Suffolk, Virginia: “Dear Santa Claus,” by Miss Audrey V. Backus, 1933

Audrey Vernice Backus Hedgespeth, ca. 1948. Shaw University
Audrey’s letter to Santa Claus, 1933, Suffolk News Herald

“I am a little girl 9 years old. I go to East Suffolk Graded School and I’m in the 4th grade. Mrs. Harper is my teacher and she says I’m very smart. Now Santa I’m not asking for much this year as I have everything already that you’ve brought me. I don’t want any toys. I first want a pair of skates, tam, dress, stockings, pocket book and worst of all a brief case to carry my music book in. Don’t forget my fruit and candy. Also my music teacher, Prof. Tate and school teacher, Mrs. Harper and my school mates, Lillian Roney and Grace Langston.


Little Aubrey Vernice Backus was born on September 22, 1924, in Nansemond County, Virginia. She was the daughter of Grady Lafayette Backus, Sr., and Mary Elizabeth Macon Backus.1 Audrey’s paternal roots were centered in Bertie, Chowan, and Hertford counties, North Carolina, while her maternal roots were tied to Northampton County, North Carolina. She was descended from both freeborn and enslaved ancestors in North Carolina.

Audrey attended Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she graduated in 1946. She later pursued graduate study in social work at Atlanta University, Atlanta, Georgia, and the Richmond Professional Institute, Richmond, Virginia. After the completion of her studies, Audrey married George T. Hedgepeth, son of Wesley and Sarah Patterson Hedgepeth, in 1948. The wedding took place at the family church, East End Baptist, Suffolk, Virginia. According to the Norfolk Journal and Guide, the nuptials were a grand affair.

“=Given in marriage by her father, the bride wore a white satin gown with chantilly lace edging the marquisette yoke, and dipping at the skirt center to form an all-around dust ruffle. Lilies of the valley cluster enhanced  the yoke line, and leg of mutton sleeves pointed at the wrists. Her fingertip veil edged in deep lace featured the traditional orange blossom tiara over a row of bubbling ruching. She carried a white satin prayer book centered by a white orchid and showered with lovers knots and lilies of the valley.

norfolk jounral and guide
Mr. Grady Lafayette Backus, Sr. Date unknown.
Audrey Vernice Backus Hedgepeth, ca. 1948.

I wondered how Miss Audrey’s Santa Claus letter appeared in the Suffolk News Herald, Iand came across an interesting fact. Both of her parents, Grady L. Backus, Sr., and Mary Elizabeth Macon Backus, in addition to their various other community works, were regular contributors to local news media. Grady L. Backus, Sr., edited the ‘Round the Town’ column of the Suffolk NewsHerald, and worked as a reporter for the Norfolk Journal and Guide for over twenty years. Articles authored by Mary Elizabeth Macon Backus on Suffolk’s African American community regularly appeared in both the Herald and the Norfolk Journal and Guide between 1930 and 1950. Grady L. Backus, Sr., passed away in 1953, and was interred in Suffolk’s Rosemont Cemetery. Mary Elizabeth Macon Backus passed in 1979, and was interred in Carver Memorial Cemetery, Suffolk, Virginia.2

There’s no telling if Audrey received her Christmas wish, but it was nice that she thought to include several of her teachers and friends in her letter. Perhaps, even then, were the early signs of what would become Audrey’s life-long commitment to social welfare and benevolence as a social worker, serving the Portsmouth, Virginia community as creator and steward of the city’s Child Protective Services program for thirty years. Mrs. Audrey Vernice Backus Hedgespeth passed away in 2011, and rests in Norfolk’s Calvary Cemetery beside her husband.

  1. Grady L. Backus Sr., son of William Backus and Thettie Weaver, and Mary Elizabeth Macon, daughter of Lewis Macon and Lillie Lassiter, married on July 29, 1917, in Suffolk, Virginia.
  2. “Virginia, U. S., Death Records, 1912-2014,” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 9 November 2020), certificate image, Grady L. Backus, 9 March 1953, no. 6013, citing, “Virginia Department of Health; Richmond, Virginia; Virginia Deaths, 1912-2014″; “Virginia, U. S., Death Records, 1912-2014,” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 10 November 2020), certificate image, Mary E. Backus, 25 October 1979, no. 352, citing, Virginia Department of Health; Richmond, Virginia; Virginia Deaths, 1912-2014.”

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