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Ruth and Lowell Toliver Collection of Newman Family Papers

Identifier: SC 0313
  • Not requestable

  • Staff Only

Scope and Content

The Ruth and Lowell Toliver Collection of Newman Family Papers, circa 1875-2005, comprises a manuscript, writings, personal papers, photograph facsimiles, church records, and correspondence related to George A. Newman (1855-1944), his daughter Ruby Newman Temple (1898-1983), his grandson Austin Gerald Harris (1941-2005), and Harrisonburg's Northeast Neighborhood and Newtown.

According to Ruth Toliver, George A. Newman's 480-page unpublished manuscript titled "A Miserable Revenge: A story of life in Virginia" is a work of fiction with autobiographical elements. The manuscript is divided into 40 chapters and begins: "A finer estate than that of Joshua Sowers could not be found in all Virginia. We will not give the exact date, let it suffice for us to say we begin our story April the first, in a certain part of the nineteenth century. The morning was a clear, beautiful one. We locate the scene of our story in the county of Frederick, a short distance from the then small town of Winchester. The estate was rightly named Brookland, for the land was covered with brooks. Mr. Sowers owned a large mill." Newman introduces a character named William G. Reed as the hero of the story who is leaving Brookland for Chicago. While not explicitly discussed in the manuscript, it is presumed that both Sowers and Reed are white men. African American characters include Jack, Joshua Sowers's "faithful servant;" Aunt Sally, the Sowers' enslaved cook; and George, a free child who lived with Sowers. Researchers should note that the manuscript contains the use of racial slurs and further, the enslaved African American characters are depicted as speaking in a stereotypical dialect as was common practice in late 19th century American literature. George, on the other hand, "had learned to read and write and he always spoke very fluently." While a complete summary of the manuscript is unavailable pending its transcription, identified plot points include a romantic relationship between the aforementioned William Reed and Ella Armistead, a white woman, as well as the stabbing of Mattie, Joshua Sowers's daughter.

The manuscript pages are numbered in the same hand as the manuscript (George A. Newman's). The following pages are not extant and are missing from the manuscript entirely: pages 71-72, 76-82, 84, 267, 272-275, 289-291, and 375. Newman's page number for page 331 was torn away and at a later time was numbered as page 332, but contextual clues confirm that it is in fact page 331. The page was marked as such by the archivist and the incorrect page number was also retained. Only two pages are present between pages 346-349, and for both of the extant pages the page numbers are at least partially torn away rendering them illegible and their exact order unclear. The pages were kept in the order in which they were received with the exception of a few instances in which numbered pages were clearly misordered and were reordered by the archivist to reflect the accurate numerical page order.

The manuscript is undated, but writings appearing on select verso pages date to 1875 and 1876. It is unclear if these writings are in Newman's hand. They largely appear to be handwriting exercises or draft correspondence and also include a nine page essay titled "An Essay on Truth" which begins on the verso of page 391 continuing through page 409 on the odd page numbers with a few pages skipped. While undated, context clues within the essay, specifically an anecdote regarding New York Senator Roscoe Conkling recently returning from Europe, suggest a date of 1877. Internal evidence suggests that the remarks were likely given by Newman to the local order of the African American fraternal organization Independent Sons and Daughters of Purity, only identified in the essay by the abbreviation "I. S. & D. P." and "Sons & D. of P." In this same essay, Newman writes about having to keep his remarks brief due to an upcoming teacher's examination. All of the manuscript pages with writing on their versos were flagged by the archivist with a "SEE VERSO" slip of paper.

George Newman's speech "Observations on the Negro Problem" primarily concerns education with commentary on industrial education, choice of occupation, and a comparison of education funding for American Indian students vs. African American students. Newman also discusses the topic of African colonization of Black individuals as proposed by "so-called statesmen and mis-named philanthropists." Newman argues "It is paradoxical to speak of sending him to a place when he is already there. We are to the manor born. This is now our native home...." Newman recognizes that certain voting laws that require meeting educational and property qualifications are examples of "adverse legislation," but argues that they might be a "blessing in disguise." Newman concludes with a call for an equitably educated citizenry regardless of status. Edits made to the speech suggest that it may have originally been written circa 1902 and presented again in 1913. As such, a date of 1913 is applied to the speech given the contextual clues within despite the document being undated. A draft transcript created by Special Collections staff is filed with the speech.

