Wednesday, September 4, 2019

The Segregation Ordinance, Part II: Race Riots

The Segregation Ordinance, Part II: Race Riots

Ashland, VA, taken in 1900, courtesy of the Ashland Museum.

After the war, Ashland’s main source of income, the Slash Resort, had closed and was
abandoned.  The horse racing track in Ashland had been transformed into a soldier camp and was never restored.  Fortunately, the college of Randolph-Macon, located in a small town in rural Mecklenburg County, was looking to relocate to an area closer to Richmond and to modern transportation.  The empty resort proved a perfect match for the institution and the college moved to Ashland in 1868, three years after Lee surrendered to Grant. The school brought much needed commerce to the community as businesses opened to serve the students and professors.  Had it not been for the relocation of Randolph-Macon, the town of Ashland might not have seen the twentieth century as the Civil War had destroyed the economy of the southern states. 
While the relocation of the college helped to rebuild the town’s economy, racial tension would begin to grow throughout the South as whites reacted to a free black population. Provisional governments set up by the United States gave blacks the opportunity to hold government offices and make decisions for their communities, but these newly appointed powers intimidated and frustrated many whites who were used to subservient blacks. Feeling threatened, whites often resorted to fear mongering to keep control.

After the surrender of the Confederate Army, the United States viewed the South as a conquered territory and instituted military rule that removed all of the former state and local political leadership.  These actions caused resentment among whites which grew into the myth of the Lost Cause: that the Civil War was a “heroic sacrifice and honorific commitment to duty and family.”  Vanderbilt University Professor Larry Griffin explained this reaction in his essay, Why Was the South a Problem?:
“The South created its own myth of the Lost Cause to explain the Civil War as heroic sacrifice and honorific.  It challenged America’s definition of Reconstruction by redefining it to be nothing more than orchestrated villainy, corruption, degeneracy, and political debasement, and it acted on those understandings by inflaming and unleashing the Klan of the 1870s.” 

In the rural American South, tensions between whites and blacks were 
well established by the turn of the twentieth century. The resulting segregation 
laws and racism can be seen in the stories from small towns: in their letters, 
their newspapers, and in their public history.  

 The Danville Circular

An incident in Danville, Virginia in 1883 revealed the negative repercussions of reconstruction and the political instability that it caused.  During the years immediately following the Civil War, the United States placed black and white Republican lawmakers in government seats.  The Readjuster Party, which was Republican and biracial, carried a majority in Virginia’s General Assembly in 1879, and the influences of this party spread  to local, municipal governments as well.  One goal of Reconstruction governments was tobetter represent both black and white citizens and in the city of Danville, Virginia, this was achieved by dividing the city government into wards, so that the votes of blacks would carry as much influence as that of whites.  As blacks took on more leadership roles (this included law enforcement and city council members), the whites of Danville felt ostracized. 

A group of thirty white business owners wrote and published an open letter,referred to as the “Danville Circular,” to the citizens of Southwest Virginia stating that the whites of Danville were suffering humiliation, indignity, and intimidation by blacks.  The letter also (falsely) stated that the blacks on the Danville city council were going to annex a black neighborhood just outside of the city limits which would swing the majority in their direction and ensure that it would be “impossible for any white man to hold office in the town.” 
The publication of this overtly racist letter caused the public condemnation of blacks in front of large crowds in the main streets of Danville.  On Saturday, November 3rd, 1883, the tensions of one mob continued into the next day with an open riot and hundreds of individuals firing guns in the streets.  Four black men were killed and two white men were wounded, but not before the State government sent in militia troops to keep the peace and ensure an orderly election.   The publication of the Circular succeeded in inciting whites to exert control and intimidation over blacks.  It showed the power of fear, and the Danville Riot allowed the white Democrats to win the elections and return to power.  
This riot became the foundation for a tradition of fear, where whites were constantly told to be wary of blacks because of their tendency to violence and riots.  The irony is that most riots during this time period sprang from interactions with aggressive whites, and the majority of casualties were blacks because whites had more access to guns.

