Author: Gregg D. Kimball

the director of education and outreach at the Library of Virginia. He is the author of American City, Southern Place: A Cultural History of Antebellum Richmond (2000)

John T. Chappell (1845–1915)

John T. Chappell was a labor leader who helped guide the Knights of Labor during the organization’s peak in Richmond. He served in the Confederate army and navy during the American Civil War (1861–1865) and later recounted his wartime experiences in a nonheroic style that focused on the common soldier. While working as a carriage painter after the war Chappell joined both fraternal and labor organizations. By the mid-1880s he emerged as a leader of the Knights of Labor in Richmond. Elected a city alderman in 1886, he and other white progressives allied themselves with African Americans whose interests were increasingly associated with the Knights of Labor. He was also instrumental in opening membership in the Knights’ building association to African Americans. The labor union’s power eventually declined locally and nationally, however, as the Knights divided along lines of race, occupational skill, and religion. Chappell remained with the Knights until the local withdrew from the national organization and became the Socialist Educational Club of Richmond in 1898. Chappell died suddenly of an aneurysm in 1915.


George O. Brown (1852–1910)

George O. Brown established a family-run photography studio that recorded African American life in Richmond for seventy years. Brown, probably born enslaved, was working in the photography business by age nineteen old. He opened his own studio in 1899 and moved it to Jackson Ward, the center of Richmond’s African American community, in 1905. Two years later his skills earned him a silver medal at the Jamestown Ter-Centennial Exposition. Along with his children, Brown became the most important visual chronicler of Richmond’s African American population, documenting community life at schools, colleges, sporting events, and fraternal meetings. The studio took thousands of portraits of ordinary citizens and famed figures such as Maggie Lena Walker and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. Brown died in 1910, but his photography business continued to operate until 1969.


Bristol Sessions (1927), The

The Bristol Sessions occurred in 1927 when the Victor Talking Machine Company brought a field unit to Bristol, Tennessee/Virginia, to record musicians from the region. Victor held the sessions on the second and third floors of the Taylor-Christian Hat Company building at 408 State Street on the Tennessee side of Bristol’s main thoroughfare, which also serves as the Tennessee-Virginia border. Director Ralph Peer and the Victor engineers recorded fiddle tunes, sacred songs, string bands, harmonica solos, and others from July 25 to August 5. Celebrated as the session that produced the first recordings of country music legends Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family, the session also featured artists who had made previous recordings for other record labels. The session captured on 78-rpm commercial recordings an excellent cross section of the styles of music present in the Blue Ridge Mountains and Appalachian regions.