Lucious Edwards, Jr. has spent the past 33 years preserving history. Along the way, he’s become part of it.
Interviewed by Cesca Janece Waterfield
Edwards is an instructor of history and the University Archivist at Virginia State University in Petersburg. As University Archivist, Edwards curates and preserves historical materials at VSU. He first worked in the archives room at VSU as a graduate student. In 1977, he went to work there full time. A resident of Chesterfield, Lucious is married and has two adult daughters. He enjoys an affinity for regional history and for his lifelong home. “Actually, I was born about a mile and half from where I’m sitting, in lower Chesterfield county,” he said one afternoon in his office in Lindsay-Montague Hall on the campus of VSU. “That’s where I’m from.”
Best part of his job:
A favorite part now is acquiring materials from people who didn’t think that it had any value and bringing it here to the campus where we can preserve it for people to use. When I first got started in this job it was going through materials. But now my favorite is actually going out and getting materials and bringing it here to preserve.
Most memorable acquisitions:
The last one was the Oliver Hill papers. We began to get Mr. Hill’s papers in 2005 and we’re still getting some now. Before that, I was able to get the Archie Richardson materials. Archie was the first African American person hired by the state education department in 1936. We also have some papers of a women’s organization called the Drifters and that’s very unique and rare. We have the Colson-Hill papers and the [educator and celebrated artist born in 1895] Amaza Meredith papers. Miss Meredith turned out to be a self-taught architect and her house is right here by the campus. Those are some of my favorite pieces. Those are some that I went directly out and got myself.
Who uses the materials:
Everything that we have is available for people to use. Most of the people who use the material are academics. But the material can be used and is used by people who are not affiliated with [colleges]. We have people doing genealogy. We would love to have people come and use it if they wish.if they wish.
What’s great about VSU’s archives:
We consider ourselves to be unique because we have records of the defunct groups that functioned during the era of Jim Crow. We don’t just look at these to see how African Americans “attacked” the Jim Crow system. We look at how at the same time, African American institutions are prepping people to go into the Jim Crow system to work! On one hand, they’re prepping people to fight the system. But at the same time, they have to educate people to go into the system to work. It’s an unusual situation and I would like people to know that we have materials that can help answer questions and give people an idea of the history of the country, the state, the region and the people.
Why Black History Month matters:
At some point in time, people thought that African American History or Black History Month would have been long gone by now. There’s been impetus to study African American history for hundreds of years; this is not new. But African American history as we know it today began in the 1960s. We find that it is still important today, because after all these years, people still don’t know! There are people who still don’t know about one of the largest groups of people who live in the United States. I hear it all the time and I’m a professional academic. I go to meetings and I’ll say something about African Americans and people look at me and say, ‘I’ve never heard of that before.’ I would have not thought that we would still be doing African American History Month at some point in time. But we still have people who don’t know.
I’m talking about African American History Month. [In contrast,] African American history is a discipline: It’s going to be around forever. It’s like Southern history, economic history, Marxist history, like that. African American history is an interpretation of United States history, Caribbean history, Canadian history. You can interpret all these using an African American perspective. That’s going to be around forever. [That permanence] is one of the major contributions of African American History Month.
Learning for a lifetime:
I have enjoyed the work over the years. It’s given me a chance to develop expertise in different types of history – local, Petersburg, Southside; some architectural history. It’s given me a chance to broaden my own formal education by being exposed to these primary research materials. There’s something to learn in an archive every day. It’s an ongoing experience.