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Green Pastures / Longdale Day Use Area
By Dr. Josh Howard
(Editor's note: the following text was part of a presentation made on Tuesday, March 5, 2019 by Steve Nicely to the Alleghany County Board of Supervisors at its meeting in Low Moor. Chairman of the Board, Steve Bennett, suggested that the full text be made widely available. The Journal prints this as a result of that request...

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The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want//he causes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters.

Psalm 23:2-3

"Green Pastures, also known as Longdale Day use Area, is of great importance to Longdale Furance, outdoor recreation enthusiasts, and African American communities. Green Pastures was the only African American national recreation area in Washington / Jefferson National Forest. It is a preserved landscape that documents Jim Crow segregation within Virginia and Appalachia and reveals the richness of African American outdoor recreational activities.

"Frew outdoor recreation sites existed for African Americans within the region during the 1930s-1940s. Both West Virginia and Virginia would open segregated African American parks in 1949 and 1950 respectively, meaning Green Pastures operated as the lone exclusively African American outdoor recreation site within the region for approximately a decade.

"Green Pastures meets all criteria for designation as an officially recognized historic property as defined in the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.

"Green Pastures was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) from 1938 to 1940 at the request of the USDA Forest Service (USFS) and operated as a segregated African American site until abouut 1950. In 1936-37, the NAACP launched a protest because white visitors to parks were hostile and no outdoor recreation facilities existed for African Americans. The USFS, Virginia State Parks, National Park Service, and state forestry department met and concluded the USFS would open a segregated state (sic) despite official USFS policy to oppose segregation.

"By May 1937, the USFS picked the location because of its proximity to the recently completed Douthat State Park. A requisition of CCC laborers was granted, and rougly 200 enrollees from CCC Camp Dolly Ann in Covington began work on the dam, bathhouses, roads, and trails in early 1938. Work concluded in 1940 with an official opening ceremony on June 15.

"Minor protest came from local white communities. Even though Longdale Furnace was "entirely of white residents" at the time, it had been highly diverse, including roughly 200 African American living in the Big Hill community just two decades earlier because of the Longdale Iron Company. USFS investigations found most protest stemmed from concerns over water rights, though racial animus and resistance to the federal government played a role.

"The first documented use of the site by African American visitors was on Sept. 5, 1938 for a Labor Day picnic. USFS administrators reported about 100 visitors arrived at the site at 11 a.m. and stayed until 11 p.m. For the next several decades, the site maintained popularity beyond USFS expectations. Normal visitation was around one to three hundred people on Saturdays and Sunday with about twenty per weekday. African American churches used it as a baptism location, and numerous community groups used it for picnics and overnight events.

"The origins of the name Green Pastures likely came at the suggestion of NAACP leadership. The film Green Pastures was released in 1936 with an all-Black cast and, despite stereotyping problems, was still popular in part because of the novel and play by the save title. The USFS changed the site's name to Longdale Recreation Area in 1964 because many locals still believed it to be a segregated site. Since, Green Pastures has seen a steady decline in line with declining USFS recreation budgets. Today it sits behind a locked gate, a testament to a segregated past, federal land development, and the push for African American equality."

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