Memories Matter

Feb 19, 2018

In an effort to preserve local African-American history, Monticello and the Jefferson School’s African American Heritage Center, and more than a dozen other partners, organized the second annual community history fair in Charlottesville called “Memories Matter.”  WMRA’s Marguerite Gallorini has the story.

The auditorium of the African-American Heritage Center was full of life: present, and past, including an iron toy boat on wheels.

RUBY BOSTON: This was a toy that has been handed down from my family. They say that this is well over a hundred years old. I can remember having a string there and it used to scrape up the hardwood floors at the house, so Mom put it away for years, and I finally found it again. [laughs]

This is Ruby Boston, who’s more than happy to talk about her family’s history.

BOSTON: This was a crimping iron; you’d get it nice and hot and it would put waves in your hair. Oh, what a gruesome task it was! Because the hair had to be straightened back then: it was not acceptable for us to have our hair as it is now. So on Saturday nights, in the kitchen, traditionally, we would have our hair done. And with hot utensils, we would have burned ears and neck - oh, I'm so glad we're here now! [laughs]

Memories Matter’ is a local history fair organized by Monticello. Niya Bates, public historian of slavery and African-American life, is the driving force behind this event.

NIYA BATES: I put together this event in partnership with my colleagues at Monticello, in an effort to showcase local African-American History, but also to show the ways that we preserve our own history. But it's important that we come see the community here and that they get to interact with us in a way that isn't all about Monticello giving information: in this instance it is about how we work with other people in the community to accomplish the same goal.

It is a way of letting people know about current projects at Monticello; but it’s also about giving expert advice to the community, says editor Jeff Looney.

JEFF LOONEY: We're here representing the Papers of Thomas Jefferson Retirement Series, which is hosted by Monticello, and our job is to produce the definitive edition of Jefferson's letters and papers from his retirement from the Presidency in 1809 until his death. We want to be a resource if somebody has a family letter, paper, or document, because we know something about transcribing documents, and we can advise them on how to take care of it, but above all what to do with it, how to transcribe it accurately and that sort of thing.

Memories Matter also featured a set of short films. Among them: Fifeville, by UVa’s Kevin Jerome Everson, which documents the Fifeville neighborhood in Charlottesville.

[CLIP - RESIDENT: There’s a gray building right here. It used to be a store, black-owned.]

Besides Monticello, other booths were sharing pieces of local history. For instance, historian Alice Cannon from the Ivy Creek Foundation talks about how Ivy Creek Park once was a farm, River View Farm, owned by a freed slave called Hugh Carr.

ALICE CANNON: What we're trying to show is that Ivy Creek was not an isolated little farm. Ivy Creek was a farm - one of the most prosperous farms - but within this whole area of African-American land ownership. So it was a community that was connected. Churches in the rural areas [around Ivy Creek] had services alternate weeks. So even if you went to this church one Sunday, you went to this church the next Sunday: you would get to know the people in that community. The presence of these strong interconnected communities is something that lies just beneath the surface.

And here’s another piece of local history: one of Hugh Carr’s daughters, Mary Carr Greer, became the principal of Albemarle Training School which was the African-American high school; and Greer Elementary School was named after her in 1979.

LILLIE WILLIAMS: I've learned so much today about a school I went to, and I didn't know the history of that.

That’s Lillie Williams, member of the local West African dance company Chihamba.

WILLIAMS: Even though I'm from this area, so many things that I learned today I just did not know. It's just a big History lesson for me. It's so important to keep these memories alive. You know, make people proud of where they come from.