Researching history of earthquake fault under the North Anna Nuclear Power Station in Louisa County and the people most affected by it, including Professor John W. Funkhouser, H. Spurgeon Moss, and June Allen. Please leave message on https://baccaliterary.com/carolyn-oneal/ if you have any information on this topic or these people. Thank you very much.
Regardless of what day you’re reading this on I’m writing it on a Sunday. I know it’s Sunday because I just took my alendronate sodium pill. That’s what my husband calls my “bone pill.” I have osteoporosis. I take my “bone pill” once a week, first thing in the morning. I’m not supposed to eat for 30 minutes after taking the pill and I’m not supposed to lie down. I usually take my dog for a walk.
I’m a cancer survivor and a brain aneurysm survivor so it’s not too surprising I need a pill to keep my skeleton from crumbling under me. It’s just one of the pills I take. Most of them are vitamins. I tend to forget whether I’ve taken them or not so now I have the truest badge of old age – a multi-day pill container.
I’ll blame it on writing. Writers, just like all creative people, lose track of time. And days. And weeks. And years. So now I have a pill container to help me keep track, but I still couldn’t tell you how long I’ve been working on my latest writing project. Four years? Five years? I can’t remember. Maybe I need a multi-year pill container for my writing projects.
The last time my writing group met we talked about how history and the media- books, movies, even YouTube – have stereotyped older women. The witch, the crone, the “Karen.” These are women who society sees as troublesome. They are past their usefulness and a menace to society. At least they’re not burned at the stake anymore.
Fortunately today’s older women have role models that help us reject and defy these negative stereotypes: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Angela Merkel, Katherine Johnson.
But I wonder how these ancient stereotypes – dare I say archetypes – began? Why is the witch old and ugly? Why is the crone thin and grey? Why is the “Karen” hated more than the worst criminals?
According to scientists there are only three mammal species that experience menopause. Humans, killer whales and pilot whales.
These three intelligent species share more than menopause. They share close relationships with family and friends, with children and grandchildren. But it’s their relatively long lifespan that really sets them apart. Post-menopausal females teach and nurture the next generation. Since no more energy need be spent on having babies, they can use their time and energy on their daughters’ offspring. The older women have forfeited their ability to reproduce so they can help their grandchildren survive. This is known as the ‘grandmother hypotheses.’ (source NPR)
Consider how antiquity looked at the life changes a woman goes through:
The young girl is bright and inquisitive. She is daring and can outrun most of the boys. She is often stronger and bigger that the boys. She can fight them easily and chase them away. Then…
The boys are bigger than her. The same boys who use to chase her and lose now can chase her and win. Life is so unfair. The boys are gaining ground, moving ahead, exploring the world.
Consider the new mother. She can’t spend her time philosophizing. She can’t spend her time exploring. Every waking moment must be spent on one thing: the baby. How to take care of it, how to keep it alive. Keep it healthy. Protect it, make it strong. Make sure it has all its needs. The new mother can seem dull witted because she is sleep deprived. She has one obsession, her child.
Here is where the Grandmother Hypothesis blooms. Who steps in to let the young mother sleep? Who loves her baby as much as she does? Who can help her raise this young individual to become a healthy member of society? Because what is a civilization without children who have been protected and nurtured and trained and taught by their mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and sisters?
Finally, after many years of toil, she no longer needs to run away from boys because they are no long chasing her. Her children are grown and her skin and hair shows her age.
But something magical overcomes her. She no longer has to prepare for her monthly cycle (I won’t go into what menstruation was like before the conveniences of modern sanitation) and she can do whatever she wants without worry of pregnancy or monthly pain. That must have seen like magic. She can hike a mountain or swim a lake anytime.
But most of all….
She finally has time to think. She has time to philosophize and seek the wisdom of the universe. Menopause gives her freedom and throughout the history of mankind, including right now in the Ukraine, freedom is a radical idea.
The date was Wednesday, March 20, 1974. The place was the Louisa County Courthouse. The event was a hearing to determine whether the geologic fault running beneath the nuclear reactors at the North Anna nuclear power plant was safe. The existence of a fault wasn’t in question. Neither was whether Vepco purposely hid the existence of the fault from the AEC and from the public for three years. At issue was the age of the fault and the likelihood that it was currently active (or could be reactivated) and could jeopardize the four proposed nuclear reactors enough to flood the surrounding cities, towns, and farms with radiation.
The three-man Atomic Energy Commission Safety and Licensing Board had set up the hearing in Louisa County to listen to testimony from Vepco personnel, paid experts, upset landowners, and concerned scientists. Neither Chairman John B. Farmokides nor the other two men on the board, R. B. Briggs, a nuclear safety engineer from Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Lester Kornblith, Jr. an Atomic Energy Commission engineer, had any idea the hearing would go on for twelve long days when Chairman Farmokides called the hearing to order. (The Central Virginian, April 6, 1974, AEC Panel Concludes Twelve Day Hearing)
Most of those testifying were male. All three board members were male. All the Vepco personnel as well as their subcontractors were male. All the lawyers representing the AEC, Vepco, the state of Virginia, and the North Anna Environmental Coalition were male. It’s possible that on some days the only woman in the entire Courthouse was June Allen. Forty-two year old June Allen most embodied the North Anna Environmental Coalition yet it’s more than likely every man in the room thought she would soon give up. They probably thought she’d return to cooking or cleaning or whatever middle-aged women from Charlottesville did in 1974. What could one lone woman and a handful of cock-eyed environmentalists do to halt Vepco’s plans to build one of the largest nuclear power plant in the world? How could this middle-aged schoolmarm stand up to the combined might of the Atomic Energy Commission and largest taxpaying corporation in the state?
What neither Vepco nor the Atomic Energy Commission knew was that June Allen had never been content to watch injustice from the sidelines. She wasn’t about to scurry back to Charlottesville. What neither Vepco nor the Atomic Energy Commission knew was that June Allen had a history of advocating for the most vulnerable members of society against the most intractable foes.
