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May 17, 2021

Interactive map tells local African American history

PEC Photo/Hugh Kenny
Aysha Davis, Karen Hughes White, Angela Davidson and Christine Lewis First Baptist Church, founded in 1870 and rebuilt in 1899.
One of the photos from the story map.
A lot of Fauquier’s history is well documented, but the African-American presence is often invisible within textbooks and other areas.
— Karen Hughes White, Afro-American Historical Association of Fauquier County president
A new, interactive story map documents the African American experience in Fauquier County.

The Afro-American Historical Association of Fauquier County and The Piedmont Environmental Council created the online map with PATH Foundation funding.

“The story map will give people, perhaps for the first time in history, digital access to information about the history and contributions of Fauquier’s African American communities, schools and churches established before and after the Civil War,” the creators said in a press release Monday.

Free and enslaved African Americans made up about half of Fauquier County’s population in 1860.

After the historical periods of slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, the great migration, civil rights and integration, their descendants make up less than 10 percent of Fauquier’s population. Only remnants of their many communities remain.

“The story map attempts to tell the history of the lives of these often overlooked and forgotten Americans,” the creators said.

The interactive county maps pinpoints African American schools, churches and communities. Visitors can click on each point to see a photo and read a short description. A “read more” cue takes visitors to an interactive webpage with additional history and photographs.

“For many years, I have envisioned a map of Fauquier County with various overlays pertaining to African American history,” AAHA President Karen Hughes White. When Kristie (Kendall, PEC historic preservation coordinator) and I talked about it, I thought: Yes! This would be one layer of African American heritage, and immediately my mind started racing about all the other stories and history that could be continuously compiled.

“A lot of Fauquier’s history is well documented, but the African-American presence is often invisible within textbooks and other areas.”

Ms. Kendall called it a “massive undertaking” on the part of the AAHA staff, who led the project and built upon decades of prior research identifying and documenting the history of African-Americans in the county.

PEC provided drone photography and, with its story mapping experience, created the interactive web map embedded within the story map site, hosted through PEC’s ArcGIS Online subscription.

AAHA Digital Programs Director Aysha Davis, Ms. Hughes White’s granddaughter, built out the story map with the association’s collected history, stories and imagery.

Fauquier County’s Geographic Information Systems department provided geolocation assistance with specific latitude and longitude coordinates for many of the points on the map.

“AAHA’s desire to utilize geospatial technology to highlight such an important part of history is another demonstration of the limitless uses of GIS in today’s world,” county GIS department Manager Dan Stell said. “Story maps give their audience the ability to connect people, stories and various forms of media to the places they occurred for a more relatable view of history. I know many generations to come will greatly benefit from AAHA’s commitment to preserving and highlighting our local history.

“Fauquier County was delighted to be a partner in their mission and we look forward to future opportunities using GIS for historic preservation.”

AAHA envisions the story map becoming a resource for many. It will be good for scholars as they study local history. Educators will find it an important resource within the classroom.

“It’s been so exciting to watch this project unfold,” said Amy Acors, history instruction supervisor with the county’s public schools.

“Many hours went into creating a tool that I cannot wait for our teachers and students to have at their fingertips,” Dr. Acors said. “While we often feel history is something that happened long ago, and maybe even in a far off place, the efforts to bring this local history to our students in ways that make it accessible remind me that we are so fortunate to have community partners who are dedicated to preserving and telling our stories for a deeper understanding of the place we live.”

“It is important that children are able to connect to persons, places and things, and to have information that reminds them of who they are and gives them a sense of self-worth and humanity,” said Ms. Hughes White, who added that many in her own generation were often sheltered from the knowledge of their family’s lineage and difficult histories.

The project has given her “a whole new sense of pride in families that came through Reconstruction to today,” AAHA Board Member Angela Davidson said.

Ms. Davidson’s family has lived four generations on property in Morgantown that her great-grandfather Brister Grigsby purchased in the early 1870s.

“Increasing development and rising property values are impacting our communities, she said. “I think all of us, at my age and younger, are looking at how long these communities will remain intact. I’m afraid if we don’t get this history documented, it will be lost. I think if new owners know the history of what’s taken place on the property they’re buying, they will take pride in these historic communities in which they’re living.”

Over time, AAHA are hopes to add cemeteries, buildings, businesses, baptism sites and landmarks pertaining to the underground railroad to the map.

The association hopes community members will recommend additions as they realize they have photographs or other artifacts that can be shared through the story map.

“This will be something that will definitely live beyond us,” Ms. Hughes White said.
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