John Seay

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Portrait photograph of the Reverend Seay, taken by Rufus W. Holsinger in 1913. Reproduced from Charlottesville Tomorrow.

Reverend John Osborne Seay was a Black citizen of Charlottesville in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries whose portrait photograph forms a part of the Holsinger Studio Collection.


Seay was born around 1870. According to a 1906 issue of the Daily Progress, he was ordained a minister in the Baptist Church at an Ordaining Council held at the Mount Zion First African Baptist Church on May 30, 1906. Seay was later called in 1907 to found and take charge of the Mt. Early Baptist Church in Earlysville.

Seay lived in the 10th and Page neighborhood on Cox's Row, a working class community composed of about 34 homes and located where the Westhaven neighborhood is today.[1] He was a father and also worked as a janitor in one of the University of Virginia's chemical laboratories in order to supplement the income received from his ministerial duties.

On December 24, 1913, Seay had his portrait photograph taken by Rufus W. Holsinger. This picture would later form a part of the Holsinger Studio Collection as well as prominently feature in the “Visions of Progress: Portraits of Dignity, Style and Racial Uplift” exhibit of Holsinger's photographs that was on display at the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library from 2022-2023. Seay would die from unknown causes less than two years after this photograph was taken.[2]


According to a 1914 dissertation by Joseph B. Earnest, Jr. entitled “The Religious Development of the Negro in Virginia," Seay had written a piece of sheet music named “City of Refuge” that centered on prominent Old Testament characters. A transcription of the song is below:

1. “The decree was signed by Darius. and then,

Daniel was cast in the Lions Den:

God sent an angel on his accord.

He came and locked the lion's jaw.


“I am going to run. am going to run,

am going to run to the City of Refuge,

am going to run.

2. “Job was man whom God did love:

God gave Job home above.

The time came he had to die,

Then Job was taken up in the sky.


3. “Elijah and Elisha they went together,

God took one and left the other

Elijah looked and did aspire

He saw the chariot and the horses of fire.”


9. “They put John in kettle of oil

God was with him and he never got soiled

With hallow‘ed power, the angel eame

Went into the kettle and cooled the flame.”