The Invisible History of African-Americans in Cape Charles, VA: A Community Service Project of the Cape Charles Rotary Club

This Community Service Project of our Club was launched on February 16, 2021 with Metty Pellicer as Chair, with the following members; Bill Payne, Bill Murphy, Tom Godwin/Juanita Godwin, Paul Strong, Dianne Dawson, Joan Natali, Stan Plowden, Reggie Widgeon, Walter Childs, and Jim Ritch. It is the aim of the project to uncover the invisible and repressed history of African Americans in Cape Charles and to make it available to the public by the careful recording of oral history through the interviews of the few remaining residents who witnessed the diverse, and rich community that evolved parallel to the white community of Cape Charles since its founding in 1884 yet no mention of this community can be found in the history written about the town. Many of the structures and sites used for gathering have since been demolished and without a written record of what, where, who, and why these sites existed, their history will be erased as if they never existed at all. By preserving the history of these sites we hope to keep the narrative of this community alive so that we could understand better the significance of their invisibility in the present reality of African American life and hopefully we can contribute to the national conversation about social justice and harmony between people. By collecting these oral histories into a walking tour of the sites that were important in the community we can imagine these neighborhoods come alive and get to know the people who lived here and who helped make Cape Charles the town that it is today and examine whether conditions have changed to prevent continuing invisibility for African Americans in subsequent generations. The project is conceptualized as a long-term project that can be expanded to involve other towns on the Eastern Shore and other groups that share similar invisibility, therefore it is important to document our process so that it can be adapted by other groups and interested parties in the future. Our work will serve as a template for similar projects by others in the future. We hope to partner with the Regional Library or Library of Congress, Historical Societies, Universities and Museums to be the repository of these interviews so that it can be accessed by the public or groups for research and study.

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