Hidden History of Harrisonburg


Undated picture of nearby Delaware from a group dating between 1900 and 1910 (more).

The proposal to re-name Cantrell Avenue to Martin Luther King Way in Harrisonburg Virginia and opposition to it citing a desire to preserve 'history' has prompted community self-examination.

This site collects historical evidence that sheds light on an aspect of local history at the time of the original one block street naming.

The evidence from 1903 to 1907 documents hostile rhetoric toward African Americans and those advocating for their rights. The rhetoric condoned violence, including threats of death and defense of lynching.

Take a moment to be clear on what 'lynching' is: Ida B. Wells

In 1910, a large group of Harrisonburg residents attempted to act on these sentiments and were prevented from doing so by authorities at gunpoint. The intended victim of the thwarted lynching, an African American who is reported to have killed a white man who was pursuing him while wielding a weapon, was later executed in one of the many executions in Virginia that were found to be unconstitutional.


In 1901, the state of Virginia followed other Southern states in convening a constitutional convention and designed a constitution that would circumvent the 15th amendment, disfranchise African Americans, and institutionalize segregation. Talfourd N. Haas became a Democratic candidate for delegate to this convention from Rockingham County April 19 1901.

He was not elected, but was widely seen as very influential. According to the Richmond Dispatch April 27 1902,

"Talfourd N. Haas, attorney at law, personally has no objection to the
proclamation of the Constitution, but the Democratic party of the
State having pledged their convention nominees to vote for submission
to the present electorate-- he would regard the violation of that
pledge as improper and dangerous."
"The white electorate in the county is pretty
evenly divided between the two parties, and the colored vote as such
has never cut a large figure, except in the town of Harrisonburg,
where it holds the balance of power."

The constitution was adopted without being put to a popular vote. background

The Jim Crow constitution in question was challenged by John Wise and James Hayes. This is how the Rockingham Recorder, later merged with the Daily while professing it would not change its editorial stance and eventually bought by the Byrd family, opined about the efforts of Wise and Hayes: Exterminate.

It cited with approval an editorial position from neighboring Staunton that was a thinly veiled death threat: Taken care of.

The same paper threatens an "outpouring of righteous wrath upon the head" of any man (President Roosevelt, who later beefed up his security detail) who "thrust upon the people of any community a public officer who is utterly distasteful [in this case, Black] to them": Wrath.

This group of clipping from the same page captures more local climate resonating with national incitement:
Commending lynching after death threat to Roosevelt and defense of the disfranchisement conditions in the 1902 constitution, upheld by the Supreme Court in the same issue: Learn his lesson
More sarcasm on lynching.

An account of the lynching 100 years before, of a man named Will. Their comment on what must have been the horror of the sight was to say the court was able to see it was an effective "deterrent to crime." :Gruesome spectacle.

Pink Barbour Case

After years of incitement, on July 4, 1910, a provocateur from outside of town was able to get 100 Harrisonburg resident to vote for a lynching, and over a thousand joined them. The incident was sparked after a confrontation in which Pink Barbour of Augusta County shot James Lee who was pursuing him with a board. James M. Lee was a resident of Cantrell Avenue as was J. C. Staples, who may still have had some connection with the stables at which Lee was employed and where the killing occurred. J. C. Staples had been the owner of the stables when they experienced a major fire, perhaps explaining the sensitivity to Barbour's cigarette. The new owner, Garber, also had connections to Staples beyond the sale and to the Cantrell neighborhood beyond their employee Lee. They all apparently lived on the same street, the area now surrounded by a white picket fence and knows an James Madison University Parking lot 12.

The case was heard by Judge Talfourd N. Haas. Barbour Documents.