The BPF is named after two historic and legendary women who contributed immensely to the Hampton community, Mrs. Janie Porter Barrett and Mrs. Mary Smith Kelsey Peake.
Janie Porter Barrett
Mrs. Janie Porter Barrett was born on August 9, 1865 in Athens, Georgia. She matriculated to Hampton Institute, graduating in 1884. She married Harris Barrett, and, in 1890, she founded the Locust Street Settlement, the first settlement house for Black people. The Barretts were very active in the community and were members of the historic First Baptist Church in Hampton. Barrett would personally petition the court system to turn over delinquent and abandoned girls into her custody. Also, as a social reformer and club woman, she helped create the Virginia State Federation of Colored Women's Clubs, which was a major state organization with city chapters. Through the Federation, they raised money for a residential industrial school for young African American girls. In 1914, a 147 acre farm at Peaks Turnout in Hanover County was purchased, and in 1915, the Virginia Industrial School for Colored Girls opened with 28 students. This school stressed domestic skills, education, self-reliance and discipline. Barrett became the school's first superintendent, and she closely monitored the girls who performed sufficiently well the goals of the School. She shouldered the responsibility to carefully select foster homes, employment, and follow-up services required. In 1920 the state of Virginia assumed financial responsibility for the school. Supervision was shared by the state and the women's club federation until 1942, when it became solely a function of the Virginia Department of Welfare and Institutions. Barrett retired as superintendent in 1940, and her legacy would be venerated as in 1950, the school was renamed The Janie Porter Barrett School for Girls.
Barrett died on August 27, 1948, at the age of 83, and is buried next to her husband, at the historic Elmerton Cemetery in Hampton.
Mary Smith Kelsey Peake
Mrs. Mary Smith Kelsey Peake was born 1823 in Norfolk, Virginia. Born free, she was the daughter of a free Black woman and an Englishman. When she was six, she attended a school for Black children in Alexandria, Virginia. She returned to Norfolk and was affiliated with the historic First Baptist Church, Bute Street. After her family moved to Hampton in 1847, she was a dressmaker and teacher of Blacks in her home. She helped start a benevolent organization called the Daughters of Zion, which provided aid to the poor and infirmed. In 1851, she married Thomas Peake, was a Union dispatcher. In 1861, thousands of Black people escaping enslavement, found refuge at Fort Monroe in Hampton. Working with the American Missionary Association, she defied laws which prohibited Blacks from receiving an education. She started a school on the present grounds of Hampton University, under what is now called Emancipation Oak. Peake taught dozens of students, several who would become leaders in the Hampton community.
She died of tuberculosis on February 22, 1862, at the age of 39. Mary Smith Peake is buried next to her husband, at the historic Elmerton Cemetery in Hampton.
Dr. Christian retired after serving as a member of the House of Delegates for 18 years. During her tenure she was a member of the following committees: Appropriations, Conservation and Natural Resources; Education; Labor and Commerce; Militia and Police; and Rules. Dr. Christian was one of the first African Americans appointed to the House Appropriations Committee. In addition, Dr. Christian was an ardent supporter of education and healthcare legislation.
Dr. Christian received her Ph.D. in 1967 at Michigan State University with a major in Elementary Education and cognate in Special Education. Her M.A. was received from Columbia University in 1960 with a major in Speech and Drama. In 1955, Dr. Christian was awarded her B.S. degree from Hampton Institute (now Hampton University) with Highest Honors in Elementary Education.
Dr. Christian started her professional career as a teacher at Aberdeen Elementary School in Hampton, Virginia. For more than 25 years, Dr. Christian was a professor at Hampton University in the School of Education. She retired as Dean of the School of Education at Hampton University in 1989 and is presently Professor Emeritus at Hampton University.
Dr. Christian has been very active in the community having served on the Hampton City School Board; Chair of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus; Board of Directors, NationsBank; and the Community Advisory Board, Junior League of Hampton Roads, to name just a few. At the present time, Dr. Christian is an Honorary Board Member, Patient Advocate Foundation; Board of Directors, National Kidney Foundation; Member, Hampton City School Investment Panel; Visiting Specialist, Jamestown 2007; Board of Directors, Y.H. Thomas Community Center, Incorporated; Board of Directors, Youth Challenge; and Board of Directors (Past President) Peninsula Association for Sickle Cell Anemia. Among her professional and civic memberships are: Virginia Association of Colleges of Teacher Education, Board of Trustees, Cornell University, National Education Association, American Association of University Professors, and American Association of University Women, Kappa Delta Pi Honor Society, and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.
