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'Celebrating Gainsboro': Telling the story of Roanoke’s historic Black neighborhood

From: Virginia Tech Roanoke Center

The Virginia Tech Roanoke Center, the Roanoke Higher Education Center, and Roanoke Public Libraries have teamed up to offer “Celebrating Gainsboro,” a presentation about the rich history of Roanoke’s once-thriving Black neighborhood. 

The event will be held Wednesday, Feb. 15, from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. at the Roanoke Higher Education Center, Room 212. Featuring three presenters who each have worked to preserve and share Gainsboro's history, the event is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be provided.

Gainsboro was once a vibrant center of Black culture and business, bustling at one point with over 200 Black-owned businesses. Filmmaker Oscar Mischeaux had ties to Gainsboro, along with other Black historical figures such as civil rights attorney Oliver Hill and educator Lucy Addison. Beginning in the 1950s, urban renewal projects in Roanoke devastated the Gainsboro community, displacing families and destroying homes and businesses.


Jordan Bell

Local historian, educator, and activist, Jordan Bell began the initiative "Gainsboro Revisited" in 2017 to preserve, learn, and teach the history of the Gainsboro community. Bell conducts regular walking tours of the Gainsboro neighborhood where he points out historic locations, talks about prominent community figures, and discusses urban renewal’s destructive role in displacing African Americans in Roanoke City.

Evie Slone

Director of community planning for Roanoke’s Hill Studio, Evie Slone played an instrumental role in creating signage in the Gainsboro neighborhood to honor and share its history. This includes the Gainsboro History Walk panels along Wells Avenue, as well as interpretive panels on the exterior of the renovated Claude Moore Education Complex along Henry Street.

Carla L. James

Carla L. James, senior director of academic and student services for the Roanoke Higher Education Center, played an integral role in the creation of historical markers for the Roanoke Higher Education Center’s Central Walkway Plaza, as well as the "Gainsboro History Project" website. The Central Walkway Plaza features granite markers engraved with local historical themes and events from 1835-1970. Complementing the walkway is "The Gainsboro History Project," an interactive history and walking tour of African American influence in Gainsboro. Utilizing text, graphics, and video, the website provides stories reflecting the contributions of the people who lived and worked in Gainsboro.

Contact Sally McQuinn, the Roanoke Center's assistant director, for more information or questions.

If you are an individual with a disability and desire an accommodation, please contact Sally McQuinn at (540) 767-6096 or during regular business hours at least 10 business days prior to the event.


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