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History

University of Richmond installs temporary signage to mark boundaries of burial ground on campus

The University of Richmond has installed signage on campus to mark the sacred space of a former burial ground for enslaved persons and describe what is known about the desecration that occurred there. The signage also details the University’s plans to more permanently acknowledge the site going forward.

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The University of Richmond has installed signage on campus to mark the sacred space of a former burial ground for enslaved persons and describe what is known about the desecration that occurred there. The signage also details the University’s plans to more permanently acknowledge the site going forward.

The University plans to memorialize the enslaved burial ground on what is now part of the campus and the history of the land on which the University now sits, including its intersections with enslavement.

An informative sign with a QR code links to a research report by Lauranett Lee, a public historian and UR professor leading the historical research, and Shelby Driskill, a UR graduate researcher, who have explored the reported enslaved burial ground on campus. Their research has been studied in numerous classes and discussed in various open forums across campus, including as part of first-year orientation.

In January, University of Richmond President Ronald A. Crutcher established a Burial Ground Memorialization Committee to engage a range of stakeholders in discussions. “Our story is often inspirational, but there are aspects of the past we have long ignored, including the significant history of the land on which our campus now stands,” Crutcher said.

The signage signals the burial ground’s important history,” said Crutcher. “The signage is only temporary, though, as the work of the committee will lead to the shaping of a permanent memorial.”

The committee chaired by Ed Ayers, Tucker-Boatwright Professor of the Humanities and President Emeritus, and Keith “Mac” McIntosh, vice president of Information Services and CIO, has held virtual meetings over several weeks to learn about the hopes of the university community for the memorialization of the Burial Ground. Burt Pinnock, a Richmond architect will help guide the efforts.

The committee is also consulting with descendants of individuals enslaved on the land to solicit their thoughts about the most appropriate memorialization.

“The signage is an important milestone on our journey,” McIntosh said. “The full and accurate history of the land we currently occupy helps us understand the people who came before us and helps us understand how we might best connect our present with our past and future.”

“We can’t connect our present to our past without a comprehensive and truthful view of our rich history,” he added.

Anyone with stories, questions, or information to share, is asked to write the committee at [email protected].

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Community

Results from “Lost Cause” Studio Project Survey Reveal a Richmond Eager to Confront its Past

The survey asked Richmond region residents to share their knowledge about and ongoing impact of the Lost Cause myth, their desire to learn about this complex history and how a transformed Valentine Studio can address community needs.

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From the Valentine.

Today the Valentine released the results of a community survey, conducted in October and November of 2020.

The survey asked Richmond region residents to share their knowledge about and ongoing impact of the Lost Cause myth, their desire to learn about this complex history and how a transformed Valentine Studio (the location on the museum’s campus where sculptor Edward Valentine created many Lost Cause works) can address community needs. More than 1,000 participants, representing a wide variety of perspectives and backgrounds, completed the survey.

A diverse team of historians, activists, local leaders, Valentine family members and community members developed the survey. The Valentine also held focus groups to gain a deeper understanding of the variety of opinions about the Lost Cause, the role of cultural institutions in sharing this history and the potential installation of the damaged, paint-covered Jefferson Davis statue, until recently displayed on Monument Avenue, in the space. The results of the survey and the focus groups will inform and guide the project development.

Results included:

A majority of respondents stated that they would like to see the Valentine use the reinterpreted studio to explore the history of power and policies in Jim Crow Richmond, the art and artistic processes that created Lost Cause sculptures and the history of racial oppression in Richmond.

Additionally, 65% of respondents from the Richmond region agreed that museums should acquire the monuments from Monument Avenue and display them with context. For the Valentine specifically, this reinforced our request to the City of Richmond to acquire and display the graffiti-covered Jefferson Davis statue on his back as he fell.

Additionally, focus group participants, moderated by project partner Josh Epperson, felt that using the studio to explore Lost Cause history and connect it to the present would be a valuable use of the space. Focus group participants also affirmed the Valentine’s commitment to continuing its high level of community engagement, which they expected to be critical to the success of the reimagined studio.

You can find additional survey results HERE.

