Alexandria African Americans’ Emancipation Day

Behind the scene of the Alexandria Gazette story on “Alexandria African American’s Emancipation Day” – April 7, 1864, dated April 5, 2018.

One of the important figures in the fight for Virginia’s enslaved people was Francis H. Pierpont (Pierpoint). Pierpont was born in 1814 in Monongalia County, Virginia (now part of West Virginia). His

Governor Francis H. Pierpont

political career started around 1840 when he made speeches across western Virginia in behave of Whig presidential nominees. Pierpont was a pro-Union man. His activism won him leadership among other Unionist and antislavery activist.

In April 1861, Virginia voted to secede. This prompted the Unionist western delegations in Virginia to organize the First Wheeling Convention in May 1861. At this meeting, Pierpont promoted the idea of reorganization of the state government. By June 1861, Pierpont was unanimously elected governor of the Restored government of Virginia. Wheeling at that time was considered to be in Virginia. On June 20, 1863, West Virginia became a State and Wheeling became part of West Virginia.

During the Civil War, the Restored Government of Virginia under Pierpont moved their Capitol from West Virginia to Alexandria, Virginia. After moving their Capitol to Alexandria, Pierpont advocated for free schools for freedmen and in 1864 voted to amend the State Constitutional aiming to abolish slavery. On April 7, 1864, the new Constitution was adopted at the Virginia Constitutional Convention abolishing slavery in Union control areas in Virginia. These areas included Northern and Eastern Virginia.

On December 16, 1864, Pierpont recommended that the marriages of former slaves and the children who resulted from them be legitimized by Virginia law. Also Pierpont recommended that a number of laws designed to transition the state to life without slavery. On February 27, 1866, Pierpont recommendation to legalize the marriages of former slaves and the children who resulted from them passed the Virginia General Assemble as the “Cohabitation Act.”

Since 1864, Alexandria African Americans celebrated their Emancipation with parades, conferences and banquets for fifty-years. The Emancipation ceremonies were held at several venues over the fifty-year span which included: Huffs Hall North West and Montgomery Street; Roberts Chapel (Roberts Memorial United Methodist Church); Third Baptist Church; Shiloh Baptist Church – speaker future Congressman John M. Langston; Lannon’s Opera House – speakers Congressman John M. Langston and Frederick Douglass, Jr.; Third Baptist Church; Alexandria’s Fair Grounds; and Odds Fellows.

For all the Descendants of former enslaved people in Alexandria, Virginia, Happy Emancipation Day!

Posted in Black People of Alexandria | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Rosa Harris-Jackson Armistead – First Female Preacher and Deaconess

Behind the scene of the Alexandria Gazette story on “The Life of Rosa Harris-Jackson Armistead,” dated March 15, 2018.

Judy Coles Bailey

About seven years ago, I was contacted by Terry Coles and his sister, Judy Coles-Bailey that their great-grandmother, Rosa Harris-Jackson Armistead was from Alexandria and they believed that she was connected to the Alexandria Freedmen Cemetery.

After researching Rosa Armistead, I confirmed that Rosa’s mother, Mary Nash-Harris buried a child at the Freedmen Cemetery, which will be discussed in an upcoming book on the Freedmen Cemetery.

Mary Nash-Harris and her children, Emma and Rosa migrated to Alexandria during the Civil War from Prince Williams County, Virginia. Mary Nash-Harris met Sandy Hodge in Alexandria and they got married. After a few years of marriage, they separated and late divorced. Mary’s daughter Emma Jean Harris married Daniel C. Richards in Alexandria. Emma and her husband moved to Philadelphia. Emma died in Philadelphia in 1957. On her death certificate, she was 99-years old; but, she was older than what the death certificate reported. Emma’s sister, Rosa married twice and Rosa died in Alexandria at the age of 97 in 1951. Her death certificate had her age as 79 but she was 97-years old.

Rosa had several children, one of her daughters was named after her, Rosa L. Armistead. Rosa married Jacob Lawrence, Sr., in New Jersey, they had a son named Jacob Lawrence

Jacob Lawrence, Jr.

Jr. Jacob became a famous painter. He received national acclaim for his paintings. His paintings continued to be in great demand today. Jacob Lawrence, Jr., was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey. His mother, Rosa Armistead-Lawrence migrated from Alexandria to Atlantic City where she met her future husband, Jacob Lawrence Sr. Rosa, her husband and young son migrated from Atlantic City to Philadelphia. The family probably lived with a relative while they were in Philadelphia, possibly Rosa’s aunt Emma Harris-Richards. While in Philadelphia, Rosa had two more children. Later, Rosa and her family migrated to New York. New York gave the family more opportunities in housing and education, the young Jacob Lawrence was able to pursue his education interest in the arts.

Jacob’s paintings have been showed all over the world. His paintings depicted the life of

African Americans as he saw it. His paintings have been transformed into postcards, greeting cards, reproduction of his art on canvases and wearable garments.

Today New York City claims Jacob Lawrence Jr., as their own, but his roots are in Alexandria where his great-grandmother, Mary Nash-Harris and her children fled Prince Williams, Virginia to Alexandria during the Civil War.

Posted in Baptist, Black People of Alexandria, Churches, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Herbert Pike Tancil – The Mayors’ Colored Barber

Behind the scene of the Alexandria Gazette story on Mr. Herbert Pike Tancil dated February 22, 2018.

About two years ago, I came across an old article in the Alexandria Gazette newspaper

Alexandria Gazette – Friday, May 26, 1876

dated 22 December 1908 about the death of Herbert Pike Tancil I. On this winter heavy snowy day, Herbert closed up his barber shop and walked home. Due to the overexertion from walking in the snow, Herbert suffered a heart attack in his home that night and died at the age of 54. After reading that story, I wanted to know more about Herbert and his family.

