Author: Patricia Miller

editor of Encyclopedia Virginia

Support Encyclopedia Virginia

Encyclopedia Virginia’s September fundraising campaign is underway to raise $10,000 to support free, public access to Virginia history.

While we’ve been fortunate and grateful to receive financial support from a variety of sources throughout our history, projects like ours thrive with reader support. When readers contribute, we can create nuanced, relevant content that helps students, journalists, educators, and everyday citizens understand Virginia’s history and culture. Read more about: Support Encyclopedia Virginia


The “Racial Brain” Collector and the Dark History of Eugenics

A recent Washington Post investigation revealed the extent of the “racial brain collection” amassed by Ales Hrdlicka, the curator of the division of physical anthropology at the Smithsonian’s United States National Museum, which was a forerunner of the National Museum of Natural History.

Hrdlicka was primarily responsible for gathering some 250 human brains in the early decades of the twentieth century from a network of scientists, physicians, and professors, all in service of proving the biological superiority of white people. Read more about: The “Racial Brain” Collector and the Dark History of Eugenics


The Myth of “Living Off the Land” at Jamestown

In a recent Washington Post article about the Artemis project, which aims to establish a long-term human presence on the South Pole of the Moon, NASA’s Prasun Desai likened the astronauts to “the settlers who came to Jamestown” and “lived off the land.” 

While it’s tempting to think of Jamestown as a proto-Artemis full of intrepid settlers, that was far from the reality, as our entry on the Early Jamestown Settlement makes clear. Read more about: The Myth of “Living Off the Land” at Jamestown


Honoring Black Spaces for Juneteenth

In recognition of Juneteenth, the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund announced $3.8 million in new grants to preserve forty African American history sites, including four in Virginia, that reflect Black activism, achievement, and resilience to tell a more complete American story.

The Cape Charles Rosenwald School, constructed in 1929, is a rare example of a brick, four-teacher Rosenwald school. Read more about: Honoring Black Spaces for Juneteenth


Getting the Past “Right”

The efforts of Colonial Williamsburg to, in the words of the New York Times, get the past “right” continue to make news. As we noted recently in the EV Blog, Colonial Williamsburg moved the building that housed the Bray School for enslaved and free Black children to a more prominent location in an effort to center the stories of the non-white people who contributed to the colonial community.  Read more about: Getting the Past “Right”


Revolutionary Letters

When is a letter revolutionary? That’s the question at the heart of our new entry on the Virginia Committee of Correspondence, the first in EV’s new section on the American Revolution in Virginia. 

It was 250 years ago this week, on March 12, 1773, that the House of Burgesses created a permanent committee to correspond with other colonial legislatures about perceived threats to their rights from the British government. Read more about: Revolutionary Letters


“Aunt Betty’s Story, the Narrative of a Slave Woman” 

In October of 2022, with support from a Virginia Humanities grant, descendants of Bethany Veney, an enslaved woman who lived in the Shenandoah Valley prior to the Civil War, gathered in Luray to record themselves reading from her autobiography The Narrative of Bethany Veney, a Slave Woman.

Like many enslaved people, Veney labored for several different enslavers. Read more about: “Aunt Betty’s Story, the Narrative of a Slave Woman” 


Ms. Johns Goes to Washington

Barbara Johns is one step closer to Washington, D.C. A sculptor has been selected for the statue destined for the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall portraying Barbara Rose Johns Powell as the teenage Barbara Johns, when she rallied the students at the all-Black Robert Russa Moton High School to walk out in protest of their substandard learning conditions. Read more about: Ms. Johns Goes to Washington


Start Your Engines for Wendell Oliver Scott

You don’t have to be a fan of NASCAR to appreciate our new entry on the legendary Danville-born driver Wendell Oliver Scott. Scott was already locally famous as a taxi driver-turned-moonshine runner when he drove a souped-up Ford in his first race at Danville Fairgrounds Speedway in 1952. Despite financial obstacles and continued instances of racism, Scott shattered barriers in stock car racing, generally considered the exclusive domain of white southern men. Read more about: Start Your Engines for Wendell Oliver Scott


“Third report of a committee of the representatives of New York Yearly Meeting of Friends: upon the condition and wants of the colored refugees.” (May 1864)

In this report, dated May 1864, the Committee on Colored Refugees, who were representatives of the New York Yearly Meeting of Friends, gives its assessment of the needs of the formerly enslaved people escaping behind Union lines and how Quaker charity efforts were meeting them in contraband camps across Virginia, including Alexandria. One of their agents, Harriet Jacobs, wrote her own letter documenting what she saw in Alexandria and Washington, D.C. For Quakers, the abolition of slavery was a moral and religious imperative.


Letter from Sarah Stewart to Dolley Payne Todd Madison (July 5, 1844)

In this letter, dated July 5, 1884, Sarah Stewart, an enslaved domestic at Montpelier, writes to her enslaver, Dolley Madison, reporting that the Orange County sheriff had seized many of the people enslaved by the Madisons to pay their debts. Stewart implores Madison to ask her neighbors to purchase those enslaved people who had been seized to prevent their being permanently separated from their families by slave traders taking part in the domestic slave trade. Ultimately, the enslaved community at Montpelier was largely broken up because of Madison’s financial difficulty.


“Downing and the Fine Collector.” (December 21, 1855)

This article, published in the abolitionist newspaper the Liberator on December 21, 1855, gives an account of the New York state militia mistaking Thomas Downing for a white man of the same name who was trying to escape militia duty, which was required of male citizens between the ages of 18 and 45. At this time, Downing was famous across New York City for his restaurant, community organizing, and activism. The story originally appeared in the New York Evening Post.




Governor’s ‘Crucial Decision’ Program

This is a published version of the speech that Governor Mills Edwin Godwin Jr. gave in January 1968 proposing that the General Assembly revise the state’s constitution and submit a new document to the voters for ratification. Rather than summoning a constitutional convention, he argued that the legislators should authorize him to appoint a Commission on Constitutional Revision, who would revise the constitution. In November 1970, voters ratified the new constitution.


“Suit Seeks End of Virginia Poll Tax for Voting” (December 7, 1963)

In this article, published December 7, 1963, in the Norfolk Journal and Guide, Evelyn Butts states her reasons for filing suit against Governor Albertis S. Harrison Jr. and three Norfolk city employees: the unconstitutionality of the poll tax. Her case was combined with another case under the name Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections, and on March 24, 1966, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the poll tax was unconstitutional. In 1962, as Congress debated the Twenty-Fourth Amendment banning poll taxes in federal elections, Governor Harrison reaffirmed his support for the poll tax in Virginia’s state and local elections.