From the Department of Historic Resources
December 29, 2008
Contact: Randy Jones, Department of Historic Resources;
Eleven new state historical highway markers approved covering varying topics to be located in Henrico, Prince Edward, and Pulaski Counties, as well as the cities of Alexandria, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Richmond, Roanoke, and Suffolk.
Note: the text for each marker is reproduced at the end.
The newest highway markers recently approved by the Department of Historic Resources include signs to honor the work of legendary African American attorney Oliver W. Hill Sr., who led the fight to desegregate Virginia and the nation’s schools, as well as a marker to commemorate the battle that saved Norfolk Naval Yard during the War of 1812, and one to highlight the origins of advertising icon Mr. Peanut.
Four markers highlighting the life and career of Hill, who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1999 and died in 2005 at age 100, will be erected in Richmond, Norfolk, Prince Edward County, and Roanoke.
In Hill’s “hometown” of Richmond, a marker will recall that Hill opened his law office in the city in 1939 and “won his first civil rights case, Alston v. School Board of Norfolk, Va., in 1940.” In 1948, Hill also “became the first black elected to the Richmond City Council in the 20th century.” In 2005, the Virginia Finance Building in Capitol Square was renamed for him.
In Norfolk, a marker will highlight Hill’s Alston law suit, which “challenged the pay scale of public school teachers in Norfolk. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that discriminatory salary rates were in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.” In 1957, Hill was also part of “a team of lawyers” that “successfully argued Leola Beckett v. Norfolk School Board, a case in which Judge Walter E. Hoffman ordered the school board to integrate public schools by September.”
Prince Edward County was the site of one of Hill’s most important cases, Davis v. School Board of Prince Edward County. That case challenged the “separate but equal” doctrine that had permitted segregated public schools. “After the Virginia Supreme Court decided against the plaintiffs,” the Davis case was consolidated with “other cases as the U.S. Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education.” That case in 1954 led the U.S. Supreme Court to find “segregation to be unconstitutional in public schools.”
In Roanoke, a marker will commemorate Hill’s years in the city, where he was partly raised and where he boarded as a student living with a family at 401 Gilmer Avenue, a house he returned to in 1934 to begin practicing law, prior to relocating to Richmond.
The marker for “The Battle of Craney Island” to be installed in Portsmouth recounts the June 1813 engagement at Hoffler Creek. The battle was pivotal in preventing the British from capturing “Norfolk, Portsmouth, and the Gosport Navy Yard, now Norfolk Naval Yard,” during the War of 1812.
Mr. Peanut is featured in a marker for Suffolk. After the peanut factory “known as Planter’s Nut and Chocolate Factory” relocated from Pennsylvania to Suffolk, the factory’s owner, Amedeo Obici, “sponsored a contest to develop a ‘mascot’ for the company in 1916.” Fellow Italian American 12 year old Antonio Gentile, who resided with his family in Suffolk’s Hall Place neighborhood, submitted the winning drawing: “a peanut with arms and legs labeled, ‘Mr. Peanut.’ Mr. Peanut made his world debut in 1918 in the Saturday Evening Post and is now ranked as one of the best known advertizing icons in the world,” the marker states.
Other markers include—
“Parker-Gray High School,” in Alexandria, honoring “the first high school for African American students” in the city.
“Early Quakers in Richmond,” that recalls Quaker endeavors in the city, including building the “second house of worship in Richmond after St. John’s Church.”
“Roads West,” in Pulaski County, highlighting the ferry crossing for the New River established by Samuel Pepper, and the 1899 Pepper’s Ferry Bridge and Tunnel “that were completed to circumvent a bend in the New River.”
“Grace Evelyn Arents,” in Henrico County, honoring this visionary social reformer and philanthropist, who established Richmond’s “first public housing and visiting nurse system,” among other accomplishments before bequeathing to the city the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens.
“The 1939 Alexandria Library Sit-In,” commemorating five African American men who protested Alexandria Public Library’s “whites only” segregation policy, “sixteen years before the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott.”
