7 honored in 2019 Strong Men & Women in Virginia History program
Free Press staff report | 2/15/2019, 6 a.m.
Seven outstanding African-American leaders were celebrated during the seventh annual “Strong Men & Women in Virginia History” awards program Feb. 7 at a Downtown hotel.
The program, sponsored by Dominion Energy and the Library of Virginia, honors past and present people who have made noteworthy contributions to Virginia.
The 2019 honorees:
• Kwame Alexander of Fairfax County, is a poet, publisher, playwright, producer, speaker, and performer.
Mr. Alexander is an energetic and enthusiastic advocate for literacy and literature throughout the world and performs his cutting-edge brand of poetry for audiences worldwide, as well as conducts writing and publishing workshops. He has received multiple awards, including the inaugural Pat Conroy Legacy Award in 2018.
In that same year, he established Versify, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers, to publish unconventional works in children’s literature.
He has also authored several books — Swing (2018), Rebound (2018), a companion to The Crossover — and more than 20 other titles.
• Lawrence A. Davies, the first African-American elected mayor of Fredericksburg, has devoted his life to serving his community.
Mr. Davies was born in Houston, Texas, and grew up intending to study medicine and graduated with a biology degree from Prairie View A&M University in 1949.
Serving in the U.S. Army inspired his service to the ministry and upon being discharged he joined Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., and later received a divinity degree from Howard University and a master’s degree in sacred theology from Wesley Theological Seminary.
In the early 1960s, in an effort to increase voting strength of African-Americans in Fredericksburg, Rev. Davies and church deacon Weldon Bailey, a local mortician and resident of the city’s Mayfield neighborhood, organized a political action group known as Citizens United for Action.
In 1966, Mr. Davies became the first African-American elected to the city council; in 1976, he was elected as mayor, serving five terms, more than any other Fredericksburg mayor before or since.
As mayor, he was the driving force in establishing a low-cost public transportation system that would serve those who lacked any other way of getting around. The city’s central bus station was subsequently named in his honor.
• Fannie W. Fitzgerald pioneered the integration of Prince William County Schools amid her 35-year career as an educator in Virginia schools. She died at the age of 85 on April 7, 2016.
Ms. Fitzgerald graduated from Russell Grove High School and received a bachelor of arts degree in elementary education from Virginia Union University in 1952. After teaching there for three years, she applied for graduate school but was denied entry to Virginia universities because she was African-American.
In August of 1956, Ms. Fitzgerald was offered a job at Antioch-McCrae Elementary, a school for African-Americans in Prince William County and taught at the Jennie Dean School in Manassas.
Virginia granted her a full scholarship to Columbia University where she earned a master’s in special education in 1960. Eight years later she oversaw Prince William County Schools’ learning disabilities programs and was selected the first elementary supervisor of integrated schools.