“Based on the survey feedback we received from our fellow Richmonders, we are confident that this is the best next step for this space and for this institution,” said Director Bill Martin. “We look forward to providing a location where Richmonders can learn about the Lost Cause, consider Richmond and the Valentine’s early role in disseminating the damaging Lost Cause myth and ultimately gain a deeper, more nuanced, more empathetic understanding of the region we call home.”

The Valentine will continue to solicit and address community questions, comments or concerns as the Studio Project develops.

On December 31st the Washington Post had an article on the museum taking a closer look at the role that founder of Edward V. Valentine had in the lost cause.

Today, the artist’s studio is closed to visitors at the Richmond museum that bears his family name — the Valentine. But museum director Martin and others see the workshop as the center of what could be a public reckoning with the racist mythology that Valentine’s sculptures helped bring to life.

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Governor Northam announces $25 million to transform historic sites, advance “historic justice efforts”

“These are not just investments in physical space, but in the telling of our shared history,” said Delegate Lamont Bagby. “These initiatives will help us continue the effort to uncover the truth of the past.  We must finally get this right.”

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Governor Ralph Northam late last week announced that his proposed budget will include nearly $25 million to transform historic sites and advance historic justice efforts.

“These investments will ensure a more diverse and inclusive retelling of our history,” said Governor Northam. “At a time when our Commonwealth and nation are grappling with how to illustrate a more complete picture of the past, we must work to enhance our public spaces and shine light on previously untold stories.”

This investment will include nearly $11 million to support the efforts of transforming Monument Avenue. This funding will enable the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts to hire staff and launch a community-driven effort to redesign Monument Avenue.

“For too long, Richmond’s Monument Avenue told an incomplete and inaccurate story of the city and Virginia’s past,” said Alex Nyerges, Director and CEO of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. “The funding to transform Monument Avenue will allow us to reenvision an inspirational, forward thinking, inclusive and healing place for everyone who lives in and visits our city and state.”

“On behalf of many neighbors – this news is exciting and hopeful. We welcome a future on Monument Avenue that includes a visual expression and experience that is welcoming and inspirational to all people,” said Monument Avenue resident Alice Massie.

Additionally, this investment includes an additional $9 million for the development of a Slavery and Freedom Heritage Site and improvements to the Slave Trail in Richmond as well as $100,000 to support the Virginia Emancipation and Freedom Monument project on Brown’s Island. This funding will support efforts to preserve the site known as the Devil’s Half-Acre, or Lumpkin’s Jail, in Shockoe Bottom as a historical site.

“Hundreds of thousands of enslaved persons were forced to pass through Lumpkin’s Jail on the Richmond Slave Trail,” said Delegate Delores McQuinn. “It is far past time to develop a new Slavery and Freedom Heritage Site at Lumpkin’s Jail and invest in improvements to the Slave Trail, so that this important history is not forgotten.”

“The Emancipation and Freedom Monument on Brown’s Island will commemorate the abolition of slavery and recognize numerous African American Virginians who were devoted to advancing freedom and civil rights,” said Senator Jennifer McClellan. “This funding will move this important project another step closer to becoming a reality.”

“This constitutes a massive investment in centering stories of trauma and resilience that have been sidelined by proponents of slavery, the Lost Cause, and segregation,” said Mayor Levar Stoney. “The Commonwealth’s support is the tool we need to commemorate and communicate Richmond’s real history and honor unjustly silenced voices.”

This investment will also include $5 million to support Project Harmony, an environmental justice project to address the repatriation of tombstones from the former Columbian Harmony Cemetery and the creation of the Harmony Living Shoreline memorial. These headstones were removed from Columbian Harmony Cemetery––a historic African American cemetery in Washington, D.C.––and relocated in 1960 to make way for commercial development. While some headstones were moved to a new cemetery in Landover, Maryland, others were sold off by the developer, including those that were used to create a riprap along the shore of the Potomac River.

“I was horrified when I discovered the headstones from Columbian Harmony Cemetery scattered along two miles of shoreline on the Potomac. With the help of this funding, we will be able to return many of these to a better and more respectful resting place while creating a memorial to remember those that we are unable to remove,” said Senator Richard Stuart.

“These are not just investments in physical space, but in the telling of our shared history,” said Delegate Lamont Bagby. “These initiatives will help us continue the effort to uncover the truth of the past.  We must finally get this right.”

Governor Northam will address the Joint Money Committees today to share the full details of his budget plan.

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History

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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