When the Orange County African American Historical Society (OCAAHS) gathered Feb. 13 at the Arts Center in Orange for its annual meeting, it had plenty to celebrate.
Less than an hour later, at the end of the in-person and online meeting, he had reflected on a successful year and honored two of his top leaders.
A year ago around this time, the organization discussed a small park in downtown Orange that will honor the historic black residential and commercial neighborhoods of Church Street, Mill Street and Railroad Avenue. A day later, the OCAAHS, the City of Orange and the Orange Downtown Alliance opened the Spacemaking Park on the corner of Chapman and Church Street near Orange Station.
The groundbreaking capped an active year for OCAAHS.
“Last year, despite COVID restrictions, was an active year for the African American Historical Society of Orange County,” Reverend Darryle Crump said at the group’s annual meeting. “We were part of the unveiling of the portrait of Captain Andrew Maples at the Orange County Courthouse – and it was indeed a historic event.”
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Later that year, the organization presented its annual Eclipse Awards to five community members who consistently went above and beyond to raise awareness of Orange County’s African American people and history. Among those honored in 2021 were: Barbara Ann Johnson, Pastor Frank Lewis and Emily Winkey, and Youth Award winners O’Brian Martin and Nia Robinson.
While COVID prevented the organization from hosting its annual Eclipse Awards Banquet, Reverend Crump presented each recipient with their award in person with the individual presentations bundled in an online video ceremony.
Now the park project is underway and is expected to be completed later this year. It will include rest areas, walkways, landscaping and three interpretive panels showcasing the city’s historic black commercial and residential district.
“None of these events would have been possible without our loyal members, supporters and sponsors and to all of you we say ‘thank you,'” Reverend Crump said.
On the theme of “thank you,” the society then paid tribute to one of its founders and longtime members, Rebecca Gilmore Coleman.
“Every great group has an individual or individuals who stand out and do great things and Mrs. Coleman is one of those people,” Reverend Crump said. “His family has deep roots in this community. We all know the Gilmore hut on the other side of Montpellier on route 20. In the year 2000, she, among other things, organized and founded the Orange County African American Historical Society. Since then, she has been a lifeblood, a driving force, a force to be reckoned with in African-American historical society in Orange County. Today we just want to publicly say thank you for all you do.
In recognizing Coleman for nearly two decades of service to the organization, the OCAAHS awarded him the title of Emeritus Board Member and presented him with a clock commemorating his 22 years of continuous service.
“We’re not excluding you from the board,” Reverend Crump assured her and the audience. “We say you are a life member.”
Upon receiving his award, Coleman thanked Reverend Crump and the other board members, as well as the members of OCAAHS.
“You have all been so supportive. And we wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for such wonderful support. What else can I say? It’s just a blessing to have you all here and to be a part of it and it’s only because of you all that we still exist,” she said.
She also thanked the Center des Arts d’Orange for its continued support of the organization, hosting its annual meeting and exhibitions. “The Arts Center has been so supportive in all the years we’ve been here; we deeply appreciate it. I thank you all again.
After some board business and the election of a slate of board members including Coleman, Crump, Robert Anthony, JoAnn Brock, Mary Freeman, Lois Goodall, Joan Graves, Chantel Hopkins, Mary Minkoff, Bruce Monroe, Zann Nelson, Patrice Owens, Judy Peterson, Matthew Reeves and Ellen Wessel, it was time for more honors and recognition.
Vice President Nelson informed the audience that Reverend Crump would step down from his leadership position, but would remain on the organization’s board of directors.
“After many, many years of service, our wonderful Reverend Crump is stepping down as President,” she said. “He does not leave the painting, nor does he stop his activity.”
She said a new president would be elected at the next board meeting.
Crump has been president of OCAAHS since 2016.
“I can tell you that as Vice President for a few years, he was an excellent leader. And I was very privileged to serve under him as President,” she said introducing to Reverend Crump a gift of gratitude from the organization.
Nelson admitted that council members had surreptitious conversations in order to arrange his recognition of Reverend Crump without his knowledge.
“I didn’t expect that, of course!” he said. “Thank you very much to all of you. I appreciate and thank you very much.
The annual meeting then featured a recap of one of the year’s highlights, the unveiling of the portrait of Orange native and Tuskegee Airman Captain Andrew Maples, which was added to the gallery of the historic courthouse in the Orange County.
Monroe summarized the process that led to the inclusion of a portrait of Captain Maples – to date, the only African American so honored in the historic courtroom.
He credited new Orange County Circuit Court Judge David Franzén, who said he wants the courthouse to reflect the entire Orange community. After the judge contacted Monroe, the idea was submitted to OCAAHS, who then worked with the Maples family, the judge and Gordonsville artist Becky Parrish to create and display a portrait of Captain Maples in the palace. of righteousness. The OCAAHS held an unveiling ceremony in May 2021 – chronicled in a video created by Phil and Susie Audibert that was shown at the society’s annual meeting.
After the presentation, Nelson attributed the making of the portrait of maple trees to community partnerships, citing not only Judge Franzén, but also Orange County Tourism and the Orange Downtown Alliance, which helped with the effort.
Another partnership Nelson cited was Culpeper VFW Post 2524 which offered a 21-gun salute and proper military rites for Captain Maples at the end of the May portrait ceremony.
Deployed with the 301st Fighter Squadron in Europe, Maples was promoted to first lieutenant and given command of a P-47 Thunderbolt fighter aircraft.
On June 26, 1944, (then) Lt. Maples led a group of P-47 Thunderbolts from their base at Ramitelli Airfield in Italy, on a bomber escort mission to Hungary. But his fighter developed a mechanical problem over the Adriatic Sea. Maples announced by radio that he planned to bail out when his plane reached a safe altitude. However, no parachute was spotted and a search turned up no sign of Maples or his plane. He was reported missing in action. During this time he was promoted to captain and awarded the Air Medal. A year later, the Army pronounced him dead and posthumously awarded him the Purple Heart. Since Captain Maples’ body was never found, the family could not have a proper funeral or formal military service, until the event last spring.
“That day was not only a huge event that shattered many glass ceilings, glass walls, displaying this portrait behind the judge’s bench, but honor to Captain Maples and his family of ‘So important a public manner was magnificent, absolutely magnificent,’ Nelson said.
Closing the meeting – his last as chair – Reverend Crump thanked OCAAHS members and encouraged them and others to “get involved.” Don’t sit on the sidelines. Help us do what we do and get involved.
For more information about OCAAHS or to become a member, visit www.ocaahs.org.