I was able to locate Herbert’s great-grandson Herbert (Herb) P. Tancil IV. In interviewing Herb, he was

Herbert Pike Tancil IV

able to tell me about his great-grandfather being the barber to a white clientele. Herb did not know that his great-grandfather’s clients were made up of wealthy businessmen and the City Mayor. In his great-grandfather’s life time, he was the barber to ten Mayors. Through Herbert’s barber shop business, he was able to purchase a home at 1012 Oronoco Street. He supported a wife and eight children and several of his children went to college. Two of Herbert’s children became medical doctors.

The barber business stayed in the family for two generations. Herbert P. Tancil and Herbert P. Tancil II were barbers in Alexandria. Herbert III broke away

from the family business and started working for the Federal government and the District of Columbia government. Also Herbert III like his father, Herbert II were devout Episcopalians. The first Herbert was a member of Alfred Street Baptist Church.

Herb fondly remembers his father’s strong devotion to his religion. Herbert III was called on to participate in the ceremonies of the Archbishop of Canterbury when the Archbishop visited the Washington, D.C. area. Herbert III also enjoyed his second career as a counselor for an orphanage in Washington, D.C. Herb IV said, “that if his father was walking down the street and saw five people, he would know three of the five people, and the other two would be his friends before they departed.” Herbert III was a people person. He loved to be around people and people loved to be around him.

His son, Herb IV has made his own mark on life by being the first Hartford Life Insurance Company’s African American Group Sales Manager in Detroit, Michigan. Herb was born in Alexandria, Virginia. While he was in high school, he excelled in track. He graduated from Groveton High School in 1966. Herb attended York Academy of Arts in York, Pennsylvania and National Academy of Arts in Washington, D.C. He earned a certificate as a commercial artist in 1968. He further his education at Howard University in Washington, D.C., graduating in 1972 with a degree in Fine Arts.

Today, Herb lives in Arizona with his wife, Marcia and his sons, Herbert P. Tancil V and Chad L. Tancil; and, their families including his grandson, Herbert P. Tancil VI.

The very first Herbert P. Tancil would have been very pleased that his name meant so much to his family, that his name has been carried down six-generations.

In ending, my elders used to say, you have nothing to stand on but your name. So do not disgrace yourself because you will be disgracing the family’s name. The Tancil family has a strong name to stand on.

Posted in Black People of Alexandria, Businesses, Entrepreneurs, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Ferdinand T. Day – “A Champion of Champions”

Behind the scene of the Alexandria Gazette story on Mr. Ferdinand T. Day dated February 8, 2018.

Prior to 2009, I made weekly visits to the Alexandria Black History Museum (ABHM). In my weekly visits to the ABHM, I saw Mr. Ferdinand Day. Unlike many Alexandrians, I did not know Mr. Day. I am a first generation Alexandrian; and, the history of Alexandria was never highlighted in the City School system in 1960s and 1970s. So seeing and hearing about

Ferdinand T. Day
1918 – 2015

Mr. Day and his contribution to the City of Alexandria made me wanted to know more about him. I inquired about Mr. Day in the community; and, I asked the Director of the ABHM to introduce me to Mr. Day. After arrangements were made for me to meet with Mr. Day and his daughter, our friendship grew. Those years with Mr. Day were precious years. He was the professor and I was the student. The knowledge that I gained from my visits with him will last me a life time.

For about three years, we spent six to eight hours a month, talking about the history of Alexandria and all of the people that he knew throughout his life. Somehow, I felt that he was preparing me for a journey that I will soon take. What is obvious to me now, the journey that Mr. Day guided me through, was to tell the story of Alexandria’s African Americans in the context of the history of Alexandria. This was indeed a rare opportunity to sit at the table and learn from a man who had spent his life in making his beloved City a better place.

For Mr. Day’s family history in Alexandria, it started with his grandfather, George Day. George was born in Culpeper, Virginia in 1850. He and his brother, Taylor Day, were living in Culpeper in 1870. After 1870, George Day migrated to Prince William, Virginia where he married his first wife, Lucretia Robinson, on 14 October 1873. On his marriage license, he stated that his parents were Robert Day and Rosetta (Rose) Day. By 1880, George and his brother, Taylor, were living in Alexandria on Gibbon Street. On 24 December 1886, George married his second wife, Mary J. E. Vaughn. He and his wife had the following children: Edmonia V., Ferdinand T., Robert W. Jr., Emma, and Rose M.

Robert W. Day was Ferdinand T. Day’s father. Ferdinand was named after his uncle, Ferdinand. Robert W. Day married Victorine Johnson. They had the following children: Lawrence D., Quentin B., Robert W., Ferdinand T., George W., Mary V., and Clarence.

Mr. Ferdinand T. Day’s brother, Robert, was named after his father Robert. Robert Jr., gave up his seat at Armstrong High School so that Ferdinand could attend. Robert late enlisted in the military and served during World War II. He died 7 March 1966 at the age of 48.

Ferdinand T. Day married Lucille Peatross. They had one daughter, Gwen Day.

Prior to Mr. Day getting married, he lived at 402½ South Royal Street. His childhood was made up of family, friends, neighbors, teachers, and clergymen. Those people were the main focus of our monthly talks. He enjoyed talking about his childhood and his community activism. Although he came from humble beginnings, he really enjoyed his life and the people of his beloved City.

Posted in Black People of Alexandria | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment