Glimpse Roanoke’s past through the lens of this website.  See the Roanoke that your ancestors saw. Walk their African-American neighborhoods, see their neighbors and read their news.  Begin your journey with three long-forgotten relics of that segregated, post-Civil War, southern city that was the African village that nurtured our grandparents, our parents and us. First, on the home page at the top left are 1866 Roanoke County Ex-slave Cohabitation Records that you may click to browse the list of  slaves living as families without any previous legal status less than one year from emancipation.  Second, on the home page top center, click the Hi-Resolution Photograph of Roanoke Circa 1895 taken from atop Mill Mountain showing the historic black communities - Old Lick (Northeast)), Gainsborough, and initial African-American expansion into Northwest Roanoke. Third, on the home page top right, click the book cover to access the official 1888 Roanoke City Directory that includes names and addresses of African-American heads-of-household (*).

    Imbedded in the subsequent images and stories on the home page and remaining web pages are remembrances of African-American pioneers, both our ancestors and their village elders,  who fashioned early segregated communities that protected, nurtured and educated black children until the white power structure saw fit to destroy their safe havens and abandon their self-managed halls of learning. Architects of that village’s eminently successful social and economic traditions included trail-blazing ministers, teachers, lawyers, doctors and common folk whose mission was ensuring the survival, spirituality and success of their flocks, their families and their friends in a proto-typical and hostile southern white supremacist setting. Among them were our great-grandparents and grandparents who faced, on a daily basis, uphill struggles on Roanoke’s version of the South’s uneven, unjust and un-Christian playing fields. Forebears of every persuasion - entrepreneurs, railroad workers, mail carriers, barbers, cooks, waitresses, maids, laborers and, most importantly, homemakers - struggled on those slippery slopes where the absurd economic and social constructs of racism, “the political correctness of yesteryear” was enforced by bullies with gavels, guns or garrotes who were deputized by white power brokers inside and outside the law to exert strangleholds over African-American opportunity, fortune and life. We are the beneficiaries of the sweat and blood shed as they tried to succeed with noble goals in that hostile world….and succeed they did ! This website bears witness to their many struggles, just as we, their offspring, are the proof of their successes.

     On your journey through yesteryear, you will sense our forebears’ pain and their pleasures as events unfolded around them.  You will see landmarks and landscapes, both familiar  and foreign, that have long since disappeared after enriching the century-long mosaic that was Roanoke’s black cultural evolution. You may recognize long-deceased relatives, friends and neighbors who never dreamed that one instant of their lives would be captured and celebrated generations later by thousands. Hopefully, in observing who they were and what they accomplished, we can discover who we really are and what we must do going forward to negotiate those bars that they so admirably raised ….and then so deftly cleared ! Our challenges and chores today - spiritual, social and economic - are little different than theirs were generations ago.  Just as they succeeded for us, their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, so too must we succeed for our future generations .


Continue Black Roanoke 1874 - 1973