A lifelong daughter of Culpeper from a diverse background, Angela Jeffers Chapman grew up among a large and locally distinguished family of teachers, pastors, entrepreneurs, business people and community leaders.
She learned early on the importance of education, communication and shared oral history passed down from her ancestors as well as documenting that history, especially on her African-American side.
Chapman is a longtime funeral services professional as well as an avid historian, collector and chronicler of local history, including that of her own storied family. A graduate with the 1975 class of Culpeper County High School, she has her own stories to tell as well, including what it was like being a teen mom just a few short years after integration.
It’s all part of a new virtual exhibit of the Carver 4-County Museum at carver4cm.org. The display is the latest in the 10-month show curated by Terry Miller, “When Women Use Their Power: Angela Chapman – extraordinary researcher and interpreter of Culpeper history.”
The physical museum, closed due to COVID, is located in the former George Washington Carver Regional High School, which educated the region’s Black students during segregation.
In a phone interview Monday with the Star-Exponent, Chapman said she embraces and values all of her history, noting her African-American lineage is the most under-told.
“Because of slavery, everything that was in the past, a lot of Black history nationwide is forever lost,” she said. “We as a people were not counted as such – we were counted as property. Because of slave masters, families were split up, mothers and fathers separated from their children, husbands and wives separated over and over again so we don’t know who we really and truly are or where we came from.
“I acknowledge all of my history – the white, the Black, the native Americans as well as the German ancestry,” Chapman said. “In order to like yourself, you have to acknowledge your entire ancestry.”
Chapman grew up surrounded by school books, reference books, photos, historical documents, family Bibles and more. Her mother, Annette, graduated from the Virginia College for Negroes and was a teacher in Culpeper starting in 1956.
Her grandmother, Annie Laura Payne Lovell, studied business at the Virginia Normal & Industrial Institute and graduated in 1913. Lovell was as teacher at Culpeper Training School and A.G. Richardson Elementary.
“Everybody knows her,” said Chapman.
Her great grandfather, the Rev. Ernest Lovell, graduated from Howard University in the late 1800s and came back to Culpeper to create the Wayland Blue Ridge Baptist Association with the noted Rev. Willis Madden, whose ancestors were free Blacks and ran a tavern in Culpeper before the Civil War.
Chapman’s great grandmother, Cora Lewis Gatewood (1865-1951), was born free a few months after the Civil War ended. She was the wife of barber and business owner, Sawney Payne, born into slavery in Louisa County.
Soon after their marriage, Gatewood taught her husband to read and write.
Payne ran a successful barbershop on Main Street in Culpeper, where he built a clientele of white men and supported a wife and seven children. Mama’s Hemp occupies the former barbershop of Sawney Payne, who lived peacefully with his family in a then all-white neighborhood on West Piedmont Street, Chapman said.
His brothers also had barber shops in Culpeper – at one time there were three Payne-owned establishments downtown, she said.
Spanning two centuries of family history, Chapman has amassed a substantial library of documentation, books, pictures and articles detailing many ancestral accomplishments.
She shared details Monday of her own personal history and overcoming obstacles while a student at CCHS.
As a freshman, Chapman fell in love with William “PeeWee” Chapman, a family friend who would later lead the CCHS basketball team to state championship victory.
The young couple soon learned they were expecting a child. Angela vowed to continue her studies and graduate on time with her class. The superintendent and head of guidance at the time had other ideas, however, and tried to force the pregnant teen to drop out.
“They attempted to deny me an education here in Culpeper,” Chapman said. “It was because of the color of my skin and also the fact that it was only four years into total integration of schools in Culpeper.”
She was in fourth grade when elementary schools integrated in Culpeper and was transferred to Farmington. Chapman spent her earlier grade school years at the old A.G. Richardson school for Black students on Old Fredericksburg Road, today’s HeadStart building. Her grandmother was among the first faculty members at A.G., Chapman said, again stressing the depth of education in her family.
So it was beyond consideration that she would not complete high school. Expecting a child in November of 1972, Chapman knew she was entitled to continue to receive materials for home instruction. She threatened to go to the media and file a lawsuit.
“I am not to be intimidated,” Chapman said. “I know my rights and that is what my mouth is for to stand up and fight, speak up for myself because nobody else will. This is how I was taught growing up … I wasn’t taught to sit back and be silent and take whatever is given to me … I was not going to become another statistic of dropping out … They wanted to hush, hush me up.”
She completed her freshman year, gave birth to a daughter that November, and after much persistence, and overcoming resistance from the two administrators, returned back to CCHS.
“I said I am coming back to school, if I have to take double classes, I will do what I have to do,” Chapman said, and she took summer school as well to catch up. And she did it with 110 percent support from her classmates, both Black and white, and the rest of school faculty.
“My grandmother had always stood up for herself,” Chapman said. “I had seen and heard her in action. She was one of the first 16 African American women in Culpeper County to register to vote in 1920.”
After Pee Wee graduated in 1973, the two married, and Chapman continued at CCHS as a new wife and mother, receiving support at home and school. But when it came time for her prom in 1975, the school tried to tell her she couldn’t attend as a married woman.
“They could not legally stop me,” said Chapman, who was also part of that year’s homecoming court. They did not stop her.
After high school, she was a homemaker and mom to three as well as working outside of the home in funeral services starting in the 1980s for several decades at the former W.C. Thompson Funeral Home on North Main Street.
Chapman’s husband passed in 2019 and she was invited that same year to return to funeral work at Found & Sons.
Again, it was Chapman’s family that influenced her interest in death – her uncle was a funeral director. Taking care of the family plot at Fairview Cemetery was ever a priority in her girlhood back when the burial ground was still segregated by race. Her work in mortuary services ties in with Chapman’s love of genealogy and research.
“I just love doing it,” she said. “Everybody in this world has some type of gift. This is one of my passions, has been passed down by the family – know your history, know where you come from so you know where you need to go.”
Postponed in March of 2020 due to the pandemic, the new online exhibit about her runs through April 30.
Exhibit Curator, Ms. Miller, said Chapman’s research is so precise it feels like it came from a clairvoyant: “Actually it comes from a deep understanding of the history of this country and its people passed down from generations of her family, and an extensive collection of documents, books, encyclopedias and photographs. We call her an old soul.”
Hortense Hinton-Jackson, chairwoman of the history committee with the GWC Regional HS Alumni Association, said the ongoing 10-month offering will showcase women with superior talents too often unknown with skills to offer local citizens, businesses, civic clubs and government.
“Not only is Ms. Chapman uniquely positioned to assist individuals in their family research, but she can help Culpeper stakeholders in developing policies for diverse workplaces,” Hinton-Jackson said.
Interested in learning more about the history Chapman has documented and researched? She’s willing to share it. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org for information.