Marker honors late civil rights leader

Published 1:49 pm Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Former Lunenburg County resident Nathaniel Lee Hawthorne, who, in the face of opposition, sought to gain rights for African Americans in the county, was remembered Saturday during an unveiling of a state historical marker that describes Hawthorne’s efforts.

More than 50 peaople gathered at 722 Mecklenburg Ave. and held umbrellas during the heavy rainfall. Following the ceremony, a reception was held at the People’s Community Center.

Among the event’s attendees were District Five Supervisor Edward Pennington, Victoria Town Council Member Sandy Jones and Victoria Mayor Carol Watson.

Among the speakers were Jones, the Rev. Violet Oliver, and William “Bill” Monnie, a

friend of Hawthorne.

Monnie said during his address that Hawthorne’s dedication and passion still inspires him today.

“This marker placed here today beside the route of his march from the past is symbolic of the march we all started together,” Monnie said.

“Nathaniel Lee Hawthorne is an inspiration to each of us as we march up that mountain in our journey to the promise land,” Monnie said. “Nathaniel, God took you from us too soon. Your sacrifice for us will never be forgotten.”

Following the address, Monnie was given a framed photo of the marker.

According to a news release from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, Hawthorne was a Lunenburg County native, born in 1923 and a World War II veteran who was inspired to establish rights for African Americans after experiencing barriers to registering to vote and school desegregation.

Hawthorne served as chairman of the Lunenburg /branch of the NAACP from 1965-1974. He also served as a coordinator of the Virginia Students’ Civil Rights Committee and organized a voting rights march that passed through Mecklenburg Avenue, according to the news release, where the marker was erected.

Hawthorne faced numerous death threats and means of intimidation as he sought to upend the status quo of racial superiority in the county.
Hawthorne died in 1975, but his legacy remains, expressed by the event’s speakers and members of Hawthorne’s family.

Cindy Hawthorne never had the opportunity to meet Hawthorne, her second cousin, but remembers her father talking about him. She said Hawthorne’s story is an important aspect of African American history in the area and important for young people to know.

“I think especially for our youth of the day that does not keep up with the history, This is a very important moment for them,” Cindy said.

Nathaniel Lee Hawthorne Jr., Hawthorne’s son, unveiled the sign. He said he was glad to see his father’s efforts remembered and honored.

“It was an honor to have this marker done for my dad,” he said. “My dad loved this community. He did everything he could for the advancement of African Americans in this county during the early 70s. We’re honored to see so many people remember his work, and to go through all of this trouble to see that he’s not forgotten. We’d like to thank everyone who was responsible for doing it.”