The four signs pertaining to Oliver Hill, as well as the markers for the Alexandria library sit-in and for Grace Evelyn Arents are part of an ongoing initiative of the department to develop markers that focus on people, places, and events in the history of Virginia Indians, African Americans, and women. The initiative aims to more fully recognize the diversity of Virginia’s rich historic legacy. The markers were paid for by the Department of Historic Resources through a federal transportation grant awarded by the Virginia Department of Transportation.
All eleven markers were approved by DHR’s Board of Historic Resources when it convened for its quarterly meeting on December 18.
The Virginia highway marker program, which celebrated its 80th anniversary in 2007, is among the oldest—if not the first—such programs in the nation. Currently there are more than 2,100 official state markers, mostly installed and maintained by the VDOT.
With the exception of those markers created by the Department of Historic Resources, new highway markers are paid for and sponsored by private organizations, individuals, and local jurisdictions.
More information about the Historical Highway Marker Program is available on the website of the Department of Historic Resources at http://www.dhr.virginia.gov/.
Full Text of Markers, Sponsors, and Proposed Locations:
The Battle of Craney Island
Sponsor: Landon Wellford, Dept. of Planning, City of Portsmouth
City/County: Portsmouth. Proposed Location: 4510 Twin Pines Road
On the morning of 22 June 1813, during the War of 1812, British naval and marine forces under the Command of Admiral Sir John Borlase Warren landed here at Hoffler Creek. American armed militia under the command of Gen. Robert B. Taylor blocked the British advance, brought them under heavy artillery fire, and caused them to retreat. Approximately 200 British soldiers were killed, four to five barges were sunk, and the “Centipede” was taken along with 22 prisoners. Norfolk, Portsmouth, and the Gosport Navy Yard, now the Norfolk Naval Yard, were saved from capture.
Parker-Gray High School
Sponsor: Trammell Crow Co., Washington, DC.
City/County: Alexandria. Proposed Location: 1207 Madison Street
On this site stood the Parker-Gray High School, the first high school for African American students in Alexandria. Before the school was built, African American students had to attend school in the District of Columbia. The noted civil rights attorney Charles Houston and other local activists persuaded the city of Alexandria to appropriate funds to build the school, and it opened in 1950. Because of the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. the Board of Education decision, court ordered desegregation began in 1959. Parker-Gray closed in 1979 as a middle school. The Parker-Gray Historic District bears the school’s name.
Mr. Peanut—World Icon
Sponsor: Hall Place Civic League, Inc., Suffolk
City/County: Suffolk. Proposed Location: Hall Avenue between South Main and Cedar Streets.
In 1913, a peanut factory, known as Planter’s Nut and Chocolate Factory, moved from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, to Suffolk. Amedeo Obici, owner of the factory, sponsored a contest to develop a “mascot” for the company in 1916. The winning drawing submitted by twelve year old and fellow Italian American, Antonio Gentile, who lived with his family in their home in this Hall Place neighborhood, was a peanut with arms and legs labeled, “Mr. Peanut.” Mr. Peanut made his world debut in 1918 in the Saturday Evening Post and is now ranked as one of the best-known advertizing icons in the world.
Early Quakers in Richmond
Sponsor: Richmond Religious Society of Friends
City/County: Richmond. Proposed Location: 18th and Main Streets
Near this site a meetinghouse was built in 1797 to1798 by members of the Religious Society of Friends. Called Quakers, the earliest had arrived in Virginia from England in 1655. The building was the second house of worship in Richmond after St. John’s Church. Richmond Quakers advocated religious freedom, worked to make the prison system more humane and, as pacifists, usually refused to bear arms. They also joined with the Virginia Society of Friends to pressure the General Assembly for passage of the Manumission Act of 1782. Because they opposed slavery, many Quakers migrated west early in the 19th century.
Sponsor: Federal Highway Adminstration
City/County: Pulaski Co. Proposed Location: Route 114, Pepper’s Ferry Blvd.
