Virginia – StoryCorps

“Charlottesville Shouldn’t Be Discussed”: But This Local Refused to Forget

On August 12, 2017, hundreds of white nationalists converged on Charlottesville, Virginia to protest the removal of a Confederate monument. The “Unite the Right” rally became deadly when a car rammed into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring more than a dozen others.

Charlottesville resident, 52-year-old Lisa Woolfork was in that crowd, and she was at the intersection where the car attack took place. The shock from that violent day remains with her. But as she told Kendall King-Sellars, who was also in the crowd that day, not everyone wants to talk about it.

Counter-protest to the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 12, 2017. Courtesy of Lisa Woolfork.

Today, Lisa is an associate professor at the University of Virginia, and she now runs her own sewing group, “Black Women Stitch,” and podcast, “Stitch Please.”

Lisa and Kendall’s conversation is brought to you by One Small Step at the University of Virginia’s Karsh Institute of Democracy, with support from the Memory Project at UVA and WTJU.

Top Photo: Lisa Woolfork (Left) and Kendall King-Sellars (Right). Courtesy of Lisa Woolfork and Kendall King-Sellars.

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Originally aired August 12, 2022, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

“The Oldest Enlisted Soldier In The Army” — And The Sister Who Inspired Him To Sing

Growing up in Cheriton, Virginia, Alvy Powell’s fondest memories were listening to his older sister Yvonne sing. Once he was old enough, the two of them took the stage together and performed duets at church. Not long after, the world of opera would enter his life.

By 1983, Alvy was studying under the famous opera singer, George Shirley. Mr. Shirley was a mentor, and the first African American tenor to perform a leading role at the Metropolitan Opera. He also happened to be the first African American to sing with the U.S. Army Chorus. At his suggestion, Alvy was invited to audition for the chorus. Alvy’s life would take a surprising turn — into the Army. 

Master Sgt. Alvy Powell Jr. Courtesy of US Army Photos (released) by Master Sgt. Christopher Branagan.

Alvy spent the next ten years honing his voice as a bass baritone opera singer, performing for some of the highest dignitaries in the world, and at renowned venues, including The White House, The U.S. Capitol, The Supreme Court, and The State Department. 

In 1993, he left the chorus to pursue singing independently, only to reenlist at the age of 46. By the time he retired in 2017, he earned a unique title for an opera singer — the oldest enlisted soldier in the Army. 

Yvonne also found a life in civil service, working for the Department of Homeland Security. She never pursued a career in singing, but she did continue performing in church. And she and Alvy never stopped singing together.

Master Sgt. Alvy Powell Jr. Courtesy of US Army Photos (released) by Master Sgt. Christopher Branagan.

 

Top Photo: Alvy Powell and Yvonne Powel at their StoryCorps Interview in Norfolk, Virginia on July 14th, 2021.

Originally aired July 24, 2021, on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday.

‘Just the Two of Us’: A Grandfather’s Musical Legacy

William Salter, 84, helped write one of America’s most iconic love songs, ‘Just the Two of Us’ — made famous by Grover Washington Jr. in 1981. But before he became a renowned musician, William was “just another kid on the block,” trying to find himself. He grew up in New York City, the child of a single working mother, and learned that music would be his greatest companion.

Decades later, after building a successful music career, William became a proud grandfather. He and his eldest granddaughter Jada spent most of their summers together, bonding over music and playtime.

Photo: (R) William Salter, his granddaughter Jada and her father (L) Jamal Salter. Courtesy of Jada Salter.

In January of 2021, using StoryCorps Connect, Jada, 25, asked her grandfather how he first found his sound.

Top Photo: Young Jada Salter and her grandfather William in 2002. Courtesy of Jamal Salter.

Originally aired February 12, 2021 on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Charlottesville Victim Heather Heyer Remembered by Her Mother

On August 11 and 12, 2017, white nationalists from around the country gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia for a rally they called Unite the Right. They were met by counter-demonstrators who showed up to protest against the rally.

Heather Heyer, 32, was one of these counter-demonstrators. She was killed at the rally by a white nationalist when he drove his car into the crowd, also injuring 19 others.

Heather grew up in a small town in the area but was working in Charlottesville at a law firm when she was killed.

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At StoryCorps, her supervisor and friend, Alfred Wilson, sat down with her mother, Susan Bro, to remember the first time he met Heather, while she was interviewing for a job.

Top photo: Alfred Wilson, Heather’s supervisor from the law office where she worked, with Susan Bro, Heather’s mother, at their StoryCorps interview in Charlottesville, Virginia in July 2018. By Grace Pauley for StoryCorps.
Bottom photo: Heather Heyer in April of 2014. Courtesy of the Heather Heyer Foundation.

Originally aired August 10, 2018, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

A Family’s Rise from Tobacco Sharecroppers to Generations of Achievement

In the early 1960s, Percy White III lived on a farm in Dinwiddie County, Virginia with his grandparents, his parents, and his two sisters. The house had no electricity and no running water. To get water, Percy’s family had to carry it from a nearby creek.

The land they lived on wasn’t theirs; it was owned by a man named Robert Marek, who people called Mr. Marks. Percy’s family worked the fields.

Percy came to StoryCorps with his friend Terry Wright, where he shared what life on the farm was like.

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Top Photo: Percy White III is held by his father, Percy White, Jr, circa 1963. Courtesy of Percy White III.
Bottom Photo: Percy Ell White III and his friend Terry Wright at their StoryCorps interview on October 7, 2012 in Arlington, Virginia. By Erin Dickey for StoryCorps.

