It’s a home that played a major role in the American civil rights movement. But if you were to ask most Gloucester residents about the historic significance of Holly Knoll, odds are you’d probably be greeted with blank stares.
Gloucester historian Dr. Wesley Wilson hopes to enlighten visitors to the Cappahosic estate this weekend, as he portrays Dr. Frederick Douglass Patterson, former president of what is now Tuskegee University and founder of the United Negro College Fund.
Holly Knoll is one of three Gloucester properties featured on Saturday’s Garden Week tour; the other two are White Hall in Zanoni and Shadow Hill in Hayes. See Section C for more on this year’s tour.
Holly Knoll was the retirement home of civil rights leader Dr. Robert Russa Moton. He would frequently invite the great African American leaders of the day there with the simple phrase, “Come to Cappahosic.” Holly Knoll continued to flourish as a center for the civil rights movement under the watchful eye of his son-in-law—Dr. Patterson.
After Moton’s death in 1940, Patterson established the Moton Conference Center to continue his father-in-law’s work in education, with Holly Knoll, a beautiful Georgian-style home overlooking the York River, becoming the center of the campus.
Wilson will wear a tuxedo as he portrays Patterson. Like Moton, Patterson sought to bring together representatives from the 29 historically black colleges from about 70 years ago and well into the 1980s to improve the lives of African Americans.
Patterson was not a great orator like Moton, Wilson said, but was a good organizer. Much of the planning for civil rights events from the 1940s through the 1980s took place at Holly Knoll, he said.