Smyth County is home to famous African American scholars, soldiers and artists who have impacted American history. Learn more about Black history in Smyth County by visiting our museums, historical sites and interpretive trails.
Mt. Pleasant Methodist Church, Marion
The original Mount Pleasant Methodist Church was founded in 1871 by ex-slaves and free Blacks. In 1914, Black brickmasons constructed a new brick sanctuary in the Gothic Revival and Romanesque Revival styles. The church became a cultural center for the African American community, hosting musical performances, lectures, and meetings of the local branch of the NAACP and other organizations. The church closed in 2002, and now operates as a museum where visitors are invited to go back in time as they learn more about life in Smyth County for its African American residents.
The Museum is located at 318 South Main Street in Marion and is open by appointment by calling Diane Hayes at (276) 780-3950.
Sallie’s Crying Tree, Marion
Sallie’s story is a compelling one of that illustrates the pain and suffering slaves endured.
Sarah Elizabeth “Sallie” Adams (1841-1913) was about five years old when she and her family were sold at a slave auction outside the Smyth County Courthouse. Sallie was purchased by a resident of Smyth County, where she was separated from her family, never to see them again. A large white oak tree outside her owner’s house became Sallie’s friend. When she could, she would slip away and cry under it. Telling the tree her troubles and sadness and at times hugging it, becoming her only confidant. The tree stands today as a weeping reminder, and is now known as “The Crying Tree”. Sallie’s granddaughter would eventually go on to found Mt. Pleasant Methodist Church.
Carnegie High School, Marion
The Rev. Amos Carnegie came to Marion in 1927 to serve as the pastor of Mount Pleasant Methodist Church. Finding the town’s school for African Americans “hardly fit for a stable,” he organized a campaign for a new building. Ultimately, Carnegie was unable to secure funding from the school board, but went on to raise money from the black community and secured a grant from the Julius Rosenwald Fund. The four-teacher building, constructed by black craftsmen who donated their labor, opened in 1931. Desgregation closed the school in 1965. Katherine Johnson, NASA mathematician and subject of the acclaimed film, Hidden figures, taught at Carnegie High School for several years.
Visit the historical marker at 602 Iron Street in Marion, VA.
Railroad Avenue Neighborhood, Chilhowie, now Town Park
Railroad Street was once known as “Society Row” after many fashionable homes were built beside and facing the railroad following its construction in 1856. Most of the homes in this section of Chilhowie were destroyed or so damaged in 1977 by two floods. Visit the Chilhowie walking trail, which features interpretive signs about the residents.
First Baptist Church on Railroad Avenue, Chilhowie
While you are visiting the Railroad Avenue Neighborhood, make sure to visit the First Baptist Church, founded and Pastored by Mr George Washington Lomans, also of Loman’s Store. Reverend George Washington Lomans, son of a freed slave, built his church beside Railroad Street in 1900. In 1916 the First Missionary Baptist Church was built adjacent to the Lomans family home. The bell from the original church is still used in the present brick church, First Baptist Church, which was built in 1955. Reverend Lomans preached on Sundays and operated a very successful store for 85 years.
Civil War Battle of Saltville
Saltville was known as the salt capital of the Confederacy, a crucial resource for preserving food and curing leather. In an attempt to destroy the salt production near Saltville, Virginia, Brevet Maj. Gen. Stephen Burbridge led an army of 5,200 strong, but would end in retreat. During the hasty withdrawal, Burbridge abandoned his wounded, the majority being members of the U.S. Colored Cavalry troops. Under orders from Brig. Gen. Felix Robertson, Confederate soldiers murdered the captured and wounded black soldiers and white officers. The action became known as the Saltville Massacre.
Special thanks to William A. Fields, the source for this list. William A. Fields was the President of the Mount Pleasant Historical Society, tireless historian of the black community in Smyth County, and a well-known local artist whose works are featured at the Appalachian Spirit Gallery in Marion. He passed away in 2021 before this article was completed.