Virginia Department of Historic Resources honored the Freedmen-founded community of Brown Grove and incorporated it into the Virginia Landmarks state registry.
Sweet Briar, VA – On Thursday June 16, the Virginia Board of Historic Resources and the State Review Board voted to recognize Hanover’s Brown Grove as a historic district with local significance. The Brown Grove Historic District is a historically African American rural community south of Ashland in Hanover County established by freed slaves during the Reconstruction Era. It is an excellent example of the rural landscape of African American heritage that grew from the plantation economy to a self-sufficient agricultural community, and transitioned in the twentieth century into a middle-class residential neighborhood.
Those who spoke to advocate on behalf of the Brown Grove community included Diane Drake and Lakshmi Fjord, and was presented by Marc Wagner of the Eastern Region of the Department of Historic Resources.
“It is indeed a wonderful blessing to celebrate Brown Grove Rural Historic District with the Virginia Registry of Historic Places,” said Diane Smith Drake. “‘Let Freedom Ring’ even louder on this Juneteenth Celebration day!”
“What a seismic shift over a very short space of time into DHR now taking a far more community-based approach to preservation of historic African American and Indigenous historic communities and historic resources,” said Lakshmi Fjord, visiting scholar at the University of Virginia’s department of anthropology.
In 1870, Brown Grove was founded by formerly enslaved people and a bustling community was built. Most members of the community now can trace their lineage to Ms. Caroline Morris, the matriarch of Brown Grove. The district as a whole continues to strongly embody a sense of a rural, working-class, African American settlement and the continued occupancy of multi-generational descendants of early inhabitants, the continued visitation and maintenance of historic cemeteries, and the vibrant and engaged congregation of Brown Grove Baptist Church reinforce the district’s robust integrity.
Throughout the decades, several heavy industrial facilities have threatened the fabric of this area. With this designation, likely fewer if any of those types of development would come to fruition. The close-knit community is pleased with the good news and nods to the timing with Juneteenth. The community also continues to await incorporation into the National Historic Registry.
Listing an area as a Historic District is only an honorary designation, but has real benefits in educating communities about their unique cultural, historic and natural assets. This education often leads to a greater effort to preserve that history for future generations.
“The Chesapeake Climate Action Network could not be more pleased with the good news. Brown Grove has been the site of environmental injustice for decades, and hopefully now the community will have some protection from extractive industries,” says CCAN Virginia organizer Elle De La Cancela. “Today is a day to celebrate and to begin to redress the wrongs of the past.”
Several organizations and individuals contributed to this historic decision’s success. Some of these include: Virginia League of Conservation Voters, Sunrise Movement – Richmond Chapter, Delegate Elizabeth Guzman, Hanover County NAACP, SELC, VA EJ council, Friends of Buckingham, African American Redress Network, Howard University, Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center Columbia University, International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), Resolutions Addressing Systemic Racism (RASR), and Namati.
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The Brown Grove Preservation Group is a group of people who are dedicated to continue the work our ancestors started. We are committed to see our community grow by building homes not industry. We use faith and heart to work toward the betterment of the Brown Grove Community.