Rumors of mob violence or riots would be sufficient to spurn whites to request military support, and this pattern of fear and suppression was successful in keeping blacks in subservient roles.  Almost twenty years after the Civil War, in 1902, Ashland was a town full of commerce and activity.  The college of Randolph-Macon had brought new residents to the town, which now housed half a dozen bars and taverns, as well as shops and stores.  
The Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac Railroad, who owned the train tracks that ran through the town, was busy installing a second track, and their workers, who were mostly African-Americans, lived in temporary a camp north of Ashland near Doswell.  These workers would be paid on a Friday night, and they would travel into the nearest town to spend their wages.  

On Sunday, August 31st, 1902, The Times newspaper of Richmond reported that there had been tension between whites and blacks in the town of Ashland for several weeks following an altercation between a black man, Walter Latney, and a white man named Welford Trevillian.  It is notable that the newspaper mentioned the occupations of the fathers of these two men.  Mr. Trevillian’s father was the “Town Sergeant,” and
Mr. Latney’s father was described as the “town scavenger.”  It was reported that Mr. Latney made an offensive remark to Mr. Trevillian as they passed in the street and the two got into a physical fight.  Bystanders became involved, and Mr. Latney was arrested and taken to jail.  
 The following night, the same groups of whites and blacks who had been bystanders of, or involved in, the fight between Latney and Trevillian, returned to the downtown Ashland area. A rock was reportedly thrown by someone in the groups of blacks, and struck a white man, Richard F. Bierne, on the head and required several stitches.  To calm the situation, the Mayor of Ashland deputized “a half-dozen or more” special police officers, which were presumably young, white men.  These special officers arrested one man, a black railroad worker, who they found to be armed.  The article does not mention where the black man was found nor why he was arrested for carrying a gun, as it would have been presumed that many men were armed.  

The next evening, September 1st, 1902, found many groups of young black and white men in the center of town.  The excitement of these groups was heightened from the previous confrontations and this evenings someone fired a gun into the air which sent people fleeing.  The next morning, the body of a black man, James Morris, was found in an alley near the center of town.  He had been shot in the back.  
The mayor of Ashland,who also was the judge on the local courts, ruled that they could not determine who shot Mr. Morris, and installed a curfew on the town to prevent any more violence.  He also asked the governor to send state militia troops to Ashland who patrolled the streets for three days. 
 In both the Danville and Ashland riot, the only injured or deceased were black men, but the behavior of whites were never called into question.  It was a common tactic to deploy large shows of force in response to “negro problems,” regardless of the actual threat to any community.  Whites were able to point to these incidents as examples of the need to keep blacks economically restrained and physically separated from the white community, and usher in Jim Crow segregation ordinances.   
Ashland was fortunate that no riot broke out over the rumor of Booker T. Washington starting a school for Negroes; by 1911, white Virginians were using laws and ordinances to keep black people oppressed.

Up Next, Part III: John Coleman moves to Henry Clay St.

