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  • Writer's pictureOCAAHS

Annual Newsletter 2022

Fifth Annual OCAAHS Eclipse Awards

OCAAHS launched the Eclipse Award program five years ago to honor those who have consistently gone above and beyond in raising awareness of Orange County’s African American people and history. In 2020, the Society created a separate category for youth. The Eclipse Youth Award includes a small scholarship and recognizes young people who have demonstrated through their volunteerism, leadership, and other activities a commitment to raise awareness of Orange County’s African American people and history. With gratitude for their presence in our community, we present to you the Class of 2022 Eclipse Award recipients. We will celebrate them in person at our annual meeting on February 12, 2023.

2022 Eclipse Award recipients, in alpha order: Donea Brooks (Youth), Rebecca Gilmore Coleman, Jane Ware Johnson, Flossie Jones, Anthony Owens (Youth) and Jeff Poole.

Rebecca Gilmore Coleman sparked James Madison’s Montpelier’s deep engagement with Orange’s African American community in 1999 when she approached leadership at the historic site about commemorating Montpelier’s cemetery of the enslaved. This led to her and fellow community activist Carolyn French founding OCAAHS in 2000. She served as OCAAHS president and board member for many years. Mrs. Coleman was also instrumental to the restoration of her great grandfather’s Gilmore Farm across the road from Montpelier. Born and raised in Orange County, Mrs. Coleman is a lifelong member of Little Zion Baptist Church, NAACP, OCAAHS (now Board Member Emerita) and co-founder of the Women’s Diversity Forum. She is retired from AT&T.

Jane Ware Johnson was born and raised in Orange County. A good way to describe her is by how she answers this question “Who is my neighbor?” “My neighbor is anyone I see who stands in need.”

Mrs. Johnson has a heart of gold, she will clean for you, cook for you, pick up medication and groceries. If you are ill and need transportation to doctor or hospital, she has even paid for medication if needed. In case of bereavement she provides comfort by staying with an individual/family and if no transportation is available, transport whomever to wherever.

Flossie Jones, born and raised in Orange County, is a life-long humanitarian. She began her journey through working with the Church Missionary Auxiliary. Her love of giving and serving spread beyond her church family to her neighborhood, community and beyond.

Mrs. Jones resides in a Senior Citizens Complex and aids residents by transporting them to doctors’ appointments, grocery shopping and prescription pickups. As a member of the B. G Battle Chorus, she travels to the sick and shut-ins and nursing homes to sooth them with her melodious voice.

Jeff Poole recently retired as Managing Editor of the weekly Orange County Review. With an incredible work ethic, great passion and wide-ranging journalistic skills, he showed up everywhere to make sure citizens were informed about their multifaceted community.

His quiet demeanor and consistent presence at various events allowed us to see how committed he was to helping us be part of a cohesive and unified community. In spite of his busy schedule, Mr. Poole found time to serve on various boards, including the Arts Center of Orange and the Orange County Chamber of Commerce. He also served as Town Manager of Gordonsville, Virginia. The Orange Rotary Club named him its Citizen of the Year in 2015.

2022 Youth Eclipse Award Recipients

Donea Brooks is a 2017 graduate of Orange County High School. After graduating with a marketing degree from Virginia State University in 2021, she is now a Communications teacher at OCHS and an entrepreneur with a marketing consulting business. She has held leadership positions in the Orange County Youth Branch of the NAACP. In college, she served as president of Virginia State’s NAACP Collegiate Chapter.

Her volunteer activities include collecting food for the local food pantry, raising money for scholarships for low-income students and assisting needy families financially at Christmas. She serves as a Youth Ambassador with Just Orange, a civic action group dedicated to empowering Orange youth to engage with state and local government leaders and learn how to influence public policy.

Anthony J. Owens is a Junior at Orange County High School. He is a member of the Tennis team, Student Council Association, the DECA District 18 President and winner of OCAAHS Logo Contest (see related article). He is also a member of the African American Club and Orange County Youth Branch of the NAACP. Anthony plans to go to college and major in Landscape Architecture.

He is a born salesman and negotiates everything with parents, siblings and teachers. Using these skills and knowledge of sales, he won first place in Selling his freshman year at the DECA District competition. He placed top 10 at the Virginia DECA competition. Anthony works part time as lifeguard and salesman for high fashion hat company Sequoia Springs.


Little Petersburg History By James Bruce Monroe III

Following the Civil War, many blacks remained in Orange County. Many became tenant farmers, some set up their own businesses, and others acquired land to farm. Many of these small, segregated communities sprung up throughout the county. Some of these freedman’s communities are still in existence today. Little Petersburg, sometimes called Madison Mills or Little Skyline Drive, was one of these settlements and covered an area of more than 200 acres.

Little Petersburg was created from property located along the Rapidan River with views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It was once part of plantation owned by Charles L. Bankhead, who owned property along the Rapidan River. In 1867, Mr. Bankhead began selling off portions of land to newly freed blacks. He conveyed acreage to three freed blacks, Ruben Hackett, Winston Snead, and Celeb Walker.

Four years later, Bankhead sold more acres to Snead and Walker. Over the next decades, these properties were divided and sold to other freed blacks and numerous other conveyances to blacks that extended to the area of Spicer’s Mill.

