A portrait of a woman smiling
Angela Lehman, who is pursuing a master's degree in history, loves that research allows her to tell "stories that haven’t been heard or are incomplete or misunderstood." (Contributed photo)

Angela Lehman helps untangle Virginia’s school desegregation history

Graduate student now eyes career related to museum or historic site work.

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Virginia Commonwealth University student Angela Lehman’s most exciting moment last semester happened in the library. She spent countless hours combing through years of New Kent school board minutes and documents in the reading room of the Library of Virginia, and eventually she discovered a wadded-up piece of paper in the back of an old folder. It contained the transcript of a 1965 Pupil Placement Board hearing at which parents challenged the placement of African American students in schools.

“The school board minutes barely mentioned it. They clearly didn’t want it to go into their minutes,” Lehman said. “And here was the complete transcript in a pile of documents. It revealed the strategy that the parents and NAACP lawyer Henry Marsh used to challenge how New Kent County was dragging its feet on desegregation. Even though they weren't successful this time, you can see how organized and determined they were. It was really exciting.”

As a graduate student in the Department of History in the College of Humanities and Sciences, Lehman spent her first year in the master’s program as a research assistant to Brian Daugherity, Ph.D., an associate professor in the department. Daugherity’s latest project is a documentary on a Supreme Court case, 1968’s Green v. School Board of New Kent County.

“I came into the program without a strong research background – my background is in poetry – and I was thrown into the deep end,” Lehman said. “It was a great experience … It felt like I was solving a mystery. There were days when I would be in the reading room, and they would announce that they were closing and to turn in my documents. I would be so disappointed, like I just got to the exciting part!”

“As a research assistant, Angela demonstrated many of the skills that we teach, and practice with, our history graduate students – organization, perseverance, professionalism and a commitment to leaving no stone unturned,” Daugherity said. “Her assistance with my research on school desegregation in Virginia helped uncover new records that will be quite helpful in untangling and telling this important story. It was a true pleasure working with her.”

Lehman, a nontraditional student, spent her post-undergraduate career crafting articles and poems. When the pandemic brought an opportunity for her to pivot, she decided to enroll in the master’s program.

“Previously I taught, but now I’m aiming toward a career in museum or historic site work,” Lehman said. “What I love about research is that it puts together stories that haven’t been heard or are incomplete or misunderstood. I look forward to the public-facing aspect to research – how we present findings in writing, through exhibits or tours.”

Lehman is continuing her work with      Daugherity this      academic year and remains      grateful for her research experience.

“Every VCU student should take the opportunity to do research,” she said, “because it's a chance to learn through doing and to be a part of something larger than yourself.”