Uphill battles & seemingly lost causes didn’t discourage June Allen. They spurred her on.
In the 1960 United States census, over one fifth of the population was living below the poverty line. In 1962, social critic Michael Harrington estimated there were between 40,000,000 and 50,000,000 relatively invisible poor people: Unskilled workers, migrant farm workers, minorities, people for whom work was sporadic, demeaning, and demoralizing. They were without adequate housing, education, and medical care. (American Social Policy in the 1960’s and 1970’s, by Jerry D. Marx, Ph.D., M.S.W., University of New Hampshire) Civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr., explaining the cause of the 1965 riots in the Watts section of Los Angeles, focused on the poor in a land of plenty:
“I believe what happened in Los Angeles was of grave national significance. What we witnessed in the Watts area was the beginning of a stirring of a deprived people in a society who had been by-passed by the progress of the previous decade. I would minimize the racial significance and point to the fact that these were the rumblings of discontent from the ‘have-nots’ within the midst of an affluent society.”
(On 17 August 1965, Martin Luther King arrived in Los Angeles in the aftermath of the riots. His experiences over the next several days reinforced his growing conviction that the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) should move north and lead a movement to address the growing problems facing black people in the nation’s urban areas. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute, Stanford University)
In January 1964, President Lyndon Johnson declared “unconditional war” on poverty. As Johnson put it in his 1964 State of the Union address, “Our aim is not only to relieve the symptoms of poverty, but to cure it and, above all, to prevent it.” His efforts resulted in the Food Stamp Act of 1964, the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 (which established the Job Corps, the VISTA program, the federal work-study program and a number of other initiatives), and, most importantly to millions of disadvantaged children, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. (Washington Post, January 8, 2014, Everything you need to know about the war on poverty By Dylan Matthews)
Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act was created to distribute federal funds to school districts that had a high percentage of students from low-income families. It was designed to close the skills gap in reading, writing, and mathematics between children from low-income households who attend urban or rural school systems and children from the middle-class who attend suburban school systems. Title III of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act supported special education and became the basis of the Education of the Handicapped Act. (Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 by Catherine A. Paul) School districts all over the country rushed to find educators and administrators capable of implementing the massive intricacies of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
In January 1966, June Allen became the first fulltime coordinator of Albemarle County’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act programs making her one of President Johnson’s unsung heroes of his war on poverty. Born in 1932, June Stone Allen was a native New Englander. She was Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Vermont. She had a Master’s Degree in Music Education from the University of Arizona and graduate work in English at Harvard. Before moving to Albemarle County, she taught high school English in Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona. She came to Charlottesville in 1963 when her husband, Dr. Phillip Allen, joined the University of Virginia medical school faculty. Before being recruited to implement President Johnson’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act in Albemarle County, Mrs. Allen taught music at the Trinity Program in Charlottesville and at Head Start. In 1965 she taped “Patterns in Music,” a series of fifth-grade music lessons for WCVE, the Richmond educational television station.
As the first fulltime coordinator of Albemarle County’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act programs, June Allen started several of Title I and Title III programs including “Summer Skills,” “Greenwood Grows,” “Prime Time,” and “Candid Classroom,” but it was in the two language programs she designed that her gifts as an educator shined: “Language Lift” and “SP-EAR”
“Language Lift” was designed to stimulate oral language and reasoning ability. The premise for this combination was that both were essential for success in reading, especially for disadvantaged children. The program was widely admired and was recognized by the Office of Education as “outstanding.” (There was no mention in the source article of whether the “Office of Education” was a local, statewide, or federal Department of Education.) Two reporters from the Charlottesville newspaper The Daily Progress won prizes in writing for their pieces about the “Language Lift” program.
Like “Language Lift,” the “SP-EAR” program was a joint effort between the city of Charlottesville and Albemarle County. “SP-EAR” focused on the “hearing handicapped and the speech impaired” with particular attention on oral language.
In 2021, Albemarle County has Title I programs in 6 elementary schools. Funds support reading and math instruction through teachers, teaching assistants, instructional materials, professional development, and program support for over 300 students in the county. (From Albemarle County Schools website https://www.k12albemarle.org/our-departments/instruction/title-i)
After years of fighting in President Johnson’s war on poverty, taking on Vepco must not have seemed nearly as daunting. A month before the Atomic Energy Commission’s Safety and Licensing Board hearing began, Richmond Times Dispatch reporter Jean Purcell interviewed June Allen. This same insightful reporter had interviewed Louisa County High School Councilor Mr. H. Spurgeon Moss as rising waters from the dammed North Anna River threatened to cut across his driveway and strand him in his home. As with her article about Mr. Moss, reporter Jean Purcell saw the David versus Goliath battle shaping up as another dedicated educator tangled with Vepco and their billion dollar nuclear power plant. Modern eyes may read Jean Purcell’s description of June Allen in the February, 1974 interview as too flowery, even condescending, but in 1974, one professional woman interviewing another professional woman was certainly a rarity in Virginia and perhaps a rarity throughout the world:
“Willowy and gentle, a poet and a musician, June Allen’s interest had been largely in the fields of music and language arts, and in developing language teaching techniques for disadvantaged children.
But she can be aggressive without being abrasive, courteous without taking on the qualities of a Uriah Heep. Her birth and upbringing in a puritanical environment in New England have fused in her a strong streak of what she considers the rightness of things.
Membership in Phi Beta Kappa attests her academic achievements. As a friend said of her recently, “I never cease to be amazed by her basic intelligence, her articulation and her smoothness.”
All those qualities have been useful—more than that, necessary—in her work with the North Anna Environmental Coalition to block construction of the power plant as it is now planned.
In preparation for a March 20  hearing on the safety of the North Anna site in light of the geologic fault, Mrs. Allen and others in the coalition are hard at work.
‘I think it is a matter of survival. I genuinely do. We are developing something that has the power to destroy us,’ she said.”
