The Afro-American Historical Association of Fauquier County and The Piedmont Environmental Council announced in a Monday press release the launch of a new, interactive, online story map documenting the African American experience in Fauquier County. Created with funding support by The PATH Foundation, the story map will give people 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 – all in one place.
In 1860, about half of Fauquier County’s population was made up of free and enslaved African Americans. On the heels of the historical periods of slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, the great migration, civil rights and integration, descendants of these residents now make up less than 10% of Fauquier’s population. Only remnants of their many communities are still visible. The story map attempts to tell the history of the lives of these often overlooked and forgotten Americans.
The interactive story map, at www.aahafauquier.org/storymap, includes a map of Fauquier County that 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.
AAHA President Karen Hughes White said, “For many years, I have envisioned a map of Fauquier County with various overlays pertaining to African American history. 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.”
Kendall said the project was a “massive undertaking” on the part of AAHA staff, who built upon decades of prior research identifying and documenting the history of African-Americans in the county. The PEC and Fauquier County provided photography and expert mapping assistance to AAHA Digital Programs Director Aysha Davis, Hughes White’s granddaughter, who built out the interactive story map.
Over time, Davis and AAHA will continue to add other African-American contributions, including cemeteries, buildings, businesses, baptism and burial sites and landmarks pertaining to the underground railroad. The group hopes other 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,” Hughes White said.
Cindy Sabato of the PEC said that AAHA had already spent years, probably decades, building the database that forms the historical content of the story map. “PEC was a catalyst to all of it coming together; we brought expertise and experience with story maps and provided the resources and know-how to move all of the data points and information from the database into a mapping application.”
She added, “Watsun Randolph, our senior GIS analyst, created the embedded web map and provided guidance for building it out. PEC also wrote the grant application and supported AAHA through project management.”
In addition, Sabato said, “Hugh Kenny, our communications fellow, provided the drone photography and the more current/modern imagery, especially where AAHA didn’t have historical photos.”
Sabato said that Dan Stell, of the Fauquier County Geographic Information Systems department, “provided tremendous geolocation assistance with specific and super-accurate longitude and latitude coordinates for many of the points on the map.”
Stell said, “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. 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,” he said.
White envisions the story map becoming a resource for scholars as they are studying local history and believes that educators will find it an important resource within the classroom.
Amy Acors, an instructional supervisor of history at Fauquier Public Schools, was enthusiastic about the project’s potential for making history accessible to students. She said, “It’s been so exciting to watch this project unfold. Many hours went into creating a tool that I cannot wait for our teachers and students to have at their fingertips. 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 Hughes White, who added that many in her own generation were often sheltered from the knowledge of their family’s lineage and difficult histories.
White said that through digging through the area’s history, she has discovered connections to her own ancestors that she didn’t know about before. For instance, Jim Stribling of Markham came by the AAHA to share information about his family’s history. Through doctors records he was able to provide, White discovered that her own great, great, great grandfather Hezekiah Gaskins was a stone mason, “and we were able to find out where some of his work is. We also found out that someone in the family was a cobbler, because of bartering they did with the doctor after the war.”
She added that Gaskins was renting a house where Stribling’s Orchard is now, and that he bought his wife and three daughters out of slavery.
For AAHA Board Member Angela Davidson, the story map project has given her “a whole new sense of pride in families that came through Reconstruction to today.” She is one of four generations living on property purchased in the early 1870s by her great-great grandfather, Brister Grigsby, in historic Morgantown. “Increasing development and rising property values are impacting our communities, Davidson 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.”
Kendall said, “PEC was honored to partner with AAHA … The information contained in the story map is an important testament to African-American agency and determination to overcome obstacles and persevere in establishing strong, flourishing communities that remain to this day.”
“The partnership between AAHA and PEC will bring forth a wealth of knowledge regarding African-American communities and stories throughout Fauquier County,” said Christy Connolly, president and CEO of The PATH Foundation, which provided funding for the project. “We felt that this project was a great collaboration between two exceptional nonprofits leveraging each other’s strengths to achieve a richer, fuller understanding of our region’s history and culture. The story map is an exciting tool for anyone seeking to know more about our region’s past, present and future.”
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