Inspiration Street

THE BOOK: Inspiration Street.

: 2016.

  Darrell Laurant.

: Nancy Marion, Blackwell Press.

: Blackwell Press, Createspace.

SUMMARY: “Inspiration Street” profiles a remarkable group of people who lived and thrived on just two blocks of Pierce Street in Lynchburg, VA during the years of segregation. People like:

Anne Spencer, a late-blooming poet who became the only female African-American included in the prestigious “Norton Anthology of American Poetry.” Meanwhile, her home at 1313 Pierce became a mecca for literary figures of the Harlem Renaissance.

Her son Chauncey, a pioneer aviator and one of the original organizers of the Tuskegee Airmen.

Walter Johnson, a physician in Lynchburg and former college football star, taught future Wimbledon and U.S. Open champions Arthur Ashe and Althea Gibson the fine points of tennis on his backyard clay court.

Frank Trigg, a previous owner of Johnson’s house at 1422 Pierce, was born a slave and lost an arm to a plantation farming accident as a youth. Nevertheless, he eventually became the president of three colleges.

C.W. Seay, who spent 30 years as principal of the segregated Dunbar High School, turning it into one of the top secondary schools in the country, white or black.

Amaza Meredith, the product of a racially mixed marriage, was a self-taught architect who not only designed a cutting edge college building at Virginia State University but an entire subdivision on Long Island.

Ota Benga. A Congolese pygmy, he was brought to the U.S. for the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis and wound up being exhibited in a cage in the Bronx Zoo, along with an orangutan.  The resulting protest, especially from African-American groups, caused the zoo to release him into the care of a religious school in Lynchburg. While he never actually lived on Pierce Street, he spent time there and was tutored by Anne Spencer.

THE BACK STORY: As a long-time newspaper columnist in Lynchburg, I occasionally wrote articles about the individuals listed above — first about their histories, then about current efforts to preserve their legacy. At some point, it stuck me that all of them were from the same two blocks of an outwardly unremarkable inner city street in an out-of-the-way southern city. When I found out that Pierce Street had been laid down on the site of a defunct training camp for Confederate soldiers, the larger story became irresistible.

WHY THIS TITLE?: Something about this street seemed to inspire the people who lived there.

It can be argued that these stories represent black history in microcosm. But even if you set aside the racial aspect, they’re just inspiring stories.


“‘Inspiration Street’ is just the best kind of history–personal, detailed, full of real people. It is a delightful blend of “the rich life story of an out-of-the-way street in an out-of-the-way city,” and the backdrop of the massive cultural shifts that moved this nation into and through the Civil Rights Era. Darrell Laurant is a storyteller and understands that at the heart of a good narrative is the individual story that reveals the larger truth.”– Patricia Dean Robertson, author of “Looking for Lydia, Looking for God.”

“A great and real ‘street level’ story.” — Victor Cardwell, former Pierce Street resident.

“Inspiration Street is a beautiful tapestry of the interconnecting lives and experiences that intersected in these two blocks in Lynchburg, VA. I was hooked from early on, and didn’t want to stop reading when it ended.

“The narrative surpasses the local nature of two city blocks. The stories of individuals and their accomplishments, most of whom prevailed over multiple obstacles, have implications for American social history. As a still white-focused American society (ironically, given the rapidly changing demographics), the contributions of all but the most broadly famous African-Americans are little known. (Many of those who were well known, by the way, visited Pierce Street, some multiple times.)

The direct connections of most of the residents of Pierce Street with former slaves or first-generation descendants of slaves revealed a strength and determination of those residents to rise above, to utilize and maximize their talents and skills for the continued advancement of a population previously (and frighteningly) treated by much of the old south as unworthy of humane treatment.

“In contrast, their humanness and their humanity shone through, along with their amazing intellect and talents.  It is a fascinating story—of artists and educators, athletes and professionals, of their connections with such luminaries ranging from U.S. Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall and Jackie Robinson to Duke Ellington and Maya Angelou, and even Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. One of the residents, Anne Spencer, in addition to winning accolades for her poetry, opened her home on Pierce Street to many of the leading lights of the Harlem Renaissance.

“Inspiration Street is a gem of a story that draws you into the world of these two blocks of Pierce Street in the first half of the twentieth century and beyond to its present day resurgence and recognition of its broader place in history.” — Dawn Lajeunesse, author of “Star Catching” and “In Her Mother’s Shoes.”

AUTHOR PROFILE: After a somewhat nomadic childhood (he lived in six different cities growing up) and short stints with newspapers in Columbia and Charleston, SC, Laurant settled in for 36 years with the News & Advance, a daily in Lynchburg, VA, the last 32 as the paper’s local columnist. After retiring from journalism, he and his wife Gail moved to Lake George, NY, where he continues to write and observe. He is the author of four books — “Even Here: A Small Virginia Community, a Violent Decade,”A City Unto Itself: Lynchburg, VA in the 20th Century,” “The Kudzu Kid” (a novel) and “Inspiration Street,” and is currently finishing his second novel, “The Last Supper League.”

In 2015, he started Snowflakes in a Blizzard, a free marketing service, as a way to get original writing in front of the reading public.

AUTHOR COMMENTS: “I’m on a mission to introduce these remarkable Pierce Street folks to the wider world.”


LOCAL OUTLETS: Givens Books, Lynchburg, VA.

WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or through the author.

PRICE: $9.99 during Black History Month.

CONTACT THE AUTHOR: My e-mail is I’m also on Twitter #bookblizzard, Linked-In and Facebook.

Published by


Recently retired after 35 years with the News & Advance newspaper in Lynchburg, VA, now re-inventing myself as a novelist/nonfiction writer and writing coach in Lake George, NY.

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