Originally aired August 3, 2018, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

A Mother on Growing Up in the 1960s in a Large Black Suburb

More than half a million Americans have recorded StoryCorps interviews across the country. Often, participants use the opportunity to pass vital wisdom and stories from one generation to the next. That was the case in this StoryCorps recording from Norfolk, Virginia.

Charisse Spencer came to StoryCorps with her teenage son Myles to tell him what it was like growing up in the 1960s in Cavalier Manor, Virginia — at the time, one of the largest black suburbs in the country.

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Bottom Photo: Charisse Spencer (right) with her sister Carol in 1967. Courtesy of Charisse Spencer.

Originally aired April 27, 2018, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Jane Vance and Lucinda Roy

On the morning of April 16, 2007, Seung-Hui Cho—a student at Virginia Tech—shot and killed 32 students and teachers, wounding 17 others. Until the 2016 massacre at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, it was the deadliest shooting rampage in U.S. history.

Artist Jane Vance and Professor Lucinda Roy were teaching at Virginia Tech that semester, although neither were present on the morning of the shooting.

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They returned to campus a week after the shooting when classes resumed for students who wanted to complete the term.

At StoryCorps, Jane Vance describes the inspiring way her class came together after the tragedy.


One of Jane’s former students, Kristen Wickham, was a freshman at the time of the shooting. Her friend Caitlin Hammaren was the only other student at Virginia Tech from Kristen’s home town of Westtown, NY, and was one of the 32 victims.

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At StoryCorps, Kristen sat down with her husband Andrew Baginski to remember Caitlin.

Originally aired April 14, 2017, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Top photo: Virginia Tech students sing “Amazing Grace” at the conclusion of a candle light vigil on the drill field Tuesday, April 17, 2007, in Blacksburg, Va.  (AP Photo/Roanoke Times, Josh Meltzer)
Center photo: Lucina Roy and Jane Vance on the Virginia Tech campus. (StoryCorps/Erica Yoon)
Bottom photo: Kristen Wickham and her husband, Andrew Baginski in New York City. (StoryCorps)

Vaughn Allex and Denise Allex

This weekend marks 15 years since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Each year since, StoryCorps has commemorated the day by featuring stories from the parents, wives, husbands, coworkers, and friends of those who died on 9/11. This year we hear from Vaughn Allex, a man whose life was affected in another way.

Vaughn was working at the American Airlines ticket counter at Dulles International Airport outside of Washington, D.C., on the morning of September 11 checking in passengers on Flight 77. Allex1As he was wrapping up, two men who were running late for the flight came to his counter.

Before the creation of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), airport security was more lax, and Vaughn did exactly what he was supposed to do — he checked both men’s IDs, asked them a few standard security questions, and then flagged their bags for extra scrutiny.

Vaughn then checked the two men in and they boarded the flight to Los Angeles.

Those two men were among the five hijackers onboard who crashed American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon, killing 189 people including themselves.

Vaughn, who retired from the airline industry in 2008 and now works for the Department of Homeland Security, came to StoryCorps with his wife, Denise, to discuss how he has felt since learning the next day that he checked in two of the 9/11 hijackers on American Airlines Flight 77.

Originally aired September 9, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Illustration by Matt Huynh for StoryCorps.

Jenna Henderson and Laurie Laychak

On June 17, 2007, Army Sgt. First Class Chris Henderson and two other soldiers were killed when an improvised explosive device detonated near their Humvee in Afghanistan.

Henderson5Chris enlisted in the Army during his senior year of high school, and soon after graduating in June 1991; he went off to boot camp. He spent more than 15 years in the military serving tours of duty in Bosnia and Kosovo, and was still in uniform when the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, occurred.

A month later, in October 2001, Operation Enduring Freedom began and in January 2007, Chris was deployed to the Kandahar Province in Afghanistan where he was part of a team working to help train Afghan National Army forces. Chris was killed on Father’s Day of that year; he was 35 years old. Henderson3He is survived by his wife, Jenna Henderson, and his 8-year-old daughter, Kayley.

Jenna and Chris met while in their 20s and had been married for seven years before he was killed. The family lived together in Fort Lewis, Washington, where Chris was based. He was a loving husband and a devoted father, and Jenna says, a total goofball. She remembers coming home to find Chris and 18-month-old Kayley in their bathing suits playing in mud puddles or riding on Chris’ motorcycle. The two were inseparable.

Now 18, Kayley bears a striking resemblance to her father. “When she’s upset, her little eyebrow twitches,” says Jenna, “And when she smiles, she’s kind of got that little crooked smile he had.” She has even participated in Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) at her high school and is hoping to soon get her motorcycle license.

Jenna still misses Chris terribly and holds on to one of the last letters she received from him. Henderson2“In it he said, how much he loved me and how he was glad that he had married me, and that he wouldn’t have changed that for the world.”

Jenna came to StoryCorps with Laurie Laychak (left), a mentor she met through the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) — an organization that offers compassionate care to those grieving the death of a loved one serving in the Armed Forces—to share memories of Chris.

Originally aired September 3, 2016, on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday.

Family photos of Chris, Jenna, and Kayley courtesy of Jenna Henderson.

Frank Scott and Warrick Scott

scottwendell1Wendell Scott (left) became the first African American driver to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame on January 30, 2015.

Scott started racing in 1952 toward the end of the Jim Crow era, and was the first African American to win at NASCAR’s elite major league level.

Scott’s family served as his racing team. They traveled to speedways together from their home in Danville, Virginia, and his sons worked as his pit crew.

Wendell Scott died in 1990. One of his sons, Frank (above left), and his grandson Warrick (above right), sat down to remember him for StoryCorps.

Watch “Driven,” Wendell’s story as a StoryCorps animated short.

Originally aired January 30, 2015, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Photo courtesy of the Wendell Scott Foundation.