Twelve cardboard tri-folds compiled by Lowell Toliver include approximately 133 facsimile photographs documenting people and places in Newtown and Harrisonburg's Northeast Neighborhood. The photograph descriptions were also compiled by Toliver as was the thematic arrangement of each tri-fold. Family names of people identified in the photographs include Harper, Tolliver/Toliver, Sampson, Yokley, Newman, Bundy, Dallard, Temple, Vickers, Brown, Nickens, and Johnson. Local churches and schools include John Wesley Methodist Church, Bethel AME Church, Effinger Street School, and Simms School. Researchers should note that the surname Toliver is spelled variously as Tolover, Tolliver, etc. in the collection. Lowell Toliver's last name was changed slightly from Tolliver to Toliver when he enlisted in the military.

Six minute books document the financial and administrative functions of the John Wesley Methodist Church's Woman's Society of Christian Service (WSCS) between 1943 and 1976. Ruby Newman Temple served as WSCS's secretary for a period of time and kept monthly minutes for the society. Member lists and membership dues are also documented in the minute books. WSCS meetings typically included prayer, scripture reading, hymn singing, a business report, and a program or a topic of discussion. WSCS engaged in community outreach by providing Christmas baskets for the sick in the community, sending sympathy cards, and making charitable donations. The Ruby Newman Temple correspondence primarily relates to her work with WSCS.

Other materials related to John Wesley Methodist Church include anniversary programs as well as member lists and a brief church history compiled by George Newman. Printed materials related to the United Methodist Church but not specific to John Wesley Methodist Church are also included.

Four hand-colored sketches by George A. Newman, son of Frederick Newman (1883-1959) are dated August 28, 1929.

Materials related to Gerald Harris largely concern his design of the turkey monuments that are located on the highway approaches into Harrisonburg and his schooling and coursework at Lucy F. Simms School, Banneker Junior High School, Theodore Roosevelt Senior High School, and Howard University. Report cards and tuition receipts are included. Of interest is a 1954 letter from A. M. Stitt, Lucy F. Simms School principal, certifying that Harris was vaccinated as well as Harris's polio vaccination card.

Materials created by Wendell Temple primarily comprise original handwritten sheet music for piano. Pieces specifically written for the organ, pianoforte, and violin are also included. The bulk of the sheet music is undated but likely dates to the mid-1930s to late 1940s. The compositions are in various states of completeness and order. Sheet music was written on lined notebook paper, blank pages of voter rolls for the 1928 presidential election, and the back of letterhead for the Castle Hall of Rockingham Star Lodge No. 72 Knights of Pythias and the Democratic Campaign Committee. Additional papers include correspondence from Temple to his mother Ruby Newman Temple and an Effinger High School report card.


  • circa 1875-2005


Access Restrictions

Collection is open for research. Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection. Please contact Research Services staff before visiting the James Madison University Special Collections Library to use this collection.

Use Restrictions

The copyright interests in this collection have not been transferred to the James Madison University Special Collections Library. For more information, contact the Special Collections Library Reference Desk (

Biographical/Historical Note

Ruth M. Toliver is a retired English teacher, local and family historian, and the author of History of Kelley Street United Brethren in Christ Church, Newtown, Harrisonburg, Virginia, 1892-1906 (1998) and Keeping Up With Yesterday (2009). She is the daughter of Eugene Murdock and Myrtle Newman Murdock (1901-2000) and the granddaughter of George Ambrose Newman and Mary Dallard Newman. Ruth Toliver inherited many of the family papers that comprise this collection from her cousin Wendell Temple (d. 2005), son of Ruby Newman Temple. She married Lowell Toliver, son of Theodore Tolliver (1902-1967) and Phoebe Harper Tolliver (1906-1982). Lowell Toliver, who was born and raised in Harrisonburg, entered the U. S. Army in January 1953 and it was at this point that the spelling of his last name changed from Tolliver to Toliver.