(Richmond Times Dispatch, February 25, 1974, Atomic Power Plant Foe is an Unlikely Adversary by Jean Purcell)
June Allen and the North Anna Environmental Coalition had reason to distrust Vepco. They had reason to be wary of the Atomic Energy Commission as the hearings began. Far too many voices echoed the sentiment that the AEC had already decided to support Vepco long before the hearings began. Rumors rippled through the Courthouse that the AEC would give Vepco permission to continue building the North Anna nuclear power plant regardless of what was uncovered regarding the earthquake fault under the nuclear reactors.
Author’s Note: I’ve found very few articles about June Allen and nothing on her life after leaving Virginia (other than her obituary). If you knew June Allen or any member of the North Anna Environmental Coalition, please leave a message below. I’d like to learn more.
Albemarle County, Virginia, is located about thirty miles west of Louisa County (site of the North Anna Nuclear Power Plant.) In the middle of the 726 square-mile county is Charlottesville and the University of Virginia. Albemarle County is where President Thomas Jefferson built his famous mansion Monticello, and President James Monroe built his less famous mansion Highland.
Headline image of two workmen atop the North Anna Dam courtesy of The Central Virginian Newspaper
My sister is an excellent quilter. She knows everything about quilting, from presser foots* to Prairie points**. In her sewing room are drawers of needles and sewing machine equipment, organizers full of measuring rulers of every shape and size (straight, triangle, curved), and bookcases of quilting books and magazines.
Lots and lots of fabric. She has fabric with tight patterns of flora and fauna. She has fabric with large panels of complete images. Majestic mountains, smiling sunrises, slumbering moonbeams. She has fabric in every imaginable color and hue. Go to her “green” drawer and she can find anything she might need to add a touch of nature to a quilt. Shamrocks, leaves, frogs. The same with her yellow, red, and blue drawers. She and I often visit fabric stores to add to her collection. Cottonwood in Charlottesville is my favorite fabric store. She’s partial to Patchwork Plusin Dayton.
Recently, she’s begun teaching me how to quilt.
She began by giving me a task that made me comfortable with the tools of quilting. The sewing machine, the iron, and the rotary cutter (a sharp, round blade attached to a handle, looks like a pizza cutter).
Putting together the pieces of a story isn’t very different from putting together the pieces of a quilt. The best way to start is with a strong and thoughtful mentor. I began my work as a serious writer by taking a Creative Writing Class at Writer House in Charlottesville. My teacher was David Ronka. Like my sister, he was both patient and instructive.
After you find your mentor, gather your tools and build up a supply of the bits and pieces to create your story. Characters, setting, plot. Beginning, middle, and end. The basic framework and the personal touches. You’re not going to use all the bits and pieces. Some will be thrown out. Some bits will be tucked away for a later project. Patience, creativity, and love.
Just like with quilting, if you don’t love the project you are working on, if it doesn’t give you both satisfaction and challenge, you’ll give up before it’s finished. Find the love.
* presser foots: The removable sewing machine accessory that holds fabric in place against the machine bed and accommodates the needle. A variety of presser feet styles are available for most machines.
** Prairie points: Folded fabric triangles used as a quilt border or embellishment.
Spin a blindfolded child and ask her to pin the tail in the middle of a map of Virginia and she could do a lot worse than Louisa County. East of Charlottesville and north of Richmond, Louisa County is about five hundred square miles of small towns, old family farms, and a tangled crisscross of streams and rivers.
In 1926, fourteen year old H. Spurgeon Moss faced a choice. Moss was a tall, bespectacled lad who loved to read but seventh grade was the end of the line for black children in the segregated schools of Louisa County, Virginia. The Virginia Constitution of 1869 had mandated the creation of free public education for all, provided that “white and colored persons shall not be taught in the same school but in separate schools under the same general regulations as to management, usefulness, and efficiency.” (Louisa Historical Society)
Sadly, the education of African-American children in the Jim Crow south seldom lived up to this mandate. The few schools that existed for black children were usually poorly equipped log cabins, church buildings, or rooms in private homes, funded by African-American churches and northern philanthropists. (Louisa County Historical Society)
Moss’s family valued hard work and education. Grandfather Boykin (his mother’s father) had purchased five hundred acres beside the North Anna River in the northeast corner of Louisa County in 1877. How did Grandfather Boykin save enough to buy such a large plot of land? Mining gold? Or did he have a skilled trade? Either way, the land he purchased may still have had remnants from one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. The Battle of the North Anna took place along the banks of the North Anna River the first week of May 1864. Sixty-seven thousand Union forces against fifty-three thousand Confederates with a casualty count of forty-two hundred men.
Economic conditions in Louisa County were extremely difficult after the Civil War. Combined tax revenues in 1870 were one-fourth of what they had been in 1863, when property tax on slaves alone earned the county $58,389. (Louisa Historical Society) Grandfather Boykin purchased the land bordering the North Anna River, registered the deed for his land at the county courthouse, and hired an attorney to draw up a will so that when he died, the land would go to his daughter. Some neighbors thought it foolish to pay good money to a lawyer just to prove the land he was raising hogs on was actually his, but Grandfather Boykin had lived in Louisa County long enough to know that everything had to be written down, certified, and in the court house or some sheriff would come knocking on his door to take it all away. Sections were sold off over the years, a few acres here, a few acres there, some to pay for education, some to cover hospital bills, eventually whittling down the farm to 116 acres in 1926. (Daily Progress, July 26, 1970, A New Dam Brings an End to Old Ways.)
