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26 Feb 2012

History Reconstructed: Assembly Honors Black Lawmakers

“Remember, girls, you’re not just anyone; you’re Virginia Teamohs!” At home in New York’s Harlem neighborhood, that’s what Rafia Zafar’s Southern-born grandmother would say to keep her granddaughters in line. Years later, Zafar, a Harvard-educated English professor at Washington University in St. Louis, would come to realize the significance of those words. Zafar’s great-great-grandfather was George Teamoh, who was born a slave in Portsmouth in 1818 and became a state legislator after the Civil War. An accomplished orator and advocate of African-American self-help, Teamoh served in the Virginia Senate from 1869 to 1871. Teamoh was one of about 100 blacks elected to the General Assembly during Reconstruction – until racial discrimination and Jim Crow laws relegated African-Americans to second-class citizenship. Those history-making legislators are finally getting recognition: They’re being honored by the 2012 General Assembly.