Pulaski and Radford Receive American Evolution Finale Grant

RADFORD, VA—Pulaski County and the City of Radford have received a $7500 grant from Virginia’s 2019 Commemoration, American Evolution to fund a series of events in honor of the 400th anniversary of the state and country’s beginnings.

The city-county partnership, which is being called New River Trail Days: A Festival of Traditions, Faces and Tavern Fare, will take place in November and will help convey Virginia’s development through the heroics of two of the valley’s everyday citizens. “Residents and visitors alike will learn how a colonial frontierswoman and a 20th Century African American educator have impacted our region, state and country and continue to influence in many ways,” said Deborah Cooney, director of the City of Radford Tourism.

The programs here in southwest Virginia will contribute to the American Evolution’s celebration of the key ideals of democracy, diversity and opportunity, Cooney added. “We’re proud to be a part of such an important undertaking for the Commonwealth and our country.”

An actress/ interpreter will present a living history performance of Mary Draper Ingles, frontier heroine made famous nationally by James Alexander Thom’s bestselling book, “Follow the River.”  The event will be presented in a tavern-like setting in Radford and will include a tasting and history tour of beer, wine and cider. Cooney said the event is scheduled Nov. 22, and tickets will go on sale later this summer.

In 1755 during the French and Indian War, Ingles and her two sons were taken captive by Shawnee Indians during a raid at a settlement in what is present-day Blacksburg. After being held for three months, Mary escaped and spent the next two and a half months making her way back home, covering as much as 500 miles through rivers in wilderness and over mountains. Eventually she and her husband, William, settled on a farm in Radford where they operated a tavern, store and ferry. The farm still operates today.

According to Carol Smith, chair of the Pulaski American Evolution Committee, the county will use its portion of the grant to develop a new play that chronicles Chauncey Depew Harmon, Sr.’s life and his efforts to achieve the equality of educational opportunity for African Americans in the community in which he was raised and where he later provided strong leadership for racial equity. “The production will cover the themes of racism, discrimination and social justice and will look at the sacrifices that were made in order to provide educational opportunity in a time of great struggle for Black Americans,” says Smith.

The story will come alive through the eyes of characters in Virginia and American history, including Dr. George Washington Carver of Tuskegee Institute where Harmon studied as well as Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, who helped orchestrate an important lawsuit involving educational equality in Pulaski during his early days as a lawyer with the NAACP.

Play dates are Nov. 8 and 9.

A third event will feature the traditions of food and drink of early America at the Wilderness Road Regional Museum in Dublin. A chef-prepared, five-course Thanksgiving Harvest Dinner will be held Wednesday, Nov. 27 at the museum’s Log House Kitchen.  April Martin, history education consultant at the museum, says diners “will hear the backstory of local foodways and recipes of Appalachia and Early America as interpreters in period costume serve up history on a plate to the strains of Appalachian string band music.”  A portion of the proceeds, she says, will go to a New River organization that teaches healthy cooking techniques to low income individuals.

In addition, Pulaski will sponsor a talk Friday, Nov. 15 on “The Archaeology of Race and Diversity in Early Jamestown” at New River Community College in Dublin. The speaker will be David Givens, director of archaeology for the Jamestown Rediscovery Project.

Radford and Pulaski’s events are part of the state-wide Customs, Culture and Cuisine Festival, a strategic initiative that focuses on a number of key historical events in 1619, including the first official English Thanksgiving in North America, the arrival of the first recorded Africans to English North America and the recruitment of English women in significant numbers to the Virginia colony. The initiative has been made possible by support from TowneBank.