Fourteen year old H. Spurgeon Moss had grown up fishing on the banks of the North Anna River. He’d grown up raising hogs, chickens, and cattle. His precious few spare moments were spent reading under the large oak in his front yard. Moss wanted to further his education so he could help his people, but that meant leaving Louisa County. It meant leaving the farm his grandfather had built and moving one hundred miles north to Washington D.C. He packed his clothes, kissed his parents goodbye, and road in the back of a segregated Greyhound bus up to Washington DC for high school. Relatives met him at the bus station. He made the honor roll at Dunbar High School, (The Washington Post, February 24, 1929) and worked his way through school as a dishwasher then as a waiter, graduating from Minor Teachers College with a bachelor of science in education in 1934. (Miner Teachers College was the principal school to train black teachers in Washington DC for more than 70 years.) Mr. Moss would eventually take graduate level classes at Virginia State College, Virginia Union University, and Boston University, and earn a Master’s Degree in Guidance Counseling at the University of Virginia.
His first teaching job was at segregated Mount Garland Elementary School. He taught fifth and sixth grade. The arrival of this tall, handsome educator must have caused quite a stir. Mr. Moss was quickly promoted to principal. A couple of years later, in 1940, Louisa County consolidated white schools and converted some of the surplus white school buildings to black schools. Mr. Moss decided to go back to teaching at Plum Tree Elementary School. He transferred to the Louisa Training School, Louisa County’s only black high school (built in 1929, too late for Moss to attend.) He taught biology and chemistry, and served as assistant principal. In 1953, Louisa County closed the Training School and opened the A.G. Richardson High School with an enrollment of 293 students and eleven teachers. Mr. Moss was the social studies teacher and assistant principal. As the social studies teacher, he’d take busloads of students on field trips to the state capitol to see how state government functioned and to shake hands with their representatives. “Hitch your wagon to a star,” he’d tell them. Mr. Moss’s concern for his students was legendary. (Interview with Rev. Larry Lewis, November 26, 2018)
Teaching full time didn’t cover the costs of raising a family and maintaining a one-hundred acre farm. Even with the added responsibilities as an assistant principal, Mr. Moss needed to supplement his income. For year he traveled to Atlantic City, New Jersey to wait tables during summer break. “I made more money there in the summer than I made teaching the rest of the year,” he said (Daily Progress, July 26, 1970, A New Dam Brings an End to Old Ways.) Former students remembered Mr. Moss with affection. “He was a very down to earth person, personable. He was so encouraging to students. In the summers, he always went to Atlantic City, New Jersey, to work, and he would bring a group of high school students with him. He secured jobs for these young people at the various hotels there along the Boardwalk. He gave them work experience and he was their chaperone during the time they were away from home, and he took very good care of them. He made sure they went and did what they were supposed to do while they were there in New Jersey.” ( Interview with Rev. Larry Lewis, November 26, 2018 via telephone)
In May, 1954, the Brown v. Topeka Board of Education case came before the Supreme Court. In a rare unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court effectively overturned the Plessy v. Ferguson doctrine of “separate but equal” and declared racial segregation of public schools unconstitutional. Virginia Senator Harry S. Byrd was outraged. He proposed “Massive Resistance” to the court’s ruling and in 1956 the Virginia state government adopted a policy to block the desegregation of public schools. Schools shut down in Prince Edward County, parts of Warren County, Charlottesville, and Norfolk. Unlike these places, schools in Louisa County never closed. Segregation remained deeply entrenched in the cities, but in the farmlands and outlying areas segregation was less pronounced. In areas that had only one grocery or hardware store, a kind of natural integration occurred, even friendships.
Mr. Moss came together with other educators to develop a plan to integrate the public schools. This was locally referred to as the “Freedom of Choice” plan and was sent to parents and announced in the local newspaper, The Central Virginian, on March 30, 1966. The intention was the elimination of segregation based on race, color or national origin. Students and parents had thirty days to choose the school the student would attend the next school year. (Louisa County Historical Society) Mr. Moss encouraged several of his students to choose white schools. The plan did not achieve total desegregation but it began the process. In doing so, Louisa County didn’t experience the anger, turmoil, or closing of public schools that many other Virginia counties and cities experience. Peace and civility were maintained largely due to the foresight of Mr. Moss along with other visionary educators such as Mr. Harry Nuckols. (https://www.culturaltourismdc.org/portal/miner-teachers-college-building-african-american-heritage-trail)
By 1968, Mr. Moss had taught school in Louisa County for thirty-six years. His wife, Ruth Moss, had taught for thirty-eight years. They’d put all three of their children through college. His oldest daughter taught English in Fairfax, his son taught industrial arts in Fairfax, and his youngest daughter, the wife of a former Army officer, was secretary to the Dean of the College of Dental Science at Howard University. He’d stopped going to Atlantic City every summer to wait tables and looked forward to retirement. He raised brood sows and would sell about forty young pigs each fall. He had eight cows as well as turkeys and chickens. His favorite animals were his six saddle horses. Farming was what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. He still sat under the large oak tree in the front yard to read. This was where he wanted to grow old. This was what his grandchildren called “Grandfather’s Zoo.”
In late February 1968, when the forsythias were starting to bud, two white men drove up the newly paved road to his farmhouse in a truck with the county seal on it. Chickens scattered when the white men drove up. “Mr. Moss,” one of the men called out, “the county sent us to survey this section of land. I just wanted to let you know we’ll be working on your property.”
“What’s the survey for?”
“I don’t rightly know, Mr. Moss,” one of the men answered. “The county says jump and we jump.” Mr. Moss smiled good-naturedly and waved the men on.
The white men were still on his property when he came home from work that evening. He saw their truck drive away just after sundown. They came the next day, waving to Mr. Moss as they drove by. After the second day of strangers on his property, Mr. Moss decided it was time for him to take a look at what they were doing. He saddled his favorite mare and rode the well-worn trail down to the river. Springtime was still a few weeks away and no place on earth was prettier in the springtime than his farm. He felt a deep pride in all his family had accomplished. Neither slavery nor Jim Crow could stop his grandfather from building the farm. In time, he would pass the land to his children and grandchildren.
