Main Street Baptist pastor awarded fellowship to study historic Black land ownership

Published 4:58 pm Tuesday, June 11, 2024

The Rev. James Harrison, pastor of Main Street Baptist Church in Smithfield since 1996, is one of five community preservationists to recently receive a fellowship through the African American Fellows Program as part of the Voices Remembered initiative at Preservation Virginia, a statewide nonprofit organization that manages Bacon’s Castle and Smith’s Fort in Surry County.

Over the summer, the fellows will work with Preservation Virginia staff, learn from mentors and continue research projects in their community. Planning for the fellows program began in 2021 through the guidance of an advisory committee of Black leaders to increase the number of trained community preservationists helping to safe African American historic sites in Virginia.

The curriculum includes “Preservation 101,” networking with historic preservation groups and professionals, experimental learning by visiting historic sites and identifying pathways to historic preservation careers. Through a grant from the Mellon Foundation, each participant will receive a $10,000 fellowship to help support their research.

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Final research presentations will occur at the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia on Aug. 15 at 6 p.m. in Richmond.

Harrisson is researching African American land ownership on Grays Creek. The study is designed to archive the history of land ownership among Black residents living near Grays Creek in Surry County between 1860 and 1960. It will include an examination of deeds, wills, tax records and other records to substantiate ownership and the presence of African Americans along this creek, which was recently designated a scenic river by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation. This project also examines subjects such as forestry, architecture, religion, employment and industry among recently freed African Americans.

Harrison, since 2015, has served as the fourth executive minister for American Baptist Churches of the South, one of 34 regions making up the national American Baptist Churches denomination. Harrison was born in the Kenner Army Hospital at Fort Lee and reared in Surry County, where his ancestors have a historical nine-generation presence. He graduated from Surry County High School and attended the University of Virginia, obtaining his masters of divinity from the School of Theology at Virginia Union University and a doctoral degree in ministry from the United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio.