Pathway to Pride
This walkway celebrates the contributions of African Americans to the life and development of Lynchburg. Passing through one of the earliest portions of the cemetery, it leads to the graves of many prominent Black citizens and terminates at the Pride family plot, the resting place of Armistead Pride (1787–1858), early barber, dentist, and entrepreneur, Amelia Perry Pride (1857–1932), educator and community activist, and her husband, Claiborne Gladman Pride, Sr. (1857–1933), a highly respected barber. Markers along the way call your attention to a few of the people buried here.
From its inception in 1806 until 1882, when White Rock Cemetery opened, the Old City Cemetery was the only cemetery in Lynchburg open to African Americans. It is estimated that there are over 20,000 graves in the Old City Cemetery; 13,000 belong to African Americans. Through ongoing research, the Old City Cemetery seeks to document the lives of those buried here and present that information to the public using signage, tours, publications, displays, and files in the Cemetery Center, and through its annual Candlelight Tours.
The Cemetery is managed by the Southern Memorial Association, founded in 1866, in cooperation with the City of Lynchburg, which owns the property. The Pathway to Pride project was a joint effort of these two entities. City Public Works staff constructed this brick walkway in 2020 on the road bed of a portion of old Third Street, located within the walls of the cemetery. The bricks date back to 1906 and were originally used to pave a portion of nearby Harrison Street.
Most of the African Americans buried in this section and all across the grounds were born either enslaved or during the era of Jim Crow discrimination. They endured and even prospered despite the barriers of slavery and institutionalized racism, always with the hope that their descendants would have a brighter future.
Below are just a few of the many African Americans buried here whose descendants’ achievements garnered regional or national recognition.
Claiborne Gladman (1788–1855) was born enslaved and later emancipated by the Gillett family. Following Emancipation, he became a respected barber in Lynchburg and acquired modest wealth for himself and his family. Although many of his descendants achieved noteworthy accomplishments, one stands out from the rest and quite literally aimed for the stars. Gladman’s great-great-great-grandson, Frederick Drew Gregory (b. 1941), became an accomplished U.S. Air Force pilot who later went on to be an astronaut. He served on three Space Shuttle missions and later served as the Deputy Administrator of NASA from 2000 to 2005. Another direct Gladman descendant, Billy Porter (born 1969), is a Tony, Grammy, and Emmy Award-winning actor, singer, and activist.
Julia Branch (1845–1937) and Winnie Lee Branch Johnson (1867–1920)
Julia Branch, who was born enslaved, and her daughter Winnie Johnson are both ancestors of Charles Spurgeon Johnson (1893–1956), a prominent sociologist and the first African American president of Fisk University, as well as Jeh Johnson (1957–), who served as Secretary of Homeland Security from 2013 to 2017 under President Barack Obama.
John H. Kinckle, Sr. (1810–1889) was born enslaved and worked as a porter at Lynchburg’s Union Depot following his emancipation. He was the grandfather of Eugene Kinckle Jones (1885–1954) who was the first Executive Secretary of the National Urban League.
Robert (1847–1921) and Susan Ellen Rucker (1847–1915) were both born enslaved and were the grandparents of famous contralto, Marian Anderson (1897–1993), who was an important figure in the struggle of African American artists in overcoming racial prejudice. Anderson’s most famous performance occurred on April 9, 1939. On this day, she stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and sang to an integrated audience of more than 75,000 people and was heard by millions more via radio.
Warwick Spencer, Sr. (1847–1927) was born enslaved and went on to become the foreman at Heald’s Bark Mill. He was the father-in-law of the famous Harlem Renaissance poet, Anne Spencer (1882–1975) and was the grandfather of pioneering African American aviator, Chauncey Edward Spencer (1910–2002), who helped bring about the formation of the Tuskegee Airmen and an integrated U.S. Air Force.
Thomas Lee (1867–1912) and Mary Jane Thornhill (1875–1949) were born during the decade following the Civil War and moved to Lynchburg from the surrounding counties. Their grandson, Murrell Warren “Teedy” Thornhill (1921–2016), would become a successful businessman and the first African American mayor of Lynchburg.
Royal (1844–1919) and Amalia Terry Alexander (1846–1925) were both born enslaved in Central Virginia. Royal was a well-known waiter and porter at the Hotel Carroll on Main Street in Lynchburg. Their son Walter Gilbert Alexander (1880–1953) became the first African American member of the New Jersey legislature and the first Black Speaker of the state’s General Assembly. He was a prominent physician in Orange, New Jersey, for many decades, and even served as president of the National Medical Association—the Black counterpart of the then White-only American Medical Association.
Fannie Scott (1836–1915) was born enslaved in Albemarle County, Virginia, but lived most of her life in Lynchburg. She worked as a cook, laundress, and “domestic” and was a longtime resident of Tinbridge Hill. One of her direct descendants is the award-winning actor, rapper, and film producer Will Smith (Willard Carroll Smith II, or “The Fresh Prince”). Smith’s grandmother Ellen Washington Smith was born in Lynchburg, but moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as an adult.