Born February 4, 1855 in Winchester, Virginia to free Black parents, George Ambrose Newman moved to Harrisonburg in 1875 to serve as principal of the local African American school. Newman learned to read and write at an early age and also pursued his interests in music. He served for 33 years as a teacher and administrator in the city school system—chiefly at the Effinger Street School—and also held teaching positions in Warren County, Augusta County, and West Virginia. Six of Newman's children also pursued teaching and began their careers in Rockingham County. Along with Ulysses G. Wilson, local educator and half-brother of Lucy F. Simms, Newman paid the poll taxes of local Black men in response to disenfranchisement tactics during segregation. In addition to being an influential educator Newman was a minister, musician, a member of the Mt. Zion Lodge of Masons in Staunton, and a member of the John Wesley United Methodist Church (variously known as John Wesley Methodist Church and John Wesley M. E. Church) in Harrisonburg. Outside of teaching, Newman took positions as an agent of the Internal Revenue Service and a U.S. Deputy Marshall.

George A. Newman married Margaret "Maggie" Dallard (1859-1887), daughter of Ambrose and Harriett Dallard, in 1877 and together they had four children. After Maggie's death in 1887, George Newman married Maggie's sister, Mary F. Dallard (1869-1968), as was Ghanian tradition. They had ten children. Newman is remembered as a trailblazing member of Harrisonburg’s early African American community and a respected educational leader. Per his obituary, Newman had started his 66th reading of the Bible just months prior to his death. Newman passed away on April 6, 1944 at the age of 89.

Ruby Edith Newman (1898-1983) was born in Harrisonburg to George A. Newman and Mary Dallard Newman. She married Junius Leroy Temple in 1920. Ruby Newman Temple was a member of the John Wesley United Methodist Church and served for many years as the secretary of the church's Woman's Society of Christian Service (WSCS). WSCS met monthly at either the church or the home of a society member.

Austin Gerald Harris (1941-2005) was born in Harrisonburg to Carlotta Newman Harris and Austin St. Clair “Dick” Harris. He was the grandson of George A. Newman and Mary Dallard Newman on his mother’s side and W. N. P. Harris and Geraldine Robinson Harris on his father’s side. Harris attended Lucy F. Simms School and while a student entered a local “How To Beautify Your City” contest sponsored by the Spotswood Garden Club’s Road Beautification Committee. Due to Harrisonburg and Rockingham County’s connection to turkeys, Harris submitted the idea and complementary design for turkey monuments to be placed at the highway approaches to Harrisonburg. Harris’s submission was selected as the winner and the monuments were subsequently dedicated in December 1955. Harris also attended Banneker Junior High School and Theodore Roosevelt High School in Washington, DC. After graduation from Roosevelt, Harris matriculated at Howard University where he graduated in 1964. While a student at Howard, Harris was a member of the ROTC. Harris obtained his master’s degree from Syracuse University and later worked at Niagara Mohawk Power Company (Syracuse) and Associated Utilities Company (New Jersey).

Wendell Ambrose Temple (1923-2005) was born in Harrisonburg, Virginia to Ruby Newman Temple (1898-1983) and Junius Leroy Temple (1898-1937). Locally, he attended Effinger High School and Lucy F. Simms School. He was an accomplished pianist and musician, and described as a child prodigy in the local newspaper. As a youth, Temple won state-wide music contests and performed at Harrisonburg's State Theater. He received his early training almost exclusively by local music instructor Thurston DeMasters. Temple graduated from Oberlin Conservatory of Music and the University of Iowa. He taught at Florida A&M University and Wilberforce University.

George A. Newman, Ruby Newman Temple, and Gerald Harris are all buried in Newtown Cemetery along with many of their immediate and extended family members.

Beyond the Newman family, much of this collection more generally documents Newtown, Harrisonburg's historically African American community located in the northeast section of the city. After Emancipation, this area was settled by formerly enslaved people who began purchasing lots in the Zirkle addition which was farmland located on the northeast edge of town that was newly opened up to residential development. During the 1950s and 1960s, Harrisonburg engaged in urban renewal (Project R4) during which the city identified "blight" areas and after acquiring homes and land under eminent domain, sold the property to developers. As a result many Black-owned homes and businesses in the Newtown area were razed, and community members were forced to relocate.


