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The stories on the trail recount how African Americans, Native Americans and women fought for the right to equal education./St. Paul's Museum, courtesy of Virginia Crossroads

An established Civil Rights educational trail in Virginia is getting an expansion. Virginia Crossroads recently announced that 12 new sites will be built on the Civil Rights in Education Heritage Trail’s original 41 locations, expanding the stories which recount how African Americans, Native Americans and women fought for the right to equal education. Along with adding new sites, all 41 original signs will be updated with newly uncovered information and media.

The pedestals will feature new stories like that of The Beneficial Benevolent Society of the Loving Sisters and Brothers of Hampden Sydney, originally founded by the African American community of Hampden Sydney in 1843 — first as the social and spiritual heart of their community, then it became the center where assistance was made available to their dues paying members when tragedy struck families; later, when the schools were closed from 1959-1964 in Prince Edward County, the fellowship hall was used to instruct the local children over that five year period. Or, that of James Solomon Russell, who has ties to several sites on the trail. He attended Bishop Payne Divinity School in Petersburg with the help of Patti Buford, who started the Hospital and School of the Good Shepherd in Brunswick County. He was assigned as an Episcopal priest in Lawrenceville, where he eventually established, in 1888, Saint Paul’s Normal and Industrial School, later known as Saint Paul’s College. Saint Paul’s College trained many African American teachers who taught in schools throughout the region and state, including many of the schools included on the trail.

“The expansion of the Civil Rights in Education Heritage Trail comes at an incredibly important time, as travelers seek authentic under-told and untold stories that helped shape the history of our country,” said Rita McClenny, President of the Virginia Tourism Corporation. “Travelers will be able to discover important legacies from the fight for equal education, taking a deeper dive into the moments that changed our country forever. Travelers will be able to safely explore Virginia’s history as many sites are outdoors or offer a socially-distanced environment for learning. This is a wonderful and significant addition for Virginia’s tourism industry and for Virginians alike.”

As visitors follow this self-guided trail, they will patronize local businesses and enjoy the host of amenities, sites and stories the region offers, helping to drive local economies. This is especially poignant as COVID-19 has greatly reduced traditional travel and tourism activities, said Magi Van Eps, Chair for Virginia’s Crossroads. “As the drive market becomes more of a focus for tourism, heritage trails like the Civil Rights in Education Heritage Trail are an essential attraction to safely guide visitors to historic and heritage sites, as well as other tourism venues during these interesting and exciting road trips.”

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