The university and the library: Two places I like

Edie Gross and her Newsgathering class at UMW.

I remember how happy and proud I was when I found my name on the shelves at the University of Mary Washington bookstore in Fredericksburg. The year was 1993, and I had agreed to teach there. One of my responsibilities as a new adjunct was to tell the bookstore which texts I would use in my class. They would then order the books, so students would have them for the start of the semester.

I told the bookstore that I wanted to use Mencher’s News Reporting and Writing, Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style and the Associated Press Stylebook. About a week before the first class, I went to the bookstore to see if the books had arrived. I found the books, and below them on the shelf was a paper tag. I was happy to see the books, but it was the tag that really made me smile. It read:

Department: English

Course: Newsgathering 201

Section: 01

Instructor: Hall, J.

My life plan had no entry that said: become a college instructor. To be honest, I had no life plan. But I had become a college instructor, and I was smiling.

Please join me on Thursday, April 27, at 7 p.m. at the Central Rappahannock Regional Library.

I was reminded of that day and that feeling recently when I was leaving the Central Rappahannock Regional Library in Fredericksburg. On the door leading to the parking lot were a collection of posters advertising upcoming events. One of the posters had my name and picture on it. I’ll speak in the library auditorium on April 27, and the library wanted everyone to know about it.

Again, my life plan had no entry that said: make a public presentation at the headquarters library. But that’s what I’ll be doing. And this time, I did more than smile when I saw the poster. I took a picture of it.

Colin Woodward

PS: I want to thank Colin Woodward for inviting me to appear on his Amerikan Rambler podcast. Colin lives in Colonial Beach, works at Stratford Hall in Westmoreland County, and travels the state talking to all kinds of people, many of whom are interested in history. Colin asked about The Last Lynching in Northern Virginia, but he also asked about my upbringing in Falls Church, my schooling and early jobs, and lots of other stuff. (You can listen to the podcast here.)

Claudine Ferrell and her History class at UMW.

Thanks also to Claudine Ferrell and Edie Gross. At their invitations, I was back in the classroom this month. Claudine wrote the introduction to my book and recently asked me to talk to one of her history classes at the University of Mary Washington. Edie, a former colleague at The Free Lance-Star newspaper in Fredericksburg, asked me to talk to her Newsgathering class, the same one I taught those many years ago.

We will begin with a few words by Claudine Ferrell

Claudine Ferrell
Claudine Ferrell

I am grateful to Claudine Ferrell for writing the introduction for this book. Claudine is a professor of history at the University of Mary Washington, where she has taught for more than 30 years. Her doctoral work at Rice University focused on lynching in the South.

One of the librarians at Mary Washington told me about her and suggested that I contact her. I had never met her, but I wrote in July 2014 and asked if she would be willing to read what I had written about the Shedrick Thompson case. To my surprise, she agreed and has been a friend to this project ever since. Recently I spoke to one of her classes at UMW and heard her encourage her students to make that “cold call” to the expert who might be able to help them in their research. There is a good chance that the expert will respond, she said. I thought, yes, that is exactly what happened to me.

After reading my work, Claudine suggested several changes, which I made, and she encouraged me that my research and writing were worthy of publication. When my editor at History Press asked if I knew a scholar versed in the topic of lynching who would write the introduction, I thought of Claudine.

In her introduction, Ferrell vividly describes the scope and nature of lynching in America: “Tens of thousands of mob members killed—by rope, gun, fire, knife, fist, and any other means at their disposal—thousands of alleged violators of the law and of social order. For three-quarters of a century, most members of the mob were white men—and even women and children—and most of the victims were black men—and even women and children. The alleged violations varied from murder, arson, and rape to speaking disrespectfully to a white man. Sometimes, the crime matched the statute books. Sometimes, the offender received a trial; sometimes, the trial provided a semblance of due process. All too often, the mob acted regardless of statute or court or fairness.”