Friday, August 16, 2019

The Segregation Ordinance; Part I: Cleaning Up

The Segregation Ordinance
Part I
Cleaning Up

The town of Ashland, Virginia was a thriving community in 1911.  Randolph-Macon
College had established itself on the grounds of the old Slash resort over forty year earlier
and the school continued to grow.  The college was a main employer for the town, and a
center of activity: many local homes served as boarding houses for students and staff,
and businesses on both sides of the tracks served the students. Despite being a Methodist
institution, the college hosted many dances in the Henry Clay Inn, and welcomed young
women from the town to attend.  There had been a great fire twenty years earlier that had
destroyed many shops along the tracks, but those had been rebuilt and more businesses
had moved to town.
The Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac railroad had added a second rail at the
turn of the century, and there was a continual stream of train traffic through the town.  
News traveled quickly by rail, along with the mail cars, and speed with which newspapers
could be printed and distributed accelerated the delivery of information. Ashland had a  
town newspaper, the Hanover Herald, but news from Ashland could also be found in larger
newspapers like the Richmond Dispatch and the Alexandria Gazette (two cities connected to
Ashland by rail).
In 1911, town leaders were mostly concerned with sanitation and controlling the spread
of disease.  The town of Ashland had tried to form a company to install underground pipes
to bring water and septic service to the town, but the company had suffered from poor
management and had declared bankruptcy.  Most town council meetings were spent trying
to find ways to revive the Ashland Water Company, and passing ordinances designed to
keep away diseases, such as typhoid fever, diphtheria, and tuberculosis.  Ever worried about
cleanliness, the town mandated that every house had to be inspected once a month by the
town health inspector, and that stables had to be cleaned out twice a month in the summer
and once a month in the winter.  
In early September of 1911, Mrs. Miriam Pierce returned to her father’s home across the
street from Randolph-Macon College (pictured above).  Her father, the Reverend J. B. Laurens
(affectionately known as “Uncle Larry”) had been an esteemed Methodist minister and
a professor at the college.  He was the founder of the Rosebud Missionary Society and a
popular writer of Methodist doctrine.  He died in 1894, and in 1903, the Rosebud Society
honored him with a large granite monument in the Ashland’s Woodland Cemetery.

On September 12th, 1911, the Tuesday evening edition of the Alexandria (VA) Gazette
newspaper carried a front page story with the headline, “Will Not Build a Negro College.”
 The two short paragraphs read:
Ashland, Va., Sept 12 - Fired by reports that Booker T. Washington,
the negro educator, was about to acquire land here on which to build
a negro college like Tuskegee Institute, the [Town] Council, in a hastily
called meeting today, passed an ordinance of segregation which will
effectually prevent the consummation of the plan.

Mrs. Dabney J. Pierce, daughter of the Rev. J. B. Laurens, announced
that she would sell the Laurens homestead, adjoining Randolph-Macon
College to Washington.  When the matter became known and Mrs. Pierce
admitted that Washington intended to build a negro educational institution
on the property, the city stood agast. The ordinance is sweeping in its
prohibitory terms.  
More details were revealed on an inside page of that same paper:
Residents of Ashland are up in arms over a report that the Laurens
homestead, one of the finest in Ashland, is to be converted into a branch
of the Tuskegee Institute for Negroes.  At the City Council’s session last
night, a segregative ordinance was framed. Mrs. Pierce a descendant of
the Laurens, who practically has abandoned the old homestead, returned
a few days ago and began cleaning up the place.  When asked what she
was going to do, the answer came promptly that she was contemplating
selling it to Booker T. Washington, who would establish a preparatory
branch of the negro college there. Meanwhile, Ashland, not knowing
where the report is true or not, continues to boil and rail.”

The Richmond Times-Dispatch also published a story about the Tuskegee rumor on that
same day, titled, “College Scheme Will Be Blocked.”
Segregation Ordinance Introduced in Ashland- Will Be Adopted Today
(Special to the Times-Dispatch)
Ashland, Va., September 11th- At a meeting of the City Council of
Ashland held to-night, a segregation ordinance was introduced that
will be formally adopted at a special meeting to be held tomorrow
The ordinance, with modifications to meet local conditions, is based
on the Richmond ordinance, and in general terms it follows along the
lines of that measure.  
It is believed that the prime cause for the introduction of the ordinance
at this time, is the report recently in circulation that the Laurens
homestead, a desirable location in the center of town, and near the
campus of Randolph-Macon College, was to be purchased and converted
into a branch of the Tuskegee Institute for Negroes.  On the Laurens
grounds at present is a small-two story frame building and the entire
property is valued at about $1,000. It is not considered at all probable
that any attempt is to be made to establish any such institution here,
but the Council decided to take prompt action in case there was anything
to the rumor, and the ordinance will successfully block the scheme.”

