CHESTERFIELD, Va. (WRIC) — Midlothian is a quiet suburban community now, but in the past, it was a hustling, bustling town that was home to a growing coal industry.
“The majority of persons in this community were coal miners,” said Audrey Ross, a church historian who has been documenting the African American experience in the community.
There’s no longer any coal mining in Midlothian, but in the 1700’s and 1800’s, coal was the center of everything in the Chesterfield community.
There, Virginia’s first commercial coal operation in the new world and later the first railroad was born.
Freed blacks worked side by side with slaves at the Midlothian mines, bringing coal up out of the ground from hundreds of feet below. It was on these grounds in 1846 that they started the first African American church in Chesterfield County.
It 1877, that church burned but the congregation built First Baptist Church of Midlothian that still stands today.
Audrey Ross is the church historian and has been documenting the African American experience in the community.
“The church was mentioned as a place most appropriate to start with the education of free blacks,” Ross said.
So, church members built a small one-room school on the church property to educate blacks in the community. A busy community popped up all around the church on what is now called Westfield Road.
“They were blacksmiths, carpenters, and brick masons,” Ross said, “all of the homes were built by African Americans.”
Ross was upset to learn that a lot of the history of the African American community in Midlothian wasn’t widely known or widely documented. That’s why she has done interviews, pulled court records, and collected photos to make sure the history doesn’t stay hidden.
“There’s so many families with stories to tell, it’s like the pieces of a puzzle,” she said.
Audrey Ross will be presenting her research as a part of Black History Month at the Midlothian Library on Thursday, February 8th at 11 a.m.
Those interested in attending can register here.