In April 2015, eight high school students from Richmond public schools joined Groundwork RVA and National Park Service staff to investigate the physical traces of Maggie L. Walker’s Richmond legacy. The work was part of a pilot program for Groundwork RVA’s module of the National Park Service’s Urban Archeology Corps. Maggie Lena Walker (18641934) was an early civil rights pioneer and the nation’s first African American female bank president. As a community activist and entrepreneur, she helped shape Richmond’s Jackson Ward neighborhood into a thriving African American business district in the early 20th century. For Richmond’s pilot week, the eight students worked with program archeologist Courtney Bowles, along with Groundwork RVA staff, and the cultural resource and interpretation staff of the Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site in Jackson Ward. While Walker’s historic home is preserved and managed the National Park Service, her greater Richmond footprint is often overlooked and disconnected. Using historic photos and documents from the NPS archival collection, the students learned the significance of key locations in the greater Maggie Walker narrative: her birth site, her office and enterprises, her church, and her burial site. With walking and driving tours, the students then examined the effects of urban fragmentation as well as historic preservation to better understand the condition of these sites today. The UAC students also researched historic city directories at the Library of Virginia and had a chance to interview Deacon Raymond Lee who shared his personal memories of growing up in Jackson Ward before I95 severed the neighborhood in half in 1958. For the culmination of their research, the students drafted a “zine” containing photos, site histories and a map of “Maggie Walker’s Richmond.” Once finalized, these free brochures will be made available at the site’s visitor center in addition to a downtown kiosk – a newspaper box painted by the students – positioned in front of Walker’s former St. Luke Emporium building at 112 East Broad Street. Source: INSIDE NPS, High Schoolers plot Maggie Walker’s Historic Path
Urban Archeology Corps ( UAC ) was created as a collaboration between Groundwork RVA and the National Parks Service. In this 8-week program, Richmond high school students excavated an archeological site and conducted oral histories in a community called Gravel Hill, where a group of freed slaves lived in the 1780s and where descendents still call home today. Students learned about research, archaeology basics, public outreach and interviewing. Engaging with local history, students addressed unanswered questions about Gravel Hill posed by community members. The program aims to use archeology as a vehicle for young people to learn about urban national parks and their surrounding communities, the diverse histories and resources that make these places special, and public service and National Park Service employment. Its goal is to educate and empower high school students from across the Richmond area.
Spring Activities (2015)
- Created a map of Maggie Walker’s Jackson Ward, using research on her imprint on the businesses she began through the Fraternal Order of Saint Luke
- Gave a tour of Walker’s Ward to National Park Service staff and local journalists
- Interpreted landmarks in their own words at the site of Walker’s birth, youth, adulthood, and resting place
- Created a “zine” or interpretive magazine, chronicling the empowerment message of Maggie Walker’s Emporium on East Broad Street
- Installed a newspaper box at the Emporium site, where the zine will teach visitors about Walker’s impact in Richmond, and her leadership as a southern African American woman at the turn of the 20th Century
Summer Activities (2015)
- The UAC team cleaned and cleared the site, and planned our dig. They then put our learned skills to practice and started their excavation of the Richards Sykes farmstead!
- They got a better understanding of Gravel Hill through reading articles, conducting primary research (maps, census, deeds…) at the Library of Virginia, and interviewing the amazing Bill Anderson, Gravel Hill descendant of Richard Sykes.
- The UAC Team cleaned and cleared the site, and planned our dig. They then put their learned skills to practice and started their excavation of the Richards Sykes’ farmstead!
- The team finished excavating and then back-filled and closed up their units. They began the process of organizing, cleaning, and cataloging, our 1500+ artifacts.
- The UAC team shared an amazing lunch with Gravel Hill community members; visited Belle Isle to practice putting up tents; and met with Dr. Bernard Means to discuss how 3D technology can be utilized in archaeology. Much of next week was about interpreting what they found, both in the ground and through our research.
- The team walked Richmond’s Slave Trail, did grave analysis at Hollywood Cemetery, and met UAC founder, Teresa Moyer.
- The UAC team spent a week camping at Shenandoah National Park! Here, they put their stewardship of natural resources to practice by gravel filling parts of the Appalachian Trail and covering up social trails. They were also given tours of several places in Shenandoah, including President Hoover’s Rapidan Camp, a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp, and the original Massanutten house.
- The UAC team presented their findings to the National Park Service, Gravel Hill Community, visitors from Groundwork Anacostia, parents and friends in a celebration that filled the Gravel Hill Community Center. They talked about their first encounter with the field of archaeology, and talked about what it meant to each of the team members!
National Parks Service
Maggie Walker National Historic Site