HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - 14 new historical markers have been approved and are set to come to Virginia's highways, including in Hampton and Norfolk.
The markers will highlight a Lynchburg resident who saved antique and heirloom roses from extinction, two men who shaped Virginia’s post-Civil War constitution of 1869, and the “Martinsville Seven,” among other topics.
They were approved by the Virginia Board of Historic Resources earlier in December.
One Lynchburg marker will highlight Carl Porter Cato (1913-1996), who was known for collecting antique roses and saving them from extinction. He was the founder of Heritage Roses Group. Cato identified several heirloom roses once believed to be lost and saved other rare roses by sending specimen cuttings to gardens across the U.S. Currently, Lynchburg’s Old City Cemetery showcases a collection of Cato’s antique roses.
Virginia’s Constitutional Convention of 1867-68 figures will be featured in two forthcoming markers.
In Clarke County, the marker “John C. Underwood (1809-1873)” recounts Underwood’s experience in Clarke where he settled in the early 1850s—but departed in 1856 after his anti-slavery activity drew harassment from fellow residents.
In 1863, President Lincoln appointed Underwood a federal judge for Virginia’s eastern district. After the Civil War, Underwood then advocated for equal rights for African Americans. He was elected president of Virginia's constitutional convention. The “Underwood Constitution” granted Black men the right to vote and established free public schools, among other reforms.
One of Lynchburg's first Black teachers after the Civil War, Samuel F. Kelso, who also attended Virginia’s Constitutional Convention, will also be highlighted in the new historical markers. He also was a delegate to the National Convention of the Colored Men of America, which advocated for African Americans’ civil rights as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
Another marker will spotlight the "Martinsville Seven," which was made up of seven Black men who were convicted in 1949 for the rape of a white woman. They were sentenced to death. The case drew international attention and petitions for clemency but the Commonwealth of Virginia executed the men in February 1951, the most executions for a rape in U.S. history.
In 1977, the Supreme Court ruled that execution for rape was cruel and unusual punishment, and in August of 2021, Gov. Ralph Northam issued posthumous pardons to the Martinsville Seven.
Seven other new markers address topics in Virginia’s African American history. Two touches on civil rights:
- The marker “Norvel LaFallette Ray Lee (1924-1992)” explains how he was arrested in 1948 in Covington for refusing to leave the whites-only section of a train car. The Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals reversed his conviction in 1949 stating that the state could not enforce segregation laws on a local train if a passenger held a ticket for interstate travel. In 1952, Lee earned an Olympic gold medal in boxing.
- In Fairfax County, the marker “Sullivan v. Little Hunting Park, Inc.” highlights a U.S. Supreme Court case that stemmed from a white member’s request to transfer pool membership to a Black family renting his house. In 1969, the court ruled that this was illegal housing discrimination. The case led to desegregation of neighborhood clubs across the U.S.
Three markers focus on the reconstruction-era of African American churches and a Christian mutual aid society:
- Union Run Baptist Church in Albemarle County was born after the Civil War when the Rev. Robert Hughes and other freedmen organized the congregation. The church served as a school and a community center and the property as a burial ground.
- Chief Cornerstone Baptist Church in Buckingham County was established by 1876 on land sold by a formerly enslaved married couple. Members worshipped under a brush arbor before building a log sanctuary. The church also provided a burial ground for the community.
- Norfolk's new marker “United Order of Tents,” will highlight the United Order of Tents of J.R. Giddings and Jollifee Union, which was founded by and for Black women. It provided financial assistance and burial insurance, established nursing homes, sponsored scholarships, and supported civil rights activists. Its membership nationwide grew to about 50,000 in the 20th century.
The late 19th- and mid-20th century eras ground two other African American historical markers:
- In Hampton a marker will identify the one-time house of William H. Trusty (1863-1902). He moved with his family to Hampton around 1871, to the Phoebus area, which was a large community of emancipated African Americans.
- East End High School in Mecklenburg County will also be highlighted with a marker. It opened in 1953 to serve African American students during segregation. The school’s last class graduated in June 1969.
Two other new markers recall places with Colonial-era roots:
- Rapidan Baptist Church in Madison County congregation faced prosecution for refusing to comply with the laws that privileged the Church of England, Virginia’s established church. In 1789, James Madison said that he would support a constitutional amendment guaranteeing religious freedom.
- Layton’s Landing Wharf and Ferry in Essex County had a ferry operation as early as 1679.
Another marker coming to Essex County will recall Saunders’s Wharf, which operated between the mid-1800s and 1937. It had a lively trade in agricultural products, livestock, raw materials, and manufactured goods, and the comings and goings of passengers.
After approval, it can take upwards of three months or more before a new marker is ready for installation.