This is Lackey, VA. A community shaped by a culture of historical injustice and chronic discrimination. Lackey is a small community of approximately 3500 people in York County, which is ranked fifth in Virginia by the County Health Rankings for health outcomes. Slightly more than 13% of the population in York County is Black, yet 50% of residents in Lackey are Black. Average life expectancy in Lackey is 75.5 years, the lowest in all of York County, a difference of almost 8 years to the census tract with the highest life expectancy just a few miles down the road (Well Being in the Nation Network). The Culture of Health observed in Lackey is observed by a concentration of housing choice voucher program communities, redlined and isolated neighborhoods, lack of food sources, low vehicle ownership, insufficient sidewalks and no bike lanes, and a free clinic to serve local neighbors. The juxtaposition of this area to those nearby demonstrates clear disparity and inequity.
The premise of this work is that land injustice has perpetuated chronic discrimination, and is why Lackey is an area where food is difficult to buy. In 1865, The Freedmen’s Bureau provided food, housing and medical aid, established schools, and offered legal assistance in Lackey. It also settled freed slaves on land confiscated or abandoned during the war specifically along the banks of the York River. However, the Bureau was prevented from fully carrying out its programs due to a shortage of funds and personnel, along with the politics of race and Reconstruction. Still, the African-American community in Lackey began to thrive and for 60 years, the land was farmed, the waters were alive with fishing and oystering, families built homes, there were schools and churches, and a stable economy.
The African-American population doubled the White population in York County in 1870. By 1919/1920, it was completely diminished. The entire settlement in Lackey, also known as the Reservation, was seized to create the Yorktown Naval Weapons Station. It was a time of war and the significant displacement of the families were uncompensated. Most families went to Newport News or Hampton, but about half remained in the area in what is the Lackey of today. The Civilian Conservation Camps began to pop up to support infrastructure and national park development. It was a small-scale program similar to the Freedmen’s Bureau but for men ages 18 to 25. Many of the families had been displaced to national park lands and, over 20 years starting in 1960, the National Park Service forced the families off the land. The residuals of this chronic disenfranchisement of the land punished a specific population of people. Freed slaves. Black Americans. Since 1995, the community has worked hard to assure resources for healthcare and housing. The Lackey Free Clinic provides healthcare to residents in the area, and all of the HUD/section 8 neighborhoods received a $24 million upgrade between 2001 and 2006. But still, a land that was farmed for decades provides no real food sources for the Lackey community. It is 155 years past time that we make it right and bring to fruition a more equitable community in York County.
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