people, places, events, and artifacts.
Organizers plan to install interpretive signage at sites of significance and smaller ground-level markers inspired by the Stolpersteine Art Project in Europe. A public unveiling of these signs and markers is planned for Juneteenth 2023.
“I was thrilled because it felt like finally somebody is looking into who these people were and how they survived,” Volunteer Ramona Battle said. “Can you imagine in 1619 crossing the ocean in those horrible circumstances?”
Museum partners also hope to integrate new research and understanding of enslavement in Lynchburg into local school curricula.
Other educational initiatives include creating resources for students and teachers, guided walking tours, and a new “trail” brochure for residents and tourists.
“There’s a gap in local history and what we know about this topic,” Delaney said. “So much has been uncovered and learned in the past five, ten, twenty years that hasn’t yet made it into local history books.”
Silent Witnesses is the first comprehensive study of the history of enslavement in Lynchburg. The first documented enslaved people were brought to Central Virginia in the late 1730′s.
By 1860 the city of Lynchburg was not only home to one of the largest concentrations of enslaved factory workers in Virginia, but it was also a major site for trading and auctioning enslaved people in the state. Between 1800 and 1860, there were nearly as many enslaved and free Black residents of Lynchburg as there were white.
“They were not seen as human beings and that’s why it’s so difficult when you go back and do the research to find out any information,” Battle added.
The Legacy and Lynchburg Museums are looking for any photographs, documents, artifacts, oral histories, and other memorabilia that illustrate the enslaved experience in Lynchburg and the history of slavery in the area.
Individuals and other organizations that would like to contribute information or artifacts, or participate in any aspect of the project, should contact the Legacy Museum or Lynchburg Museum System for more information.
“There are some conversations that need to take place in our community and our nation,” Carr Miller said. “I think this is the time and period to do that.”
The project boundaries are the current Lynchburg city limits and adjoining properties in Amherst, Bedford, and Campbell Counties.
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