If Miriam Pierce was the frustrated owner of a dilapidated property that she wished to sell,
the fear tactics that she used were familiar to Southerners and resonated loudly within
the small town.  The story of the school rumor was also carried in black newspapers,
such as The Appeal, a Midwestern African- American publication with offices in
Chicago and Minneapolis. New Yorkers would have also read about it in the Sun
newspaper on September 12th, which quoted a town resident saying, “We will never
allow a negro boarding school to be established in this town…”

The news of the rumor and the hastily passed segregation ordinance was traveled far enough to
reach Booker T. Washington, who wrote a letter to the editor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch
that was published seven days after the news broke.

From Booker Washington
To the Editor of the Times-Dispatch
Sir- My attention has been called to what seems to be considerate excitement
around in Ashland, Va., because of the fact that it is reported that I am planning
to place a colored school within the corporate limits of the Ashland Community.
I also see by a newspaper clipping that the City Council has met and passed
resolutions with the object of preventing such a school from being built within
the corporate limits.
Taking for granted that the newspaper reports are true, it is past my understanding
how people can become excited over the reports without stopping to take the
time to inquire as to whether or not such reports are based upon any facts. Many
of the lynchings in the United States occur because a rumor begins to fly through
the community, and it is passed from one lip to the other without anyone taking
the time to find out upon what facts the rumor is based.
In regard to the reports that I am to establish a negro school in Ashland,
I would state that I have never discussed such a matter with any human being,
black or white. I have never heard of any propositions to establish a school in
Ashland until I received a telegram from Major Moton of Hampton Institute
asking if there was any truth to the rumor.  I will state further, that all of my
time and strength is occupied in carrying on the work of the Tuskegee Institute,
and I have neither time, strength, nor money to use in becoming responsible for
another institution.
Booker T. Washington
Tuskegee, September 15

Regardless of Miriam Pierce’s motives for spreading the rumor, the town leaders in Ashland
acted swiftly and did not wait to hear from Mr. Washington.  1911 was a popular year for
residential zoning laws that restricted where people could live based on the color of their skin.
Baltimore had become the first city in the US to pass such a law in December of 1910 and
Richmond had followed close behind in April of 1911.  
The Ashland Town Council elections in June of 1910 found nine white men serving in
leadership roles for the community: H.A. Ellett, Town Sergeant, C.W. Crew, Mayor;
Callom B. Jones, III, Mayor Pro Tempore, D.B. Cox, W.S. Brown, S.J. Doswell,
G.F. Delarue, W.L. Foy, and E.W. Newman. Ashland would elect their first woman
member of Town Council in 1946, and the first black person in 1977.
The Ashland segregation ordinance was very similar to the ordinance that had been
passed in Richmond a few months earlier.  It prohibited whites and blacks from living
on a block where they would have been in the minority. If a block had mostly white people
living on it, then a black person could not reside there.  Those who passed the ordinance could
claim that they were being fair because the prohibited housing law applied equally to both
blacks and whites. It did make exceptions for people living in homes as servants, and it did
not prevent people from purchasing a property- they just couldn’t live in the house that they
Unfortunately, the climate in Ashland that feared a black college had been established years
earlier following the destruction caused by the Civil War. Because of its location just north of
Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy, and along the main supply lines of the railroad,
Ashland played a vital role during the war.  The small town was used as a staging ground for
troops, a depot for supplies, and as a refugee settlement for people fleeing the fighting in
Richmond, and north in Fredericksburg. Many homes along the railroad tracks were used as
makeshift hospitals, and there were over 400 unnamed Confederate soldiers buried in the
town cemetery.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Coming Soon!

Coming Soon!  An investigative journey by Meriwether Gilmore into the history of segregation in Ashland and the story of John Coleman, the black man who fought against it.  Watch for this story to be published in four segments in the Ashland Hawk Newspaper: in stores and online. 

