2018 Eclipse Awards
Saturday night was one of celebration as the Orange County African-American Historical Society (OCAAHS) recognized five “benefactors” with its inaugural Eclipse Awards.
“The OCAAHS believes in recognizing and supporting those persons and organizations in our community which have enriched the culture and contributed to our well-being,” the Rev. Darryle Crump told more than 100 family, friends, members and supporters Saturday evening. “These we celebrate this evening thought it not robbery to go far beyond duty’s call. Some of them were born here and some were drawn here through the twists and turns of the events of their lives. The common factor that is present in all their lives is their desire to elevate and stimulate their community. This they did by using their time, talent and treasure to educate and motivate others,” said Crump, the organization’s president.
The 18-year-old organization honored Deacon Edmond Harrison Jr., Ruth Lewis Smith, Clara Ellis Payne, Laura Thompson and Carolyn French with Eclipse Awards.
Citing the organization’s bylaws to explore African-American contributions to the cultural and historical heritage of Orange County and its efforts to enhance and promote awareness of the accomplishments and contributions of people of African descent, board member the Rev. Robert Anthony noted, those about to be honored were individuals who had done much, but hadn’t necessarily gotten the accolades for their efforts—nor were they seeking them.
“These awards were named the ‘Eclipse Awards,’ and I’m not talking about an eclipse of the sun or moon, but these folks and others to come, did eclipse some things, passed beyond those things and the name fits the people who have been chosen for these awards, “ Anthony said.
“From these five persons, we learn that wealth is not always needed for an individual to make a difference,” Crump said. “They realized that integrity and influence are often priceless commodities that will unlock doors and minds when used correctly. Through their energetic influence and integrity, these individuals have helped our community become a better place.
“It is through the process of pouring our lives into the lives of others that we make a lasting difference,” he continued. “This evening, we honor and celebrate those who did that. They made a difference.”
OCAAHS board historian Zann Nelson read a summary of each honoree’s accomplishments and contributions (published weekly as her most recent “Buried Truth” columns in the Review).
Edmond Harrison was recognized for his decades of ministry work through his weekly “Spiritual Tidings” radio broadcast each Sunday morning, for his spiritual mentorship to many and for his efforts with a variety of local community and faith-based organizations.
Ruth Lewis Smith, a longtime Unionville resident, was recognized for her work leading the Orange County Branch NAACP (and earning national acclaim), for serving as an advocate for voter registration, as a poll worker, and as an active member of Bethel Baptist Church and the Wayland Blue Ridge Baptist Association.
Clara Ellis Bailey Payne, born on Lahore Road in 1921, later moved to New York with her family but always maintained her Orange County roots. Over her lifetime, she compiled 70 notebooks of her family’s history which she donated to the Montpelier Foundation.
Laura Thompson, executive director of The Arts Center In Orange, was honored for the Arts Center’s outreach efforts to help African-American children learn of their culture in schools and at the Boys & Girls Club through music and art, and for the Arts Center’s annual Juneteenth celebration efforts.
Carolyn French, honored posthumously, was a charter member of the OCAAHS, was active in the Orange County NAACP and was a tireless activist and advocate for African-Americans. She was described as an educator, historian, traveler and fighter.
Following the award presentations, OCAAHS Secretary April Taylor read Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise.” Nelson concluded the reading, noting, “That’s a fitting tribute, as all of our award winners tonight ‘rose.’ ”
Clara Ellis Bailey Payne was born in Orange on July 13, 1921. She was the last of her family to be born in “the old home place,” RFD Route 3, Box 19. The area was called Christianburg at that time and was on Lahore Road. Payne’s parents were Moses and Eliza Ellis Bailey. After her birth, her parents moved to New York City because there were more jobs available there for African-Americans.
Initially, Payne was left in Orange to be raised temporarily by her maternal grandparents, Frank and Polly Ellis. After her grandparents died in 1929, she was taken to New York to be with her parents and two younger siblings. Almost every summer, the family would return to Orange for visits and to worship at the family church, Emanuel Baptist Church.
Although she grew up in New York City and eventually got a position at New York City College as a secretary, her childhood home was always in the recesses of her mind. While at the college, she was given the opportunity to travel all over the world. She was employed by New York City College for 31 years and retired as a higher education officer.
Payne, as a child and as an adult, constantly asked questions. She wanted to know more about her ancestors and the history of the community that she knew as a youngster in Orange. Over the years, through her digging and searching, she compiled 70 notebooks of verifiable history of her family and of Orange County. She learned through her research that her family was part of the enslaved community at James Madison’s plantation, Montpelier.
Payne has generously shared her research with several families and the African-American Museum of History and Culture. Clara was proud to be a special invitee to the pre-opening festivities at the museum.
In 2016, Clara donated the entire 70-notebook collection of her research to the Montpelier Foundation in hopes that others will be aided and inspired to find the stories of their ancestors.
Ruby Dee, a star of stage and screen and a civil rights activist, has been quoted as saying, “The greatest gift is not being afraid to question.” For 97 years, Clara Ellis Bailey Payne has been asking questions, and all of us are better informed because of her inquisitiveness.
Until next week, be well.
(Note: A special thank you to the Rev. Darryle Crump for contributing to this article.)
Laura Russell Thompson grew up in Bowie, Md. Her progressive education began at Bowie State’s kindergarten and ended with graduation from Largo Senior High. The daughter of an artist and a genealogist, she was raised in a home filled with art and history.
