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Student-curated online exhibition at UR investigates Richmond’s long history with tobacco

From the Powhatan People to corporate giant Altria, the exhibition explores the stories of how tobacco has molded Richmond’s culture, identity, economy, and landscape.

RVAHub Staff

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Ten students in the American Studies program at University of Richmond are launching a new online exhibition that explores Richmond’s history with tobacco through stories from the seventeenth century to the present. The student team curated the exhibition alongside associate professor Nicole Sackley and Alexandra Byrum, assistant director in the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement.

From the Powhatan People to corporate giant Altria, the exhibition explores the stories of how tobacco has molded Richmond’s culture, identity, economy, and landscape.

By highlighting public advertisements, postcards, and storefronts, the exhibition shares both the filtered stories of Richmond’s tobacco history as well as unfiltered stories of tobacco, which shine a light on enslavement, worker resistance, southern agriculture, gentrification, and more.

“I knew tobacco had been a part of Richmond’s story but looking at how much tobacco really touches every corner of Richmond has been an amazing way to tell the city’s history,” said Claire Tate, a UR senior who helped curate the exhibition. “A commodity can reveal an entire story of a city and that’s what tobacco does for Richmond.”

The online exhibition accompanies the University of Richmond Downtown exhibition Tobacco Made: Richmond Unfiltered History, which will open during RVA First Fridays on September 4, 2020, and will feature additional maps, advertisements, photographs, and other artifacts.

“In our age of smoke-free restaurants and offices, we can forget how much Richmond has been made by tobacco. Even today, Philip Morris’s Richmond plant produces 600 million cigarettes a day, more than half of the nation’s supply,” said Sackley. “This exhibition reveals stories hidden on our streets and factories and invites others to investigate our city’s tobacco past and present for themselves.”

To view the online exhibition, visit at blog.richmond.edu/tobaccorva.

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StoryCorps hopes to reconnect a divided America, selecting Richmond as its starting point

Renowned public service organization calls on Virginians of differing perspectives to record conversations for inclusion in the library of congress amid America’s crisis of polarization 

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StoryCorps, the groundbreaking national nonprofit dedicated to recording, preserving, and sharing the stories of Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs, launches One Small Step, a multi-year national effort to begin to mend the fabric of a country at the breaking point, today in Richmond.

The organization, in collaboration with local media, political, religious, and community organizations, is calling for Richmond residents to participate in 40-minute, one-on-one conversations with strangers, to share about their lives, and, in turn, to help people get past the labels of “Republican” and “Democrat,” “liberal” and “conservative.”

“Our research shows there is something special about Richmond. Even amid a contentious election year, we believe Richmond residents can show the rest of America that we can once again be neighbors and communities if we have the courage to listen to one another,” said StoryCorps Founder and President Dave Isay. “Every day brings new evidence of how frustrated, angry and disconnected from each other Americans feel. One Small Step aims to remind people of the humanity in all of us, and that it’s hard to hate up close. We believe Virginians can model this change.”

By bringing together strangers of divergent perspectives to have courageous and meaningful conversations about their lives, One Small Step helps to decrease feelings of contempt across political divides, allowing Americans to see one another as human beings.

StoryCorps has developed the initiative over the past three years with the input of scientists, researchers and psychologists. Conversations recorded for One Small Step are not about politics, but rather about who we are as people, what we care about, and our dreams for the future. Every interview becomes part of American history at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress (with participant permission).

Richmond is one of four cities in which StoryCorps is anchoring One Small Step; the others include Wichita, Kansas; Birmingham, Alabama; and Shreveport, Louisiana. The organization conducted polling and other research, including a pilot in Richmond in partnership with VPM and determined these cities were particularly likely to carry out the initiative successfully, as residents expressed exhaustion with political divisions and also a willingness to listen across them.

StoryCorps first piloted One Small Step in 2018-19. In the time since, data have shown a widening chasm between Americans. A 2019 study showed that about 40 percent of people view the other party as “downright evil”; one in five Republicans and Democrats agree with the statement that their political adversaries “lack the traits to be considered fully human”; and about 20 percent of Democrats and Republicans think the country would be better off if large numbers of the opposition were dead.

One Small Step is made possible by the generous support of the Fetzer Institute, Kate Capshaw and Steven Spielberg’s The Wunderkinder Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the Charles Koch Institute. StoryCorps thanks these donors for their commitment to this project and to bridging divides in America.

To participate, just click here.

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Downtown

Black Lives Matter renews interest in Richmond’s Black culture and history

The Black Lives Matter movement has helped renew interest in Richmond’s African American culture and history, according to community leaders.

Capital News Service

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By Cierra Parks

The Black Lives Matter movement has helped renew interest in Richmond’s African American culture and history, according to community leaders.

