Charlotte Harris was in the custody of local law enforcement in Rockingham County on March 6, 1878, when a mob seized her and hung her from a tree – the only documented lynching of an African-American woman in Virginia’s history. The next month, a grand jury in Harrisonburg ended its investigation of the murder without returning any indictments. Judge Charles T. O’Ferrall, who oversaw that investigation, went on to become governor in the 1890s.
Stories of black excellence and the description of a community that persevered over and over against the injustices of racism are what emerged from the Arc Of Citizenship, a two day event this weekend. The Saturday and Sunday tours and talks were an attempt to reveal truths buried by long-held false historical narratives and forge a stronger understanding of the history of how race relations has affected the Valley.
What has been called the Thomas Harrison House for many years — and what the city of Harrisonburg planned to spend $1 million to restore and turn into a museum of the founder’s life — now remains in limbo as city staff decides where to go from here. But some residents see an opportunity for the still-historic, if not as old as first advertised, building to delve into more of the area’s background.