After receiving her bachelor of arts from Hood College with a major in history and a minor in education, she worked as a preschool and secondary school teacher. She eventually left the field to join the design staff of a craft kit company where she designed quilt patterns. There, she had the privilege of traveling to Haiti to supervise quilt production. She describes the people as “some of the kindest and most heroic.” She later worked as a graphic artist and desktop publisher for 10 years, producing materials for an educational not-for-profit organization in Washington, D.C. In 1993, she married, moved to Orange and became a stay-at-home mom, horse breeder, shepherd and fiber artist.
In 2003, with her youngest heading off to school, Thompson worried and wondered what she was going to do with herself. What job description could she satisfy with her liberal arts degree, motley collection of life experiences and unrelated job skills? And then, her mother died.
Thompson gathered with her brother and sisters to come up with a fitting memorial. The idea of a memorial art exhibit was the only solution. She contacted The Arts Center In Orange with the proposal, and the idea was received warmly. While hanging the exhibit, Thompson learned that Aimee Hunt was leaving her position as director, and everything clicked. This was the job she had been preparing for all her life.
For Thompson, The Arts Center In Orange is a tool—a tool to make sure that the arts are available to every child and that every artist has the opportunity to shine their light. Through the Arts Center’s grant funded outreach, African-American children learn of their culture through music and art in schools and at the Boys & Girls Club of Orange.
Partnering with the Orange County African-American Historical Society has given The Arts Center In Orange the opportunity to connect, offer gallery exhibits, share beautiful voices, establish Juneteenth as an annual celebration in Orange and fulfill the center’s mission.
Ruth Lewis Smith, our 94-year-old honoree, is truly a unique individual. She is a proud native of Unionville, and is one of six children born to Eugene and Daisy Lewis. Ruth often has said that the only thing that they bought from the store was baking powder and sugar. They grew or raised everything else that they needed.
Her father died when she was 4 years old so the family raised turkeys, chickens and ducks that they could sell to make ends meet. To this day, Ruth still enjoys her chickens and guineas that she raises in Illinois, her current home. She continues to value her family and believes in being involved in her community.
Ruth graduated from Lightfoot Training School in 1943. The school was specifically built for black students. After graduation, she traveled to New York and eventually settled in Pennsylvania where she secured a position as an administrator for the University of Pennsylvania. It was there that she met and married Thomas L. Smith. They were blessed with three children: Douglas, Mattie and Amelia.
After retiring from her university position in 1986, Ruth prepared to return home to her roots in Orange County. Upon returning, she spent much of her time caring for her siblings who all are now deceased. She also was active in the community. She was an advocate for voter registration as well as a regular worker at the polls. She was president of the Orange County NAACP for 12 years and was recognized nationally. She was a vital part of the Wayland Blue Ridge Baptist Association and was in many ways an advocate for local congregations to work together for the common good. She was an ardent member of the Bethel Baptist Church in Unionville. She firmly believed that the Christian church has the ability to make a positive difference in the world. She often would say, “That’s how we were raised.”
In many ways, Ruth Lewis Smith is not only a living legend; she is a national treasure. Countless numbers of persons have been touched directly or indirectly by her guiding words and hands.
Deacon Edmond Harrison Jr. was born on March 7, 1940 in Richland, N.C. He was the fourth of his parents’ seven children. His parents were farmers and years later, he still reflects on those formative years of growing up in rural North Carolina.
After graduating from high school, Harrison went to live in Washington, DC. It was there that he attended the University of the District of Columbia and received B.A. and M.A. degrees. He later would earn a M.Th. from American Bible College.
It was in Washington that Harrison met Elder Bernard Battle and became a part of Bibleway Church and its music ministry. Battle also operated a religious book and music store. As Harrison grew spiritually, he was given more responsibilities in the store as well as in the church.
When Battle came to Louisa to minister, Harrison came also. Battle was the voice behind the microphone for the “Spiritual Tidings” broadcast here in Orange and was assisted by Deacon Harrison.
Eventually, Deacon Harrison became the voice for the “Spiritual Tidings” program and has been manning the microphone now for three decades. Each Sunday morning, he rises long before daybreak to make his way down to the WJMA radio station for the weekly broadcast. Countless numbers of persons have been recipients of his humble attitude and reassuring voice not only on the airways but in everyday walks of life as well. As Deacon Harrison often says, “May the work I’ve done speak for me”.
When Deacon Harrison was not at the radio station, it was not unusual at all to find him tutoring persons for their GED, serving as president for the B. G. Battle Community Choir, being a vital part of the Orange County NAACP, serving on the board of the Orange County African-American Historical Society, working at Satchell’s Funeral Home, or working at the Louisa Healthcare Center where he was employee of the month four times and employee of the year as well. His ongoing belief is that he must do His work while it is yet day, for night is coming when no one can work.
Deacon Harrison is very active at Bibleway Church in Louisa. He has mentored many who have gone on to be pastors, teachers and other leaders. He firmly believes that most of the work of the Lord takes place outside of the church building. Although the cadence of his steps has slowed, he continues to be the voice of the “Spiritual Tidings” broadcast each Sunday from 6 to 8 a.m. He also continues to be a reassuring person when life’s storms seem to be overwhelming to many. His works speak for him.
(A special thank you to the Rev. Darryle Crump and Ms. April Taylor for their significant work on Deacon Harrison’s story.)