Sunday, November 15, 2009

Welcome to the James A. Fields House Blog!

The Fields House is a historic landmark and museum located in Newport News, Virginia and is named in honor of Mr. James ApostlesFields (1844-1903), who owned the house from 1897 to 1903. Mr. Fields was born into slavery in Hanover County, Virginia in 1844. During the Civil War in 1862, he and his brother, George Washington Fields, escaped slavery and found refuge at Fort Monroe, thereby becoming “contraband of war” by the Union Army.

After the Civil War, James A. Fields enrolled at Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (now Hampton University) in 1868, and became a part of the school’s first graduating class in 1871. After graduating, Mr. Fields taught in Elizabeth City County and in Williamsburg, VA. Years later, he furthered his education at the School of Law of Howard University in Washington, D.C., where he graduated in 1881.

Other accomplishments of James A. Fields included becoming the first black Commonwealth Attorney for Warwick County, VA (now Newport News) in 1887 and serving in the Virginia Legislature from 1889 to 1890.

James A. Fields used his property at 617-27th Street as his law office and primary residence until his death in 1903. This address was just one of the fifteen properties that he owned in the city of Newport News.

The Fields House is also associated with a significant event that occurred in 1908, when the top floor of the Fields house became the location of the first African American hospital in Newport News. This hospital was started by a team of four doctors: Drs. W. T. Forman, W. P. Dickerson, W. W. Whittaker, and W. T. Jones, who pooled their savings together to establish a hospital for local African Americans. Prior to the opening of the hospital, the city jail's infirmary was the only place in Newport News that provided medical care for African American residents.

In the year 2000, Mr. Gregory Cherry (1955-2007), a native of Newport News and a history enthusiast, purchased the dilapidated Fields house for $1 and then began restoring the house. The house was scheduled to be torn down by the city, but Mr. Cherry patiently petitioned the City of Newport News for three years to purchase the historic James Apostles Fields House. Because of the efforts of Mr. Cherry, the James A. Fields House is now listed on the Virginia Landmark Register, the National Register of Historic Places, and the Virginia Civil War Trails. Today, the Fields House gives visitors a glimpse into the lives of African Americans living in Newport News during the turn of the century

Friday, November 13, 2009

Gregory Cherry, Man With a Vision

In Memory of Gregory Cherry
Curator & Founder of the James A. Fields House

Gregory Cherry (January 1, 1955 –August 18, 2007) was a man with a vision.

Gregory attended elementary school at Dunbar/T.C. Erwin on 16th Street and Marshall Avenue. While there he started his love for the trumpet under the leadership of Mr. John W. Stewart. It was also in elementary school that he fell in love with his love for life, “Saundra.”

Gregory started high school at Huntington (now Huntington Middle School) at 3401 Orcutt Avenue), where he played trumpet in the once elite, Marching Sound of 100, under the direction of Mr. Wray R. Herring, Sr. He spoke often of the inspiration, direction, morals and values that he received from the teachers at Huntington High School.

In the fall of 1971, Gregory enrolled in Peninsula Catholic High School and graduated in 1973. He excelled in sports, student government and academically, but his love for his alma mater, Huntington High School, never dwindled.

Gregory had an illustrious military career after a short stay at St. Mary’s Seminary. He toured the world serving as an NCO Congressional Escort to the United States Congress. He served as a Military Instructor, United States Non-Commissioned Officers Academy, Ft. Riley Kansas, providing students with leadership skills and management training. He served as a Senior Instrumentalist in the Presidential Honor Guard Fife and Drum Corps, where he played taps for many ceremonial events.

Many prophetic words had been released over Gregory’s life and he had a purpose, a vision, and a determined spirit to see change in the southeast community of Newport News. He was authentic and genuinely cared about those who made contact with him for any reason. He was loved by many and had a heart to share “a nugget of history” with any one that spent time in his presence. He was a man who exhibited tremendous faith and would often say without reservation, “God’s got my back.”

He was the founder of the Downtown Newport News Merchants and Neighbors Association, Inc. whose ultimate vision is to see “unity in the community.” His vision for the southeast community included the James A. Fields Plaza, a Visitor Center, the Farmer’s Market completion, a Historical Walking and Driving Tour of the southeast community and a Community Activity Center.

Gregory’s passion was history. He served often in interpretive programs, dressing on occasions as a Union soldier, James Apostles Fields and as the Confederate Ethiopian Serenader. He was the bugler for the 38th United States Colored Troops (USCT). He was able to capture the hearts of people of all ages, from kindergarten to senior adults. Gregory had established the Beyond School Doors Mentoring Program for youth, ages 8-17, which encompassed three components that included the Civil Guard Training Program, Interpretive Programs and Business Entrepreneurship.

With his love for music, he played flugelhorn with Special Blends Jazz Ensemble at many city and community events. They played smooth jazz with a mellow sound.

Gregory had been released to the community to run and serve in whatever capacity he was called. He served on several city committees for the southeast community and participated in fundraising events for national campaign organizations.

Gregory was a motivator, a mentor, a friend, and an Ambassador for Newport News.