Bringing Black history back to life

CHRISTIANSBURG, Va. (WDBJ) -As part of Black History Month we’re learning about what could be coming to a property in Christiansburg that’s rich in Black history.

The property is in the heart of what was called Campbell Town. It’s a part of history that has not been well documented, but local historians are working to bring the story back to life.

At the corner of Depot Street and Harless Street—stood the home of Fannie Mae Simms Campbell.

“There was a lot of history associated with that property,” Montgomery Museum of Art and History Curator Sherry Joines Wyatt said.

Campbell’s home was also a business called Campbell’s Place.

Museum records show she built a 14 room, two story home that was also used as a hospital in the 1920s to 1940s. Back then African Americans could only go to the hospital for emergencies, so any follow-up care would happen at Campbell’s Place.

In the mid to late 20th century, the building burned down.

“We begin to understand how little we know and how many questions there are about black history in general in Montgomery County,” Wyatt said.

Even now, Wyatt said she just saw two lodge halls on a 1920′s map that she never saw before.

“If the buildings are gone then we are left with the stories so that’s really what our focus will be,” Wyatt said. “We don’t know really what else happened and what else caused the closure of those businesses. That’s part of the story, part of the unknown that needs more information.”

The property sits across from Rosa L. Peters Children’s Playground—the former spot for Black children adjacent to Depot Park.

Developers now are looking to re-zone the property from a business to residential area to match what’s already there along Depot St. All this while more history is uncovered.

“So often these stories of African American history were not brought forward because of racism and segregation, Wyatt said. “It’s really critical that we build the picture back so that everyone can see what it was at one time.”

Records show Campbell would rent rooms and offered to help build other homes in Campbell Town. There’s still a lot more to learn and historians are working on it now.

There was no vote on the re-zone Tuesday night at council. That will likely follow at the next Christiansburg Town Council meeting.

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