Massanutten Regional Library To Host Author

Posted: February 13, 2014

On Feb. 24, retired D.C. school teacher and author Ruth M. Tolliver will discuss the history of Newtown and the issues that surrounded the African American community in the area during that time.


A Washington, D.C.-native, Toliver spent summers in Harrisonburg with her grandparents, and traces her lineage to former slaves who settled in the area.


Her book, titled “Keeping Up With Yesterday,” is a historical account of the lives of African Americans, including her family members, and their experiences as they bought property and built homes, forming what would become the early Newtown area of Harrisonburg, which consisted of “about five streets, a little area,” Toliver explains.


Toliver’s desire to record the history of the area was something that came to her naturally. She says her family has always been storytellers and record keepers, and she remembers hearing accounts of her ancestors and their experiences in the Valley, especially during the summers when she visited.


The book begins in the 1800s as her uncle talks about slavery. Through interviews and extensive research, Toliver weaves together the history of those who helped shape present-day Harrisonburg, particularly the area that would be known as Newtown.


“There was a sense of pride in that community,” Toliver said, explaining how the importance of owning property and taking care of one another defined the area she grew to love.


“Being enslaved for so many years, it was important to those people that they own property and they took care of it,” she continued.


The book includes pictures of the homes during the early- to mid-1900s, as well as the deeds and interviews that Toliver uncovered while researching.


“My husband and I spent a great deal of time at the courthouse in Harrisonburg, reading materials that dealt with the stories that we had heard when we were children,” she said. “We went anywhere that we could get more information to substantiate all that we had heard.”


She’s currently revising the book with plans to publish a second edition with the additional information discovered since it was first published in 2009.


Toliver says this book is important because it shows the history of the local community.


“I always felt that the story of Newtown needed to be told,” she said. “If it’s not told, no one will ever know about these wonderful people.”


Toliver will be presenting “Images of Early Newtown” at 1 p.m. Feb. 24 at Massanutten Regional Library.


She will share photographs and stories of those who lived in Newtown after the abolition of slavery.


Toliver says she’s excited for the event and hopes everyone will come hear about the history of the area and the people who helped build it.


“I hope people will appreciate the history of Newtown and appreciate the struggles that people went through …  because if you don’t know your history, you’re lost.”


“That’s the bottom line,” she continued. “If you don’t know where you’ve been, you don’t know where you’re going.”


Toliver will also be presenting at Eastern Mennonite University at 7 p.m. that evening; she will give another presentation at Our Community Place at 6 p.m. Feb. 27.


For more information on the presentation at MRL, visit mrlib.org.

Contact Sarah Stacy at 574-6292 or sstacy@dnronline.com.