The Richardsons' property is currently vacant. In 1910, her great-grandmother moved most of the family to Philadelphia for a “better life” beyond a small town, and all of the family relocated in the late 1980s. (Candace Dane Chambers/The Washington Informer)

Washington Informer Charities will host its 10th African American Heritage Tour to Josephine City in Berryville, Virginia, on Saturday, June 18. Josephine City is a 16-foot-wide street just over a mile long was once called Josephine City that was established in the 1870s after the Civil War ended in 1865. 

It is a nationally recognized historic district where 25 formerly enslaved Blacks purchased 31 one-acre lots for $100 an acre. It is believed that the road was named after former slave Josephine Williams who purchased two of the lots.   

The area located about 75 miles from D.C. was seen as an oasis for Blacks in Clarke County. It grew increasingly self-sufficient by establishing a school, grocery store, gas station, boarding house, restaurant, cemetery, two churches and a Black-owned newspaper called “The People’s Journal.” 

Today, log cabin homes purchased by formerly enslaved Blacks after the Civil War remain standing, though threatened for demolition despite efforts by local residents to preserve them. 

“We discovered the Josephine City story through two local film producers, Lafayette Barnes and Brian Burns, who were captivated about by the history of the area and the struggle local residents have encountered to preserve the town, the properties and its heritage,” Washington Informer Publisher Denise Rolark Barnes said.

“After visiting the local museum and the cemetery, I was captivated as well and agreed that Josephine City would be a perfect destination for our tour,” she said. 

Many trailblazers were raised in Clarke County, including Lucy Diggs Slowe, a founding member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and alumna of Howard University where a campus dormitory has been named in her honor; and William Taylor Burwell Williams, who served as the first dean of Tuskegee Institute. Clarke County Training School, a high school built for Black students in 1928 while schools were still segregated, was renamed W.T.B. Williams Training School in 1944.  

Over 1,000 people whose family roots are connected to Josephine City are laid to rest in a three-acre cemetery at the end of Josephine Street.  

Nearly 80 spies and civil war veterans are buried there, including Thomas Laws, who was among those enslaved in Clarke County.  Laws is barely recognized for his bravery as a Union spy who delivered critical information about the Confederate troops’ movement that led to the Union victory of the largest battle fought in the Shenandoah Valley – The Battle of Winchester on September 19, 1864.  

Tour buses will leave THEARC, 1901 Mississippi Ave., S.E., at 8 a.m. and return by 4 p.m. In addition to the tour, visitors will also attend the Juneteenth celebration at the Clarke County Ruritan Fairgrounds. Allison Seymour, WUSA’s Get Up DC Anchor and Marc Clark will host the day-long event that also includes educational and cultural activities, food, arts and crafts and music. 

Washington Informer Charities is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that seeks to inform, inspire, educate and empower the Black community through our journalism and innovative programs and opportunities.For more about the tour, visit https://bit.ly/39pxx4z or call (202) 561-4100.

Denise Rolark Barnes

Denise Rolark Barnes is the publisher and second-generation owner of The Washington Informer, succeeding her father, the late Dr. Calvin W. Rolark, who founded the newspaper in 1964. The Washington...

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