By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
The offspring of the marriage of old Princess Anne County and a slither of land called Virginia Beach some 52 years ago is now the city of Virginia Beach, the state’s largest city.
It has a rich and layered history, including the powerful stories of African-Americans and the legacy of their contributions, perseverance and industry.
For several decades, historian and Beach native, Edna Hendricks, has toiled to research and record those distinct layers of Black history in Princess Anne County and Virginia Beach which have been either marginalized or overlooked by African-Americans themselves and their white neighbors.
Her intensive work has produced historical pamphlets, exhibits, and much more.
On June 6, Hendricks will add yet another dimension to her personal legacy when she unveils a book filled with the city’s Black history called “We’ve Been Too Patient Too Long,” a 300-plus page volume of pictures and prose.
Starting at 2 p.m., at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Virginia Beach, Hendricks will be hosting a combination book signing, art exhibit and history forum.
The central anchor of the book looks at the evolution of Blacks in Princess Anne County, establishing a system for educating their children.
Although there were church-run and small single room schools for Blacks, dating back to the end of the Civil War, one of the most interesting facets of this effort was launched in 1925.
Until then, Blacks had sought to convince the all-white Princess Anne County School Board to devote resources to help them build a school for their children in the Union-Kempsville section of the County.
But their pleas hit on deaf ears.
By using city maps during her research, Hendricks discovered schools for Blacks in Seatack, the Ebenezer school, and the Ralston Camp site which was the locality of the Freedmen’s Bureau school, before 1900.
Union Baptist Church had run a school for decades also, prior to the late 1920s, but Blacks in that community wanted a more formidable facility.
“So they started raising money on their own to get it done,” said Hendricks. “They had bake sales, and contests, king and queen contests. They raised the money needed and the first class graduated in 1938.”
Hendricks explained the first White Superintendents of Schools of Princess Anne County were veterans of the Confederate Army, and not sympathetic to providing any resources to educate Black children.
“This is why Blacks in Princess Anne County were so behind,” said Hendricks. “Norfolk built its first Black high school in 1886 (Mission College).”
In 1927, Hendricks said, a White Catholic Priest, Father Vincent Warren, who worked for St. Joseph Catholic Church, was kidnapped by members of the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan got word he was staging a concert at the home of a prominent Black man. Whites feared it was being used to raise money to build a “Colored” school. He was warned they were not open to such efforts.”
The Union Kempsville Blacks were undeterred by schools officials neglect and the Klan’s pressure, according to Hendricks.
From Princess Anne County Training School to Union Kempsville, Junior and Senior High, the facility was eventually absorbed into the County’s school division.
The school was renovated and enlarged, and served Blacks in Princess Anne County and then the Beach, until 1969 when desegregation of the city’s public schools closed it.
Hendricks has an extensive index of the class pictures of each class from 1938 to 1969.
The old building had various uses until it was finally razed to make way for the Renaissance Academy on Cleveland Road near Virginia Beach Boulevard.
Inside that building, the city, in collaboration with Union Kempsville alumni, developed a museum featuring the cherished remnants of the former all-Black high school.
“People ask why did they close the school,” said Hendricks. “Some say Blacks were abandoning it to attend white schools. Others say whites resisted sending their children to the school.”
But before that school was built in the late 1930s, and the one earlier at Union Baptist, Hendricks said there were other single-room schools for Black and white children throughout the county.
She said around the beginning of the 20th century, the single-room schools were abandoned by whites, and donated to Blacks, as resources were devoted to build multi-room schools for their children.
An example was the school given to St. Mark’s AME Church, which was converted from two rooms to a three-room school for Blacks.
To detail the layers of Black history in the city, and how it intertwined with the white one, Hendricks visited 10 historic markers posted about Virginia Beach.
Each described an important place and event.
One historic spot not noted by a marker is at the intersection of Princess Anne and Witchduck Roads, the site of the formation of the Ethiopian Regiment, the first Black unit formed during the Revolutionary War.
But it was not formed by American Colonists fighting to free themselves from the British Crown.
In November 1775, the royal governor and John Murray, Earl of Dunmore, offered the first large-scale emancipation of any Black slave and servant if they joined the British Army fighting against the Colonists.
“At this point, the regiment was made up of slaves and freed Blacks,” said Hendricks. “They were victorious in a skirmish with American militias at Kemps Landing. White historians did not want to give the Black troops victory, claiming the white militiamen were drunk.”
During a portion of the June 6 program, a portrait of Willis Augustus Hodges will be unveiled. Hodges was one of the first Black Lighthouse Keeper at Cape Henry – circa 1870. He was also one of the first Black government officials elected in the locale.
Hendricks has convinced the city to put the portrait on display at the Cape Henry Lighthouse, “to make sure that Black history is on display at that site every day.”
Hendricks said the sources of information for her book varied from archives from the state or Virginia State University, and historic books written of the city’s history and memories of local Black and white persons.
“Also, if it were not for the Journal and Guide, the area’s Black newspaper, much of the information about those Black schools and Princess Anne County’s Black history, in general, would have been lost,” said Hendricks. “I owe a lot to the digitized archives of the Guide dating back to the early 1920s.
“Too long this history has been buried in layers of white history, and neglected. Now it’s there for current and future generations to read about and enjoy.