Several members of Cornelius Mimms' family attended Chesterfield's exhibit unveiling ceremony last Saturday.
Born into slavery in the shadow of the capital of the Confederacy, Cornelius Mimms overcame countless obstacles to leave a towering legacy of public service.
During the post-Reconstruction era, Mimms became the first African American to be elected to the Chesterfield Board of Supervisors, representing Midlothian from 1881-83 and from 1887-89.
More than a century later, in 2002, the board voted to rename West Krause Road on the county government complex in his honor. The plaque for the Mimms Drive dedication describes him as “a man who took the right road, a friend, a neighbor, a husband and father, loved by all.”
After being appointed Chesterfield’s county administrator in July 2016, Dr. Joe Casey, a history buff, was curious and wanted to learn more about the person behind the Mimms name.
There wasn't much information available about him online. In a serendipitous bit of timing, however, the Chesterfield Historical Society of Virginia’s African American History Committee opened a temporary exhibit on Mimms that fall at the Chesterfield County Museum, bringing to light the full scope of the man’s life, accomplishments and contributions to his community.
Last Saturday morning, the historical society unveiled the county museum’s first permanent African American exhibit, titled “Cornelius Mimms – A Trailblazer.”
“What an honor this is,” said Charlotte Wood, chair of the African American History Committee. “We hope you are enlightened today at this meaningful event and hope you enjoy the efforts of all who participated in making it happen.”
Mimms and his wife, Lula, had six children. Several of Mimms’ descendants attended the unveiling ceremony and his great-granddaughter, Sharon Carter-Gunter, spoke on behalf of the family.
“I would like to say how honored and grateful we are for this recognition of the contributions of our ancestor to Chesterfield County,” she said, recalling the inscription on her great-grandfather’s tombstone: We must follow the right path to arrive at the right place.
“Today, I can truly say we are at the right place because of the path that was taken by Cornelius Mimms,” she added.
Cornelius Mimms' great-granddaughter, Sharon Carter-Gunter, speaks on behalf of her family at the exhibit unveiling.
Born in Goochland County in 1857, Mimms attended Richmond Theological Seminary and Richmond Institute, a forerunner to Virginia Union University. In the years that followed Virginia’s 1870 adoption of the Underwood Constitution, which required the General Assembly to create a statewide system of free public schools for all children and enshrined voting rights for African American men in the commonwealth, he received a teaching license.
At age 20, he was a member of the First Baptist Church of Midlothian’s Board of Trustees that voted to donate church property to Chesterfield County as the site of its first elementary school for African Americans.
After graduating from Howard University in 1885, Mimms was one of the first African Americans to obtain a law license. He went on to become a prominent attorney in the area, operating a law office on Hull Street Road in Chesterfield for 46 years and becoming dean of the Richmond Bar Association.
Mimms served as clerk of First Baptist Church Midlothian for 55 years and superintendent of its Sunday School for 50 years. In addition to two terms on the Board of Supervisors, he served as the county’s supervisor of roads and supervisor for the poor.
Mimms also helped his son, Edward Mimms Sr., establish a funeral home in Richmond in 1925. Today, another of his great-granddaughters, Mia Mimms, owns and operates Mimms Funeral Home on Hull Street.
“Just like attorney Giles B. Jackson and banker Maggie L. Walker in Richmond, Mr. Mimms pushed economic growth as the best way to solve many of the problems facing the African American community,” said Scott Williams, president of the Chesterfield Historical Society of Virginia.
While Mimms died nearly a century ago on July 3, 1932, Casey noted that Chesterfield is “not done telling the stories, things he did and what he can teach us today.
“We need to understand the way the next generations are learning and put that information out there,” he said. “There’s no Wikipedia page for Cornelius Mimms. If that’s how people are going to learn about him, then we have to create tools like that.”
The Chesterfield County Museum, 6813 Mimms Loop, is open Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Admission is free.
Members of the Chesterfield Board of Supervisors prepare to unveil the permanent Cornelius Mimms exhibit.