Heritage Society chronicles black experience in Hanover
Although 20 years have passed since one organization was founded, its members will continue to remember black Hanoverians, who lived during the slavery and reconstruction years, as their stories are lost and sometimes forgotten.
Keeping those memories and spirits alive is the purpose of the Hanover Black Heritage Society, founded by Carolyn Hemphill.
Dr. Alphine W. Jefferson is president of the Hanover Black Heritage Society, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.
“To collect, preserve and make available artifacts, documents, physical items and the history of blacks in Hanover County,” said Dr. Alphine W. Jefferson, president of the organization.
He said many of its members became interested in genealogy and traced their family back to the reconstruction period and others want to give back to their community, Jefferson said. Another aspect of the society’s message that Jefferson hopes to get across to citizens is the significance of “quiet time” in one’s life.
“We want to [teach people] it’s okay to be quiet,” he said.
Jefferson said individuals are too connected to technology and other items and emphasized the importance of getting off the grid and taking some time to meditate or read.
To encourage people to meditate, in their own way, there will be a “reading room” in the group’s new location on the first floor of the Henry Clay Inn, located in Ashland. The society only moved two floors down from their previous office, but Jefferson said this location is easier on the organization’s elderly members.
Jefferson wants individuals to come to the society’s new location for refuge and perhaps to learn something about their family history.
Jefferson relayed a story about the group’s move and how one of the helpers stopped in the middle of moving and found a newspaper clipping of himself playing football in high school. Jefferson said the man felt a sense of pride.
In hopes to carry stories of black Hanoverians from the past to future generations, he said one of the society’s upcoming tasks would be an oral history project.
“We’re worried their [family members] aren’t as interested in history as they are,” Jefferson said.
In order to make sure the stories are accurate and well preserved, Jefferson said the group will be hosting oral history workshops in the near future. He will train and teach people how to properly interview.
He has started primarily interviewing elderly individuals “who have made contributions” to tell the history of blacks in Hanover. Jefferson emphasized the important of capturing the memories and experiences of those people, because they are the “last connection” to the slavery and reconstruction time periods.
“[We have] to ask the questions before people die, because once they’re dead that source is gone forever,” he said.
Jefferson said the 1860 census showed that blacks made up half of the county’s population. In 2012, 9.6 percent of the Hanover population was black, according to the census.
Because of all changes in the county over the past 50 or 60 years, it is important to try and save the stories, Jefferson said.
“We want to find a way to engage the younger generation to be interested in their [family’s] history,” he said.
The group has started a youth outreach to connect with young adults by incorporating the use of more technology. A member created a website and another member is in charge of making a Facebook page and Twitter account.
Jefferson said he believes that’s where most communication happens these days.
As a result, the organization is adjusting and adapting or trying to, in hopes of keeping the conversation alive.
Another way the Black Heritage Society will continue sharing stories and memories is by connecting with individuals who belong to churches across the county.
Jefferson said because the organization is not affiliated with a church yet, it has a distinct disadvantage because church identification is important in black culture.
The group will host a gospel fest in the near future to try and partner with local churches. Jefferson wants a representative from every church, both black and white, in the county to join the Black Heritage Society.
“That way we could tap into all the other pockets of Hanover to tell the complete story,” he said.