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Marking a quiet corner of history

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.

An antique photograph of a tombstone carver

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.”

people unveiling highway marker

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.





ASU Law Announces First Winners of Sustainability-Focused Morrison Prize

February 12, 2016

Innovative water policies aimed at protecting the nation’s rivers are the focus of an article that has earned two scholars the first $10,000 Morrison Prize. 

The Morrison Prize, established in 2015, is administered through the Program on Law and Sustainability at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. The prize seeks to recognize the most impactful sustainability-related legal academic article published in North America during the previous year. The prize is named after its funder, Richard N. Morrison, co-founder of the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at ASU.  Richard N. Morrison, co-founder of the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at ASU and founder of the Morrison Prize. Download Full Image

Dave Owen and Colin Apse co-authored the winning paper, "Trading Dams," which appeared in the UC Davis Law Review in 2015. Their article describes creative new policy approaches for better balancing hydroelectric energy generation and environmental protection on the nation’s river system.

Owen is a professor of Law at University of California, Hastings College of Law and Apse is a freshwater conservation advisor at the Nature Conservancy who is currently working to tackle water scarcity issues in Africa. The two will present their winning paper in a plenary session at the second annual Sustainability Conference of American Legal Educators on May 13, 2016, at ASU Law.

“We’re both thrilled and flattered to receive this award,” Owen said. “And we’re particularly excited to be honored by a law school and university that have become leaders in sustainability research.”

The winning paper’s analysis focuses on river water policy challenges in Maine, but its insightful approaches to addressing these challenges could have application across the globe.

“There are exciting possibilities for the futures of our rivers, not just in Maine, but also in other parts of our country and the world,” Apse said. “We hope that bringing this article to a wider audience will help those possibilities become reality.”

Professor Troy Rule, faculty director of the Program on Law and Sustainability, views the Morrison Prize as a perfect complement to a program devoted to advancing sustainability-related legal research.  

“Furthering the sustainability movement requires as much inventiveness in the policy realm as in the scientific realm,” Rule said. “By rewarding and encouraging sustainability-oriented legal scholarship, the Morrison Prize will accelerate innovation in this rapidly evolving area of law.”

It’s that mission that inspired Morrison to fund his namesake prize.

“Academics get other forms of recognition and awards, but they rarely get the chance to compete for cash prizes,” Morrison said. “So I thought, ‘I can help with that.’ I’m happy to do it.”

The Morrison Prize is open to full-time law professors who have published environmental sustainability-related papers in printed U.S. or Canadian legal academic journals during the contest period. All eligible papers entered into the prize contest undergo independent review and scoring by a diverse group of full-time law professors who teach in environmental sustainability-related areas at four different accredited North American law schools. 

A special mounted display at the Arizona Center for Law and Society, the new home of ASU Law in downtown Phoenix, will honor Morrison laureates and the generosity of Richard Morrison. 

For more information about the Morrison Prize, please contact Lauren Burkhart.

Director of Communications, Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law