Hampton University Fights to Save Emancipation Oak Threatened by Highway Expansion

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The Emancipation Oak located on the campus of Hampton University.
The Emancipation Oak located on the campus of Hampton University.

The Virginia Department of Transportation’s plans to expand a highway near historically Black institution Hampton University has some school leaders concerned.

Hampton university officials are fighting to save a historic oak tree and surrounding land that could be compromised in the state’s expansion of Interstate 64.

According to Hampton’s ABC News 13, VDOT officials recently met with school leaders to inform them that they may need to acquire some of the historic land for the proposed I-64 widening leading to the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel. Part of the land includes Strawberry Banks and the iconic Emancipation Oak.

The gargantuan oak tree, sprawling over 100 feet in diameter, stands near the entrance of the Hampton University campus and served as one of the first classrooms for newly freed men and women looking to get an education, the university website states. The historic Emancipation Oak was also the site of the first Southern reading of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1863.

Attorney Joseph Waldo, who is representing the university, said he is working to ensure that the expansion of I-64 doesn’t move any closer to the school’s campus. Per ABC News 13, the school has even employed its own experts to show VDOT that the road can be moved away from the campus — a solution that would avoid shifting the ramp and main interstate closer to the tree than it already is.

“They’re willing to fight this all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary,” Waldo said. “Not one inch of Hampton University’s property should be touch[ed].”

As for Strawberry Banks, VDOT said the lands they’d like to acquire won’t be known until after the Commonwealth Transportation Board votes on a preferred alternative and the design phase of the expansion project is underway, the news station reports. Board members are expected to vote in December.

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