He rode past the stretch of pines where the deer herds liked to settle down for the night. They left their imprint on the soft beds of pine straw. He was coming up on his cattle pasture when he saw the orange survey markers. Rows and rows of them, all the way down to the North Anna River. What was the county doing? Putting in a new road? Building a new bridge across the North Anna River? Either way, he didn’t much appreciate the county not sending him a notice that the surveyors would be on his land or what they were doing. He’d lived in Louisa County almost all his life, just stepping away to go up to Washington DC for his education. He’d paid his taxes and contributed his time and talents. The very least the county owed him was to tell him the truth.
By April, Mr. Moss was making real progress bringing black and white students together. He was guidance counselor for the newly integrated Louisa County High School. A.G. Richardson High School, where he used to teach social studies, had been converted to an elementary school and renamed Thomas Jefferson Elementary school, much to the disappointment of the African-American community. As Reverend Lewis would recall, “The only thing was that when they were renaming schools, we weren’t abreast of that so much that the names of our schools were maintained. That got away from us and that’s how Thomas Jefferson Elementary and Trevilians Elementary were renamed. Those schools were originally named for a black person because they were black schools during segregation. So we lost the names of those schools.” (Interview with Rev. Larry Lewis, November 26, 2018)
Four days into the month of April, 1968, the news of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination swept across the nation. Students came into Mr. Moss’s office with tears in their eyes. He’d listen to their fears, share his wisdom, and remind them that they were not alone. On the day of Dr. King’s funeral, four hundred Louisa County citizens, mostly African American, gathered at the First Baptist Church. A few clouds marred the morning sky. Daffodils beckoned and azaleas barely hinted at their true colors. The mourners clutched handkerchiefs and held hands as they waited for the pastor to call for their pilgrimage to begin. He gave the signal and they walked in silence the three blocks from the church to the Louisa County Courthouse. If they spoke, it was in reverential whispers. No music. No singing. No band played on this spring day, not at this memorial. They walked past the old confederate war memorial, erected in front of the courthouse before most of them were born. The single confederate soldier cast in bronze, holding his rifle at his side and nestled within a granite block, indifferent to the grief-stricken mourners.
The pastor of the Trinity Parish walked up the courthouse steps and addressed the crowd. He stood in front of white marble pillars and offered up a heartfelt prayer for peace, love and brotherhood. The pastor of the Church of Christ of Charlottesville spoke next. He acknowledged the fear that had gripped all who gathered. “We won’t be afraid anymore,” he said barely above a whisper.
Those in attendance answered, “Amen.”
“Our quest for equal rights will not be denied.”
The world was off-balance, as if the solid land under their feet had shifted. After the speakers, after the final prayers, they all left in silence. They returned to their homes and their jobs, and if Mr. and Mrs. Moss were among the mourners they returned to their farm. (Richmond Times Dispatch, April 10, 1968, Several Hundred Attended Memorial Service for Dr. King at Louisa Courthouse)
Spring was a busy time for farmers. Mr. Moss took a few minutes extra with his favorite mare that morning, brushing her mane. She rubbed against him, as if she knew what troubled him. Mr. Moss had kept saddle horses all his life and still marveled at their strength and gentleness. He stopped and pulled a handkerchief from his back pocket. He’d felt so tense since he’d learned of Dr. King’s assassination. He was worried about his children and grandchildren. Worried about his students. Worried about the county’s tentative steps toward equality. Sometimes life was nothing but a truckload of worries. Only his farm gave him peace.
“Spurgeon,” he heard his wife call from the farmhouse. “Spurgeon, you have a phone call.” Their neighbor from a nearby farm was on the phone. “He says it’s important.”
“Tell him to hold on.” Mr. Moss put away the brush and headed to the house. Ruth handed him the receiver. “Hello,” he said.
“Spurgeon, did you see the news? We’re about to be boiled out.”
Mr. Moss didn’t understand. He’d seen images on the television of buildings on fire, of the police with dogs and guns, of people running and screaming. “What? What are you talking about?”
“Front page news,” the neighbor said. Moss grabbed his hat and car keys and was halfway out the door when he stopped. These were uncertain times and he didn’t like the idea of leaving his wife all alone. He kissed her on the cheek and told her to keep the doors locked.
Mr. Moss handed the drugstore clerk a dime and picked up the April 10, 1968 Richmond Times-Dispatch. The main headline was about Dr. King’s funeral. Thousands Attend King Rites. “My, my, my,” he murmured under his breath. Below the headline was the haunting image of black-clad mourners walking beside a mule-drawn wagon bearing the shrouded coffin. Jackie Kennedy was in attendance, the newspaper said, as was Bobby Kennedy. But it was the other, much smaller headline that mentioned Louisa County: Vepco Plans Louisa County Nuclear Plant.
VEPCO, short for the Virginia Electric and Power Company, planned to turn part of the North Anna River into an 11,000 acre lake and to build on its shore a half-billion dollar nuclear generating plant. The power company said the plant would have a total output of four million kilowatts, which equal the present generating capacity of the entire Vepco system. The plant would be built in three or four units. The first would have a capacity of 800,000 kilowatts and would be completed in 1974, Vepco said.
The newspaper reported on a meeting between Vepco’s senior vice presidents, T. Justin Moore Jr., Vepco President John M. McGurn, and Virginia Governor Mills E. Godwin Jr.. Other Vepco officials sat down to a two-hour private meeting in Louisa with the county’s business and political leaders and told them of the plant and the lake. No one bothered to tell the affected landowners.
