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Governor Northam announces 2nd annual Black History Month Historical Marker Contest

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Posted at 5:47 PM, Feb 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-15 09:45:21-05

RICHMOND, Va. - Governor Ralph Northam invites Virginia students, educators, and families to participate in the second annual Black History Month Historical Marker Contest.

The initiative gives Virginians opportunities to learn about African Americans who have made important contributions to Virginia history, provides teachers with resources to guide history discussions, and includes a contest where students can submit ideas for new historical markers to the Department of Historical Resources.

“This contest is a new Virginia tradition, and one of many ways we are working to tell a more accurate and comprehensive story of our shared past,” said Governor Northam. “Historical markers are a unique and visible way to educate the public about our history, and we need to do a better job of recognizing Black Virginians who have played prominent roles in areas like improving education, championing equal justice, deepening faith communities, and advancing science, technology, and medicine throughout our history. I remain committed elevating initiatives like this one that help make our Commonwealth a more just, compassionate, and culturally rich place to live, work, visit, and learn.”

Virginia’s Historical Highway Marker Program began in 1927 with installation of the first markers along U.S. Route 1 and is considered the oldest such program in the nation.

The program is managed by the Virginia Department of Transportation and the Department of Historic Resources. The signs are known for their black lettering against a silver background and their distinctive shape.

“These markers bring Virginia history to a large audience, including people who may not have another occasion to learn about Virginia history,” said Secretary of Natural Resources Matthew J. Strickler. “Virginia’s markers bear the state seal, so they should provide a clear indication of our values. This annual contest helps ensure Virginia’s historical markers more equitably represent Virginia’s diversity.”

Virginia has erected more than 2,600 markers along its roadways, but as of January 2020, only 350 markers honored African Americans.

Last year on Juneteenth, Northam announced 20 newly approved state historical highway markers addressing topics of national, state, and regional significance to African American history in the Commonwealth.

Ten of the markers were submitted by Virginia students through Governor Northam’s inaugural Black History Month Historical Marker Contest and included civil rights pioneer Barbara Rose Johns, entrepreneur Maggie Lena Walker, Sergeant William H. Carney, and NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson.

“I liked the contest because I got to learn about amazing people who inspire me to be a better kid and make a difference in my community,” said Javier Rodriguez-Aragon, a fifth grader in Fairfax County Public Schools. “Last year, I nominated William H. Carney and Barbara Johns for Virginia historical markers so that more people can learn their stories and be inspired.”

The contest web page includes a lesson plan and classroom activity guide developed by Chief Diversity Officer Dr. Janice Underwood, to help teachers and administrators navigate these discussions.

The contest begins on Monday and suggested historical markers must be submitted by Monday, March 15.

Submissions should include:

  1. Name of Student
  2. Name of Teacher
  3. Name of School
  4. Name of School Division
  5. Suggested Name of Marker (Person, Group, Event, or Place)
  6. Dates of Significance (Dates of birth and death if an individual, or date of event. This field is optional.)
  7. Description of Marker (3-5 sentences)
  8. Suggested Location for Marker

The Department of Historical Resources will review all submissions and will select the top five, after consulting with Governor Northam and members of his Cabinet.

For more information on how to submit, click here.