Who was Shed Dungee? Cumberland native fought for interracial marriage

Published 3:30 pm Tuesday, February 14, 2023

CUMBERLAND – He was the first Black man to represent Buckingham and Cumberland counties in the Virginia House of Delegates. He was a trained cobbler and licensed preacher. But beyond that, almost 100 years before the Loving family fought to legalize interracial marriage in Virginia, Shed Dungee did the same.

Who was Shed Dungee?

Dungee was born on Christmas Day 1831, as a slave in Cumberland County. Gaining his freedom after the American Civil War, he worked as a trained cobbler and practiced in the county. According to Encyclopedia Virginia, he may have received some schooling while still a slave but he attended a school for freedmen, where recently freed Virginia men sought education for themselves and their children.

He later became licensed as a preacher and establish the Slate River Colored Baptist Association in 1877. He also served as a trustee in the Baptist Aid Society in Buckingham County.

Getting into politics

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According to Encyclopedia Virginia, Dungee’s first known involvement in politics was in 1879. He was the first Black man elected to represent Buckingham and Cumberland counties in the House of Delegates.

Dungee spent his time in politics focusing on education and repaying debts. He was a part of the Readjuster Party, which, according to Encyclopedia Virginia, focused on reducing the amount of state debt that accumulated before the war and rose with interest during the war by reducing the amount of principal and interest rate. This party believed that this debt stood as a threat to important state programs, like public schools. He even met with President Rutherford B. Hayes where he discussed how to reduce these debts and the needs of the Black community.

Dungee then took a seat at the Virginia General Assembly 32 years after he had accompanied his master during his time of service. Here is where he introduced several bills, most notably the first bill to call for the end to the restrictions on interracial marriage, which unfortunately did not pass.

“It’s really notable for a man who was once a slave to rise to be in the General Assembly after accompanying his slave owner,” said Muriel Miller Branch, a member of the Cumberland NAACP. “Now here he is a part of that same body.”

According to Branch, Dungee helped many bills pass that helped education, which is notable for a man who grew up a slave. Education was important to him, which was reflected in his son, Grant Dungee, who grew up to be an educator, pastor and newspaper publisher.

The fight for interracial marriage

During his time in the Assembly, Shed Dungee also became the first to file a bill calling for an end to the restriction on interracial marriage. Dungee wrote in the bill that outlawing interracial marriage went against the U.S. Constitution. If all men are created equal, if Congress shall establish no law prohibiting the free exercise of a person’s religion, then how can the nation say a Black man and White woman, or Black woman and White man, can’t be married, he questioned? However, he lost that fight.

In March 1880, the Virginia House voted to dismiss his resolution, keeping the ban against interracial marriage in place.

According to Encyclopedia Virginia, Dungee did not seek reelection in 1883, even though he stayed in touch and was up to date with the happenings in the Readjuster and Republican parties. He passed away on March 30, 1900. They buried Shed Dungee at Mount Olive Baptist Church in Cumberland with his wife, Mary Agnes Coleman.