Mr. Moss walked out of the drug store without even realizing it. He was standing on the sidewalk reading the newspaper. Shoppers walked by but he didn’t see them. He felt the burning sting of betrayal. As Mr. Moss would later tell a reporter, “Then I read in the paper that county officials had given Vepco right-of-way, and assured them that the citizens of the county would cooperate 100 per cent. Surveyors had been on my land months before and when I asked them what they were surveying, they said they didn’t know. I wonder why the supervisors didn’t tell us. We didn’t know one thing about it until we read it in the papers or heard it on the television. It was a terrible bombshell.” (A New Dam Brings and End to Old Ways, Daily Progress, page C4, July 26, 1970, by Jerry Simpson)
Mr. Moss looked down Main Street. There was the police department. There was the hardware store. There was the County Courthouse with the statue of the confederate soldier in front. Did everyone know except him? He kept reading:
Besides the boating and the recreation business the lake was expected to bring into the predominately-agricultural county, the plant itself was expected to add more than $900,000 to Louisa’s annual tax revenues. It would employ between 75 and 100 persons and add a payroll of $750,000 each year to the county’s economy. “It’s the biggest thing and has more potential than anything that has ever hit Louisa. It is terrific,” said one of the business leaders who attended the Louisa meeting.
“The supervisors have assured Vepco that Louisa people will cooperate with them in every possible way,” said another leader, the Rev. Joe T. Carson, who heads the Louisa County Industrial Development Corp.
From neighboring Orange County, R. Lindsay Gordon III, chairman of the county’s board of supervisors, call the lake “manna from heaven”. Most of the profits will come to Louisa and Spotsylvania, Gordon said, but Orange will benefit also. “Anytime that much money is being spent, some of it is going to rub off on surrounding areas,” Gordon said.
Vepco planned to form the lake by building a 75-to-100 foot high dam across the North Anna River near Smith’s Mill Bridge, just west of the Hanover County line. The dam would form a 17-square mile lake, with 100 miles of shoreline. Most of the lake site is wooded. A Vepco spokesman said no more than 75 homes would have to be evacuated to make way for the lake.
“No more than seventy-five homes!” Smith’s Mill Bridge was only two miles from Mr. Moss’s farmhouse, as the crow flies. His property touched the bank of the North Anna River. Was his farm going to be flooded? What would happen to his pigs, his cattle, and his beloved saddle horses? What would happen to all the wildlife on his property? The deer and rabbits and wild turkeys? Today of all days, first Dr. King’s funeral and now this, it was a punch in the gut like he’d never felt before.
The generating plant itself would go up about five miles up the lake from the dam, on the Louisa shore. The plant would use an entirely new type of water cooling system. The plant would take in water from the lake, use it power the generating units, and then release it into cooling lagoons, a series of large ponds that would be diked off from the lake. As the water passed through the lagoons it would cool to normal lake temperature. Then it would be fed back into the lake.
“Company officials gave no date for the completion of the second unit, and they said they had no idea when the final units would be added. However, it is believed the second unit is being planned for 1975 and 1976. Ragone estimated that the total cost of the dam, the lake site, and all the units together would probably come to more than $500 million.” (April 10, 1968 Richmond Times Dispatch, Vepco plans Louisa County Nuclear Plant)
The article concluded with a map of Louisa County showing the proposed dam and power plant sites. The proposed lake was right on top of Mr. Moss’s farm. How would he break the news to his wife? How would he break the news to his children? The land was their legacy. He folded the newspaper and returned to his car. He returned to his beloved farm and quietly handed the newspaper to Ruth. She read it with the same shocked disbelief he had felt.
His heart could barely take it, one piece of bad news after another. He walked down to the small creek on his property and sat on a fallen log. Small frogs jumped in the creek at his arrival. April was a beautiful month in central Virginia. Warm enough to enjoy the sunshine but cool enough to keep the mosquitoes away. Now he knew what his neighbor had meant when he said they were about to be “boiled out.” The surveyors had left orange markers all over his property, now it all made sense. They must be for the proposed dam, lake, and nuclear power plant.
The history of Mr. Moss is part of a larger work by author Carolyn O’Neal exploring the impact of the North Anna Nuclear Power Station on the citizens of Louisa County. She is also exploring the impact of Lake Anna, which was built to provide fresh water to the nuclear power station to keep the reactors cool. Many farms were condemned and much private land was confiscated to build the lake and power plant.
If you or your family were impacted when Virginia Electric and Power Company dammed the North Anna River and built the North Anna Nuclear Power Station, please share your story. Leave a reply below.
Three schools in Virginia were named for Dr. Archie Gibbs Richardson: elementary schools in Culpeper and Blackstone, and A.G. Richardson High School in Louisa. Richardson was a prominent African-American educator and a prolific speaker and writer. His papers can be found at Johnston Memorial Library, Virginia State University. The Lexington native graduated from Virginia State University in 1927. He held a Master’s Degree from Butler University in Indianapolis, a Doctorate of Education from Columbia University and an honorary Doctor of Laws Degree awarded in 1957 from Virginia State University. Richardson served eight years as principal of the Mecklenburg Training School in South Hill. He worked for a year as director of academics at Saint Paul’s College in Lawrenceville. (Saint Paul’s College was established by former slave Russell Solomon James, a contemporary of Booker T. Washington, in1888.) In 1936 he was appointed Assistant State Supervisor of Negro Education with the Virginia Department of Education. When that post became obsolete with school integration, he was appointed Associate Supervisor of Elementary and Secondary Education. Then, in 1966 he was named Associate Director of Education, a position he held until his retirement in 1966. Dr. Richardson was the first African American to be named to the staff of the Virginia Department of Education.
Priori Incantatem, also known as the Reverse Spell, is a magical spell in the Harry Potter universe that reveals the most recent activity of a wizard’s wand. In the duel between Harry Potter and evil Lord Voldemort in Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire, the Reverse Spell forces out of Lord Voldemort’s wand the ghostly images of the last half-dozen or so people he’d murdered, starting with the last person first and going in reverse order.
In the first printing of J. K. Rowling’s massive 734 novel (published in 2000), the last person murdered is the young and handsome Cedric Diggory, the champion of Hufflepuff House. The ghost of Cedric squeezes out of Lord Voldemort’s wand like smoke from an exhaust pipe (my description, not Rowling’s). “Hold on, Harry,” the ghost of Cedric says.
