The City, in partnership with the University of Mary Washington’s James Farmer Multicultural Center, held the Civil Rights Trail Unveiling Ceremony on February 23. Around 235 community members and many elders from whom the never-before-told stories were collected, celebrated this historic day. Together they unveiled their civil rights trail: "Freedom, a Work in Progress."
Featuring Virginia historical markers – one at the first stop on the 1961 Freedom Rides journey that challenged segregation of interstate travel – the trail’s 21 stops pull together a saga of persecution and peril, power and promise. They chronicle court rulings and protests from the Jim Crow era to the Black Lives Matter movement, stopping at churches, cemeteries, markers and monuments throughout the city, across the UMW campus and beyond.
The project – a partnership between the City and UMW – has roots that stem back to 2017, said Fredericksburg Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw. That’s when discussions about relocating the slave auction block that stood downtown for more than a century spurred a multi-year community engagement campaign guided by city leaders and the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience.
“The most important result of those conversations was not about where to place the auction block but the recognition that there was so much more history for us to tell,” Greenlaw said. That revelation led City Council in 2020 to allocate funding and prioritize efforts toward uncovering Fredericksburg’s African American stories, she said. “I’m honored to help share the work that our community has been doing to preserve such important history.”
Spearheaded by Victoria Matthews of Fredericksburg’s Department of Economic Development and Tourism and Chris Williams, assistant director of UMW’s James Farmer Multicultural Center, the trail was made possible by the efforts of many. Fredericksburg tourism staff poured endless hours into the project, which also involved UMW’s Simpson Library Special Collections and University Archives, as well as Mary Washington faculty and students.
“I am proud of how we have come together as a community – our city leadership, our university, our historians and our residents – to engage in important stories and create a more welcoming Fredericksburg,” said City Vice Mayor Charlie Frye Jr. “Fredericksburg is grateful to all who have contributed and continue to contribute to this process. As we celebrate this civil rights trail, we know that the work continues and there are many necessary steps ahead in Council’s commitment to tell a more complete Fredericksburg history.”
U.S. Senator Tim Kaine gave heartfelt congratulations to the City for unveiling these civil rights struggles.
View the recorded event at bit.ly/3ku9Ihh. Read the full story here. Learn more about the Fredericksburg Civil Rights Trail at FXBG.com.