African American Legacy Tour series is a driving tour of 19 significant locations throughout the county
The African American Legacy Tour Series is a driving tour of 19 locations throughout the county, where significant cultural and historical sites are located and can be understood through an electronic brochure created by Christiansburg Institute, Inc.
The driving tour begins at the Christiansburg Town Square, a site where trafficked and enslaved people were previously auctioned to bidders until the 13th Amendment abolished slavery in 1865. This information, along with many other historical facts and images, can be viewed by downloading the brochure and map at www.christiansburginstitute.com.
As tourists visit each location on the map, they can scan the provided QR codes to see historical preserved photographs and learn more about each location along the route. The route guides visitors to schools, churches, cemeteries, and of course the location of The Christiansburg Industrial Institute and Edgar A. Long building, located at 140 Scattergood Drive in Christiansburg, just down the hill from the current Christiansburg High School.
The Christiansburg Institute opened in 1866, initially providing basic reading and writing skills to African American students. Booker T. Washington later became the superintendent at the turn of the 20th century, transforming the school from teaching only rudimentary literary lessons to a more robust industrial campus, explains Jennifer Nehrt, Curator for the Christiansburg Institute, Inc.
“When they graduated, they could go and create careers and improve their lives,” said Nehrt in a recent interview.
The Edgar A. Long building, visible from Franklin Street in Christiansburg, is not currently open to the public, but the non-profit organization is working towards the goal of restoring this site as a place people can one day tour.
“That is the goal and objective for the non-profit, to get the school and the building, the Edgar A. Long building reestablished…one of the primary buildings built during the height of the industrial institute,” said Devante Mosely, Project Coordinator with the CI, Inc.
The campus once blanketed almost 200 acres of the surrounding area, difficult to imagine in the now 21st century town sprawl of commercial and residential communities.
“We’re talking about substantial brick Georgian buildings, dormitories that had plenty of beds and could have 300 students in them. Substantial things when we are talking about southwest Virginia and an agrarian area,” said Nehrt.
The non-profit organization continues their work to preserve the building, recently with a new roof in 2020, as well as applying for grant money that would help further their dreams to one day open the building to the public.
“I always say if it was left up to me, it will be open the next week, but it will be impossible to do that,” said Debbie Sherman-Lee, Chair of the Board of Directors for the CI, Inc. “Since the tour has been put on, there are a lot of people in the area that are now talking about it.”
In addition to the driving tour, The Christiansburg Institute Museum and Archives on 125 Arrowhead Trail in Christiansburg houses a collection of digitized photographs and archives that can be viewed by the public. School field trips have provided local students with an opportunity to learn in an innovative way about the heritage and importance of black history in this Appalachian region through the staff’s interactive game playing, seeing the Long building and grounds, and digitized materials and artifacts at the museum.
The museum is open to all visitors on Mondays, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and by special appointment.
As part of the museum’s digital media and educational platform, the non-profit organization also produces a podcast that employs storytelling and intergenerational conversations that provide another approach to education and understanding of black history in and around the New River Valley. The podcast will be made available to the public on the organization’s website beginning in May.
Local residents and visitors can support the organization in a new way through a membership program. Donating to the non-profit organization supports their continued efforts to preserve and restore local artifacts and locations with all money going towards these efforts. Annual memberships can be obtained at various levels, beginning at $25, depending on the level of monetary support.
Another event hosted by the Christiansburg Institute will be for Juneteenth, which is a time of celebration and remembrance of the emancipation of enslaved African Americans. Christiansburg Institute, Inc. will be holding their annual celebration on site at the Edgar A. Long Building, 140 Scattergood Drive on June 17, with food, entertainment for families and children, and music including former Christiansburg Institute student band members.
“Part of the band, if not all, will be former CI students,” said Sherman-Lee.
The kickoff of the celebration will begin with a special open house on June 3 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Christiansburg Institute Museum and Archives (CIMA), 125 Arrowhead Trail in Christiansburg. No registration is required, and admission is free.