Following his marriage to Sarah Shelton, Hanover County’s Patrick Henry lived on a 300-acre lot off Rural Point Road known as Pine Slash. Little did the man remembered as the “Voice of the Revolution” know another would begin right there on the property over 150 years later.
Pine Slash resident Lucian Hunter revolutionized school transportation for Black students across the country. The farmer and son of a slave purchased a bus in the early 1930s and arranged for three of his sons – Clarence, Earl and Chester – to drive students to school.
Before the Hunter family bus, Black students were forced to walk miles to school – from eastern Hanover to Ashland – if they had any dream of getting an education. This $50 purchase made Lucian the first person in Virginia to provide a bus for Black students.
“I went to Washington D.C. and looked through the archives,” his great-granddaughter Pamela Hazelwood said. “I’ve written every state in the United States to get verification of when their first Black school bus driver started.”
So far, Hazelwood has confirmed Lucian to be the first in many other states as well.
Hazelwood’s grandfather, Clarence, was the first to drive the bus.
“He drove his brothers and sisters – and a lot of people in the County – at 16 years old,” Hazelwood said.
Alongside other Hanover residents, Lucian petitioned the School Board for years asking for assistance with the busing. The minutes from September 1934 state, “the Board by unanimous action felt that acceptance of such obligation would not be wise and the request was accordingly not approved.”
The School Board granted $65 per month to fund the Hunter family bus the following year.
Hazelwood spent months digging through records to find this information, proving her great-grandfather was a hero in Hanover and not just the star of a family story.
“I just cried and was like ‘Thank God’ when I found it,” Hazelwood said. “This was in the records as something he really did.”
Hazelwood takes pride in her great-grandfather’s work and is continuing his legacy. She created the Lucian Hunter Foundation of Hope in 2009 to help low-income families.
“I want children to see what you strive for,” Hazelwood said. “There is a whole big world out there that you could hope to be a part of.”
On top of assisting individuals struggling with homelessness, food insecurities and other expenses, Hazelwood is giving back to those who inspired the nonprofit – bus drivers.
Each year, the Hunter Family holds an appreciation event recognizing bus drivers from across the state. The drivers receive a “VA Stellar Bus Driver” award, which pictures Lucian and his three sons.
“I want to connect my great-grandfather’s story to these messages because we need to show children you can stand for something great,” Hazelwood said. “If he could do it in the 1920s, you can do it in the 2020s.”
Hazelwood also operates a driving school in Henrico County where she teaches individuals with literacy difficulties the rules of the road.
“It’s just like watching somebody get a diploma,” Hazelwood described. “I put it out there so people know there’s a place to come to that can help you.”
Lucian’s legacy of leadership doesn’t stop with Pamela Hazelwood. Her cousin Earl Hunter Jr. was inspired by their family to join the School Board.
He was on the PTA at Rural Point Elementary School for 15 years before he was asked to join the Board. The previous Henry District representative was forced to find a replacement after redistricting.
“My father used to be PTA president at Pole Green and my grandfather bought a bus,” Hunter said. “I didn’t want them to turn over in their grave if I turned it down.”
He went on to serve the Henry District for 24 years.
“The PTA put into me to do my best at all kids being equal,” Hunter said. “We had a Board that came together and did things to improve the system.”
Hunter also acted as assistant treasurer on Hanover County’s NAACP. He was invited to join by his cousin and current president Patricia Hunter-Jordan.
“We work together to make Hanover a better place for everybody,” she said. “Our core value is making certain all of our kids will come up knowing and being better people.”
Hunter-Jordan says it is important to highlight not just her grandfather’s story, but all voices in the community that often go unheard.
“Most people who do things out of the goodness of their heart need to be recognized,” she said. “That’s why I believe his selflessness earns him that place.”
Hunter-Jordan worked alongside Hazelwood to advocate for the Historical Highway Marker honoring Lucian that was unveiled by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources in 2017.
The family received a certificate from Governor James S. Gilmore III recognizing July 29, 2000 as Lucian Hunter Day in the Commonwealth and a proclamation from Delegate Frank D. Hargrove Sr. in 2005 honoring Lucian’s hard work.
The Hunter family is working to guarantee Lucian’s story is never forgotten, so he can inspire the next generation to create change.
“We need to keep uplifting all children,” Hazelwood said. “They need to know there’s somebody out there that looks like them that has made a way for them.”