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For those who are new here the theme of this blog is to record the many anecdotal back stories I, the author, encountered while researching the book about Norvel Lee.  I plan to update this each week, hopefully.  If you scroll down to the end of the blog and work your way up you can catch up to what preceded this week's post.

First Steps

 

 

Above is the headline I referred to in last week's post.  It's from the August 17, 2016, edition of the Fincastle Herald.  The accompanying story - actually two stories - is what launched the journey I went on discovering the life lived by Norvel Lee.

The headline article summarized the known facts of Norvel Lee's life.  It reports he was born in Eagle Rock (I found out later that he was born at Lick Run in northern Botetourt County) on September 22, 1924, graduated high school from the Academy Hill School for Negroes in Fincastle, Virginia, and enlisted in the service during WWII.  The article goes on to summarize his incredible boxing career, his academic achievements in which he eventually earns an ABD (All But Dissertation), and his thirty year military career eventually retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserves in Washington D.C.  The article makes note of his career as an educator and his pro-active involvement in many civic endeavors.

But what really got my attention was the companion article on page 8 with the headline:  "Norvel Lee's arrest and conviction for violating Virginia's Jim Crow Law made headlines in 1948."  The article goes into the detail about the case but, in short, he was arrested for sitting in the white section of a C&O local train going from Covington to Clifton Forge.   Lee was fined $5 for the misdemeanor, but instead of accepting it he appealed the case on the grounds he wasn't subject to Virginia's Jim Crow Laws because his ticket was for interstate transportation and that made him not subject to the local laws.  

After reading the two articles I wanted to dig deeper.  I wasn't planning on a book at that point.  But I was curious about two things in particular.  What was life like for Norvel growing up in Gala and how did he get involved in the Jim Crow case?  I began researching both themes.   Shortly after seeing the articles I began inquiries with the Botetourt County Historical Society, Botetourt County Schools, the C&O Railroad History Museum in Clifton Forge, and the Virginia Supreme Court.   Next week I'll talk about what I learned from the Virginia Supreme Court.

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The beginning

 

This is the first post of an ongoing blog where I will chronicle the "once in a lifetime" journey I've been on researching and writing the book NORVEL about the remarkable life of Norvel Lee.  I'm hoping to post updates here on Friday of most weeks.  I'm looking forward to responding to your thoughts, questions and comments each week. 

 

What's amazing to me is how the journey continues even now, after the publication of the book.  Just recently I was put in touch with the person whom Norvel's family entrusted his 1952 Olympic gold medal with.  Above is a photo of the medal.

And just this week our local weekly newspaper here in Botetourt County, The Fincastle Herald, published an article about the University of Virginia (UVA) establishing a scholarship in the name of Edward Barnett.  Barnett was the first African American to graduate from UVA's School of Architecture and is the late brother of Judith Barnett who played an important role in the genesis of the book. 

 

Judy volunteers at the Botetourt County Historical Society.  It was Judy, while the Olympics were being held in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, who was informed by long time residents of Gala, Virginia, about Norvel Lee's Olympic accomplishments.  Judy passed the information along to the Fincastle Herald whose August 17, 2016, publication carried the headline: "Botetourt County native won Olympic gold in the boxing ring."  Underneath was the byline stating: "While that was a great accomplishment, it was not the only reason to recognize Norvel Lee."

Barbara, my wife, put that headline in front of me that morning, knowing it would catch my interest.  And it did. There was something about the story that compelled me to dig deeper.  I wondered why nobody mentioned this to me during the eleven years we had lived here at that point.  I wondered why his story was ignored at the time.  I needed to find out.  

 

See you next week.  Send me your thoughts and questions.  

 

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