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Seal of the Governor
For Immediate Release: January 30, 2020
Contacts: Office of the Governor: Alena Yarmosky, Alena.Yarmosky@governor.virginia.gov

Governor Northam Announces ‘Black History Month Historical Marker Contest’

Competition could lead to new Historical Highway Marker

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced the inaugural Black History Month Historical Marker Contest.

The competition invites students, teachers, and families to learn more about African Americans who have made important contributions to Virginia history. It invites ideas for new signs to teach history along Virginia’s roadways.

The contest encourages schools to feature a different African American historical marker each day of February, provides teachers with resources to guide history discussions, promotes Black History Month events around the Commonwealth, and initiates a competition for students to submit ideas for new historical markers to the Virginia Department of Historical Resources.

“Black history is American history,” said Governor Northam. “But for too long, we have told an inaccurate and simplified version of that history that did not include everyone. This competition is one new way to help tell a more true and inclusive story of our shared past. It means teaching history that accurately reflects the full spectrum of stories and experiences.”

Virginia’s Historical Highway Marker Program is an effort to recognize and chronicle events, accomplishments, sacrifices, and personalities of historic importance to Virginia’s story. The signs are known for their black lettering against a silver background and their distinctive shape. It is the first program of its type in the United States. The Virginia Department of Transportation and the Department of Historic Resources manage the program.

The Commonwealth has erected more than 2,600 markers along Virginia’s roadways, but only 350 markers honor African Americans. The program was created in 1927.

The contest web page includes a lesson plan and classroom activity guide to help teachers and administrators navigate these discussions thoughtfully and inclusively. This guide encourages teachers to foster mutual respect for varying opinions, and promote experiential learning by connecting classrooms to events at historical sites and state parks throughout Virginia. Chief Diversity Officer Dr. Janice Underwood developed the lesson plan. 

“As an educator, I believe deeply in the power of civil dialogue in the classroom and the importance of learning about history through exploration,” said Dr. Janice Underwood, the Commonwealth’s Chief Diversity Officer. “Since even before the time of slavery, stories of incredible African Americans have frequently been ignored, even silenced. This contest is a great opportunity for students, teachers, and families to learn about Black history more deeply, and foster a sense of critical consciousness wherein our students contribute ideas in pursuit of remedying the disparities of African American historical markers in the Commonwealth of Virginia. This also provides teachers a structured process that shows learners of all ages how to engage state government in meaningful ways.”

“These markers bring Virginia history to a large audience, including people who might not have another occasion to learn about Virginia history,” said Secretary of Natural Resources Matthew J. Strickler. “Virginia’s markers bear the state seal, so they should provide a clear indication of our values. This program will help Virginia’s historic markers more equitably represent Virginia’s diversity.”

The Black History Month Historical Marker Contest runs throughout February. Suggested historical markers must be submitted by March 6, 2020. The Department of Historical Resources will review all submissions and will submit the top 10. The Governor and his Cabinet will select the winners.  

Governor Northam’s proposed budget includes $100,000 annually to create additional historical highway markers to promote stories that reflect the diverse nature of the citizens of the Commonwealth. The proposed budget also includes another $100,000 to digitize highway markers to aid in the creation of an African American history trail. The General Assembly is now considering this proposal.

Click here for more information about the Black History Month Historical Marker Contest.

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