The next to the last person murdered is an elderly caretaker. His ghost, just like Cedric’s before him, encourages Harry to not give up. “You fight him, boy…” Then comes the ghost of Bertha Jorkins. “Don’t let go, now!” she cries. “Don’t let him get you, Harry…” Bertha, Cedric and the caretaker pace around Harry keeping the evil Death Eaters at bay. Next comes the heart stopping scene of watching Harry’s parents – the parents Harry never knew – appear as ghosts.
The smoky shadow of a tall man with untidy hair fell to the ground…looked at him… and Harry, his arms shaking madly now, looked back into the ghostly face of his father.
“Your mother’s coming…” he said quietly. “She wants to see you… it will be all right…hold on…”
And she came… first her head, then her body… a young woman with long hair, the smoky, shadowy form of Lily Potter…
The problem, as every Harry Potter reader knows, is that the order was wrong. Lily Potter (Harry’s mother) should have come out of the wand before James Potter (Harry’s father). JK Rowling messed up and messed up in a very large, very public way.
Rowling attributed the error to “late night writer’s fatigue” and it was fixed in later editions.
So this brings me to the question, how should authors handle mistakes AFTER publication. One of my writer friends says she never reads her work after it is published. It drives her crazy that she can no longer edit her work. She can no longer make any changes. She can no longer fix any errors. Any “fixing” is up to her publisher.
Which is one of the advantages of self-publishing. Self-publishing with Amazon, for instance, allows authors to edit their work as soon as they see an error. This won’t fix errors in the copies already sold but does allow the author to make changes to future copies. And maybe allows authors to rest a bit easier.
Ken Follett’s epic novel Pillars of the Earth is set in England in the years historians refer to as The Anarchy (1135 – 1153), a nineteen-year period of anarchic civil war which resulted in chaos and widespread breakdown in even the most basic civility.
This chaos is most clearly embodied in the novel’s primary antagonist, William Hamleigh, the son of a minor but highly ambitious lord. William is a spoiled pampered bully. He beats and belittles and takes advantage. His goal is to become Earl of Shiring.
Standing in William’s way is Prior Philip, a devout and deeply curious man who treats everyone he meets with kindness. Prior Philip wants to build a great cathedral. It is Prior Philip’s everyday generosity that brings him together with visionary craftsman, Tom the Builder, the man who will build his cathedral.
The Anarchy in England was “a succession crisis precipitated by the accidental death by drowning of William Adelin, the only legitimate son of Henry I.” (Wikipedia)
Historians looking back on 2020 may refer to this as America’s Anarchy. Pandemic, unemployment, injustice, crime.
This November, America is facing its own succession crisis. We face a choice between a man who has everything yet still bullies his way into getting more. And another who has served his country for 40 years despite tremendous personal loss, yet still finds a way to help another.
A few years ago my husband and I renovated our house. What started as a general dissatisfaction with the main floor plan became a months-long project that transformed our home on the outside and inside. Knowing what we didn’t like was easy. Knowing how to fix it took time and lots of good advice.
The writers at BACCA Literary want to renovate the BACCA Literary blog. We have a general dissatisfaction but don’t know how to fix it. That’s where you come in. Please spend a few minutes with these questions and give us your honest answers. Multiple choices are welcome as well as adding your own answers. Space is given below the survey to expand on your answers or add comments.
Please expand your answers below. BACCA Literary welcomes your feedback. What blogs do you currently follow? What are you looking for in a blog post? What do you love to read? We’ want to hear any advice or ideas you have to improve the BACCA Literary website and blog posts.
Thank you very much!
Carolyn O’Neal is an author, an environmentalist and a beekeeper. Her young adult novel KINGSLEY was published in 2015. KINGSLEY is available on Amazon, Audible, and iTunes.
More than once I’ve shared my writing philosophy with friends who have hit a hard bump in the road. Whether an illness, a job loss, or relationship troubles, for a writer, there’s no such thing as a bad experience. All experiences are material, the good ones and the bad ones. Especially the bad ones. The first few months of 2020 have tested this saying almost to the breaking point. This has been a year for the history books. Before I heard a word about coronavirus or quarantine or government shutdowns, I had health issues and bee hive failures.
“Two bears in one cave will not end well.” – Mongolian
Three of my four hives failed in January and February. One hive died. The second hive absconded (the bees flew away and never returned). The third hive abandoned their home for some reason and joined up with the stronger fourth hive. Losing three hives was very disheartening. I had anticipated a heavy honey season so this seemed like a personal failure. I left the empty hives where they were for the time being. It was cold, there weren’t any pests flying around to bother them, and I had bigger issues to deal with.
“Kings and Bears often worry their Keepers.” – Scot
In early March I spent a night at the hospital to repair a brain aneurysm. I was a nervous going in but the surgery was quick and I was up and walking the halls of the ICU by that evening. I took it slow and easy, more afraid of tripping over the thick socks they gave me than anything else. I walked past a couple of rooms with signs on the door saying masks were required to enter because of “respiratory particles.”
No more than a week after getting home, my apiary had an unwelcome visitor. A bear had found my three abandoned hives and decided to check them out.
Bears enter our vernacular in many ways.
Freedom to bear arms
Grin and bear it
Goldilocks and the Three Bears
I cleaned up my apiary, removing all the damaged hives. I strapped down my strong hive and surrounded it with cinder blocks and tin cans dangling from string to scare away the marauding bear. My beehive had at least 50,000 bees in it. You’d think that many bees would keep any creature at bay, even a bear. You can see for yourself, my efforts were a waste of time.
What should I do? My last hive was destroyed. Should I quit beekeeping? Should I shrug off all the time and money I had put into it? Should I say this just isn’t for me and abandon my few remaining bees to their fate? So many signs told me to quit. I was healing from surgery. I was dealing with the growing threat of this coronavirus. The government shut down businesses all over my city. My beekeeping classes were cancelled. The state beekeeping convention was cancelled. My local beekeeping club meetings were cancelled.
