Following are tidbits of the African-American history of the Middle Peninsula area.
History of the Third of April Emancipation Celebration
in Essex County, Virginia
African Americans have held emancipation celebrations since the end of the Civil War. Although these celebrations have been held throughout the country at different times of the year and inn different forms, they all celebrate the liberation of African people from the institution of American slavery.
In some mid-western states, Emancipation Day is September 22, the day on which Abraham Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. In other parts of the country, the celebration is held on January 1, the day that the Emancipation Proclamation took effect. Since the Emancipation Proclamation purported to free Africans only in those states that had seceded from the Union (over which Abraham Lincoln had no control), many feel that the Emancipation Proclamation freed no one, and that African emancipation should be celebrated at another time. Certainly, however, most persons would agree that the spirit of the Emancipation Proclamation, if not the law of it, set the tone for the eventual liberation of enslaved Africans.
Other celebration dates not related to the Emancipation Proclamation were observed in various parts of the country. June 19 is the celebration date in Texas and other parts of the southwest. June 19, 1865, or Juneteenth as it came to be called, is the day that the news of freedom was announced to Texans by the order of a Union Army general named Granger.
In Virginia, several dates have been observed. April 9 was Emancipation Day in Lynchburg and in King William County, marking Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox on April 9, 1865. April 3 was the designated date in the City of Richmond beginning in 1866 and continuing throughout the 19th century and into the early part of the 20th century. April 3 was so very important to the City of Richmond and eastern Virginia because April 3, 1865, was the day that the City of Richmond fell to the Union Army, a military operation brought about largely through the efforts of African-American (colored) troops. Because April 3 was such a devastating day for white citizens of the City of Richmond, the Richmond Third of April celebration was oftentimes controversial, and the celebration ended around the beginning of the Jim Crow era. In Essex County, Virginia, though, African-American emancipation was celebrated on the Third of April for almost eighty years. The Essex celebration, held in Tappahannock, began at least in 1877 (a 1952 circular reveres to that year’s celebration as the 75th, and continued through the mid 1950s).
The Third of April was a major holiday for African Americans in the area. Schools were closed for “Negro “children, and persons traveled from throughout Essex and the surrounding counties to attend the festivities. The trip to the town of Tappahannock was not always easy in the early days. For those people living east of the Rappahannock River, it was necessary to ferry across the river before the opening of the Downing Bridge in 1927. The mode of transportation throughout the years ran the gamut from horse and buggy to make-shift school bus. On the Third of April all roads led to Tappahannock. One resident compared the Third of April crowd to the one assembled in 1990 for the inauguration of L. Douglas Wilder as Governor of Virginia. Another resident said, “That was our day, we looked forward to it, we wore our finest, and the town belonged to us, at least for one day.”
A typical Third April began with a 10:00 a.m. parade through the streets of Tappahannock. The parades were spirited patriotic events, including marching bands (mostly from out of town), local drill teams, American Legion Post units, American Red Cross nurse units, cavalry units, and home-grown floats. Bands included the Maggie Walker High School and Capital City bands of Richmond, Bundy’s Boys Band from Harrison burg, Virginia, and the Hanover Boy’s School Band. The marching units of the Red Cross, American Legion, and the cavalry units were trained by local residents expressly for the Third of April parade.
Following the parade and a lunch break, the festivities resumed with a formal program in the Essex County Courthouse. There was always an inspirational featured speaker. Some of the speakers included Lawyer Thomas Calhoun Walker of Gloucester, Dr. J. Rodman Ransome of Richmond, The Reverend J. H. Skipwith, and Mrs. Ethel Dandridge, the president of the Virginia Teachers Association. The Emancipation Proclamation was read, and music and other expressions of racial pride and patriotism were made.
Merchants in the town of Tappahannock, both Black and White, looked forward to the day because it was a good business day for all. Vendors set up tables along the streets which sold everything from good and drink to clothing and medicinal items. The air was truly festive.
Some of the older residents remember that a play was given on the evening of the Third of April during the early part of the twentieth century. Many persons remember the Third of April dance given in later years. More than one person noted that the Third of April was “our day, the one time that we took over the town.”
Third of April activities were planned and executed by the Celebration Club, which was formed to “celebrate the emancipation of the Negro” and to “foster the education and civic advancement of the Negro people in Essex County.” This dedicated group of persons met on a monthly basis to ensure that each year’s celebration was a success. President of the Celebration Club included the Reverend P. R. Liverpool, Matthew McGuire, T. Delmas Harris, and Phillip Jackson. J.S. Manning and Ruth Corbin Morris were among the other officers of the club. Periodic dues were assessed against members of the club and year-round activities were conducted to sustain the work of the club.
The Tappahannock Third of April celebration is significant as an important slice of African-American and American history because of its impact upon the persons who attended and its longevity as an institution. The fact that Black folk were able to keep the celebration going through the rise of Jim Crow, through the Great Depression, and through two world wars says much for the tenacity and perseverance of the African-American citizens of the area, and should not go unnoticed. It is ironic that a celebration that marked the fall of the City of Richmond was sustained in Tappahannock, but not in Richmond.
