Judy Moore: Looking at the legacy of William Horace Ash

Published 12:00 pm Thursday, February 23, 2023

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As we maneuver throughout February and celebrate African American History Month, we focus on the contributions of our illustrious black brothers and sisters. William Horace Ash was an educator and government leader who is worthy of such recognition.

William Horace Ash was born on May 15, 1859 into slavery to William H. and Martha A. Ash in Loudoun County. As he got older, he preferred to call himself Horace Ash of Leesburg. Horace attended a school operated by Martha C. Reed, which was connected to the Pennsylvania Abolition Society. Later, in 1880, Horace entered Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (now known as Hampton University) in Hampton, graduating in 1882.

After graduation he taught in Southampton County for one term, subsequently moving to Nottoway County to teach at Ingleside Seminary. This was a school for black girls in Burkeville, one that was supported by the Presbyterian Church. A successful educator, Horace co-founded the Teachers Reading Circle while at a summer school in Farmville in 1884, which was the first statewide organization of African American educators and was elected its president.

In the world of politics, Horace became interested in the Nottoway Republican Party, where he served as county delegate to the state party convention in 1884. From 1887 to 1888, Horace served in the House of Delegates in the Virginia General Assembly, representing Amelia and Nottoway counties. As a legislator, Horace voted with the Republican minority serving in the standing committees on Propositions and Grievances and on Printing. Even though involved in the political arena, he remained concerned with education.

As a delegate, he proposed an investigation into student complaints at Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute (now known as Virginia State University) in Ettrick in 1902. He also introduced a bill, albeit unsuccessful, concerning appointments of teachers in public schools. Furthermore, Horace began to study law, later claiming himself a lawyer although he is not known to have practiced.

Consequently, in 1888, his political career ended after he supported William Mahone, who lost his seat to John Mercer Langston. Henry Johnson of Amelia County was elected to Horace’s delegate seat in the General Assembly, so he returned to teaching.

On May 29,1889, Horace married Sallie B. Miller, a Nottoway native and teacher. In 1891 they moved to Leesburg and taught there, still owning 20 acres of land in Nottoway County. In early 1904, the family returned to Nottoway in an attempt for Horace to buy a former young white girls’ school, which he desired to renovate into an African American boys school reminiscent of Ingleside Seminary.

Unfortunately, the venture was unsuccessful and in September, 1904, he accepted a job at Swift Memorial Institute in Rogersville, Tennessee. There he taught nine classes, including Latin and bookkeeping. In 1907, Horace accepted a teaching position in agriculture overseeing the farm at VA Normal and Industrial Institute. Then on Feb. 14, 1908, Horace passed away at the school from kidney failure and his funeral was held at his Burkeville home.

Horace was a dedicated educator and assemblyman who maneuvered aimlessly between the education and government fields. He left a lasting legacy which demonstrated his nonstop dedication to improve the lives of young and older African Americans with a strong and equal opportunity education as well as an honest voice in government. We can strive to leave that kind of a legacy for our families and communities.

Judy Moore is a tour guide with The Central High Museum who lives in Wylliesburg and can be reached at v5agabond2@gmail.com.