Lucy Addison was born in Fauquier County, Virginia in 1861.  She graduated from the Institute for Colored Youth in Philadelphia in 1882.  She taught in Loudon County, Virginia before moving to Roanoke, Virginia in 1886 beginning a lifetime of commitment to improving the education of  Roanoke’s black youth and their educational facilities. For thirty-two years she taught while convincing the school board to increase  schoolroom capacity for ever-growing numbers of black students. She became principal of the new Harrison School completed in 1918 and, by 1924, upgraded its eighth grade to become a fully-accredited high school before retiring.  While the new high school completed 1929 was named in her honor, her most import contribution was the work and character ethic passed on to her students, many of whom later became teachers seeding her values throughout  Roanoke’s black schools.    

Louise Drexel Morrell (1863 - 1945) was the youngest of three daughters of wealthy Philadelphia banker Francis Anthony Drexel. The daughters continued the philanthropy of their father’s family at his death.  Katharine, the middle daughter, became a Catholic nun and was canonized a saint in the Catholic Church in 2000. The bulk of the family fortune supported Catholic foundations, particularly orphanages and schools across the nation.  Louise, the youngest daughter, founded and funded St. Emma Industrial School for African-American boys near Petersburg, Virginia which later became a military academy that greatly influenced my father’s life and, indirectly, mine.

Emily C. Prudden was a deaf, missionary schoolmarm from Connecticutt who started fifteen primary and secondary schools in the South. In 1888, she founded Lincoln Academy for African-American girls below Crowders Mountain, about six miles from the home where my grandmother would later be born. The school flourished, attracting children from large distances who boarded there, It eventually became co-ed and was turned over to the American Missionary Association.  My grandmother attended the school in its early years.  My mother, her siblings and many cousins can be counted among the outstanding graduates of the school which closed in 1955.  

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Black Struggle and White Supremacy: Unlike traditional versions of Americana that largely excluded non-whites, my Americana Black scrapbook would not be complete without full acknowledgment of white benefactors and mentors of my family and friends. Whereas freeing slaves was the primary goal of many compassionate white liberals before the War of the Rebellion, black education became the primary cause of a smaller, but very impactful, band of philanthropists and missionaries afterwards. As late as the 1880’s, the south, true to its racist slave legacies, resisted literacy for free African-Americans. Into that void marched many dedicated liberals, white and black, to change those abominable conditions. They founded schools that, for the first time in American history,served blacks - poor, middle and affluent classes alike - as their only priority. Typically organized by the Catholic Church or former northern abolitionist groups such as The American  Missionary Association and often funded by liberal northern millionaires such as Louise Drexel Morrell and Emily Prudden shown below, these private schools formed the backbone of black education in rural areas of the south from the 1880’s onward.  In urban areas such as  Roanoke, educated black “missionaries” like Lucy Addison, without deep pockets, lobbied successfully to convince obstinate white school boards of the value and benefits of formal black education. In the 1960’s, when southern blacks began to agitate to restore voting rights lost under 19th century Jim Crow laws, as in earlier struggles, white liberals again went to the front lines of the civil rights struggles. One of these, Viola Liuzzo, a mother of five from Detroit, was murdered by the Ku Klux Klan in 1965.  In 2016, social conservatives and the right-wing Republican party work overtime to deny the black vote.

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Father Nicholas J. Habets, a Catholic priest born in Holland, founded Our Lady of Victory  Catholic Church and School in Portsmouth, Virginia for “descendents of ex-slaves”  in 1930. The school was thriving by the time my dad  relocated there with a job at the Portsmouth Navy Yard in 1944.  I was baptized there and attended the parish church and school until December 1953.  Father Habets and the white school nuns made a lasting impression on my family and me. Father Habets was reassigned in 1950.

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Father Albert Pereira,  a first generation Portugese-American born in Newport News, replaced Father Habets at Our Lady of Victory in 1950. He built a new church which I remember well. Father Pereira was dearly loved by his black parishioners including our family. Leaving that wonderful parish community in 1953 to move to Roanoke, Virginia created a sense of loss that my entire family still feels, largely due to the caring of white priests and nuns and the school’s excellent educational foundation.

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Camelot - 1965

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