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Town and Gown: Keep it Going

We came to Farmville from Huntsville, Alabama in 2004 when my wife Leigh took a position in the math department at Longwood.

Marcus Pendergrass

I had a little consulting business at the time, doing mathematical work for wireless communications firms, and I could do most of the work from home. We liked the small-town friendliness of Farmville and its southern charm. I started doing some part-time teaching at Longwood and Hampden-Sydney, and by 2006 I had a full-time position teaching math at Hampden-Sydney. So yes, Farmville has been very good to us.

One of the first things we learned about Farmville, even before we moved here, was its historic role in the Civil Rights movement. I have always thought that the movement represented one of the finest moments in American democracy, and I had always admired its leaders, people like MLK, JohnLewis, Diane Nash, and all the rest. But I had never heard of Barbara Johns and the Moton School strike. As I learned more about it, I was blown away by the courage and conviction shown by the 16-year-old Johns and her classmates as they demanded fair and equal access to education. And though the road was long and hard, we know that their actions ultimately made a huge difference: our town, our state, and our country, are now far better places because of what they did.

I’ve written and played music since I was a kid, and the first song I wrote after coming to Farmville was a tune called “Walkout,”in honor of Barbara Johns and the Moton School strikers. Several years back I had the honor of playing the song at the Moton Museum, and it is something I will always reᆳmember proudly. I continue to play the song

whenever I can, most recently at last year’sHeart of Virginia Festival, and I’m pleased and humbled by the acceptance it’s gained in our community. There’s a link at the end of this article where you can listen to the song.

The music scene in Farmville has expanded and diversified greatly sinceI’ve been here. Of course, Longwood and Hampden-Sydney both have excellent music departments, and their students and faculty have enriched our community for many years. But there are many great local musicians active in the area, and you can hear them most any weekend right here in downtown Farmville. My own local band is called Jackson, Pendergrass, and Townsend, and we do jazz, blues, and rock. I also play with a jazz group in Lynchburg called Feng Sway. But whatever your taste in music, you can bet someone is playing it live somewhere in Farmville.

Undeniably, Farmville is experiencing a renaissance, and I’m optimistic it will continue. Longwood and Hampden-Sydney are both growing, and both are increasing their outreach into the community.

Local arts organizations, like WaterworksPlayers, Voices of Unity Choir, CentralVirginia Arts, Unified Theatre Company,and many others, are increasing the cultural offerings available here.

The restaurant and dining scene has grown by leaps and bounds over the past few years, and local businesses are thriving. Progress like this only comes when all segments of the community — “Town,” “Gown,” and everyone in between — work together. Let’s keep it going.

You can hear “Walkout” at the following webpage: https://fengsway.hearnow.com

MARCUS PENDERGRASS has taught mathematics at Hampden-Sydney College since 2006. He is interested in the relationships between mathematics and music, and has published research in this field. He is also a musician, and can be heard regularly at venues in Farmville and the surrounding areas.