Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Still Inspires Others To Dream Big Dreams

By Linda Cicoira — The legacy of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is important to 72-year-old Gerald Boyd, who grew up in a time when black people had no access to the public library, were  forced to sit at the back of the bus, could not look white people in the eye and would have to move off the curb to let white people pass on the sidewalk.

“I grew up in the segregated era,” he said. “I grew up when I knew my grandfather had to pay poll taxes in order to vote.”

Those are among the reasons Boyd is interested in preserving African-American history. On the Eastern Shore, part of that history is the Samuel D. Outlaw Blacksmith Shop in Onancock, which is in the first phase of a plan that will turn the historic building into a museum and provide pride for local residents while becoming a major tourist attraction.

Boyd is chairman of a board looking to preserve the site. He recruited about 20 volunteers Monday to clean up the grounds of the Boundary Avenue building. It was a job befitting of King’s birthday. Congress passed the King Holiday and Service Act in 1994 designating the third Monday in January as a national day of service.

It was the same year that Outlaw died after working his shop for about 65 years. The shop was given to the town of Onancock by his family “with the hope that it would serve as a small museum to promote blacksmithing” and “commemorate him as a leader in the community.”

But the building has been sitting there gathering dust, termites and carpenter bees ever since.

While Boyd didn’t actually ever sit down and have a conversation with King, he was involved in the fight for civil rights in Alabama in the 1960s when the movement was really happening. Boyd’s family came to the Shore as migrant laborers. He graduated from Northampton High School in Machipongo in 1962 and then went back to Mobile to study nutrition at Carver Vocational Technical School, which was named after Washington Carver, a black botanist and inventor.

Boyd was asked to organize the student council at the school and served as its first president. He later headed the junior civic league and was in charge of desegregating public facilities in Mobile.

Boyd returned to the Eastern Shore in 2014. Now he and his wife of 48 years, Polly, operate Peacewerks Center for Well-Being in Exmore, a therapy and recovery company.

He saw the blacksmith shop in the book, “Landmarks,” written by Frances Bibbins Latimer and then just happened to meet the town mayor, who was in favor of Boyd taking on the museum quest. “Latimer’s book chronicled the contribution to the history of the Shore,” he said. “It makes good sense to preserve as much of that as possible.”

A board was formed. In addition to Boyd, those members include Teresa Kellam, the group secretary; Clinton Strand, a member from Outlaw’s church; Onancock Town Manager Bill Kerbin; Councilman Robert Bloxom; Zack Mallette, “an energetic bright young man,” and Thelma Gillespie, another interested resident.

“We started looking at the building itself – the extent of the damage, the contents,” said Boyd. A building code officer and a local master builder were brought in to assess the structure. “It was declared to be in good shape” and “repairable.” But the foundation will need to be lifted and put on supports so it is not sitting on the ground, termite damage to the lower front and carpenter bee problems in the ceiling will have to be dealt with and money will have to be raised for the endeavors.

Boyd envisions a wall for a mural of Outlaw and his craft “so we can bring the inside to the outside. A beautiful garden where people can find rest and relaxation populated with native plants and some sculptures … I’ve been approached by people on the Eastern Shore and Maryland who are blacksmiths who seem to be very interested.”

Dale Morse, who owns a blacksmithing school in Hampton Roads, has talked about helping the group start classes locally, possibly through the community college. A program in both public school districts is being put together for grades 4 and 11. Onancock Councilman Ray Berger, a landscaping architect, agreed to assist with plans for the grounds.

Onancock gave $1,000. PNC Bank of Onley has put up $3,000 for a website. Boyd said the cost of repairs will be about $20,000 and that he is looking for donations. The board will apply for $10,000 from the town business association. Perhaps, he said, PNC Bank, which is very interested in supporting the project, will give more help.

The plan is to open the facility in 2019.

“This is a labor of love for me,” said Boyd. “I love the Shore.”

Shore’s Ralph Northam Sworn In For 4-Year Term As Virginia Governor

By Linda Cicoira — “It was an Eastern Shore thing.” That’s how Judge Glen A. Tyler described the inauguration of Gov. Ralph Northam last week.

“Historically and traditionally, the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Virginia administers the oath of office to the Governor of Virginia,” explained Tyler. “In this case, he (Northam) asked me to do that and he also talked to the chief justice about it. The justice entered an order … designating me to do that service.”

“We’re friends and I am a judge on the Eastern Shore and he (Northam) likes to promote the Eastern Shore,” Tyler said, adding, he has known the governor since he was a child and his father was an Accomack judge.

Northam also started his four-year term with an invocation by another Eastern Shoreman, Rev. Kelvin Jones, pastor of First Baptist Church in Capeville.

“My mother taught children who were learning English as their second language how to read,” Northam told a crowd of about 5,000 who had come out to fill the stadium. “She worked in healthcare, nursing sick people back to health on Virginia’s Eastern Shore,” the Onancock area native, who graduated from the former high school in that town, continued. “She volunteered with the hospice, comforting people in their final hours. She taught me that, no matter who we are or where we come from, we are all equal in the beginning – and in the end.”

Northam’s first action as governor must have been for her because he declared, “It is the firm and unwavering policy of the Commonwealth of Virginia to ensure equal opportunity in all facets of state government. The foundational tenet of this executive order is premised upon a steadfast commitment to foster a culture of inclusion, diversity, and mutual respect for all Virginians. This policy specifically prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex, color, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, political affiliation, or against otherwise qualified persons with disabilities. The policy permits appropriate employment preferences for veterans and specifically prohibits discrimination against veterans.”

“My father, who grew up on a farm on the Eastern Shore, served in the Navy during World War II, a member of America’s greatest generation,” he continued in his inaugural address. “He became a commonwealth’s attorney and a judge just as his father had before him. Before my brother joined the Navy, and I joined the Army, my father always encouraged us to play sports. I think he knew we would learn the importance of teamwork and the fundamental truth that success isn’t about one person’s individual contributions, it’s about the team.”

“Watching the things my parents did, for our family, and for our community, taught me a lot growing up,” Northam said. “But the greatest lesson I learned came from watching how they did those things. Their humble and steady service to the people around them taught me what strength looks like. It taught me that you don’t have to be loud to lead. I was blessed to grow up on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, and to call it my home.”

Tyler’s wife, Myree, his two children, and their children, all attended the event. “It was a wonderful speech,” said Tyler. “He did a wonderful job.”