Friday, September 28, 2018

9/27/2018 Classic COTU Weekend: Parties, Music, Food, & Old Friends

It seems too good to be true.

The weather report for this Saturday doesn't seem normal considering all the clouds and rain that we have had for 2018, BUT the forecast calls for sunshine, clear skies, and a high of 76.  It will be a beautiful day for all things Ashland, which means being out and socializing.

A big happy birthday to the place that has raised so many Ashland kids!  Kiddie Kingdom will be throwing a big birthday party this Saturday, Sept. 29th, from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM.  There will be carnival games, music, food, and lots of fun seeing familiar faces.  Bring your kids by to visit the classrooms and teachers that they loved!

It should be a wonderful afternoon on the front lawn of the Arts and Activities Center!  This Craft Beer Festival has become so popular in the past few years, and it is easy to see why!  Live music will be provided from the Mike Lucci Band, the HD Band, and The Bush League.  Visitors will have many breweries to choose from, including Ardent Ales, Hardywood, COTU, Bold Rock Hard Cider, and Devil's Backbone.  Yours truly will be pouring at the Legends tent from 3:00 to 5:00, so please stop by and say hi!  Tickets are $15 at the door and include a commemorative pint glass.

The Ashland Farmer's Market is a lovely place to visit as fall fruits and vegetables arrive.  Make it a part of your weekend routine!

The Hanover County School Board announced that it will combine Henry Clay and John M. Gandy Elementary Schools into one sometimes within the next 3 to 4 years.  We hope that they can find a way to keep these school children at a school that is connected to the town by sidewalks.  We always enjoyed walking to school when scheduled allowed it.  Those minutes were filled with good conversation and frequent stops along the way when the honeysuckle was in bloom. 

Keep the Ashland elementary school within the town limits; it's why people move here. 

 Enjoy this beautiful weekend, Ashlanders!  Stay up late with the windows open; you live in a beautiful place.

Call or email me with your Ashland news: 310-5320,

Friday, September 14, 2018

9/14/2018 The Storm that Wasn't, Craft Beer on the Lawn, Small Town Friday Nights

Murphy's Law # 327:  
The amount of effort one puts into hurricane preparations is inversely 
reflected in the strength of said storm on the prepare-er.  

This past Tuesday, we tied the trampoline to a tree, ya'll.

In light of the non-weather event this weekend that cancelled all of our plans, I propose multiple post-hurricane parties where we use up all of these supplies we purchased.  

Have you gotten your tickets to the Off the Rails Craft Beer Festival on the 29th?  This is such a fun event for the Arts and Activities Center, and a perfect evening in our wonderful little town.  Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at the Caboose, at the gate, or online here.  The Randolph-Macon football team will be playing away at Washington & Lee that Saturday, so there should be no conflict of interest this year!

Your Ashland Coffee and Tea has just undergone some intense renovations, so plan an evening to come listen to some music and see the changes!  On October 5th, Carl Waterford & Three Bars Down will lend their Chicago blues to ACT's Blues and Burgers night.  Visit the website for more information!

This coming Friday, September 21st, your Patrick Henry football team will take on Henrico High School at home, under the lights, at 7:00 PM.  Come cheer on the patriots and partake in a great, small-town evening.  

Nest Saturday, the 22nd, is National Free Museum Day and you can download two free tickets to lots of museums in our area.  I bet there is at least one participating museum that you haven't been to yet; Scotchtown is on the list!  Visit to get your free ticket.

Call or email me with your Ashland news: 310-5320,  There is so much happening in this Center of the Universe...why would you ever want to leave?

Thursday, August 23, 2018

8/23/2018 Late Summer Storms, Yellow Jackets return, Open-Air Film Festival

Like a hurricane always makes that turn to the north along the east coast, so does summer always turn towards fall. I have hurricanes on my mind because it is that time of year.  I was working in my yard last Friday around 6:00 PM, and I noticed how quiet it was- the cicadas had stopped their constant singing and the air was still.  "Oh," I immediately thought, "its hurricane weather." 

