Author: Dennis C. Dickerson


Luther Porter Jackson (1892–1950)

Luther Porter Jackson was an African American historian and one of Virginia’s most important civil rights activists of the 1930s and 1940s. He was a professor of history at Virginia State College in Petersburg for nearly thirty years and authored Free Negro Labor and Property Holding in Virginia, 1830–1860 (1942), research that challenged stereotypes of antebellum blacks. Jackson was perhaps most important, however, as a political and social activist. He helped found the Petersburg League of Negro Voters in 1935, wrote a weekly newspaper column titled “Rights and Duties in a Democracy,” and worked to challenge segregation in Richmond’s public transit system.


Israel L. Butt (1848–1916)

Israel L. Butt played a key role in expanding and overseeing the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Virginia during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Born in Norfolk County, Butt escaped slavery and joined the Union army, where he learned to read and underwent a religious experience. He was ordained in 1881 and graduated with a theology degree from what later became Hampton University. Butt ministered and oversaw different districts of the denomination. Through his work, he became a school principal and served as a trustee or board member of educational institutions in Virginia, North Carolina, and Ohio. Butt researched and wrote History of African Methodism in Virginia, or Four Decades in the Old Dominion, which was published in 1908.


Joseph S. Atwell (1831–1881)

Joseph S. Atwell was the first black Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Virginia. The Barbados-born Atwell graduated from the Philadelphia Divinity School in 1866. The following year the Diocese of Kentucky named him its first black deacon. In 1868 the Virginia Episcopal Church’s governing body recruited Atwell to preside over Saint Stephen’s Church in Petersburg, ordaining him a priest the following year. Though he helped his church grow in size and wealth, he chafed under restrictions that put his ministry under the Committee on Colored Congregations. In 1873 he left Virginia for Saint Stephen’s Church of Savannah, Georgia, and eventually took over historic Saint Philip’s Church in New York City. He died there in 1881.