3.8 cubic feet (in 3 boxes and 12 tri-folds)

Language of Materials



The Ruth and Lowell Toliver Collection of Newman Family Papers, circa 1875-2005, comprises a manuscript, writings, personal papers, photograph facsimiles, church records, and correspondence related to George A. Newman (1855-1944), his daughter Ruby Newman Temple (1898-1983), his grandsons Austin Gerald Harris (1941-2005) and Wendell Temple (1923-2005), and Harrisonburg's Northeast Neighborhood and Newtown.


The collection is arranged chronologically with the exception of the Gerald Harris and Wendell Temple papers which are intellectually and physically arranged as sub-groups at the end of the collection.

George Newman's manuscript is housed in one folder and two archival quality binders. The first two manuscript pages are on legal sized paper and were removed to a folder to ensure their physical integrity. Folder 1 includes manuscript pages 1-2. Binder 1 includes manuscript pages 3-140. The first four manuscript pages, approximately, were transcribed at an unknown time and are included in binder 1. Binder 2 includes manuscript pages 141-480. Missing pages are outlined in the Scope and Content note. The pages were kept in the order in which they were received with the exception of a few instances in which numbered pages were clearly misordered and were reordered by the archivist to reflect the accurate numerical page order. Each page is individually sleeved with a few exceptions, for example when it was discovered during scanning that two pages were in the same sleeve. In these instances the pages were kept in the same sleeve but repositioned so that both could be viewed.


A portion of the original photographs copied for the tri-folds were provided to the Tolivers by community and family members.

Acquisition Information

Donated to Special Collections by Ruth and Lowell Toliver in February 2021. Ruth Toliver is George A. Newman's granddaughter. The Tolivers made additional donations in September 2021, October 2021, and January 2022.

Other Formats Available

George Newman's manuscript and the individual photographs comprising the twelve tri-folds were digitized per the donor's request. George Newman's speech was also digitized. The digital scans are available to researchers upon request.

Related Materials

Kelley Street United Brethren in Christ Church (Harrisonburg, Va.). Records, 1892-1905. Accession 37081, Church records collection, The Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia.

Separated Materials

One copy of the pamphlet Seventy-fifth Anniversary of the John Wesley Methodist Church, Harrisonburg, Virginia, October 20th through 27th, 1940 was removed from the collection and cataloged separately as part of Special Collections' rare book holdings. A second copy remains in the collection.


  • Toliver, Ruth M. Keeping Up With Yesterday. Olney, MD: Lowell A. or Ruth M. Toliver, 2009.
  • Toliver, Ruth M. History of Kelley Street United Brethren in Christ Church, Newtown, Harrisonburg, Virginia, 1892-1906. Gaithersburg, MD: Signature Books, 1998.
  • Obituary for Austin G. Harris, Daily News-Record, April 8, 2005.

Processing Information

George Newman's manuscript was digitized per the donor's request in February 2021. The digital scans are available to researchers upon request. Numerous manuscript pages have writing on their verso side (back) though these were not scanned. All of those pages were flagged by the archivist with a "SEE VERSO" slip of paper. The pages were kept in the order in which they were received with the exception of a few instances in which numbered pages were clearly misordered and were reordered by the archivist to reflect the accurate numerical page order.

Original description of the photographs created by the donor was largely retained within descriptive elements of the container list (e.g. thematic titles of tri-folds and item-level titles).

Loose programs and handwritten documents were removed from George Newman's notebook documenting the history of the John Wesley M. E. Church and arranged according to material type.

Materials related to Gerald Harris were largely kept in the same topical order in which they were received.

Allison Lyttle, JMU Libraries Music & Media Metadata Specialist, assisted in identifying, sorting, and describing Wendell Temple's sheet music which was donated in no discernable order.

A Guide to the Ruth and Lowell Toliver Collection of Newman Family Papers, circa 1875-2005
Tiffany Cole
November 2021
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2023-05-16: Updates to the date and details concerning Newman's "Essay on Truth."
  • 2023-06-15: Finding aid updated to reflect addition of Wendell Temple papers.

Repository Details

Part of the James Madison University Libraries Special Collections Repository

820 Madison Drive
MSC 1706
Harrisonburg Virginia 22807
(540) 568-3612