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VSU Archives and LBGTQ Collections

19 May, 2011

A while ago I received an e-mail about the creation of a guide of repositories with Lesbian-Bisexual-Gay-Transgender-Questioning materials. The guide is to be called Lavender Legacies. We have two collections that consist of or contain materials created by members of the LBGTQ community. As part of this project, we will fill out a questionnaire sent by the compiling organization which includes information on the material creators, the extent of the collections, and the resources available within the VSU Special Collections department. We hope to expand the knowledge of the under-researched community, as well as expand the group of people and researchers who would find our materials useful. When the guide is available, we will post more information about it.

At VSU, we have materials from two African-American women: Amaza Lee Meredith and her partner Edna Meade Colson, both of whom were featured on the blog during Archives Month 2010. Ms. Meredith and Ms. Colson lived together in a house Ms. Meredith designed and built in 1939, Azurest South, which still stands on the VSU campus. While never explicitly referred to by themselves or others as lesbians, by reading through their correspondence and seeing the life they shared together, it can be safely assumed that they were indeed romantic partners.

Ms. Colson was born in 1888 in Petersburg, VA, the daughter of two educators. Her father, James Major Colson, was a founding faculty member of the Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute.  She attended Fisk University in Tennessee, eventually earning her Bachelor’s of Education, and later earned a Ph.D. from Columbia Teacher’s College in New York City. She returned to teach at VSU, and rose to become the Director of the newly created School of Education.

Ms. Colson was a prolific and highly sought after speaker and writer, and contributed articles to Virginia State College Gazette, The Quarterly Journal of Higher Education for Negroes, and the Journal of Negro Education. She was  highly active in many integrated and African-American organizations, including American Association of University Professors, The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, The Virginia Teachers Association, and the Virginia Academy of Science. She was also a life member of the American Teachers Association, a charter member of the Virginia Research Society, the National Association of College Women, The Virginia Interracial Commission, the Negro Organization Society, The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (the first woman to become a lifetime member), and a charter member of the Delta Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha.
Ms. Meredith was born in 1895 to Emma Kenney Meredith, an African-American woman, and Samuel Meredith, a white man, in Lynchburg, VA. To avoid miscegenation laws, her parents had traveled to Washington, D.C. to be married. It was a controversial marriage that had social and economic consequences for the family. Despite these hardships, Ms. Meredith graduated from high school and attended Virginia Normal and Industrial Institute, now VSU. After teaching for a few years, Ms. Meredith enrolled in the Teacher’s College of Columbia University in New York City, where she received both her B.A. and M.A. in Fine Arts Education. She then returned to VSU where she established the Department of Fine Arts and served as Department Chair.

Ms. Meredith was a prolific painter, interior designer, and later became a self-taught architect. Many of her paintings were displayed in galleried and museums in New York, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and elsewhere. She designed the color schemes and even furnishings of many of the interiors of offices and rooms on the VSU campus during her time here. When she designed buildings, she paid attention to minute details, both inside and out. Her homes, and designs for ones that were never built, are works of art in themselves, the interior decorations and design created as a whole to compliment the exterior, while the exterior complimented and enhanced the natural surroundings in which it was to be built.

Ms. Colson and Ms. Meredith lived on the VSU campus in Azurest South. It is in the International Style known as Bauhaus, and one of the few examples in Virginia. Each owned half of the title to the home, and Ms. Meredith willed her portion to the VSU Alumni Association in response to the falling-through of several plans for her to design a building on campus for them.  When Ms. Colson died two years after Ms. Meredith, in 1986, the Alumni Association purchased her half of the house from her estate, finally realizing Ms. Meredith’s hope of creating a space for the Alumni Association to call their own. The house is listed in the Virginia Landmarks Register, as well as on the National Register of Historic Places due to the uniqueness of the design and the singular and inspiring details of the designer’s life.

These two amazing and inspiring women who made such important impacts in their fields deserve to be widely known and written about. Their papers contain a wealth of information about their lives, thoughts, work, and experiences. It is an honor for me to be able to include the materials we have in a database which will expand the number of people who may use their papers and illuminate their lives, both as individuals, and as partners.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Bob Wieman permalink
    9 February, 2012 10:15 am

    I stumbled upon this post looking up something else in the Archives, and it is fascinating. Thank you so much for providing this window into the the history of VSU, the Alumni Association’s building, and most of all these two fantastic women.

  2. 21 August, 2012 8:59 am

    I was very pleased to find this web-site.I wanted to thanks for your time for this wonderful read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you blog post.

  3. Dr. Renee Escoffery-Torres permalink
    15 October, 2012 9:29 am

    This is amazing information, especially since I have beeen discussing the contributions of these two women for the past several days with my husband, and the fact that there should be some information out there, on both of them. I’m glad there is! Growing up on the campus of Virginia State, I remember Ms. Meredith especially, and I hope to travel soon to see the papers of these two fascinating women. Thank you for providing this article.

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