Eleven exquisitely sculpted figures of men and women of varying ethnicities from all walks of life are virtually coming to life along the scenic waterfront of the historic campus of Hampton University. The veils were lifted in a special ceremony on Sunday, January 27th revealing a breathtaking place of reflection that will forever be celebrated as “Legacy Park."
All of the names and faces are iconic and have significantly contributed to the lives and futures of the students, faculty and staff of this storied, sesquicentennial institution of higher learning. Some of the names and faces are familiar and their connection to Hampton well known. Others spark surprise and intrigue as the discovery of their demonstrated support of Hampton’s mission is realized.
The sculpted figures represent a wide spectrum of US Presidents, Civil Rights icons, HU alumni as well as the University founder Gen. Samuel Chapman Armstrong and President Dr. William R. Harvey, who has served the institution for more than four decades.
The privately funded park was established by the Hampton University Board of Trustees and the honored individuals and their contributions to Hampton University are as follows.
- Martin Luther King Jr.: an American Baptist minister and activist who became the most visible spokesperson and leader in the civil rights movement from 1954 until his death in 1968. Dr. King made several visits to Hampton University’s campus. His mother Alberta Williams King graduated from Hampton University in 1924.
- Rosa Parks: During the period of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and following, Mrs. Parks and her family experienced constant harassment. She and her husband were fired from their jobs and unable to secure other employment. As a result, they returned to her home in Detroit. A mere 9 months after the boycott officially ended on December 20, 1956, Mrs. Parks (mother of the Civil Rights Movement) was offered and accepted employment at Hampton University. On September 5, 1957, then President of Hampton, Alonzo G. Moron wrote to Mrs. Parks, “…I would like very much to have you come to work for us at Hampton as hostess at the Holly Tree Inn.” He further shared with her, “…in this job you have an opportunity to meet many interesting people, for we always have visitors at Hampton.” A few days later, Mrs. Parks responded, “If your offer of the job is still open, I would like to hear more about it, and will come to Hampton when you are ready for me to begin." She concluded the letter stating, “Thank you for considering me as Holly Tree Inn’s hostess.” On September 23, 1957, she arrived on campus to assume the aforementioned position. In that position, she demonstrated grace, competence, and courtesy. Mrs. Parks remained employed at the University for 1 year, after which she returned to Detroit where she lived the remainder of her life. Mrs. Parks desired “to be remembered as a person who wanted to be free...so other people would be also free.”
- William Howard Taft: While serving as President of the United States and later Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, President Taft was the President of the Hampton University Board of Trustees. During this time, he was very influential in securing federal support for Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute. The Board of Trustees were so pleased with his support and contributions that they named a bedroom in the Mansion House in his honor. The William Howard Taft Room in the Mansion House is still utilized as a bedroom for distinguished visitors. President Taft served on the board from 1909 until his death in 1930.
- Mary Jackson: an African American mathematician and aerospace engineer at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which in 1958 was succeeded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). She worked at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, for most of her career. She began as a computer analyst at the segregated West Area Computing division. She took advanced engineering classes and, in 1958, became NASA's first black female engineer. Jackson's story is featured in the non-fiction book "Hidden Figures: The Story of the African-American Women Who Helped Win the Space Race." She is one of the three protagonists in Hidden Figures, the film adaptation released the same year. Jackson graduated from Hampton University in 1942.
- Barack Hussein Obama: an American attorney and politician who served as the 44th president of the United States from 2009 to 2017. He was the first African American to be elected to the presidency. Obama’s relationship with Hampton University dates back to 2007, when President William R. Harvey invited then Senator Obama to address attendees of the 93rd Annual Hampton University Ministers’ Conference. The Hampton University Marching Force Band, performed in President Obama’s Inaugural Parade. President Barack Obama returned to the campus when he served as the University's 140th commencement speaker on May 9, 2010.
- Susan B. LaFlesche: an Omaha Native American doctor and reformer in the late 19th century. She is widely acknowledged as the first Native American to earn a medical degree. She campaigned for public health and for the formal, legal allotment of land to members of the Omaha tribe. She graduated from Hampton Institute in 1886, as class salutatorian.
- Mary Peake: daughter of a freed African American woman and a Frenchman who conducted the first lessons taught under the Emancipation Oak located on the University’s campus. Classes continued at The Butler School, which was constructed in 1863 next to the oak.
- George H. W. Bush: an American politician who served as the 41st president of the United States from 1989 to 1993. Prior to assuming the presidency, Bush served as the 43rd vice president of the United States from 1981 to 1989. His earlier posts included those of congressman, ambassador, and CIA director. President Bush demonstrated a long-standing support of Historically Black Colleges and Universities over his career. He delivered the 1991 Commencement address at Hampton University. Within the three years following President Bush’s address, Hampton University received $40 million in federal support for faculty research, scholarships for students, and programs to enhance the university. Under the Title III Program alone, salary supplements, scholarship support and the acquisition of instructional and research equipment were received. President Bush founded the United Negro College Fund chapter at Yale University during his college days. As president, he continued his overwhelmingly positive support for Black Colleges with initiatives such as appointing 23 individuals to the President’s Board of Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities to advise him and the Secretary of Education on ways to strengthen the HBCUs; directed the Office of Personnel Management, in conjunction with the Secretaries of Labor and Education, to develop a program to improve the recruitment of graduate, and undergraduate HBCU students for part-time and summer federal positions; and signed Executive Order 12677, which directed 27 agencies to increase the opportunities for the participation of HBCUs in federal programs. Increases in total funding over the fiscal years 1989 award levels were reported by most of these agencies. HBCUs received a total of $776 million in fiscal year 1989 and $894 million in fiscal year 1990, an increase of $118 million.
- Jerome Holland: Jerome H. Holland was inaugurated as the ninth president of Hampton Institute in 1960. During Holland’s service to Hampton Institute, the dedications of Thomas Turner Hall, Martin Luther King Hall and the William A. Freeman Hall were accomplished. President Holland was responsible for Virginia Hall, Academy Building, Mansion House, and Memorial Chapel being included on the Virginia Landmarks Register. President Holland served at Hampton until 1970.
- Reuben Burrell: or "Mr. B" as he was also called, said he would work until the day he died and that he did, rarely missing a day of his 66-year career as Hampton's photographer. He worked under eight presidents recording now-historical events, student life, graduation ceremonies and famous visitors. Hampton University’s broad range of history and culture is readily apparent through Burrell’s work. His photographs and his stories were an inspiration. He touched the lives of many Hampton University administrators, faculty, staff, students, alumni, friends and visitors.
- Frederick Douglass: an American social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman. After escaping from slavery in Maryland, he became a national leader of the abolitionist movement in Massachusetts and New York, gaining note for his oratory and incisive antislavery writings. He visited the campus in 1884 and said, “This school is too vast, too multiform, too cosmian, to be grasped in a single hour. I have seen London, I have seen Edinburgh I have seen Venice, I have seen the Coliseum, I have seen the British Museum, but I should not have seen the world if I had not seen Hampton Institute. I have seen more today of what touches my feelings, more of prophecy of what is to be, more of contrast with what has been, than I have ever seen before. I can’t talk, I can only say I am glad-glad-glad deep in my heart, with what I see.” Frederick Douglass [January 1884]