Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Workshop concerning Petersburg's Area African Americans

Establishing Black Institutions and Leadership

1776 to early 20th century
Saturday, August 18, 2-4 PM

Tabernacle Baptist Church

444 Halifax St., Petersburg

OUTSIDE SCHOLAR: Dr. Suzanne Lebsock, Rutgers University
LOCAL PRESENTERS: Dr. Edward Mills, M.A. VSU, ABD University of Illinois/Champagne, Dr. Arthur Abraham, Dr. Christina Proenza-Coles, Lucious Edwards

Numerous free black residents of Petersburg received pensions for Revolutionary War service, owned property, and purchased slaves in order to manumit them. In the first half of the nineteenth century, Petersburg residents proved instrumental in founding the West African nation of Liberia. Joseph Jenkins Roberts, a successful African-American merchant, emigrated to Liberia in 1829. Roberts served as Liberia’s first black governor and the first president of independent Liberia as well as the first president of Liberia College. His brother, another Petersburg native, served as Liberia’s first black bishop. Thousands of African Americans migrated from Petersburg to Liberia and hundreds more pursued missionary work in neighboring West African nations.
African Americans who stayed in Petersburg developed the region’s strongest center of black
educational institutions. They chartered Peabody High School, which became the first publicly supported black high school in the state in 1880. Two years later, the city’s black leaders pushed the state government to charter the Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute (later Virginia State University), the first fully state supported, four-year institution of higher learning for
blacks in America. Unlike most black colleges at that time, VSU’s faculty and Board of Visitors were of African descent. These faculty and administrators repeatedly and successfully fought to keep VSU a baccalaureate-granting institution, rather than follow the Tuskeegee model of vocational education. VSU’s first president, John Mercer Langston, became the first African American elected to Congress from Virginia.
Focus Questions:
1. What are some of the factors and forces that underpinned the success of Petersburg’s black
institutions in the past?
2. Local Episcopal churches, AME churches, and Baptist churches sponsored trips,
emigrations, and even the first Liberian college. How does this case study illuminate the relationships between religion and education?
3. We know relatively little about Liberian emigration. To what degree did this outward migration impact the black church and black educational institutions in Petersburg?
How, if at all, did the city’s churches and educational institutions work together towards “earthly freedoms”?

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