By Carol Vaughn —
Dozens of people turned out for an event Saturday to talk about Whitesville — its past and especially its future.
Family members of Willie “Bill” Davis Sr., who operated a pool hall in the community, organized the event, held on Davis’ Parks Street property and dubbed Whitesville Renaissance.
They are planning to refurbish the 1960s-era brick building, which was left to them upon Davis’ death, and to use it for a community center, to be called the Davis Center.
“We need to get the doors open,” said Ola Ofunniyin, one of Davis’ granddaughters.
Attendees were encouraged to fill out a survey to assess community needs.
“This is a community effort, for the entire community. … We want to hear from you,” said Aya Ofunniyin, another of Davis’ granddaughters.
“This project is very important, not only to this community, but to the Parksley and Accomack County areas,” she said.
Ofunniyin described the Davis Center as “a place for youth and adults to gather in a safe place where they can be creative, that will have a technology center, a community library. We’ll also have an entrepreneurial hub.”
Whitesville, population around 210, is just south of Parksley. Likely named after Harry White, an early landowner, the community was developed by Lizzie Chadbourne after she purchased 50 acres, according to a Parksley walking tour booklet published by the Eastern Shore Public Library.
When Parksley was incorporated in 1904, the town limits did not include the Black community of Whitesville.
Whitesville at one time was a central location where Black Eastern Shore residents came for services and entertainment.
It had a Rosenwald elementary school, built in 1925, which operated until 1964. The building now is the meeting place for the International Brotherhood of Yahshua’s Disciples, according to the booklet.
Whitesville also was home to a movie theater, a grocery store, restaurants, a dance hall, Davis’ pool hall, and more, including Adams United Methodist Church, which is still active.
Doreen Simmons, the Ofunniyins’ mother, spoke about Whitesville’s history and plans for the center.
Simmons, who grew up in New York but now lives on the Shore, recalled coming home to Whitesville to visit every summer.
“I always enjoyed coming home, because the community was so united and everyone took care of everyone,” she said, adding, “We are trying to bring that back to the community here — that we take care of each other, we help each other with the children, we help each other with any issue that they may have.”
Bishop David Sabatino spoke about his memories of Whitesville.
His mother attended school in Whitesville and spoke of the community being a busy business area, which it continued to be in Sabatino’s youth.
“When I grew up, you could come to Whitesville for anything from a haircut, to eat, just to hang out and shoot pool. … This whole block and all the way down the street were African American-owned businesses,” he said, adding, “There was truly a sense of community…. I really believe if all of us buy in…to what’s here, not only can it be what it was, but it can be greater than it ever was.”
Camesha Handy’s grandmother was a midwife in the community and delivered more than 1,200 children on the Shore.
Among Handy’s memories of Whitesville is staying at her grandmother’s house as a child.
She and her brother were afraid of going upstairs to bed in the dark.
“What got us through the night was listening to all of the motorcycles and the cars and the people walking up and down the streets,” she said.
Across from her grandmother’s house was a place called Samson’s, which sold food.
“There were always people there,” Handy said.
Her most prominent memory was Mr. Jimmy Hightower’s swimming pool, the only in-ground pool available locally to Black people.
Hightower charged 25 cents to get in; the pool was open Saturdays and Sundays.
His two daughters, Monica and Regina, knew how to swim and taught the other area youth to swim, while also serving as lifeguards at the Hightowers’ pool, Handy recalled. Hightower also had food, a pool table, and pinball in a building there.
“It was just a great, great time to be a child in Whitesville,” she said, adding, “…I really hope and pray and believe that this family is going to bring back the vibrance and the exuberance to this community.”
Parksley Mayor Frank Russell, Parksley town council members Dan Matthews and Sam Welch, and Accomack County Supervisor Paul Muhly were among those who attended the event.
“I think it’s a wonderful thing that they are trying to accomplish out there,” Russell said afterward, adding, “I wished them well, and I told them that the town of Parksley was their neighbor and we wanted to do anything we could to try to help them.”
“I think it’s a great idea. Whitesville needs to be revitalized and I think this could be the catalyst that could help push that along,” Muhly said.
An online fundraiser for the Davis Center is at https://www.gofundme.com/f/davis-center
The Davis Center’s website is daviscenteresva.org and the center is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/DavisCenterESVA
Email [email protected] or call the center at (757) 632-0324.