Audrey Ross with Dr. James Worsley, Chesterfield's deputy county administrator for human services
“The history of Midlothian's African American community has been told, but limitedly, and I always knew there was so much missing,” said Audrey Ross, a 2023 Senior Volunteer Hall of Fame inductee. “I had a task, and that task was to start telling the full story.”
Founded in 1982, the Senior Volunteer Hall of Fame recognizes seniors aged 60 or older that contribute outstanding volunteerism to Chesterfield. Together, this year’s 20 nominees have committed over 180,000 hours of service to Chesterfield since turning the age of 60.
Ross was one of this year’s inductees, alongside Alice Mitchell and Linda Hudgens. Ross was recognized for her service with the Chesterfield Historical Society of Virginia’s African American History Committee, First Baptist Church of Midlothian, Lifelong Learning Institute, 4-H, Midlothian Special Area Plan implementation team, board service with the Mid-Lothian Mines and Railroad Foundation, research on the Mid-Lothian Mines and more.
The Mid-Lothian Mines Park overflows with almost a century’s worth of rich history. For Ross and many other African Americans from Midlothian, the mines are an important facet of generational family background. However, according to Ross, historical records of the mines and the local African American community are sparse. That sparked her determination to share stories from the mines and the community that have never been told before.
“Every community of African Americans in Chesterfield County has a story,” said Ross. She relies on stories from her community members, family and even her own childhood to piece together the history of African Americans in Midlothian. "I want to tell a more complete story of the community. It’s important because I grew up here, and there were so many people that encouraged me to reach my goals and served as my role models. They have never been acknowledged or recognized for their contributions or achievements. It’s my responsibility to share their stories."
After being elected historian of First Baptist Church, Ross has collected countless historical accounts and photographs. She took this invaluable information and began volunteering as an instructor at the Lifelong Learning Institute. “I started with a general overview of the history of our church and received so many positive comments. I decided that this was something that I needed to do because the history of the community had never been shared or told,” she said.
Through her research, Ross discovered that her church established the first school for people of color. “The education of the coloreds in Midlothian started in 1866 in the coal mines at the church when the first colored pastor organized a school to begin educating the freed Blacks,” said Ross. "Then, the county bought land on our church’s property to build the first public school. They bought it for a dollar.”
Ross has garnered recognition for uniting her community behind the idea of preserving Midlothian history. In fact, she was featured in a 2016 front-page article of the New York Times focused on 19th-century enslaved people in Midlothian, specifically in the First Baptist Church of Midlothian. While working on the story, Ross even discovered that her great-great-grandfather was one of the church’s founders, much to her delighted surprise.
In addition to her historical contributions, Ross has been either a director or a co-director of her church’s vacation Bible school program for the last several years. She’s also been involved in a community garden for around 10 or 15 years and always shares her produce with the church. Ross is very active in both the Chesterfield Historical Society and the Midlothian Special Area Plan implementation team as well, further capturing and preserving the history of African Americans in Chesterfield. For the past four or five years, Ross has volunteered with 4-H during the holidays to sew stockings for senior citizens and provide holiday cheer.
Above all else, Ross values connections. She very thankful to her family and community members for always supporting her in everything she does, especially her storytelling journey. “They have provided me with a wealth of information, and they have contributed to making sure that everyone’s story is being told more completely. I am so appreciative of all the people who have helped, and continue to help, and I want to let them know that they are special,” she said. “It’s not just me. If it had not been for those persons who helped and contributed so freely, none of this would have been possible.”
Ross was honored to be inducted into Chesterfield’s Senior Volunteer Hall of Fame. “I was very surprised to even be considered, but very pleased. Then, being inducted ... I could not believe that I had been selected for such a meaningful honor,” she added. “It made me feel that I have had a positive impact on others, and what I have done has been appreciated, and what I continue to do.”
This article was written by Constituent and Media Services summer intern Kate Stanko, who is a rising junior at Virginia Tech