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Petersburg African American Trolley Tour: Treska Wilson-Smith fine-tuning it

Historic marker in Petersburg, Va.

PETERSBURG — Have you taken the Petersburg African American Trolley Tour? The inaugural tour took place in February in honor of Black History Month. The free seats were scooped up quickly.

“It is the first tour for African American history in the city,” Treska Wilson-Smith said. “It means a lot to me because this will help the city in a lot of ways. When we first introduced the tour, it took off. We had only planned to do two tours, but we had such a waiting list that we ended up giving a number of tours.”

Hopewell resident NaQuetta Mitchell, Women of Endurance CEO and founder, took the trolley tour with her daughters. They all enjoyed it.

“Local history matters because a city is not a community without an understanding of its past. The traditions, stories and civic commemorations transforms cities into a community,” Mitchell posted on Facebook. “Telling these stories and continuing these local traditions helps strengthen our community connection.”

Wilson-Smith, former Petersburg council member and 2022 winner of WRIC’s Remarkable Women contest, has narrated nine tours, and historian Lucious Edwards, retired Virginia State University [VSU] history professor and archivist, shared his knowledge on two of them. The last graduating class of Peabody High School reserved two busses to take the tour as part of their reunion. Both Wilson-Smith and her husband Larry Akin Smith served as guides.

“We travel to Pocahontas Island and see the building which was Richard Stewart’s Black History Museum. Then, come back and talk about Southside Railroad Depot. We look at the home of Elizabeth Keckley, visit Corling’s Corner, and talk about the Joseph Jenkins Roberts monument,” Treska Wilson-Smith said. “We also visit Poplar Lawn Park which had a hospital for African Americans who fought in the Civil War and where African Americans used to celebrate Emancipation Day.”

Petersburg: African American Trolley Tour

Petersburg: African American Trolley Tour

During the interview, Wilson-Smith enthusiastically described historic sites included on the tour:

  • First Baptist Church: Oldest Black Baptist church in the nation
  • J. M. Wilkerson Funeral Establishment: Oldest Black business in Petersburg
  • Halifax Triangle aka The Avenue [South Avenue, Halifax and Harrison Streets]: Petersburg’s Black business center until the 1970s
  • Mount Olive Church: Martin Luther King, Jr. visited in 1956
  • Zion Baptist, Gillfield Baptist and other churches
  • Former home of Undine Smith Moore [1904-1989]: Educator and composer
  • Former home of Hermanze Fauntleroy Jr. [1932-2010], first Black Petersburg mayor and Germaine S. Fauntleroy, first Black female superintendent of Petersburg Public Schools
  • Virginia landmark: Former home to wartime USO club [later Beaux-Twenty Club], facility for Black troops during the Jim Crow era of segregation
  • Virginia landmark: Martin Luther King Jr. safe house
  • Former home of Moses Malone [1955-2015], NBA legend and Hall of Famer
  • Former home of Ricky Hunley, All-America linebacker at University of Arizona and College Football Hall of Famer, currently defensive line coach at University of Memphis
  • Peabody Building: Oldest and first Black public high school in the Commonwealth of Virginia
  • Trailways Bus Station: Site of civil rights protests and 1960, 1961 sit-ins
Halifax Music Festival on

“We also visit Lee Park now Legends Park which was once segregated. We go in the back and talk about the African American women who made way for the paths and many flowers and things they planted. They worked under Franklin D. Roosevelt as part of the WPA [Work Projects Administration],” Wilson-Smith said. “On Harrison St., we talk about our lady Susie Byrd who worked for Roosevelt writing slave narratives. We present a slave narrative for those who want to read it.”

The well-known Petersburgers also highlight Judge Roger Gregory, the first Black appellate court judge from the state of Va. as well as Donald Jefferson who grew up to become a composer.

“We go to Florence Farley’s [1928-2022] house and there’s so much to say about her I couldn’t tell it all to you,” Wilson-Smith said. “There’s so much history… we can’t fit it in one tour. I’ll have to add a second tour and probably a third.”

James Richardson takes a break from biking to enjoy the fountain at Poplar Lawn Park in Petersburg, Va. on June 28, 2023.

Wilson-Smith is currently working on creating a second Black history tour which will feature Battlefield Park, Blandford Cemetery, People’s Memorial Cemetery, formerly known as Providence Cemetery, VSU, Central State, the home of Victoria Gray Adams [1926-2006] who helped open Freedom Schools that pushed for civil rights in Mississippi in 1964, and the Thomas Day House with elements constructed by Day [1801-1861], a free Black cabinetmaker.

“The city could really profit financially from these tours,” Wilson-Smith said. “The more I study, the more I learn, the more I need to add new information.”

The next two-hour tour is Saturday, July 15, however, it is via invitation only. It will begin at the Petersburg Public Library at 10 a.m. Wilson-Smith’s goal is to have tourists critique the tour so she can fine-tune it. The city of Petersburg hopes to offer the next one open to the public in the fall.

Follow The City of Petersburg VA – Office of Recreation and Special Events on Facebook for tour announcements. For more information or to reserve a seat in the future, call 804-324-4015 or send an email to

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— Kristi K. Higgins aka The Social Butterfly, an award-winning columnist, is the trending topics and food Q&A reporter at The Progress-Index voted the 2022 Tri-Cities Best of the Best Social Media Personality. Have a news tip on local trends or businesses? Contact Kristi (she, her) at, follow @KHiggins_PI on Twitter @socialbutterflykristi on Instagram.

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