Dr. Christian has received numerous honors, tributes and awards for outstanding service to the community and to the Commonwealth of Virginia. Most recent awards include: National Brotherhood and Sisterhood Citation; National Conference of Christians and Jews (now National Conference of Community and Justice); Cultural Laureate of Virginia Citation, Richmond, Virginia; National Patient Advocate Foundation Distinguished Service Award; Community Services Board Hall of Fame; and the Dedication of the Dr. Mary T. Christian Auditorium, Thomas Nelson Community College; and most recently, one of the Marys in the Marys Park in the new Peninsula Town Center.
Dr. Christian is married to Wilbur Christian and has two daughters and one son (deceased). She is a member of First Baptist Church, Hampton, Virginia and participates in the Christian Fellowship Choir, is Chair of the Constitution Advisory Committee and Chair of the Women's Ministry. Also, she is founder/leader of several local community projects in the City of Hampton.
A native of Richmond, Virginia, African American Studies Scholar, Dr. Colita Nichols Fairfax creates historical and contemporary data about African American culture and policy impacts, coupled with African philosophy in community systems. She has uncovered historical data about the contributions of African American women throughout the state of Virginia. Fairfax has researched the development of community systems in Hampton, Virginia, focusing particularly on the evolution of African American community, given the long history of Black people in Hampton. She has written a historiography entitled Hampton, Virginia. She served on the City of Hampton's 400th Commemoration Committee in 2010, where she presided over the rendering of the African image of the tri-partite statute representing three cultures in the city.
Fairfax is an Associate Professor and Honors Liaison for The Ethelyn R. Strong School of Social Work at Norfolk State University. Fairfax earned the Doctor of Philosophy and the Master of Arts in African American Studies from Temple University. She earned the Master of Social Work from Rutgers University and the Bachelor of Social Work from Howard University. Fairfax is a national certified online professor. She resides in Hampton, Virginia with her husband, demographic consultant Anthony Fairfax and their two daughters.
Fairfax is Co-chair of the City of Hampton 2019 Commemorative Commission, tasked with planning activities about the Arrival of African People in 1619.
(Read the original article on the Virginian Pilot website HERE)
The boarded-up house at East Pembroke Avenue and Eaton Street in Hampton is the roomy dream any mom would love, especially Janie Porter Barrett.
Before Barrett died in 1948, the social reformer would likely have filled its three stories and wrap-around porch with children to teach to read. To teach them how to pray, how to hold themselves with a pride that she knew from experience they would need.
The house is quiet now, rust-streaked and dark, in need of a loving touch like Barrett’s.
Two Hampton women have formed a foundation to restore the home in the name of two historic women who lived in different eras but had the same purpose of mothering Hampton’s lost children.
The Barrett-Peake Foundation was the idea of Mary T. Christian, a former state delegate. She tapped Colita Fairfax, an associate professor at Norfolk State University and Hampton historian, and the group formed in 2013.
Christian’s name is a regular in Virginia history books, including one Fairfax wrote about Hampton. A revered educator, Christian was the first African American woman to serve on the Hampton School Board and, in 1986, became the first black to represent Hampton in the General Assembly since the days of Reconstruction.
Fairfax had idolized 91-year-old Christian for years.
“I accepted without hesitation,” Fairfax said.
The group’s purpose is to preserve Hampton’s historic African American sites, and it is focusing on the property at 123 E. Pembroke Ave., which is called The Federation House. It became the headquarters of the Virginia State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs in the 1960s, a group Barrett formed in 1908.
The group doesn’t exist anymore, but Christian is one of its few remaining members.
The foundation has a capital campaign to raise $300,000 by the summer to install new windows, buy equipment, and repair walls and flooring to convert the house into a museum. It would also serve as a hub, a place where neighbors can hold receptions, children can take voice and piano lessons, and people in need could find direction.
“I also hope that younger generations will find worth and relevance in its existence,” Fairfax said, “add their own ideas and activities to keep The Federation House alive in the hearts of those who are in the generation of my young daughters.”
