Plantation Tours and Erasing Black Spaces

by Gabby Kiser

Gabby Kiser is a junior from Williamsburg, Virginia majoring in English and minoring in History. This is her first summer with the Race & Racism Project. She is also the general manager of WDCE 90.1 FM, a design editor for The Messenger, and a Bunk content wrangler.

Coming from Williamsburg, VA, I’ve taken my fair share of plantation tours. On the way to Tuckahoe Plantation, which is 14 minutes from the University of Richmond, I expected a familiar setup. Particularly, I anticipated any information on the plantation’s enslaved Africans to be part of a self-guided grounds tour, fed by a few words acknowledging their presence on a sign or two. Tuckahoe provided even less than this bare minimum that I’d expected. Maybe, though, their silence says more than anything about how plantation tours treat the history of enslavement.

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Miles To Go

by Meghna Melkote

Meghna Melkote is a rising sophomore from Scranton, Pennsylvania majoring in Political Science and Philosophy and minoring in Music. This is her first summer working with the Race & Racism Project as a member of Team Archive. She is involved with the Mock Trial and Debate teams, performs in chamber music ensembles, is a member of the Phi Alpha Delta Pre-Law Fraternity, and is a content curator for public history platform

Photo by Nicole Maurantonio

On June 21st, 2019, the New York Times published an essay by reporter Kurt Streeter about the re-naming of a major road in Richmond, Virginia. Amidst the hum of debate surrounding how to handle existing Confederate monuments nationwide, the city council of the former capital of the Confederacy voted to rename a major street formerly known as “Boulevard” to “Arthur Ashe Boulevard”. Arthur Ashe was a record-breaking tennis player, civil rights supporter, and writer whose nephew led the charge to commemorate his uncle. While this change was brought about by activists and a strong city council in Richmond (there was an 8-1 vote in favor of it), the publication of this story in the New York Times shows that this brand of cities reckoning with their history is not unique to Richmond. I had the opportunity to attend the official dedication of the boulevard on June 22nd, 2019. The event was held at the Virginia Museum of History and Culture, and coincided with the opening of their new exhibit “Determined: The 400-Year Struggle for Black Equality”.

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Reclaiming the Narrative

by Shira Greer

Shira Greer is a rising sophomore from Fairfax, Virginia majoring in Political Science and minoring in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. This is her first summer working with the Race & Racism Project. On campus she is also a Richmond Scholar, an Oliver Hill Scholar, a Peer Advisor and Mentor, and a member of the Executive Council for a Multicultural Space at the University.

For my second site visit, I chose to go to Virginia Commonwealth University’s Institute for Contemporary Art (ICA). One of the exhibitions on display is entitled Monument, and is the first work of the ICA’s Provocations series, which commissions artists to create a new artwork for the light-filled, high-ceilinged True Farr Luck Gallery, housed on the top floor of the museum and designed by architect Steven Holl as “a provocation for artists to engage.” Created by Rashid Johnson, Monument is a towering steel structure filled with plants, shea butter sculptures, books, and video monitors.

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Shirley Plantation: Most Old Plantation in Virginia

by Jisu Song

Jisu Song is a sophomore from Richmond, Virginia not decided in major but minoring in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (WGSS). She has been involved with the Race & Racism Project since 2019 and is currently serving in the Oral History Team. As a student, she is an executive member in WILL*, member of Sirens, and a peer advisors and mentors. She hopes to work for global audiences.

I decided to go to Shirley Plantation because I wanted to see how big the plantation was and how the plantation is described toward tourist. During the general research about the plantation, I read many high ratings that complimented the site. Some of the comments mentioned that the site is very pretty, historically informed, and worth the price. From this research, before I arrived in the site, my expectation was very high about the tour and site. I expected the tour to be mostly talked about enslavement and how owner thoughts about enslavement. My expectation for Shirley Plantation was very high. However, my site visit did not fulfill my interest in learning more about how people were living in the past.

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A More Perfect Museum

by Cole Richard

Cole Richard is a junior from Orlando, Florida double majoring in English and Italian Studies and minoring in Linguistics. This is his first summer working on the Race & Racism project. He is also a resident assistant, DJ at the campus radio station, and student worker at the music library.

The American Civil War Museum sits on the banks of the James River, a short 20 minute walk from downtown Richmond. Located on Tredegar Street and housed in the ruins of the Tredegar Iron Works, the museum opened just a few months ago, the result of a merger between the former American Civil War Center and the Museum of the Confederacy. Although that merger took place in 2014, it took six years of work for the new combined museum to open. Drawing artifacts from both defunct institutions, the new museum’s expressed aim is “to be the preeminent center for the exploration of the American Civil War and its legacies from multiple perspectives: Union and Confederate, enslaved and free African Americans, soldiers and civilians.” This objective was apparent to me upon entering the museum.

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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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A Trip to The American Civil War Museum

by Nathan Burns

Nathan Burns is a junior from Newtown, Pennsylvania double-majoring in French and Leadership Studies and minoring in English. This summer of 2019 marks Nathan’s first time working with the Race & Racism Project. On campus, Nathan is also a writing consultant and a member of the dining services student advisory committee.

I find it fitting to begin this blog post at the end of my experience at The American Civil War Museum mostly because of a t-shirt I saw hanging in the gift shop. Blazoned in bold white capitals against black fabric, the shirt read, “I AM MY ANCESTORS’ WILDEST DREAMS”. The phrase stayed with me as I left the gift shop and stepped into the warm summer rain. I stared back at the museum from the outside and marveled at the blend of past and present architecture, noticing the brick ruins of the historic Tredegar Iron Works enveloped by the steel and glass modern design of the current museum. In this moment, I couldn’t help but reflect on our team discussion with public historian Free Egunfemi on the topic of ancestral self-determination. I ask myself now as I write this post: how and where did I see this idea of self-determination at work in the museum’s exhibit? In other words, where did I see resistance against the traditional historical narrative of the Civil War, and how might this resistance inform the ways we remember our past in the present?


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Maggie Walker and Arthur Ashe’s Monuments

by Jisu Song

Jisu Song is a sophomore from Richmond, Virginia not decided in major but minoring in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (WGSS). She has been involved with the Race & Racism Project since 2019 and is currently serving in the Oral History Team. As a student, she is an executive member in WILL*, member of Sirens, and a peer advisors and mentors. She hopes to work for global audiences.

On a Monday afternoon, after the intense discussion about how many historical ideas are geared towards western culture, I visited different monuments and statue in the city of Richmond, we were assigned to visit the Black historical figure’s statues. As a resident of Richmond for 5 years, I realized that I have never visited these sites, in fact, I did not hear Arthur Ashe’s name before I visited the statue. I was aware of Maggie Walker from the Governor School’s name. However, I was not able to fully know what she had accomplished during her lifetime. I was not familiar with both of their achievement and work that they have done in this city. To learn more about the great historical figures who born in Richmond and worked for a better world, I researched and visited the sites.

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