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Civil War-era log cabin gets historical highway marker.
ASU prof discovers personal connection to university through historical project.
February 12, 2016

ASU professor's efforts help historical landmark — the cabin of her ancestor, a former slave — get highway marker

The United States is a young country, but it still has its fair share of history.

Anyone who has ever taken a road trip has seen the scores of historical markers dotting the nation's highways, pointing the way to hidden treasures of America’s past.

Now, thanks in large part to the efforts of Arizona State University professor Angelita Reyes, the Parker Sydnor Log Cabin in Mecklenburg County, Virginia, is one of them.

The Civil War-era cabin stands as testament to a time in our nation’s history when newly freed African-American slaves began to establish themselves as productive members of society, serving as a home to successful tombstone carver and former slave Patrick Robert “Parker” Sydnor.

A historical-site highway marker stands next to a wooded road.

Recognizing historical sites like the cabin, which Reyes refers to as “vernacular” and “of the people,” is just as important as recognizing the more “elite” historical sites, such as George Washington’s Mount Vernon.

As the great-granddaughter of Sydnor, Reyes said the cabin has personal significance for her. Nearly a decade ago, she embarked on a mission with her family to include it on the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register. After achieving both in 2007, Reyes turned her attention to obtaining an official Virginia state historical highway marker for the cabin. That too was achieved, this past fall. 

“It’s a real achievement because now we have established this public history as having national importance,” Reyes said. “It’s very important that generation after generation, no matter how humble, the memories, the way people have survived thrives.”

Reyes credits the Carnegie Humanities Investment Fund (CHIF) of ASU — which awarded her Parker Sydnor Historic Log Cabin project a $60,000 grant — with helping to advance its community, regional and national impact.

“The CHIF grant is of utmost importance,” Reyes said. “It enabled the taking of the project to the next level and the raising of visibility for the historic preservation.”

As a faculty member of ASU’s School of Social TransformationThe School of Social Transformation is an academic unit of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. and Department of English, Reyes teaches courses on African and African-American studies, English and women and gender studies. She relishes the opportunity to use her log cabin project as a real-world teaching tool, even if the distance between ASU and Virginia doesn’t allow for her students to be there in-person.

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Tombstone carver and former slave Patrick Robert “Parker” Sydnor, whose inscriptions memorialized the lives of African Americans. This and the photo of historical marker courtesy of Angelita Reyes

“My students at ASU are involved in the project from the perspective of seeing how professors can take very academic subjects and bring them to the general public and make them usable. I’m taking history out of the classroom,” Reyes said.

“In general, people say history is a matter of knowing dates, wars, etc. What about microhistory? People who were not necessarily those big heroes or heroines throughout history? And that’s especially important in women and gender studies.”

As Reyes delved further into the history of the cabin and her own ancestral lineage, she discovered a genealogical and historical relationship to ASU: she shared ancestry with brothers Brad Sydnor and Doug Sydnor, both Scottsdale architects whose father, the late architect Reginald G. Sydnor, designed ASU’s H. B. Farmer Education Building.  

“It was a fascinating story to learn that Angelita and my roots go back approximately 350 years in Virginia,” said Doug Sydnor. “When Angelita, my brother and I met for the first time, of course we were literally face to face with our ancestral lineage. Since that time I have enjoyed getting to know Angelita, realized we have some long time mutual friends in the Phoenix area, and have learned a great deal more about this very special story.”

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ASU professor Angelita Reyes (far right) unveils the Parker Sydnor Historic Log Cabin highway marker. Photo courtesy of Angelita Reyes

 

Doug Sydnor now serves on the board of directors for the Parker Sydnor project as an architect advising and facilitating the programming, site planning, design and construction of the cabin rehabilitation, and a future visitor’s center.

At the historical highway-marker dedication ceremony in October, Reyes had the pleasure of unveiling the marker.

“It is an honor to have your historical site designated with a highway marker,” said Reyes. “People will stop, pull over, read it. And it’s not a museum; it’s a living history center.”

To read more about the Parker Sydnor Historic Log Cabin Project, click here.

To view a Youtube video of the historical highway marker dedication ceremony, click here.

 

Top photo: The Parker Sydnor Log Cabin in Mecklenburg County, Virginia. Photo courtesy Reyes and Reyes.

 

 

 

 

 
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Educating and empowering

The Black African Coalition at ASU provides a sense of purpose and belonging.
Black history is American history.
February 16, 2016

Students find belonging and purpose in the Black African Coalition at ASU

“Just like being at home.”

That’s how Arizona State University senior Arianna Cannady described feeling when she discovered the Black African Coalition (BAC) at ASU.

Being a person of color at a predominantly white institution can be tough at times.

“It’s hard being in a classroom where you’re the only black girl,” said Cannady. “When you have a question, sometimes you don’t want to ask because you might seem dumb or uneducated, so you just keep quiet.”

Fortunately, the BAC provides a place where she does feel comfortable speaking up. Cannady — who is majoring in public policy and public service with a minor in criminology and criminal justice — is the event director for the BAC at ASU, which serves as an umbrella organization for all of the black and African students and student organizations at the university. Currently, there are 20 such groups.

“It’s like a family away from your family,” echoed business law major and fellow senior Brittney Willis, who serves as president of the BAC. No small task, considering it’s her job to oversee those 20 member organizations housed in the BAC, and also to act as the ASU liaison to the African and African-American community.

And with this being Black History Month, both Willis and Cannady have a lot on their plate. They see the monthlong event as an opportunity both to celebrate black history and to educate people of all colors.

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ASU seniors Arianna Cannady (left) and Brittney Willis hope the Black African Coalition at ASU will serve to educate and empower its members and the general public. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

 

Most recently the BAC hosted a ball at Old Main, and earlier this month one of the BAC’s member organizations, the NAACP, hosted a march on ASU’s Tempe campus to spread awareness of the group and its efforts.

Despite some unsavory reactions, overall Willis said the march was “really nice.”

“We had a lot of faculty and staff come out and support us, so that was a great experience,” she added.

Though Willis contends that it’s common for students of color to feel “unnoticed and disconnected” at a predominantly white institution, “being involved creates an environment that helps allow students to feel welcomed and appreciated,” something she believes ASU provides ample opportunity for.

“My favorite thing about ASU is the huge amount of opportunity to get involved, as well as to prepare for our futures,” she said. “There are endless amounts of clubs, organizations and majors at ASU, so everyone has the opportunity to be a part of something they truly care about.”

Within the BAC, Willis is also a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, and both she and Cannady regularly attend biweekly meetings of Zaria, an African-American women’s group that meets to discuss topics such as relationships and personal experiences in an open forum.

Though the BAC leaves most of the event throwing to its member organizations, it does host an annual weeklong summer program for incoming freshmen, a welcome-back barbecue and pool party, and spring and fall Black Graduation Ceremonies.

And Cannady wants people to know that everyone is welcome at these events. As she poignantly stated, “Come to events to get educated, even if you’re not black. It’s just good to know different histories, because this is your history. This is American history.”

To learn more about the BAC and its member organizations, click here.

To see more events being hosted by the BAC, click here.

Follow BAC on Instagram at BAC_ASU.

Top photo depicts the ASU Mizzou Day of Solidarity, hosted by the ASU NAACP Chapter on Nov. 16, 2015. Influenced by racially motivated incidents that took place at the University of Missouri, students marched with signs featuring racial stereotypes. Photo courtesy of Arianna Cannady

 

Emma Greguska

Reporter, ASU Now

(480) 965-9657