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Preserving and Sharing Black History

For years, alum Ana F. Edwards (M.A. ’20/H&S) has worked to protect and elevate Black history through advocacy and scholarship. A longtime historic preservation and community activist in Richmond, Edwards is a founding member of the Virginia Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality, established in 2002 for prison reform, education and social justice causes.

ana edwards

In 2016, Edwards enrolled in VCU’s College of Humanities and Sciences master’s program in history, and quickly established herself as a dedicated student committed to telling the stories of those who often are forgotten.

“Ana has modeled some of the highest possibilities for our alums—in her diligence in historical research, in her engagement with public history audiences near and far, and in her advocacy for social justice,” said Ryan Smith, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of History. “Along with a strong coalition of allies, her work has quite literally changed the historical landscape.”

In addition to her work at the Virginia Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality, Edwards also serves as chair of the Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project, which has worked to promote the reclamation and proper memorialization of Richmond’s Shockoe Bottom, the story of Gabriel’s rebellion, the movements of Black people in Richmond’s 18th-century urban landscape, and the neighborhood’s place as the epicenter of the U.S. domestic slave trade from the 1830s through 1865.

“Along with a strong coalition of allies, her work has quite literally changed the historical landscape.”

Ryan Smith, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of History

“I sought out the graduate program in 2016 to professionalize my skills as a historian in order to assist the social justice-public history work I had been doing in Richmond for nearly 15 years,” Edwards said.

Edward’s thesis at VCU, “Robert Cowley: Living Free During Slavery in Eighteenth-Century Richmond, Virginia,” was based on her earlier essay, “The Manumission of Robert Cowley,” which was selected for the 2019 James Tice Moore Award by the faculty of the Department of History. She also received the first Department of History’s VCU Graduate Alumni Achievement Award.

In January 2020, Edwards and her work were featured in The New Yorker article, “The Fight to Preserve African-American History.”

“Returning to school after 30 years and knowing I had the support of my professors and my two cohorts — the one I started with and the one I finished with in 2020 — helped me feel part of something both nurturing and challenging,” said Edwards. “I look forward to future collaborations.”

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