The difference between storytelling and truthtelling

by Johnnette Johnson

Johnnette Johnson is a rising senior from Marksville, Louisiana majoring in American Studies and French. Though her journey with the Race & Racism Project only began this summer, she has been involved in racial justice and community work since her matriculation at UR. A peer mentor and UR Downtown ambassador, when she’s not on campus or with family she’s out enjoying nature. She hopes to continue doing the work of commemorative justice and collective healing.

Left or right: Shira Greer, Mr. Richard Stewart, and Johnnette Johnson.

Every day, whether we realize it or not, we walk in the footprints of the past. When this truth is acknowledged and explicitly recognized, it has the potential to help us move forward with clarity and understanding.

The Pocahontas Island Black History Museum overflows with memories and artifacts, so much so that it sometimes felt like I would never see or understand everything. However, the rememories* that surface through conversation with museum founders Richard Stewart and Amanda Wyatt came to me with a clarity that I knew was connected to the land.

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The Jefferson Davis Memorial Chapel

by Sabrina Garcia

Sabrina Garcia is a junior from, Waldwick, New Jersey double majoring in Leadership Studies and English and minoring in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (WGSS). This is her first year working on the Race & Racism Project, on Team Archive. Sabrina is in the WILL* Program, works as a writing consultant, and is training to be a PSMA. She hopes to dedicate her career to social justice and believes in the mission of Race & Racism wholeheartedly.

Walking into the West Hospital at the V.C.U. Medical Center, I could not help but wonder how I was going to find the Jefferson Davis Memorial Chapel, as there was no clear signage or indication that this hospital would have such a site. The only information I was able to find online was through a blog post on The Shockoe Examiner written by Selden Richardson. However, once I walked into the building, there was a plaque that stated that the Jefferson Davis Memorial Chapel was located on the 17th floor. Once in the elevator I noticed that there was no indication in the labels of where the monument was and, taking the plaque for truth, I clicked the button for the 17th floor. Upon arriving there is no guidance to where one should head, and after a bit of searching; behind a plain door with a small window, we (Nathan and Gabby, who are also on Team Archive) observed a long hallway leading to a dark room, with a marble archway labeled Jefferson Davis Memorial Chapel.

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The Devil’s Half Acre

by Jenifer Yi

Jenifer Yi is a sophomore from Santa Clarita, California majoring in Biochemistry with a concentration in Neuroscience and a minor in Healthcare Studies. She has been involved with the Race & Racism Project since 2018 and hopes to diversify the conversation and inclusion of all students of color at the University of Richmond. Through her contributions to the project, she wants to push for campus-wide racial awareness. In the future, she hopes to pursue a career in medicine while continuing to advocate and raise awareness for healthcare access for minorities.

I step out of my car into the oppressive, humid embrace of the Richmond summer day. Discretely tucked away behind a Virginia Commonwealth University parking lot is my destination – the Devil’s Half Acre, also called Lumpkin’s Slave Jail. My shoes crunch against the gravel, taking in the sights of an old, rotting railway track, walls donning graffiti, and crumbling stone walls. It was difficult to visualize what this space looked like as an African burial ground and slave jail. What I saw in my eyes was a sprawling grassy plain next to a highway and hidden behind a parking lot, the occurrences and horrors of the past diluted down to a stone memorial and several signs. The even-leveled field looked unnatural amongst the gravel, wooden light posts dotting the grass every few yards. If it were not for the grass, it looked like a parking lot. And I found out that in fact, as early as 2011, it was a parking lot owned by Virginia Commonwealth University. This space has long been one of contention and strife – a baseball stadium once threatened to overtake the site, but ultimately, it became a memorial ground and place to pay respects for the people of Richmond that fought to keep it there through vigils and protests. The Devil’s Half Acre is just a portion of what it used to be in the past. The history of unnamed slaves remain forgotten, buried under a layer of asphalt.

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