It is rumored that Little Petersburg got its name from an event in the Virginia General Assembly involving Governor James Lawson Kemper, a former Civil War general and lawyer from Madison, VA. After the war, and when he was governor, he vetoed a February 1874 law passed by the General Assembly. The law attempted to transfer control of the city of Petersburg, from black elected officials to a board of commissioners appointed by a judge. The law was sustained by the Virginia Senate and as a result, Governor Kemper was burned in effigy by the law’s proponents. The ex-governor sold his family home in Madison and in 1878 purchased Walnut Hills and the “Petersburg name followed, only to be called “Little Petersburg”.

Little Petersburg was a community of families that worked together to build this community. Families were self-sufficient, growing their own vegetables, fruit trees, and raising livestock. Little Petersburg was rich with natural resources. It was not uncommon to hunt for food in those days. An important resource was the Rapidan River, a source of food, recreation, and for church baptisms.

Like most freedmen’s communities, Little Petersburg established a school and church. In 1892, The Galilean Fishermen purchased ½ acre and constructed a building they named “Fisherman’s Lodge”. It served as a lodge, school, the first church (originally called Little Petersburg Baptist Church), and it also had a cemetery.

The church, established in 1897, aimed to meet the spiritual needs of this small growing community.

The first trustees were Lawrence Dade, Sr., Henry Field, and James William Walker. Religious services were held on the fourth Sundays of the month.

The church membership grew so fast it could not accommodate the rapid increase in membership, so a committee of eight was convened to plan and build a new church. The committee consisted of Francis Fields, Lawrence Dade, Sr., James Elkins, Ambrose Fields, Henry Fields, Fred Johnson, Frank Page, Jr., and Lewis Ruffner. On December 7, 1897, the land for the present site was purchased from William and Eliza Walker for $13.50. Construction began immediately and on the fourth Sunday in June of 1898, the cornerstone was laid. The dedication service was held in August 1898. Over the years the name was changed to Bethel Baptist Church.


Church street park: A great addition to the town of Orange

by Zann Nelson

If you were not able to join us for Juneteenth 2022 (June 19) when we celebrated the opening of this wonderful little park, at the corner of Church and Chapman streets, know that you were missed. Church Street Park is now a fixture in the town of Orange. And glorious it is! There are walkways, benches, a lovely tree, and a grassy square in the middle. Plus, the views are wonderful as one can look upon the historic Black commercial district and some residential on Mill Street. In addition to the delightful setting, Orange County African American Historical Society (OCAAHS) volunteers researched, wrote, and had fabricated three interpretive panels. They are displayed in the park along the walkways and tell a brief history of the area during the decades of segregation, with QR codes to access much more detail on OCAAHS’s website.

Check back frequently since the records are always being updated as people share their stories and photos. The Church Street Park would not have become a reality without the hundreds of volunteer hours by OCAAHS members, the leadership and dedication of Charlotte Cole at the ODA/LOVE Orange Man Street Program and the support of the Town Council in granting the use of their property for the park. You may be asking “Is it all done?” “Are there next steps?” We are pleased to report that we are within a couple of weeks of having two bronze plaques mounted on two of the boulders that are part of the park. One is an excerpt from Mrs. Robinson's poem about Mill Street. The other recognizes all those who helped create this spot as a memorial to those who lived and worked here. If you have not yet seen the park, please plan a visit soon. In 2023, we hope to offer a few programs such as storytelling and music.



The tree roots form an outline of the continent of Africa. The leaf canopy takes the shape of the state of Virginia with a spot of orange signifying Orange County

OCAAHS Communications Committee launched a contest in May 2022 inviting Orange County Public School students in grades 7 – 12 to help us create our new logo. The top three winners shared $1,000 in prize money, with $500 for 1st, $300 for 2nd and $200 for 3rd. Twenty entries were subsequently judged by how well they echoed OCAAHS’ mission. First place: Orange County High School 11th grader Anthony Owens. Anthony’s winning design was turned over to a professional graphic artist to develop his inspirational concept into a production-ready logo adaptable to multiple applications, including digital, print and for use on t-shirts and other merchandise. An exhibit of all of the students’ artwork was held on the afternoon of Juneteenth, Sunday, June 19, at The Arts Center in Orange. Cheyenne Hawkins won 2nd place; Katelyn Lauber took 3rd.



OCAAHS HISTORY COMMITTEE is hard at work learning all we can about more African American settlements in Orange County.

Little Petersburg’s Bethel Baptist Church and Blue Run Baptist Church at Tibbstown are our two current projects with the plan to erect interpretive panels with narratives and photos. We have been collaborating with Piedmont Environmental Council’s Historic Preservation Coordinator Kristie Kendall. She is in energetic pursuit of building a case for creation of a new rural historic district in Orange County to be called the Rapidan-Clark Mountain Rural Historic District. Such a designation will call attention to historically significant places across the county including several African American settlements like Little Petersburg, Possum Hollow, Clifton and Mountain Level. We are eager for information from the community–photos, artifacts, stories, and historic structures that may have disappeared from view. Please contact OCAAHS History Committee via And even better, join us in our research efforts. —Judy Peterson

—Judy Peterson, History

SAVE THE DATE OCAAHS ANNUAL MEETING Sunday February 12, 2023 3:00-5:00pm. The Arts Center in Orange

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