Our Atlantic has let the Pacific take center stage this week as Hurricane Lane moves towards Hawaii, and let that remind us to check our supply of batteries and candles.

The Patrick Henry Half this weekend, so be prepared for some detours if you are headed west out of town on Saturday morning. Come out and cheer if you live along the route!

It's always nice to see the students coming back to town- they add a youthful spirit to our town that we all enjoy.  The first home football game for the Randolph-Macon Yellow Jackets will be Saturday, September 8th at 6:00 PM against Averett College. 

Who doesn't love watching movies under the stars?  Whether by the pool or by the Library, Ashland has a long history of showing film outdoors.  The opportunity arises once again with the Randolph-Macon Open-Air Film Festival this September.  The first film will be "Alone in Berlin," staring Emma Thompson and Brenden Gleeson (in English with German accents) on Friday, September 7th. The film begins at 7:30, but there will be a light reception before at 7:00 PM.  Bring your lawn chair or blanket and enjoy this event which is free and open to the public!

You can learn more about the RMC Open-Air Film Festival by visiting their events calendar here.

Fall is a lovely time in the Center of the Universe, and we have so much to look forward to: cooler evenings on the porch, the return of sweaters, and Halloween planning.  Call or email me with your Ashland news: 310-5320,  Have a lovely weekend!

Thursday, August 16, 2018

8/16/2018 Summer Stretched Thin, Patrick Henry Half, September Schedule

It's mid-August.  College kids are packing to leave, and grade-schoolers are eyeing school supplies.  Carter Park pool is quiet most afternoons, and most of us are focused on September instead of August.  These last weeks can be a blur; what did we not accomplish this summer?

It reminds me of how fast the days in Ashland have flown by.  Our summers used to be filled with the activities of kids, pool trips, camps, sleep-overs with friends.  I can see this era ending as we now have two college kids in our house and a middle-schooler left at home.  They don't need me to manage their days any more, which was a goal that I dreamed about ten years ago.  Like many things that we think we need, the actual thing that we are longing for fails to live up to our expectations.  

The Ashland Farmer’s Market is larger than ever, and there are more customers that ever- so get there early this Saturday to stock up on wonderful late-summer vegetables, flowers for your kitchen table, home-baked breads, free-range eggs, and anything else to make your kitchen resemble a Southern Living photo-shoot.  

The Patrick Henry Half Marathon is about to run it’s twelfth year through the streets of Ashland on Saturday, August 25th at 7:00 AM.  Come rain or come shine (or hurricane) the runners will loop from Randolph-Macon, up and down Blunt’s Bridge Road, and through the town to reach 13.2 miles.  Come out to cheer them on!  You can learn more at the Richmond Road Runners website:

Congratulations to the new Wawa for putting up framing that shows us that they actually do plan on constructing an actual building!  

In an effort to help with your planning, here are a few upcoming events that you can add to your calendar:

August 18th  Ashland Library End of Summer Celebration
September 3rd  Last Whistle of Ashland Pool
September 4th  First Day of School
September 15th  Last Street Party of the Summer
September 20th  Car Maintenance for Teens @ Ashland Library
September 22nd  Free Museum Day
September 29th  Kiddie Kingdom 50th Anniversary Celebration
                    Also  Off the Rails Craft Beer Festival

There are a few weeks of summer left, kids.  Do you know that most schools around the country have already opened?  If I was you, I’d spend every last day at the Ashland pool.  Stay up late, sleep in, and eat popsicles for breakfast.  That’s what I’d do if I didn’t have to be an adult.  

Call or email me with your Ashland news: 310-5320,  Have a lazy, lazy week.  

The Segregation Ordinance, Part II: Race Riots

The Segregation Ordinance, Part II: Race Riots Ashland, VA, taken in 1900, courtesy of the Ashland Museum. After the war, As...