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Sunday, May 22, 2022

Baltimorean Discovers Ancestral Links to Virginia Tech

When many Americans were introduced to the culture and history of Africans, African Americans, and Indigenous people in elementary school, the information did not always offer opportunities to take a deeper look into the source of those interpreted stories.

When ShaRhonda Knott-Dawson penned an article for Education Post, she provided insight that illustrates the importance of historical presentation: “Africans are portrayed in schools as savage, barbaric people. Those who came to the Americas were ‘lucky’ because they were saved from savage, unstable, poverty-stricken Africa,” Knott-Dawson said in the article. “The new wave of pan-African scholars, are using genetics, archeology and other scientific advances, to present a more accurate picture of Africa. With these tools, I am proud to say I can trace the totality of my family’s Black history story and timeline in both Africa and the Americas.”

One woman from Baltimore, Dr. Kerri Moseley-Hobbs is also filling in some gaps to connect the past and present, while humanizing ancestors. Moseley-Hobbs became motivated to explore other angles of research and education on history of Africans, African Americans, and Indigenous people before the Civil War and ten years following it. As she embarked upon a path filled with education about her own ancestral history which runs deeper than the violence of slavery, Moseley-Hobbs found herself digging for details in Blacksburg, Virginia.

The undertaking led to a greater impact beyond her own roots as a sixth generation descendant of John Fraction. She now connects with more individuals who are descendants of the enslaved in Virginia through the More Than a Fraction Foundation (MTAFF). Moseley-Hobbs’ journey to founding the organization, connects with her drive to unpack history through another lens.

“One of the first organizations I started working with is Historic Smithfield, which is the plantation where some of my ancestors were enslaved. It’s currently a house museum, so you can go visit and everything,” Mosely-Hobbs said.

The trip led to the curious Baltimorean to receive an invitation to join the Smithfield-Preston Foundation Board of Trustees. It oversees the Smithfield Museum, according to the EUR/Electronic Urban Report.

Mosely-Hobbs added that Fraction’s father is believed to be one of the first enslaved Africans who headed to the plantation that is now Virginia Tech University on a Maryland slave ship called the True Blue. The museum’s leadership wanted her to assist with improving the interpretation of the enslaved community. Incorporating other descendants would also afford opportunities to “find a reference point.” This aspect entailed exploring their personalities, lives, and cultures.

“So, you know, [the] first time I went down to Historic Smithfield, it’s really on the campus of Virginia Tech University, and you learn that before Virginia Tech University was what it was, that entire campus was the original plantation where the house museum was, and so going down there to work with the house Museum, Virginia Tech kind of found out about the work I was still with them, and then welcomed me to collaborate with Virginia Tech with helping Virginia Tech understand their history as a plantation site, but going a little beyond understanding because they are part of a movement called Universities Studying Slavery,” Moseley-Hobbs said.

Since Virginia Tech was willing to do more than place a plaque or sign on the site to acknowledge that a plantation once existed there, the research scholar’s journey took another turn. Moseley-Hobbs and Virginia Tech began walking the path of discovery together for the last five years. This major component influenced Moseley-Hobbs to found the MTAFF. Sharing whatever is learned with Virginia Tech now can be shared with other organizations through MTAFF, in addition to expanding the work’s reach.

“So with the Foundation, we’re able to do projects with other people; we’re able to help other people; other people are able to find us and ask us questions about what we’ve learned so far; and… what we would suggest for them,” Moseley-Hobbs said. “And so the Foundation was developed to show that we had a very, very specific niche that we’re focusing on in that we are willing to help other people in other organizations, should they need the assistance.”

Moseley-Hobbs’ impact is growing. A $10,000 grant was awarded to MTAFF by The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation to assist with the presentation of the “1872 Forward: Celebrating Virginia Tech” series of events from March 24-26, 2022 at Virginia Tech, in partnership with the Council for Virginia Tech History. Additionally, MTAFF received an $8,000 grant from Virginia Humanities. Tours of Historic Smithfield, performances, and presentations will be held. Descendants of the enslaved people of Smithfield Plantation will travel from Baltimore to participate. 

To learn more about Moseley-Hobbs and MTAFF, visit: www.MoreThanaFraction.org

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