Grave Location: Unknown
Samuel Kelso was born enslaved around 1825. After Emancipation he embarked on a remarkable, multifaceted career until his death at age 55.
Although he was born enslaved, Samuel Kelso became an accomplished politician and educator immediately after Emancipation. In 1867, just two years after the end of the Civil War, Kelso was elected to represent Lynchburg and Campbell County in the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1867–1868, defeating a White conservative candidate. He thus became the first African American Lynchburg resident to be elected to public
office. During the convention, he introduced Virginia’s first resolution supporting free public education for children of all races and advocated for the strong public, non-segregated schools. The resolution read,
“Resolved, that the Constitution now being framed for the State of Virginia should guarantee for the future a system of common school education to be supported by the state, which shall give to all classes a free and equal participation in all its benefits.”
By 1870, Kelso had become one of Lynchburg’s first African American school teachers and taught at the Freedmen’s Bureau Camp Davis School, and was a trustee of the Polk Street Colored School, which predated the local public school system. In 1871, he was appointed by the Postmaster General of the United States to superintend the transportation of mail between railroad depots in Lynchburg. He overcame slanderous opposition from the newspapers to hold this position until his death.
Black Focus Biographies: Samuel F. Kelso, A Lynchburg Bicentennial Project housed at Jones Memorial Library, 1986.