Celebrating trailblazers

A tribute to Henrico’s African-American history
As one of the eight original shires of Virginia dating back centuries, Henrico County has had an illustrious history.

But sometimes overlooked are the numerous contributions made by Henrico’s African- American community. Not anymore.

To observe the county’s 400th anniversary, Black History Month and the achievements of Henrico residents, Henrico’s Department of Recreation and Parks will present “African-American History of Henrico County in Music and Stories” at the Henrico Theatre, 305 E. Nine Mile Road.

The program includes music, stories, and photographs presented by historical interpreters, choirs and performing groups, said Amy Perdue, the county’s Cultural Arts Coordinator.

Performers for this two day event include Dylan Pritchett as Gabriel, Vivian Lucas Graves as Miss Virginia Randolph, Tony Cosby arguing the McDaniel vs. Mehfoud case, Henrico County Mass Choir and Richmond’s quintessential oldies vocal group, Bak N Da Day, telling the Tommy Edwards story through song.

Among the many important figures spotlighted are:
Dylan Pritchett as Gabriel

Gabriel, born a slave at Brookfield, the plantation of Thomas Prosser, who learned to read and write and worked as a blacksmith. Gabriel was determined to be free and hoped to lead Richmond slaves in a revolt in 1800, but was captured and executed. Ultimately, this led to great fear of other rebellions and stricter regulation of slaves’ rights in Virginia.

“I’ll tell his story, the significance of place and time,” said Pritchett (pictured, at left), who will portray Gabriel. “I’ll tell the importance of keeping the yearning for freedom relevant.”

“Freedom has always been the purpose of any revolt, rebellion or citizen uprising. Our founding fathers rebelled against England's tyranny, average American citizens revolted, and enslaved African Americans followed the passion to gain freedom,” he said.

Virginia Randolph, the daughter of slaves, completed her formal education and became the first Jeanes Supervisor Industrial Teacher, providing formal in-service training for rural black teachers.

She opened the Mountain Road School for black children in 1892, where she included vocational education as well as traditional subjects.

Tommy Edwards, a singer and songwriter who graduated from Virginia Randolph High School in Glen Allen and hosted a live music show on WRNL twice a week. His songs were successfully recorded by popular singers Louis Jordan, Tony Bennett, Red Foley, and Tony Fontaine, and he was a frequent guest on television with appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show and Your Hit Parade. Edwards had his biggest hit, “It’s All in the Game,” in 1958. Vocal group Bak N Da Day will perform this and other works from the era.

In addition to the performances, the Henrico Theatre will be home to an exhibit commemorating the achievements of many former residents.

The exhibit, ‘Remembering Our Legacy: African-American Trailblazer in Henrico County,’ was created by Henrico County staff and volunteer educators, artists and business leaders who comprise the 2011 African-American Sub-Committee.

“The exhibit features 12 individuals who lived and/or worked in Henrico who had a significant impact locally,” said Kim Sicola, Assistant Supervisor of Historic Preservation and Museum Services in Henrico’s Division of Recreation and Parks. “In some cases, their impact was felt across the state, nation and the world.

“The Legacy recipients are all deceased, but played a pivotal role in the development, growth and enduring success of African-American culture and heritage,” she said. “Henrico County’s African-American community has played an important role in the economic and political success of the County. Individuals, families, businesses, schools and churches have flourished over the decades and centuries despite the enormous obstacles of slavery and segregation.

“We sincerely hope the list of legacy recipients continues to grow with contributions from the citizens of Henrico and beyond.”  Forms will be available to the public to nominate future legacy recipients.

The exhibit will remain on display through February and then will be available to travel to organizations or institutions, said Sicola.
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