There stands on the banks of the York River at Cappahosic, Virginia, a regal two and one half story Georgian Revival style home known as Holly Knoll. It was designated a National Historic Landmark December 21, 1881. The house was originally built as a retirement home for Robert Russa Moton who occupied the house from 1935 until his death on May 31, 1940. It is also known as the Robert R. Moton House.
Robert Russa Moton was an influential black educator.
Moton graduated from the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in 1890 and went on to become the school’s commander of cadets from 1891 until 1915. The school is now known as Hampton University. When Dr. Booker T. Washington died in 1915 Moton took over the job as principle of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama which was founded by his close friend Booker T. Washington in 1881. Moton and Washington were convinced that African Americans should not openly defy segregation, but work with whites to improve schools and better themselves through education. Together Moton and Washington promoted vocational education and bi-racial cooperation. They raised money for their institutions from white northern philanthropists. In 1912 Moton founded the community-building Negro Organization Society of Virginia. The school slogan was “Better Schools, Better Health, Better Homes, Better Farms.” Moton received the Harmon Award in Race Relations in 1930 and the Sprigam Medal in 1932.
Woodrow Wilson, concerned about the conditions under which black soldiers were serving in 1918, sent Moton and two others to Europe to investigate. In 1922 Moton was chosen to speak at the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. In his lifetime, Dr. Moton was an advisor to five U.S. Presidents and numerous corporate leaders. Among his many guests at Holly Knoll was Dr. Martin Luther King, who is believed to have written portions of some of his most famous speech’s while visiting with Dr. Moton. An invitation from Dr. Motion to ‘come to Cappahosic” was indeed a highly cherished honor.
After his death Holly Knoll was occupied by Moton’s daughter Catherine and son-in-law, Dr. Frederick Patterson. Holly Knoll was eventually owned by the United Negro College fund and functioned as a conference center bringing together notables from the civil rights movement.
As a young girl, Kay Coles James visited Holly Knoll with her aunt and uncle. She has fond memories of those visits. Kay Coles James grew up in the middle of civil rights days, and she rose up from the slums of Portsmouth, Virginia to a position of governmental influence in the George H.W. Bush administration. James served in the White House as Associate Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and was deeply involved in developing and articulating drug policy. She was a spokesperson for the National Right to Life Committee and served as the Secretary of Health and Human Services for the state of Virginia under Governor George Allen.
When Kay Coles James retired from public life, she and her husband Charles James, Sr., pondered what they would do with their time. Would they travel the world and see the sights they have often wanted to visit or do something more important with their lives? The James’ chose to help mankind. Kay Coles James remembered her visits to Holly Knoll and initiated a search to find out about the property. What she discovered was a deteriorated Holly Knoll building and grounds, bringing her to tears.
Kay Coles James is not the kind of person to be discouraged by what many might consider an impossible dream. Her dream was to create a place where young minority students would gather to learn how to be leaders in their own community.
In one of her books, Transforming America from the Inside Out. (Zondervan Publishing House) Ms. James wrote: “Our personal contract must begin with our relationship with God, continue in our families, and extend to the institutions and elements of our community. In each area, we must take full responsibility and not surrender to the weakness of assigning blame to others.
Transforming our relationship with God: To bring about change in a sick culture, we must be a strong and fortified people—a people who understand both who we are and whose we are. If we are anemic and weak, we will be ineffective; or worse yet, destroyed. We must commit to transforming our relationship with God through prayer, fasting, fellowship, study—so that we may be equipped to run the set before us.
Transforming our family: We must all recognize that if we achieved our goal of restoring America and yet neglected our own families, we will have failed in our primary mission. God ordained families and made it abundantly clear through His Word the priority that He places on family structure and relationships. We must transform our own families and, by doing so secure the foundation of this nation.
Transforming our community: It is awfully tempting to seek to save the world while our next-door neighbor is hurting, while homeless people live on our city streets, while a sick friend is struggling to live with AIDS, or while racist attitudes exist in our community. If we begin to transform our communities house by house and street by street—our nation will eventually become the great nation we all desire it to be.”
The Gloucester Institute at Holly Knoll, under the leadership of Kay Coles James, is committed to providing an intellectually safe environment where ideas can be discussed and transformed into practical solutions that produce results. Gloucester Institute provides a peaceful place to restore and refresh leaders, and to train and nurture emerging leaders. The Gloucester Institute in its Leadership Center at Holly Knoll continues the work and memory of Dr. Robert Russa Moton through programs, activities, and maintenance of this historic home, Holly Knoll. Holly Knoll has become not only a place where students learn but a wonderful retreat house for business, religious and social groups to meet and exchange ideas.
Through a variety of programs the Gloucester Institute strives to cultivate a society of “solutionists” within minority communities. Kay Coles James is convinced that the only way to really change the downward spiral of American morality would not come through new legislation or at the ballot box. It would have to come from within the hearts and minds of every believer. Daily she works to win over those hearts and minds regardless of race, creed or color.
The mission of the Gloucester Institute is clearly stated on the website www.gloucesterinstitute.org
Basically, the Moton Campus of the Gloucester Institute is a warm and friendly place for African Americans of divergent views to come together and exchange ideas and work to resolve social, economic and political issues in the African American community. It is a place where scholars can meet and learn to communicate their vision to fellow minority students, scholars and business leaders. At the Gloucester Institute they have the opportunity to honor the legacy of African American leader
Dr. Robert Russa Moton by using his historic home, Holly Knoll, for training, conferences and retreats designed to influence the marketplace of social, economic and political ideas in the African American community. They have the opportunity to meet and get to know Kay Coles James who is a living symbol of what hard work and education can accomplish. Her rise from the projects to her job in the Bush administration is truly inspiring.
Kay Coles James, working with her husband and staff at Holly Knoll, provides the wherewithal to create an environment conducive to better understanding between races and to the development of young leaders of tomorrow. And in the process she has managed to restore an outstanding residence with beautiful grounds. Kay Coles James has challenged herself, and all that will join her, to work within our system of government to make America a safe and decent place in which to live and raise your family regardless of your race, creed or religion. It was a privilege for this writer to talk with her.