The town of Altavista took an important step this Sunday to honor and preserve the legacy of perhaps its most underappreciated founding father; John Henry Mosley.
The Park on Avondale Drive was named after Mosley in an official proclamation from Mayor Mike Mattox. Mattox also proclaimed an annual John Henry Mosley Memorial Day. Mosley’s legacy will now be remembered every year in Altavista on the Sunday following April 15, or each time someone stops to look at his plaque in the newly minted John Henry Mosley Memorial Park.
“It was the right thing to do in my opinion to bring that name back in some form or fashion so that he could be memorialized for his contribution to the town of Altavista and to the African American Community,” Vice Mayor Reggie Bennett said about the dedication.
Bennett first floated the idea to honor Mosley in some way at a town council meeting last year. Until then, Mosley was mostly forgotten by Altavista—but not by his many descendants.
Mosley had five children with his first wife, Mary Francis, who passed away before Mosley moved to Altavista. He then had three more children with his second wife, Callie. The family only grew from there.
At least 50 of Mosley’s grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren attended the dedication, traveling from as far away as California.
One of those descendants, Fayth Brice, Mosley’s great-granddaughter from Baltimore, Maryland, grew up visiting Altavista from time to time to see family. She recalled one visit six years ago that she made for a family reunion. She was able to meet many family members who were also related to Mosley for the first time, and a tradition was born.
“After that they were trying to do it every two years in different places,” Brice said about her extended family’s now regular get-togethers. “But we started it here.”
Even before the first reunion in Altavista, Brice had been conducting genealogical research about her family and Mosley in particular. Then, less than a year ago, she found an article about the dedication of John Henry Mosley Memorial Park online, and saw that town officials wanted to get in touch with Mosley’s descendants.
“So, I just reached out,” Brice said.
Brice was able to get in touch with Bennett and with Mike Hudson, the director of Avoca Museum, both of whom helped coordinate the ceremony. She then rallied family from all over the country to come to town for the dedication.
Lenny Williams, another one of Mosley’s great-grandchildren, traveled from New York for the ceremony.
“It’s really awe inspiring,” He said about the event.
No records indicate why John Mosley left his birthplace in Charlotte County. But Williams said his grandmother told him Mosley had to leave because his white neighbors wanted to take his land and lynch him. Still, Mosley managed to become a successful businessman and a true community leader in a new place.
“In that era, in that climate, it amazes me how he maintained everything and continued to prosper,” Williams said. “So many people would have given up.”
Arnold Anthony, Mosley’s grandson, said his mother always told him Mosley was a man of great character.
“She always thought he was the most honest person she’d ever met in her life,” Anthony said.
Anthony said his grandfather was a God-fearing man who was known for being fair. Perhaps it’s only right then, as Bennett said, that he be recognized for all he did.
“It might have been neglected or overlooked,” Bennett said about the dedication. “But now it’s done. And it was done because it’s the right thing to do.”