A Production of the Heritage Museum
Exhibit Home or Go to Home Page

George Ambrose Newman

Although born in 1855 to parents who were free by birthright, George Newman should not have been taught to read and write; it was against the law. A woman of means had recognized his potential and taught him despite the possible repercussions.

After serving in an educational capacity in Warren County, Virginia, George Ambrose Newman moved to Harrisonburg in 1875 as principal of the “colored” school, where he received a salary of $30 annually. He diligently tutored his teachers in the art of teaching, conducting seminars, workshops and organized schools designed to prepare teachers for passing state examinations.

Mr. Newman served 28 years as a teacher and administrator in the city school system. He later traveled throughout the United States with the US Marshall’s Office and maintained his avocation as a minister with the United Brethren in Christ Church, serving such charges as Zenda, Dungee’s Chapel, Keezletown and Pleasant Valley.

Mr. Newman died in 1944. Six of his children became teachers in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County. Considered a crucial educational leader in Harrisonburg during the post-Civil War years, George A. Newman is remembered as “quiet, humble man but often leading the battle for first class citizenship.” He likely authored the following poem in response to Tennessee’s 1881 passage of law requiring separate train cars for blacks and whites.

Photo and poem courtesy Ruth Toliver, granddaughter of G. A. Newman.

The Jim Crow Car
of Tennessee
by G. A. Newman of VA

Dear friends, I'm sorry to relate
It's known both near and far,
In Tennessee, that grand old State,
They use the Jim Crow Car;
And every colored citizen,
No matter what his fame,
Must ride inside that special den;
I tell you, it's a shame.


The Jim Crow Car of Tennessee
Is not the car for me,
And if I only had a chance
I'd make the Legislature dance.

The Jim Crow Car has seats for all
Who bear the fateful mark,
And, though you tower e'er so tall,
Get in; your skin is dark!
Your first-class fare is no defence,
Your ticket's but a lie;
A sham, an insult, a pretence:
This fact you'll not deny.


We know not where to take our case
To get ourselves relieved.
As Uncle Sam's not in the race
When Afric's Sons are grieved;
So we must rise in self defence,
Though humble we may be.
And show, by using common sense,
That we will still be free.


No more excursions for our race
To this place and to that,
Let us presume it a disgrace,
And sit down on them flat.
Then, when they see we have the grit
To boycot, near and far,
They'll change the law, and let us sit
In any proper car.


The Jim Crow Car of Tennessee
Don't give us a fair show,
And sure as Negroes were made free,
The hateful Jim Crow Car "must go."