The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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Heart of the Blue Ridge

The Slave Meadow Story

By Bob Heafner © 2001

Online: 2001

The Langhorne Family Monument with The Slave Meadow and the Blue Ridge Parkway in the background.The Langhorne Family Monument with The Slave Meadow and the Blue Ridge Parkway in the background. The hole in the top of the monument was put there by a stray bullet during a 4th of July celebration in the early part of the 20th century.In the mid-nineteenth century they accompanied the James Steptoe Langhorne family to "Langdale," a "plantation" encompassing the area where the tiny mountain community of Meadows of Dan, Virginia, is located today. The Langhorne family owned thousands of acres in the area prior to the Civil War.

According to the will of Henry Scarsbrook Langhorne, his son James Steptoe Langhorne had already been given five slaves prior to his father's death. They were: Robinson and his wife Vestey, George (a man), John (a boy) and Page (a girl). After the Civil War, the 1870 Census reveals that Ira Langhorne and his wife Page and their two children, Mary and Ellis, were living next door to the James Steptoe Langhorne family.

Little is known about the Langhorne slaves, or even their exact number, but two facts are certain; they were African-Americans and this meadow is the final resting place of some of them.

The Langhorne family obviously thought highly of these people because they specified that they be buried in the Langhorne family section of the Meadows of Dan Baptist Church Cemetery.

However, nearly seventy-five years ago, when the Blue Ridge Parkway was built, the National Park Service acquired that portion of the cemetery where the slaves are buried. The Langhorne family graves are on church property beneath the shade of a tall poplar tree immediately adjacent to Parkway property. If you were standing in the shade of this old tree today, however, you would not see any evidence of the slaves' graves, only the little mountain church on a small hill with its tall white steeple and well-kept cemetery.

Separating the cemetery and the Parkway is a small meadow, covered in summer by waist-high orchard grass that sways gently in cool mountain breezes. Buried in this picturesque mountain setting, is not only the Langhorne slaves but the symbolic remnants of African-American history in the Blue Ridge. These pioneers have passed into the oblivion of time unknown, their lives and contributions all but forgotten. They lived without benefit of freedom and now in death they face eternity without the final human dignity of a simple stone marker to acknowledge their lives.

Old man Matt Burnett, told me about the graves before he died and recalled why there were no markers. During the construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway the markers, which were just simple stones, were carried into the woods at the edge of the meadow to "get them out of the way" during construction. The intent was to put them back when they were finished but no one ever got around to it.

Shortly after hearing about these unmarked slave graves in 1984, I approached Gary Everhart, who was then Superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway, about the possibility of placing a granite marker on the site to commemorate not only the people buried there but to honor the overall African-American contribution to Blue Ridge history. Mr. Everhart agreed, provided I could raise the funds necessary to erect the monument and prepare the site.

The monument I envisioned was a single granite boulder between six and eight feet high, left rough and unpolished to symbolize the rugged life, hardships and quiet endurance of those it would commemorate. However, efforts to raise the necessary funds met with no success.

Picturesque Meadows of Dan Baptist ChurchPicturesque Meadows of Dan Baptist ChurchI feared then, and still fear now, that unless something is done before long, the replacement of the gravestones or the erection of a monument may never happen. With that in mind, on June 12, 2001, I wrote a letter to Daniel W. Brown, who succeeded Gary Everhart as superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and asked the National Park Service to assist in getting the gravestones replaced. After all, National Park Service employees removed the gravestones during Parkway construction and it only seems right that the National Park Service shoulder the burden of replacing the monuments.

I was pleased to receive a prompt and encouraging email reply from Gordon Wissinger, Chief Ranger, of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and later met with Mindy DeCesar, District Interpretive Specialist and was very hopeful that finally action would be taken to restore The Slave Meadow gravestones. Unfortunately, that was almost nine years ago and the gravestones have still not been replaced nor a monument erected.

If you are an educator please tell your students, if you are a minister please tell your congregation. Individuals, please tell your family, friends and co-workers and encourage their support of this effort.

Let's put our hope together and encourage the National Park Service to do the right thing. A monument in this meadow would serve as a reminder to generations that the pioneers of our nation were of all races, the rich and the poor, the free and the slave.

See Chronological list of Correspondence and Actions