newsdigital history project looks at civil wars emancipationist legacy in the shenandoah valley

Digital history project looks at Civil War’s emancipationist legacy in the Shenandoah Valley

spirit of freedom
Image courtesy Harpers Ferry Park Association, The Spirit of Freedom website

Shenandoah University’s McCormick Civil War Institute has unveiled a digital history project that preserves the history of the Civil War’s emancipationist legacy in the Shenandoah Valley.

“The Spirit of Freedom: Preserving Emancipation’s Legacy in the Shenandoah Valley” is the product of more than two years of work and research. The online collection features more than 100 primary documents, histories of important figures and organizations, classroom activities, timeline entries and suggested reading materials.

The digital resource is the first of its kind to document emancipation celebrations in the Shenandoah Valley and explore the many ways African Americans in the region challenged the Lost Cause narrative that emerged following the Civil War.

The website is intended for use by historians, students and the general public, and the classroom activities created as part of the project are designed to align with the Standards of Learning for Virginia’s public schools.

The website will continue to develop as additional documents are discovered and added.

“For a historian, nothing is more powerful than primary documents, those voices from the past that cut across time to reveal the complexities of life at a particular moment in history,” said Jonathan Noyalas, director of the McCormick Civil War Institute. “This digital history project has assembled a primary collection unlike any other that reveals the myriad ways African Americans in the Shenandoah Valley attempted to preserve the Civil War’s emancipationist memory and the challenges they confronted in doing so.”

The site features individuals who fought to preserve the emancipation’s legacies in the Shenandoah Valley and beyond.

“The site breathes life into individuals long forgotten, people such as Jasper Thompson, a veteran of the 23rd United States Colored Troops and resident of Jefferson County, West Virginia, who served as marshal and speaker at various celebrations in the northern Shenandoah Valley,” said Noyalas. “Furthermore, the site presents an array of documents that reveals how Harpers Ferry, largely due to John Brown’s raid on the town in the autumn of 1859, became a significant battleground in the fight to preserve emancipation’s legacies, not only in the Shenandoah Valley, but the nation.”

“The Spirit of Freedom” project was led by Noyalas and a team of researchers that included students from Shenandoah University and Mary Baldwin College; Stephen Longenecker, Ph.D, professor emeritus at Bridgewater College; Anne Marchant, Ph.D., former director of the Division of Applied Technology at Shenandoah University; and Brandy Noyalas, a social studies teacher for Winchester Public Schools.

The McCormick Civil War Institute’s work on the “The Spirit of Freedom” began in February 2021, when Shenandoah University was announced as an affiliate member of the Council of Independent Colleges for its multiyear project, “Legacies of American Slavery: Reckoning with the Past.”

“The Spirit of Freedom” received financial support from the “Legacies” project and the Community Foundation of the Northern Shenandoah Valley’s Boxley-Fox Endowment Fund. The latter, received in October 2022, allowed the MCWI to complete “The Spirit of Freedom,” develop classroom activities and support the annual maintenance of the website for public access.

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.