Writers know what it feels like to get knocked down. No matter how much time you’ve spent on a story. No matter how much money you’ve spent on writing classes and seminars. Agents don’t want to represent you, publishers don’t print your story, readers write a scathing review of your work for the world to see. Writers face relentless rejection. Signs everywhere tell them to quit. Life gets in the way of writing routines, inserting personal tragedies and national pandemics into everyday life.
“The bear is in the forest, but the pelt is sold.” – Unknown
I decided try again. I saved as many of my bees as I could and placed them and what I could salvage from their hive in a shed. I locked the shed at night to protect them from the bear. It was a temporary solution, at best. Moreover, there was a good chance the queen was dead and the bees would abandon the hive. By this time, it was late March and needed to be vigilant about the coronavirus. Washing hands. Social distancing. Wearing a face mask. My husband worked at the local hospital so I had daily updates when he came home. I talked via email and phone to beekeeping mentors and asked for advice. Before I set up a new apiary, they said, I needed to make sure it was safe from bears. That meant an electric fence with a solar panel charger. Of course, I couldn’t shop around for fence and solar panel charger materials. Everything had to be researched and purchased online.
The equipment finally arrived and my husband put up the electric fence all by himself. Talk about social distancing. With his help, we moved the beehive from the shed to their new home. I repaired and repainted the hives damaged by the bear. I purchase two new packages of bees. My new apiary was all set just in time for the April blossoms. It was a tremendous about of work and might not yield any honey but all I can do is keep trying. Unlike writing, in beekeeping there IS such a thing as a bad experience. But I learned a lot and hope I’m a better beekeeper for this experience. And maybe a better writer too.
My compost bin is just a dirty plastic box without a bottom. I set it up under a tree near the road a good ways away from my beehive so it wouldn’t attract bears or other critters to my bees. I keep a bucket in my garage for scraps and carry them to the bin about once a week, more often in the summer during watermelon season. More often if I’m composting something tasty that my dog likes to sneak into the garage to nibble on like sweet potato peels. I compost egg shells, orange peels, and coffee grounds. I compost kale stems, pistachio shells, and leaves from my driveway. How could this hodgepodge ever amount to anything worthwhile? All I have to do is leave it be and let Mother Nature do her thing. She turns all those scraps turns into rich dirt. Rich dirt to feed my trees and create flowerbeds. Rich dirt to attract worms. My yard is more productive because of those scraps.
Here’s the deal. I’ve been researching a nonfiction project for a couple of years and let me tell you, a couple of years of research piles up. I have scraps of newspaper articles, recordings of interviews, court records, books, pamphlets. My poor little office has stacks of notebooks and ideas. The problem is I don’t know how to tell this story. The blind man and the elephant scenario. The project is so big I don’t know where to start.
FLOAT devotes a couple of pages on a topic called Compost. (pages 187-188) Not composting food scraps. Composting writing scraps.
Sometimes the most clear-eyed, thoughtful, and beneficial decision we can make about a piece of writing is to put it away…. Put it in a drawer… Archive it on a hard drive…
And walk away.
Walk away! What do I do then? Do I keep writing? Or not? I flip through FLOAT and find a chapter entitled Date Yourself on page 57.
For this date with yourself, your only goal is to do something that interests or inspires you.… By getting out, you give yourself the chance to re-set your own approach. You take a complete break from your project and simply get out into the world with curiosity and a sense of adventure.… you don’t need an agenda…. be with yourself, open-minded, curious, free.
This was exactly what I needed. Permission to do something other than write and research. Permission to do something fun. For me, that’s beekeeping. I have four hives and love to be out with them. I love to learn about bees and talk to other beekeepers.
So I decide to I attend the annual Virginia State Beekeepers Association meeting. Most of the lectures are about how to maintain healthy hives. The parallels between healthy beehives and healthy human societies are legendary. The individual is moving ahead with her life in concert with thousands of other individuals moving ahead with their lives. And in the center of all this movement is the queen.
And then it happened. As I listened to the lectures about the importance of a strong queen, stories began to swirl. I went home that evening and wrote the first chapter about a fictional human family that behaves like a beehive. The family has workers, drones, babies, and a queen named Sabbath.
I’m not sure where this story is going but I’m having fun writing. And now and then, an idea pops into my head about how to shape all that research into a readable, creative nonfiction. I note of that idea and put it aside. I’ll come back to it. But for now, I’m having fun with my bees and my ideas.
Fiction creates new worlds and fills these worlds with heroes, villains, comics, romantics. Fills them with humans or monsters or aliens from another dimension. Fiction can be as wild and unbelievable as the author’s imagination.
Every paragraph is a roller coaster.
Everything is fair game.
Everything is up in the air.
Enjoy the ride and let your imagination soar!
Nonfiction has rules.
Creative Nonfiction takes place in a location the author can and should visit, whether it’s the graveyard down the road or a ship in the middle of the ocean. Not to say writing nonfiction can’t be fun, but the author doesn’t have the same freedom to make up worlds or characters. The people and places must be real.
Nonfiction isn’t a roller coaster.
It’s a maze and research is the author’s only map.
Newspaper articles, interviews, books, and (occasionally) Google.
This is how I contrast my experiences writing fiction versus writing nonfiction. First drafts of fiction dance off my keyboard. Ideas pop into my head. My writing group asks “why did he do that?” about a character and in fiction, I can create the motivation. In nonfiction if I can’t find his motivation in my research, I can’t answer that question. I can’t make up an actual person’s motivations for his or her actions.
I have been researching a complex, creative nonfiction project for years.
Set in the late 1960s and early 1970s, this creative nonfiction centers on the man who discovered an earthquake fault under the North Anna Nuclear Power Station in Virginia and ended up with a bullet in his head.
It’s an exciting story with a thousand twists and turns, just like an intricate maze.
Am I near the end of the maze or still in the center? Only careful research will help me find my way.
Which is more satisfying as a writer? Fiction or nonfiction?
That’s like asking what is more satisfying to eat, dinner or dessert.