Historian aims to uncover all of Richmond’s black history

Updated: Feb. 19, 2019 at 5:26 PM EST
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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - As we talk about black history this month, it’s not just about the people who have achieved greatness, it’s also about the ones who keep track of that history, making sure people and moments aren’t forgotten.

Elvatrice Belsches, a Richmond-based researcher, has dedicated her life to documenting the lives of those who’ve come before her.

“All that I do I seek to honor the elders and inspire everyone with the stories. Some are tough, but some are incredible,” said Belsches. “A lot of my research spans the black experience in history, but I’m not limited to that so its history, Richmond VA and sometimes beyond."

For more than 20 years, Belsches has been dedicated to uncovering things in history that often go overlooked.

“We can learn a lot from the past in looking at their faith, how they valued education, and also their profound sense of collectivism," said Belsches.

Her passion has fueled her to uncover things like Dr. Sarah G. Jones being the first Virginia born woman of any race to pass the Virginia medical boards and an important fact about Maggie Walker.

“I was blessed to be the researcher who finally verified that Maggie Walker was born in 1864 instead of 1867,” said Belsches.

And some of her research played a key role in Steven Spielberg’s movie, Lincoln. The film nominated for 12 academy awards was shot in Richmond and Petersburg.

“I went through over 10,000 maps and 15,000 photographs in support of the film and that was a defining moment for me,” said Belsches.

Her work not only lives on the big screen, but also in her book, “Black America Series: Richmond, Virginia” is often cited by researchers and professors across the country.

“It’s a wonderful introduction to the black experience in Richmond across several disciplines, religion, medicine, education and so forth," said Belsches.

It highlights the achievements among African Americans such as Rosa Dixon Bowser, one of the first African American teachers with the Richmond Public school system, as well as the first bank chartered by blacks in America, located in Richmond.

All in all, Belsches work shows that yesterday’s stories are today’s inspiration and she says, the sacrifices that were made in the past will not go unnoticed on her watch.

“Some of the early trailblazers here were astounding. When you look at people who were born during enslavement or born during the wake of freedom who could go on and start banks and change the world by making their impact nationally, it’s an incredible story," said Belsches.

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