YORKTOWN, Va. (WAVY) — 10 On Your Side continues celebrating Black History Month with an online exhibit that profiles The Local Black Histories Project.
The Village Initiative project includes reporting on the taking of land by the federal government that displaced hundreds of African Americans.
“It happened because it was a Black community in that area, and they took the property,” says Robert Ashby, a descendant of the Reservation Community.
On August 7, 1918, President Woodrow Wilson issued an executive order to seize 11,000 acres (about half the area of Manhattan) of a Black community known as The Reservation.
This land would become known as Naval Weapons Station Yorktown. Pastor Carlon Lassiter’s ancestors lived on The Reservation.
“What the village initiative is showing with its online exhibit is going to be monumental. It is a piece of freedom that we have never known about,” said Pastor Lassiter.
“There was this thriving community of oystermen and people,” added Jacqueline Bridgeforth-Williams, the founder and director of the Village Initiative. “They had churches and schools and an entire community. It is important to tell the stories not just to their families but to our entire community.”
The Village Initiative is a massive effort to remember local Black history including the Reservation Community.
“They were property owners, business owners, tradesmen, oystermen, cabinet makers. It was a self-sustaining community. No one will ever know that history if we don’t tell that story,” described Yvonne Johnson, a descendant who was on The Reservation.
10 On Your Side went to Felgates Creek located on the Colonial Parkway where the Reservation Community lived and worked.
All the residents’ land across the creek is now on Naval Weapons Station Yorktown property.
A warning on the creek states “U.S. Government Property Restricted Area Keep Out.”
“Like I said, my Uncle Ezekiel would take me down, and I had no idea we came out of Felgates Creek,” said Pastor Lassiter’s father, Curtis Lassiter. “He took me out and pointed out where our ancestors came from, and he wanted me to know those things so I wouldn’t forget it.”
The descendants are concerned that if they want to go back to the cemetery on the property, they have to give the military base 60 days notice to request a visit.
10 On Your Side contacted the base to go visit the Cheesecake Cemetery, but we never got a return call.
“I think she was my fifth great-grandmother, and her name was Octavia, and she was married to an Anthony Hundley.” Another descendant remembers pointing to pictures.
“She is still buried at the cemetery at The Reservation at Naval Weapons Station Yorktown. We went back there in September and we were able to see the headstone still there on the property.”
“What the Village Initiative is, is a beautiful mosaic,” said Paston Lassiter. “The glass has been crushed and scattered and the initiative is bringing it back together to create this wonderful mosaic that we can see. It may be dimly lit, but we can see it through the sun, and it will shine through it like in our church window.”
The College of William and Mary faculty and students provided assistance for the development and the online presentation for the Village Initiative and for Life in the Reservation Community exhibit.
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