One of the things you may wish to do this Veteran’s Day is to take a trip down Lombardy Street and Brook Road to see the magnificent Belgian Friendship Building on the campus of historical Virginia Union University (VUU). The Belgian Building has been a part of the Richmond Skyline for more than70 years.
Now, Bells For Peace, Inc, with VUU, lights the Robert L. Vann Memorial Tower on Veterans Day, November 11, 2013, in concert with the chiming of the new bells. Once dark and silent against the Richmond skyline, the majestic 161’ tower will be a tribute to veterans of all colors and creeds who were processed in the Belgian Building for WWII and to all who have served in America’s foreign wars.
The Belgian Friendship Building was the Eastern Virginia “induction site” for draftees entering World War II during 1943 until 1947. As a result 161,000 men were processed from the spacious Building. For those of you processed at the site and selected for military service, a visit to the campus may hold special memories. (Richmond News Leader, Thursday, February 4, 1943, p.3 and Richmond News Leader, Thursday, July 24, 1947 p. 23; and a John M. Ellison letter dated Jan. 14, 1944, VUU Archives.) Watkins.
Belgium awarded its 1939 New York World's Fair Pavilion to VUU in 1941 because of the university’s educational mission and location. At the time Belgium was under siege by Germany and could not return its building to its homeland.
The Belgian Friendship Building is designated by the U.S. Department of Interior as a National Treasure and Virginia Historical Landmark. VUU, an historical African American institution, opened in Richmond in 1865 from the closed Lumpkin’s Jail, a prison for runaway slaves located in Shockoe Bottom. It later moved to its north Richmond location. Belgium’s gift was a powerful gesture of compassion, brotherhood and international goodwill years before Civil Rights Laws were enacted.
Belgium presented the building’s 35 tower peace bells to Former President Herbert Hoover for his new library at Stanford University before it left New York. Their gift to Mr. Hoover was in appreciation for his humanitarian relief efforts to Belgium following WWI. Neither university had acknowledged their common history until March 2004 when Bells for Peace, Inc made the announcement.
“Bells for Peace, Inc.” is a non-profit organization approved under section 501 (c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. It is working with VUU to restore the Belgian Friendship Building to pristine condition. To date it has partnered with the university to install a new electronic carillon and restore the bas reliefs on the sides of the building. Partnerships have been created with several nations, the VUU Alumni Association, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, American Institute of Architects, Art Deco Societies, and a number of community organizations. The charity was founded on the joint legacies of the late Dr. John Malcus Ellison, Sr., first African American president of VUU from 1941-1955, and his late wife, Elizabeth Balfour Ellison. They invested in people, enabling countless students to make profound contributions to their communities world-wide. Dr. Ellison raised $500,000 with the Richmond community to transport and reassemble the Belgian Building in Richmond during WWII and through an era of economic turmoil and Jim Crow laws. Richmond Mayor L. Douglas Wilder, first African American Governor of Virginia, the late Vice-Admiral Samuel L. Gravely, Jr. the first African American to achieve the rank of Admiral; and the late Robert L. Vann, founder of the Pittsburgh Courier Newspaper; were some of the illustrious students who emerged during this period.
Contact: E. Dianne N. Watkins
President and Founder Bells for Peace, Inc,
Address: Bells for Peace, Inc.
P.O. Box 27371
Richmond, VA 23261-7371
For further information see www.bellsforpeace.org