Submitted Stories

“He carried a wooden cane, and when I was a freshman, we would stop and give him a little money.  We always thought he was funny how he loved nickels over dimes.  We later figured out his trick.  We would give him extra money if he would sing for us.  He would tap his cane on the concrete and he had great rhythm.  His song was called the “Bee Bop to Ree Bop,”  or at least that is how I remember it.  It was a great little rap song.  We loved his spirit.  He is a legend on the campus.  We never saw him cary the axe, but he did carry a lot of cardboard to burn in his small cabin.”

-Dee Vick remembers Francis Randolph

“I first arrived at Hampden-Sydney College in Aug. of 1996. Francis lived down Via Sacra below where we lived. About the third day I was here, I was pulling out of my drive way and saw an elderly black man walking up Via Sacra carrying an ax handle. He had a well-worn face and an old hat pulled down sideways on his head.  As I was about to turn up Via Sacra, he raised his head, gave me a curious look, and then pointed his ax handle at me. Not knowing what to do, I nodded, smiled and kept going.

When I got to my office, I recounted my encounter much to the laughter of everyone and was quickly informed that the elderly gentleman I had seen was Francis the Ax Man. I also learned that when Francis pointed his ax handle at you that meant “stop and give me a ride.” I was told that was Francis’s way of hitch hiking.

From that time forward, I stopped. The first time I introduced myself, and he acknowledged with a nob of his head. Francis didn’t talk much and you would have to ask which way to go and he would point. I think all in all I may have given Francis four or five rides-none of which were talkative.”

-Beeler Brush remembers Francis Randolph

I grew up at HSC. My brother-in-law attended there from 1968-72 and tells this story: Tradition had it that you were NOT officially late to class until the bell stopped ringing. I believe he referred to the bellman at the time as “Sam.”… In any event, with many classes in Bagby and Morton at the time, boys running late to class would run past the bell tower and yell, “Keep ringing, Sam! Keep ringing!”. Reportedly, Sam would smile and keep ringing.

-Charlie Watson remembers Sam Hines

Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! This is such a beautifully written “tribute”. I am Dorothy (Anderson) Brown’s youngest daughter Sonya. My mom married Hodges Brown, one of the plaintiffs named in Brown v Board of Ed (75 percent of the case came from Moton High School in Farmville). I feel so fortunate that my maternal and paternal ancestry emphasized education although such an interruption took place. As a result, all of Dorothy and Hodges’ children hold graduate degrees and all of our adult children have graduated with at least an undergraduate degree. Thank you again for adding to our legacy. Warmly, Rev. Sonya Brown

-Sonya Brown explains her connection to the Lambert family

“I think the bell ringer at the time was named Herman.  The story I heard was that he was a descendant of a slave who had been owned by the college and that his ancestor has also been the bell ringer.  To the students it was a not-unimportant position on campus.  As you said, the understanding was that you were not late to class so long as you got there by the time the bell stopped ringing.  So it was a good thing to be on Herman’s good side.  It seemed like if someone who Herman did not like was running to class, the bell would ring three or four times and that would be it.  But if Herman like the tardy student, the bell might ring 15 or even 20 times to give him a chance to make it to the classroom.

Another well-known Black member of the community was Reggie.  Reggie was a custodian in Cushing hall, worked in the college shop, and tended bar at fraternity parties.  Everyone knew Reggie.

When I was a freshman the food in the Commons, then in Venable Hall, was considered none too good.  There was actually a food riot one night.  A year or so later the college gave the food service contract to a firm called ARA-Slater.  The food definitely improved.  They hired local staff, virtually all Black, for most of the positions, but the head chef they brought in from the outside.  For the last two years I was at HSC the head chef, who we just called “Chef”, was a small, friendly Black man with a gold tooth.  He seemed to know almost all the students.  Because HSC did not operate during the summer, ARA-Slater would assign “Chef” to another operation during the summer, often a camp of some sort.  During the summer between my junior and senior years I worked as a senior counselor at a Boy Scout camp in Maryland.  As it turns out, that was the camp that “Chef” was assigned to as head cook that summer.  He recognized me almost immediately, just as I recognized him, and it was like I was a long lost relative.  He told everyone around that I was “one of his boys.”  He was a good guy and I never went hungry that summer.

Now I get to the main reason for the message.  Cushing Hall was built in 1824, many years before the Civil War, and since most of the students at HSC were from the south, at least some of the better off students brought a slave to college with them.  These slaves obviously did things for their student owners like washing clothes, chopping firewood (there were fireplaces in every room of Cushing Hall back then), taking care of horses, etc.  But where did the slaves live?  I lived in Cushing Hall for three years and knew how to get into the attic.  In the attic there was something I could not figure out.  The attic had a wooden floor, and in the middle of the floor there was a raised wooden platform, about 18 inches high, and 20 by 30 feet or so on the sides (at least those are the dimensions I recall).  It had a sort of lip a couple of inches high all around it, as if to keep something from sliding off.  Once I asked someone on the staff what it was for and was told that prior to the civil was the platform was covered with several inches of straw and that it was where the slaves who belonged to the students slept.  Frankly that really hit home with me.  It was sobering connection to the College’s past.”

-John Claudy ’65 recalls the African American community on campus

“Among the many fine friends made while attending HSC between 1975 and 1979 were Mr. Reggie Smith and Mr. Preston Branch.  Mr. Smith was for many years associated with the Kappa Sig fraternity, helping to keep the house (and the members) in line.  He then became the curator of the science lab equipment in what was then described as the ‘Science Palace.’  Mr. Branch succeeded Mr. Smith as the custodian of the Kappa Sig house in about 1968 (which I believe was the year that the “new” science building came online).

The night before graduation in May 1979, the graduating seniors of Kappa Sig invited Reggie and Preston to come to the house to share their memories of their many years of service to both the fraternity and the school.  No one had dates or families around for this event, just some bourbon to sip and ears to listen to the wit and wisdom of these fine gentlemen.  Both were much beloved by all of the generations of Kappa Sigs who knew them.  Their stories about fun and funny times at HSC still bring a smile to my face.

It may interest you to know that both gentlemen were made honorary members of the Kappa Sig fraternity as a recognition for the esteem in which they were held.  Further,  when Preston turned 80, one of my fraternity brothers bought him an engraved gold watch as a thank you for helping him graduate from HSC.  You see, it was Preston who made sure my classmate got up in time on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays to attend French class.”

–Greg Feldman ’79 remembers Reggie Smith and Preston Branch

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