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Black History Timeline: Pre-1950


VPI workers of the early 20th Century
Individuals who worked for V.P.I. in 1899: (Top row, from left) "Sporty Sam" (Charles Owens), "Uncle Wash" (Washington Eaves), Granville Eaves, (second row, from left) "Hardtimes" (Floyd Meade), "Sampson and his mule" (Sampson Campbell), Alonzo Freeman Sr., "Smoky Sam," (third row, from left) "Charles," "Me an' Kanode," and "Bill Bland." 1899 Bugle, p. 155.
Left side, stereopticon, Mess Hall, 1890s
Right side, stereopitcon, Mess Hall, 1890s
Left and right sides of stereopticon of the Mess Hall, 1890s

Charles Owens ("Uncle Sporty") started working for V.A.M.C. in 1890 as janitor in Barracks No. 1. He soon acquired an additional duty as a snare drummer to beat out the first call to reveille. He attached the large snare drum to a leather belt about his waist. Ten minutes before reveille each morning he would parade the area in front of the barracks, beating out tunes on his drum. (Temple, 263)
Sampson, Campbell drove a cart with a mule.
Floyd Meade was born in Blacksburg on October 2, 1882 and lived with the Thomas family. Cadet N. W. Thomas of that family acquainted Floyd with the barracks when he was only seven years old. He became a favorite of the cadets and the unofficial mascot of the V.A.M.C. athletic teams. The cadets gave him the nickname of "Hard Times." He used to run about Blacksburg ringing a bell to call attention to a poster advertising athletic contests at the college. Later as the mascot of the football team, he travelled with the gridmen on their trips, frequently dressed as a clown in orange and maroon colors. When he was fourteen, he worked part-time at the Mess Hall. As he got older, Floyd Meade trained a huge turkey to go on a leash of orange and maroon ribbons. When he tapped the turkey with a whip, it would gobble. He would parade the turkey up and down the sidelines at football games and tap the turkey for a touchdown or spectacular play. The press made a big thing of it, and the football team became known as the "Gobblers." Floyd Meade died in 1942. (Temple, 254-6, 448)
John Sears ("John the Barber") came to Blacksburg around 1917. He was a favorite barber in Portsmouth, and the cadets talked him into coming to Blacksburg. His shop was on the quad in the barracks at first. He had a phenomenal memory and remembered everyone and the positions they played. Alums used to look up Professor Rasche and John the Barber when they came back to town. He was a sports authority.
Pat Mills was the barracks janitor and a popular debater. On March 31, 1916 he was awarded the decision in an "Old-Time Negro Debate" held at the German Hall. All the contestants were janitors on the V.P.I campus and the subject was "Art is more fascinating than nature." Mr. Mills argued the affirmative. In 1918 "Pat" Mills argued the same position when it was decided that "...the Kaiser should be hanged to the nearest tree immediately after capture" was too one-sided to argue. The final record of his debating career shows him arguing the negative side of "...Ulysses S. Grant deserves more honor in fighting for the Union and Strength than Robert E. Lee deserves in fighting for independence and his home."
Alonzo Freeman owned a dry cleaning business in Blacksburg. He and Bessie (Briggs) Freeman had five children. Alonzo Freeman, Jr., was the principal of the elementary school for black children in Blacksburg. Alonzo Freeman, Jr.'s letter to the editor of the Roanoke Times was published on August 15, 1940: "The Average Man Does Not Object to the Cost of the Defense Program If the Money Is Wisely Spent."

Beatrice Virginia (Bea) Freeman Walker (1926-2013) was Alonzo Freeman, Sr.'s youngest child. She was an active member of the Blacksburg community and was instrumental in the renovation of the Order of St. Luke's and Odd Fellows Hall Museum in Blacksburg. A video oral history with her is available.

Doc Tyler, trainer for V.P.I. Varsity Football Team
Extension programs serving black families were moved from Hampton Institute to Virginia State College at Petersburg. Funding, accountability, and supervision of programs for both blacks and whites became the responsibility of the director of the Cooperative Extension Service at VPI. (Virginia Cooperative Extension Service, College of the Fields: Some Highlights of the Virginia Cooperative Extension Service, 1914-1980, 1987, 258.)

All citations are from Harry D. Temple, The Bugle's Echo: A Chronology of Cadet Life, Vol. 1, Blacksburg: Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets Alumni, 1996, unless otherwise noted.

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