Much like the legacy of the mothers for whom the foundation is named: Mary S. Peake and Barrett.
Peake was a Norfolk girl, born in 1823, the offspring of a free black woman and, depending on the history book, a father who was English or French.
Her mother sent Peake to Alexandria to live with relatives and go to school. Peake returned to Norfolk, then moved to Hampton in 1847 with her family and started surreptitiously teaching slaves to read. It violated state law, but Peake believed God held a greater power.
“Peake could’ve passed,” said Fairfax, referring to the practice of pretending to be white. “She could have resigned herself to what we call a middle-class life, but she didn’t. She was very active as a social reformer.”
Peake married a former slave in 1851 and they had a daughter. Her husband would become a spy for the Union Army that secured Fort Monroe in 1861. With the Northern troops nearby, and more slaves fleeing to Hampton for freedom, Peake held classes in the open, underneath the thick umbrella of an oak’s branches.
In February 1862, however, Peake contracted tuberculosis and died. The next year, a school was built near the tree. In 1863, the first reading in the South of the Emancipation Proclamation took place under the oak. The tree was called “Emancipation Oak” and now stands on the grounds of Hampton University.
Barrett was born in Athens, Ga., the daughter of a former slave. Because of her fair complexion, it is believed that Barrett, like Peake, was fathered by a man of European descent. Barrett grew up in the home where her mother worked as a live-in housekeeper. The employers educated Barrett along with their own children. According to the Social History Welfare Project, the family wanted Barrett to move north and live as a white woman.
Like Peake, the idea was nixed and Barrett’s mother sent her to present-day Hampton, where she graduated in 1884.
She married another Hampton graduate and the couple had children. Barrett offered sewing classes to the neighborhood girls. When she heard about orphaned or abandoned children, she petitioned the court for custody. By 1890, she had established the Locust Street Social Settlement, which offered art, gardening and homemaking classes, the first community center for blacks in the South.
By 1902, the Barretts erected a separate building in their backyard to house the increasing number of classes. Then she learned of an 8-year-old girl who had been jailed. Barrett turned her focus to nurturing troubled young females.
Barrett founded the Virginia State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs, which had groups pop up in cities throughout the state.
In 1914, the federation had raised enough money to start building a residential complex on a 147-acre farm in Hanover County. At the Virginia Industrial Home School for Colored Girls, students who had been arrested, orphaned or abandoned learned discipline, domestic skills such as sewing, and self-reliance.
Barrett created a racially integrated board with some of the state’s most respected business people and philanthropists. Her friend Maggie Walker from Richmond, who was the first woman in the country to start a bank, served with Capt. John L. Roper, a Union hero of the war who settled in Norfolk and established businesses that still exist.
Fairfax said Barrett picked the area near Richmond to reach women who were disconnected from the cities’ resources.
“She recognized that women in rural areas needed the support,” Fairfax said.
Barrett was clear in her expectations for the girls, as she wrote in the first annual report to the board in 1916.
“Her name is written on a perfectly clean page, and she is told that she now has a chance to start all over and keep her record clean,” Barrett wrote. “I require her to tell me the whole truth about her past as soon as she can; she cannot do this at first, but I feel that in order to make the right start, there must be an honest confession; then, when I know everything, I understand better how to help.
“She is then told not to think any more about the past but to start all over. She is made to feel that it is in her power to be one of the best women in the world if she really wants to be.”
Barrett worked as the school’s superintendent even after the state assumed financial responsibility for the institution. She made sure the girls were placed in vetted foster homes and with employers and had the follow-up services they needed.
She retired in 1940 and died eight years later at age 83. She is buried in Elmerton Cemetery not far from Peake.
The cemetery is a three-block stroll from The Federation House. Fairfax said it almost seems that it was meant to be that she and Christian would carry on Barrett and Peake’s legacy.
Both she and Christian belong to First Baptist Church of Hampton, which is a couple of blocks from the House. Barrett was a member and Peake’s widower was one of its first trustees when it formed in 1863.
Christian was born near this neighborhood, and it was the site of one of the larger camps for “contrabands,” those escaped slaves and their children Peake helped.
“Not many museums are named after black women,” Fairfax said this week, standing in the front yard of the house, looking out at the landscape. “We’re hoping to add to that historic energy that we find in the city of Hampton.”