The Celebration Club did not exist solely for the purpose of putting on the celebration. The purpose stated in its by-laws makes it perfectly clear that there was a parallel agenda in terms of the continuing struggle for African-American freedom. In the face of all the challenges of the times, a group of courageous and dedicated African Americans created an institution that should be revived and restored to its former glory.
Written by Bessida Cauthorne White and published in the program of a re-creation of the Third of April Emancipation Celebration held on April 3, 1994
A Brief Historical Sketch of the Rappahannock Industrial Academy
There were no public high schools for African Americans in Middle Peninsula Virginia during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. African-American students had to travel sometimes far from their homes and at great expense to attend the few private high schools that existed for "Negroes." The Southside Rappahannock Baptist Association, an organization of black churches in the counties of Essex, Middlesex, and King and Queen, recognized this deficit and took steps to fill the need for secondary education by establishing the Rappahannock Industrial Academy (RIA). Among the early proponents for the school were Dr. R. E. Berkley, and the Reverends D. C. Winston, N. A. Wiggins, C. H. Towles, W. H. Pollard, F. P. Diggs, and Thomas Wright. Also in that number were J. H. Carter, H. V. Washington, Thomas Latney, Mrs. M.E. Reed, Rebecca Page, and Mary Minor. In fact, at an 1897 meeting held at Calvary Baptist Church, many of these persons pledged amounts that ranged from $1.00 to $30.00. Plans for the school were made over a period of years, and by deed dated September 18, 1901, “trustees of the Industrial Academy” purchased a tract of land containing about 160 acres eight miles south of Tappahannock at Ozeana in Essex County. The land was previously a part of an estate owned by Robert S. Cauthorn and known as Mount Vista. An additional 127 acres were purchased in 1927.
The school opened on January 1, 1902, with classes conducted in an old farm house on the property. Towles Hall and Berkley Hall, both three-story buildings named in honor of two of the founding fathers, were constructed soon thereafter. Towles Hall, the dormitory that housed female students also contained the administrative office, the chapel, and the dining hall. Towles had the capacity for forty-five students. Berkley Hall, the male dormitory, contained three classrooms, a library, quarters for male teachers and eventually a chemistry laboratory. Berkley had the capacity to house thirty students.
Initially, the Academy was a two-year school. Later it became a three-year school. Still unaccredited at this time, RIA graduates were forced to go elsewhere to receive high school diplomas that would be recognized by the State of Virginia. Eventually the school became a four-year high school, and in 1934, the Academy became fully accredited. Academy students were both boarding and day students. Students came from the counties of Essex, Middlesex, and King and Queen, from other places in Virginia, and there were a number of out-of-state students.
The RI Academy was in operation for forty-six years, from 1902 to 1948. During this time it was served by eleven principals and by many outstanding teachers. The names of the principals and many of the teachers are listed below.
The school budget was met through a variety of sources. Records indicate that at such time as total expenditures for the school over the years had totaled $107,000, of this sum students had paid $53,965 in board, tuition, and instrumental music lessons. The other $53,726 came from the Southside Rappahannock Baptist Association, the Raikes Sunday School Convention, the Women’s Convention, timber, farm produce, personal contributions, etc. By today’s standards, student fees seem paltry: In school year 1940-41, room and board was $12 for the first month and $11 for subsequent months. The entrance medical exam fee was 25 cents, the chemistry lab fee was $1.50, and an optional monthly instrumental music fee was $1. Students requesting particular rooms were required to pay a deposit of $2.50.
Even though the fees were modest, parents struggled to make sure that their children received an education. Many of the students worked themselves to make ends meet. And, the community rose to the occasion. The school newspaper, EMQ (which stood for Essex, Middlesex, and King and Queen) dutifully listed the names of those persons in the community who contributed to the school’s pantry. The December 1937 and December 1940 issues of EMQ each listed contributions from more than sixty individuals representing a wide spectrum of the community, including parents of some of the students. Typical pantry contributions included a bushel of sweet potatoes, 6 quarts of canned fruit, a ½ gallon of pumpkin preserves, 1 quart of blackberries, and 3 pounds of butter. There is even a twenty-five cent contribution to the pantry from one parent who had at least two children enrolled in school at the time with many younger children at home.
Despite limited resources, the RI Academy maintained a full staff of highly qualified teachers throughout its duration. The enrolled students, too, were conscientious and academically motivated, and the curriculum prepared them to take their place in society. Academy students had the opportunity to be well rounded through participation in a variety of extracurricular activities, such as the drama club, the school newspaper, the school yearbook, the oratorical team, the glee club, the school quartet, baseball, and basketball. There were a variety of field trips such as a visit to Hampton Institute described in EMQ and a trip to Philadelphia made by the quartet, The Rising Four.
Support for the Academy remained strong in the various communities that it served. The demographics of the school’s final trustee board and advisory board listed in the 1948 yearbook, The Torch, indicate that support. Even so, declining enrollments brought on in part by the advent of public high schools for African Americans forced the Academy to cease operation at the end of school year 1947- 48. After forty-six years of continuous operation, through even the Great Depression, an era of educational achievement ended with the closing of the doors of the Rappahannock Industrial Academy.
