Please join us for this dedication ceremony – and to help honor the memory and legacy of Bethany Veney.
Speakers at the event will include:
- Benetta Kufour, great great granddaughter of Bethany Veney
- Del Price, President of Shenandoah Valley Black Heritage Project
- Jerry Dofflemyer, Mayor of Luray
- Minister Audre King, ER Church
- Rod and Isabel Graves, Luray Caverns
- Keven Walker, CEO, Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation
The remembrance garden is located at 41 Carillon Drive, Luray, Virginia, near the Bethel Baptist Church on Main Street in Luray.
The Bethany Veney interpretive marker is part of the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation’s Long Road to Freedom Project.
Supported by a grant from the National Park Service, the Long Road to Freedom Project will create a Valley-wide trail to tell the story of African-Americans in the Shenandoah Valley during the Civil War era and during the long journey from Civil War to Civil Rights. Working with partners, the trail will link together historic sites and stories throughout the Valley with wayside interpretive markers, state historical markers, orientation panels, promotional materials, a trail-wide visitor guide, a website, and digital and technological tools.
Landscaping of remembrance garden courtesy of the Hill and Valley Garden Club and Brick House Nursery
Antique bench for garden courtesy of the Town of Luray and the Comer Family
Grounds, materials, and labor for site courtesy of Luray Caverns
Bethany Veney (c. 1813-1916)
Born into slavery (as Bethany Johnson) near Luray around the year 1813, Bethany Veney lived a remarkable life that she documented in her autobiography, Aunt Betty’s Story: The Narrative of Bethany Veney, a Slave Woman.
Bethany was 9 years old when her mother died; of her father, she recalled, “I knew nothing.” She served under several owners, but found comfort when she converted to Christianity. In the late 1830s, she met and married a fellow slave, Jerry Fickland, but their marriage ended when he was sold and taken further south. Bethany’s daughter with Jerry, Charlotte, was born in January 1844.
In the 1850s, while serving as a cook for free black men working on constructing a pike (roadway), she met and married her second husband, Frank Veney, with whom she had a son named Joe. When she returned to Luray, she was able to hire her time out and earned enough money to rent her own home.
Late in the 1850s, Bethany and her son were purchased by a northern mining speculator, then taken north to Rhode Island in 1859 and freed. Her daughter, Charlotte, Charlotte’s husband (Aaron Jackson), and Frank Veney were all still in Virginia. Bethany planned to return to the Valley, but John Brown’s 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry, the ensuing sectional tensions, and the Civil War that followed derailed those plans.
Late in 1859, as Bethany recalled, “my little Joe sickened and died.” She moved to Worcester, where she joined the Park Street Methodist Church and built a new life. (In 1867 she would help found the African Methodist Episcopal Bethel Church.)
When the Civil War ended, Bethany returned to the Shenandoah Valley, where, she recalled, “I found my daughter Charlotte grown to womanhood, married, and had one child.” She returned three more times, and eventually brought all 16 of her relatives back north.
Aunt Betty’s Story was published in 1889. At the close of her narrative, Bethany said, “My back is not so straight nor so strong, my sight is not so clear, nor my limbs so nimble as they once were; but I am still ready and glad to do whatsoever my hand findeth to do, waiting only for the call to ‘come up higher.'” Bethany died in Charlotte’s home in 1916.