Work to uncover the history of Montgomery County's Kentland Farm and its slave cemetery has received an added boost, thanks to two new grants that will support research on the plantation, the cemetery, and the significance of the plantation to individuals in the surrounding communities.
Both the New River Valley Community Foundation and the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities have awarded grants to the Kentland Historic Revitalization Project for the work. Sam Cook, associate professor in the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences at Virginia Tech and chair of the steering committee; Susan Fleming Cook, a graduate student at the university; and Tamara Kennelly, Tech's university archivist, wrote the grant applications.
Virginia Tech University Libraries' Special Collections Department will preserve documentation of the historical research and identify additional materials in its holdings that are relevant to the project, making the materials available to the public.
One grant funds the Kentland Slave Cemetery Marker Project, a collaborative effort between the residents of Wake Forest, an African American community adjacent to Kentland; the Kentland Historic Revitalization Project; the Roanoke Regional Preservation Office of the Department of Historic Resources; and University Libraries. The project will determine the location of the cemetery and verify its use as a burial ground. Funds were received to commemorate the cemetery with a permanent stone marker honoring the people buried there. A public dedication ceremony will honor the dead.
The residents of Wake Forest are descended, for the most part, from slaves of the former Kentland plantation. As many as 300 of those slaves may be buried on the grounds. The unmarked burial site, identified by several Wake Forest community members, lies in a field where fescue grass is now grown. The location will be confirmed through an archaeological survey conducted this fall by Tom Klatka, archaeologist for the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and a member of the Kentland Historic Revitalization Project steering committee.
"The cemetery marker project will strengthen the relationship between the black and white communities and between the academic and local communities, including Virginia Tech, Radford University, Wake Forest, and McCoy," Kennelly said. "This project also will educate the public about the past in the hope of contributing to a more equitable future."
The second grant will fund the Brush Mountain Oral History Project: Place and Memory in the New River Valley and will involve collecting oral history narratives from residents of the Appalachian communities of Wake Forest, McCoy, and Long Shop. The goal of the interviews is to learn how memory and place inform the subjects' sense of identity. This project also will try to discover any roles the former plantation may have played in the lives of the interviewees.
The project marks one phase of a collaborative venture between community members and Virginia Tech faculty to revitalize Kentland's historic district. Most of the interviewees are community elders who are eager to add their stories of the community and of Kentland to the public record. Interviews will be made available through Tech's Special Collections Department website at http://spec.lib.vt.edu/ and through the Virginia Heritage database at http://www.lib.virginia.edu/speccol/vhp/about.html. Development will begin on a special Internet site showcasing the interviews, primary source materials, and other documentation about the history of this rural, agricultural area along the New River near Brush Mountain.
"We hope to compile a book for the community, which we would ultimately like to publish locally," Cook said. "On a larger scale, we will use the oral history project as a springboard to hold a number of 'community days' at Kentland, which we hope will lead up to an open house/fund raiser. The purpose of the community days is to make people in surrounding communities a part of the revitalization project and to let them determine how they would like to be represented and how they would like to see their histories represented."
The two projects are part of a larger initiative through which the Kentland Historic Revitalization Project aims to preserve the site while revitalizing the Kentland historic district as a community-based, multicultural museum/living history site.
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