BLK RVA is an initiative launched in August 2019 between Richmond Region Tourism and 20 community leaders to highlight historic African American tourist attractions and engage visitors in events that support Richmond’s Black community. The group continues to promote Black-centered tourism in light of recent events. BLK RVA was recently awarded the Richmond Region Tourism Chairman’s Award in recognition of its contributions over the past year.

Tameka Jefferson, the community relations manager for Richmond Region Tourism and BLK RVA, said the Black Lives Matter movement has generated more interest in African American tourism, which she said is “long overdue.” Although Black Lives Matter began in 2013, the movement gained more support this year.

“Now is the time that we do need to come together as a community to support our businesses, to support our city and our region,” Jefferson said.

Jefferson also said that in the months following the death of George Floyd in police custody, she has seen more people visit the area around the Robert E. Lee statue. The area has been transformed into space used by the community for art, protest and memorial — and even basketball.

She said people are migrating to this area now that there has been a “staple of just coming together and a staple of community and uprising.”

BLK RVA’s mission is to illustrate that the Richmond region has evolved and is now a multicultural hub that specializes in four pillars: arts and entertainment, food and drink, community and history. She said the state capital is often seen through its outdated history–an outlook that needs to change.

In addition to African American-centered events and fundraisers, BLK RVA promotes the patronizing of what they call “rooted and rising” businesses; ones that have been around a while and others that are up and coming.

One established business is the Elegba Folklore Society, which was established 30 years ago. The Society hosts the annual Down Home Family Reunion and Juneteenth Freedom celebrations in addition to guided heritage tours along the Trail of Enslaved Africans and other historic sites. The trail details the history of slave trade from Africa to Virginia, following a route through the area’s former slave markets and also highlighting African American life leading up to the Civil War.

Omilade Janine Bell, president and artistic director of the Elegba Folklore Society, said the company prides itself on educating people because Black stories are often not fully told. She has noticed a renewed interest in learning about Black history in light of the recent Black Lives Matter movement. Jefferson echoes that statement.

“His (George Floyd’s) loss-of-life story has opened the eyes of many whose eyes had been shut tightly before,” Bell said. “Now there is a heightened awareness among Black people and others about the lack of equity.”

Jaynell Pittman-Shaw owns Maple Bourbon, a restaurant serving breakfast and lunch in Richmond’s downtown area that is one of BLK RVA’s “rising” businesses. Pittman-Shaw believes there is a new spotlight on inequity in the Black community.

“That is what people are protesting about right now: systemic and institutional racism,” Pittman-Shaw said. “Black business owners do not have access to the same resources that should be available to any business owner,” but black businesses need more support to thrive.

Jefferson said BLK RVA donated money from online merchandise sales to the Richmond Black Restaurant Experience, which hosts a week-long event in the spring promoting black-owned food businesses. Over $15,000 was raised and distributed evenly among 35 Black Restaurant Week participants affected by COVID-19. Pittman- Shaw was one of the grantees. She plans to “pay it forward” by using the $500 grant she received to help another black-owned restaurant that did not participate in Black Restaurant Week.

Restaurants such as Big Herm’s Kitchen and Soul Taco used the money to help pay employees who were affected when COVID-19 restructured business.

The Richmond Black Restaurant Experience supports black, food-focused businesses, including restaurants, food trucks and catering services. They have raised nearly $50,000, surpassing their new goal of $25,000 according to the group’s GoFundMe page.

In addition to restaurants, other attractions have made adjustments since COVID-19 began. Many of them have migrated to virtual experiences. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and the Virginia Museum of History and Culture are offering virtual exhibits, including the All in Together collaborative project and Determined: The 400-Year Struggle for Black Equality. The Elegba Folklore Society broadcast its Juneteenth celebration on Facebook, YouTube and Vimeo.

The organization also recently promoted the Black is Beautiful beer initiative, a nationwide collaboration created by Marcus J. Baskerville, head brewer and co-owner at Weathered Souls Brewing Co. in San Antonio. Over 30 Virginia craft breweries participated to support people of color and raise funds for police reform and legal defense. Richmond breweries put their spin on the traditional imperial stout recipe to raise money for the Black is Beautiful cause. The Answer, Hardywood, The Veil and Lickinghole Creek were among the Richmond-area breweries that created stouts for the initiative. Each brewery will donate the proceeds to organizations that support the Black is Beautiful cause.

BLK RVA has also highlighted events such as the RVA Black Farmers Market, the Richmond Night Market and events hosted by UnlockingRVA.

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Community

Richmond Then and Now: Bellevue Theater

A then and now snapshot of Richmond.

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The two pictures above are from Cinema Treasures and the one below from RTD Archives. The Jungle Princess is a 1936 American adventure film directed by Wilhelm Thiele starring Dorothy Lamour and Ray Milland. Tropic Holiday was released in 1938 also starring Dorothy Lamour. With no evidence to support this claim, I can’t help but wonder if our unknown photographer was a Dorothy Lamour fan.


Architecture Richmond has a bit of history on the theater here.

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