Historical marker nominations selected

Published 5:14 pm Thursday, August 19, 2021

Cumberland Middle School students were recognized Tuesday, Aug. 3, after Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam selected two student nominations for new state historical highway markers highlighting Asian American and Pacific Islander history in Virginia.

Students submitted suggestions for the new highway markers, which highlight topics of national, state and regional significance to Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) history in the commonwealth, through the inaugural AAPI Heritage Month Historical Marker Contest.

According to Lew Longenecker, a U.S. history teacher at Cumberland Middle School, the nominations were put forward this year by rising sixth-grade students attending summer school.

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After being presented with a list of possible individuals, students researched various candidates and discussed their findings together before agreeing upon who they wanted to nominate.

On Tuesday afternoon, the governor was joined by First Lady Pamela Northam and other members of his administration for a virtual event recognizing the students and educators who put forth this year’s winning submissions.

Of the five winning AAPI marker contest submissions, two were names put forward by Cumberland Middle School students. Winning nominees included Kim Kyusik and Arthur Azo Matsu.

According to a press release distributed Tuesday by the Office of Gov. Northam, Kyusik graduated in 1903 from Roanoke College, which funds a fellowship in his memory. He held multiple roles in the provisional government of the Republic of Korea, including as foreign minister and vice president. Kyusik was a representative at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference and was kidnapped by North Korean factions after World War II, eventually dying in captivity.

Matsu, a 1927 graduate of William & Mary, was the institution’s Asian American student. The son of a Scottish mother and a Japanese father, he became a leader on campus. Matsu became the first Japanese-American football player in the National Football League as a quarterback after guiding William & Mary’s offense from 1923 to1926 and lead the program to its first postseason win.

While exciting, Tuesday’s festivities were not the first time Cumberland students put forth a winning nomination for a historical highway marker contest.

Last school year, middle schoolers nominated Cumberland County resident Samuel P. Bolling for the commonwealth’s Black History Month Historical Highway Marker Contest.

Born into slavery in 1819, Bolling went on to become a successful entrepreneur and was later elected to the Virginia House of Delegates as a member of the Readjuster Party, a biracial coalition which accomplished significant reforms in the late 1800s.

A highway marker recognizing Bolling is slated to go up in Cumberland County sometime in the near future.

Two Cumberland Middle School students, Jack Parker and Andrew Crenshaw, spoke during Tuesday’s virtual celebration acknowledging the winning submissions.

“The Historical Marker Contest helped me learn more about Virginians who made a big impact, like Arthur Matso, the first Japanese-American to play in the NFL,” Crenshaw said in the release. “As I researched Arthur Matso, I learned how much he did for the sport of football and for Virginia. He played quarterback at William & Mary and coached football at several Virginia high schools, inspiring students like me to work hard and do their best.”

Longenecker said experiences like the historical marker contests help expose students to more of the state’s history, helping to build well-rounded students.

“We have really, really good students that are capable of anything,” he noted.

The five new markers are set to be formally submitted to the Board of Historic Resources in September. Officials expect the markers to receive approval in the coming months. Once installed, they will be among the first highway markers in Virginia to focus on Asian American and Pacific Islander history.