Principals of the Rappahannock Industrial Academy
|William Oliver Bunday||1903-1904|
|William Edward Robinson||1904-1933|
|Samuel Purcell Morton||1933-1935|
|Charles Irvin Thurston||1935-1938|
|General J. Johnson||1938-1942|
|Marie Holmes Harrison||1942-1944|
|Jerry Walter Hoffman||1944-1945|
|Dove Anthony Burress||1945-1946|
|Lureatha Jones Harris||1946-1947|
|Alexander Davis Williams||1947-1948|
Teachers of the Rappahannock Industrial Academy (partial list)
J. Murray Brooks
Mrs. M. J. Burress
Ida Smith Cauthorne
Byrdie M. Cole
Esther Green Evans
Ruth Henderson Gaskins
Rev. Benjamin H. Gayles
Elsie H. Gladden
Rev. I. G. Gladden
Gerald Butler Harris
Lureatha Jones Harris
Marie Holmes Harrison
Ellen G. Johnson
Frances Hodges Johnson
General J. Johnson
Ruth Corbin Morris (substitute)
Pauline Cauthorne Morton
Thelma Dungee Morton
Annie Brown Robinson
E. Edwardine Robinson
Luther Robinson (substitute)
Gladys Harcum Taylor
Carmen Sparks Thurston
Rev. J. B. Waller
Gracie White Ward
Jacquelyn Waugh Foster
Ola Anderson Whitlow
Mrs. J. H. Winslow
Written by Bessida Cauthorne White in 2006, incorporating information compiled by Lillian Hill McGuire and other members of the RI Academy Alumni Association
Biographical Sketch of Blues Musician William "Bill" Moore
William Moore was a blues musician who spent a significant portion of his life in the town of Tappahannock, Virginia. His ragtime-inspired playing was captured by a Paramount Records session held in Chicago circa January 1928, from which eight songs were commercially released of sixteen that received a copyright. The issued recordings bear the name "William Moore" or "Bill Moore," and are some of the earliest commercial recordings by an African American from Virginia. William Moore appears as card number 1 on the Yazoo set "Heroes of the Blues," illustrated by underground artist Robert Crumb, and this honor reflects his popularity among 78-rpm record collectors and guitar revivalists from the 1960s until today.
Moore was born in Georgia on March 3, 1893, the son of Harriet and Frank Moore. The 1900 census lists the family in Dover, Screven County, Georgia, with Moore's father farming rented land. It is not known exactly when Moore came to Virginia, but his playing fits into the syncopated East Coast style that was common in both states. Moore met his first wife, Gwendolyn Gordon, in Atlantic City around 1920 and they soon married. She was from Warsaw, Virginia, and the marriage undoubtedly is the reason Moore came to the nearby town of Tappahannock. Moore lived close to the First Baptist Church in Tappahannock and residents of the town and his son William Edsel Moore recall him performing on the guitar, piano, violin, and accordion.
Moore was living in Tappahannock when he traveled to Chicago to record for Paramount, and his songs reflect the place and culture of the time. Moore's "Old Country Rock" is a fine example of a country dance tune, with a caller imploring various family members and fellow dancers to "rock," before telling them to "step back and let me rock." The song's narration refers to the Rappahannock River and the town of Tappahannock, where Moore worked as a barber, as well as to life-long Tappahannock resident Ernest Gaines. Moore's song "Barbershop Rag" testifies to both his skilled guitar playing and to his profession. Virginia audiences would have also appreciated his twelve-bar blues songs, such as "Midnight Blues," and the references to Ford motor cars and banking problems in "Ragtime Millionaire," a variation on Irving Jones's novelty composition. Moore's son, William Edsel Moore, remembers his father performing both "Ragtime Millionaire" and "Tillie Lee," another popular tune.
Moore moved to Fredericksburg around 1929 and worked at Chester Bailey's barbershop on Caroline Street in that city. His first wife passed away around 1930 and he then married a hairdresser from Warrenton, moving to that town in Fauquier County, Virginia. He died in Warrenton on November. 22, 1951, and is buried in the Warrenton Cemetery.
Middle Peninsula African-American Genealogical and Historical Society partnered with James River Blues Society, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, and the Essex Public Library to erect a Virginia State Historical Marker in William Moore’s memory in the town of Tappahannock. The Moore marker, dedicated on December 3, 2005, and located across the street from the Essex Public Library, was the fourth in a series of markers erected across the state of Virginia honoring early blues pioneers. Members of Moore’s family participated in the dedication, which was followed by blues performances at the Essex Public Library. The Library mounted a display of items related to Moore’s life and the distinctive Piedmont or East Coast guitar style that Moore’s music embodied. December 3, 2005, was declared William Moore Day in Essex County by the Essex County Board of Supervisors.
Written by Gregg D. Kimball, Director of Publications and Education Services, Library of Virginia, in 2005