During the 1770s, Samuel Pepper established a ferry crossing nearby which opened a transportation route during the late colonial and early national periods linking the resources of the West with the population centers in the East. A century later, the Norfolk & Western Railroad designed a route through this part of the New River Valley, thereby providing access to the vast coalfields near Flat Top Mountain. In 1899, the Pepper’s Ferry Bridge and Tunnel were completed to circumvent a bend in the New River. Now known as the Cowan Tunnel, it retains the original stone-faced portal on the west side.
Oliver White Hill Sr.
City/County: Richmond. Proposed Location: In front of Old City Hall building, Broad Street or the corner of 2nd and Leigh.
African American attorney Oliver White Hill Sr. helped end racial segregation in American public schools as a plaintiff lawyer in the U.S. Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education. He began practicing law in Richmond, his hometown, in 1939 and won his first civil rights case, Alston v. School Board of Norfolk, Va., in 1940. In 1948, Hill became the first black elected to the Richmond City Council in the 20th century. He later received many awards and honors, culminating with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1999. The Virginia Finance Building in Capitol Square was renamed for him in 2005.
Oliver White Hill Sr.
City/County: Roanoke. Proposed Location: TBD
African American attorney Oliver White Hill Sr. helped end racial segregation in American schools as a plaintiff lawyer in the U.S. Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education. Hill’s family moved to Roanoke when he was a child. He lived as a student with Lelia and Bradford Pentecost here at 401 Gilmer Avenue. After graduation from law school, Hill returned to the Pentecost’s house in 1934 and began practicing law. He moved to Richmond in 1939 and opened a law office there. Hill later received numerous awards and honors, culminating with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1999.
Oliver White Hill Sr.
City/County: Prince Edward Co. Proposed Location: TBD
African American attorney Oliver White Hill Sr. helped end racial segregation in American public schools. Near here, he and fellow attorney Spottswood Robinson III met with parents and students to plan litigation over the deplorable conditions at R. R. Moton High School, the segregated black school. Rather than sue for equalization of facilities, the NAACP instead challenged the “separate but equal” doctrine itself in Davis v. School Board of Prince Edward County. After the Virginia Supreme Court decided against the plaintiffs, Davis was consolidated with other cases as U.S. Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education. This 1954 case found segregation to be unconstitutional in public schools.
Oliver White Hill Sr.
City/County: Norfolk. Proposed Location: TBD
African American attorney Oliver White Hill Sr. helped end racial segregation in American public schools. In 1940, Hill won his first federal civil rights case, Alston v. School Board of Norfolk, Va. This case challenged the pay scale of public school teachers in Norfolk. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that discriminatory salary rates were in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. In January 1957 a team of lawyers, including Hill, successfully argued Leola Beckett v. Norfolk School Board, a case in which Judge Walter E. Hoffman ordered the school board to integrate public schools by September.
Grace Evelyn Arents
City/County: Henrico Co. Proposed Location: 1800 Lakeside Avenue
Grace Arents was a visionary social reformer and philanthropist whose quiet determination and generosity transformed Richmond. Her passions were children, nature, books, architecture, and her church. To aid the poor, “Miss Grace” established the city’s first public housing and visiting nurse system; built schools, a gym, a playground, a kindergarten, and churches, introducing a sweeping array of health, educational, and vocational reforms. She also built Richmond's first free circulating- library. Arents converted her Henrico estate, Bloemendaal Farm into a children’s convalescent home and later a model farm. Ultimately she bequeathed it to the city to become the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden honoring her beloved uncle, entrepreneur Lewis Ginter.
The 1939 Alexandria Library Sit-In
City/County: Alexandria. Proposed Location: TBD
In 1939, sixteen years before the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott, five men, tutored and defended by attorney Samuel Tucker, were denied the right to use the Alexandria Public Library because of racial segregation policies. After entering the library, William Evans, Otto Tucker, Edward Gaddis, Morris Murray, and Clarence Strange each selected a book, sat at separate tables and began to read. They refused to leave when the librarian reminded them of the “whites-only” policy. The men were arrested for trespassing. The charge was later changed to disorderly conduct. Subsequently, the city paid for the construction of the Robinson Library to serve black residents.