On Charlottesville

We, the Race & Racism at the University of Richmond Project advisory group, write to express our outrage at the violent actions of white supremacist and Nazi groups during a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville this weekend. We condemn the actions that took place in our community in the strongest possible terms. We express our condolences to all those injured and to the family of Heather Heyer, who lost her life in an act of terrorism.

We represent a project drawing together members of the Richmond community, on campus and within the city, attempting to connect archival work at the University to the present-day challenges of building and fostering a more inclusive and equitable community. Our project attempts to recover and honor the stories of people of color and necessarily interrogates systems of oppression that have silenced and demeaned them. By seeking to identify the effects of white supremacy and other acts of racism, past and present, we understand the importance of naming the causes of such violence: white supremacy and racism, as well as sexism, antisemitism, islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, ableism, and other manifestations of hatred.

Language matters, and we must be courageous enough to name the paralyzing virus of hatred spreading and circulating among us, even when it masquerades as “free speech.” While free speech is a cornerstone of democracy, it is not unlimited and cannot legally or morally be used to incite violence. When white supremacists use “free speech” as a legitimating cover for directing hate speech at our most vulnerable and marginalized citizens, we have an ethical responsibility to denounce it and the physical violence it promotes. As a community, we cannot claim to uphold diversity and inclusivity as a societal and institutional value, whilst turning a blind eye to the symbolic and physical violence inflicted when racist ideologies are protected and allowed to spread under the banner of “free speech.”

The hatred that spurred the violence in Charlottesville is not new, nor is it unique. While we bore witness to the violence this weekend captured in graphic photographs and streamed on the internet, acts of hatred and bigotry occur daily in venues that are not always as visible or as intensely covered by news organizations. The persistence of these acts reflects a climate that has been part of U.S. culture since the nation’s founding. It has historic roots. It must stop.

As educators, we are dedicated to fostering brave spaces where ideas can be shared and debated. This, we believe, is how learning happens – by having the courage to challenge our most cherished world views through rigorous, collective, and respectful inquiry. However, the events of the weekend remind not that “blame” should be shared by “both sides” as President Trump insists on repeating. Rather, such efforts to evenly distribute blame are efforts to tip the scales in favor of white supremacy.

We invite you to join us in standing up against and denouncing racism, white supremacy, and hate. Naming those ideas and actions is an important step toward holding them accountable. And we need to do better. We must do better.


The Race & Racism at UR Project Advisory Group

Julian Hayter, Assistant Professor of Leadership Studies
Patricia Herrera, Associate Professor of Theater & American Studies
Glyn Hughes, Director of Common Ground, Affiliated Faculty, Sociology & Anthropology
Lynda Kachurek, Head of Rare Books & Special Collections, Boatwright Library
Nicole Maurantonio, Associate Professor of Rhetoric & Communication Studies and American Studies, Project Coordinator
Rob Nelson, Director of Digital Scholarship Lab, Affiliated Faculty, American Studies
Bedelia Richards, Associate Professor of Sociology & Anthropology
Irina Rogova, Race & Racism at the University of Richmond Project Archivist

Freedom, not Equality

By Vishwesh Mehta

The city of Richmond, the former capital of the Confederacy and one of the largest hubs of slave ownership and trade in the pre-Civil era war, has a history of racial oppression and injustice. Even though the end of slavery was a positive step for African Americans, the conclusion of the Civil War seemed to open up a Pandora’s box of oppression. The government granted freedom to slaves, but equal status was a concept which was a long way off. Even though free men and women were no longer physically shackled by slave owners, they were trying to free themselves of the shackles of oppressive policies formulated by the dominant white population comprised of their previous oppressors.

In the mid twentieth century, people of color started creating a better life in the Richmond area adjusting to segregationist policies. There were parts of Richmond where people of color were concentrated because of social oppression, strict real estate rules, and a conscious effort to prevent them from entering white neighborhoods. Then came urban renewal projects for the city of Richmond, still suffering from the aftermath of a very expensive Civil War. Urban renewal projects uprooted a suspicious amount of African American neighborhoods. Even if the white population was affected, they were treated much better when it came to relocating and providing compensation. The construction of the I-95 interstate through Richmond’s Jackson Ward neighborhood, a predominantly African American neighborhood in the city, would lead to the destruction of over 1000 homes and improper compensation for relocation. The expressway destroyed pedestrian pathways and acted as a barrier right in the middle of Jackson Ward.

Even though there were laws in place to protect the rights of former slaves, they were far from comprehensive. There were several loopholes which were exploited by the local government in order to prevent African Americans from gaining equal status to the white man. A perfect example, according to Benjamin Campbell, of such exploitation is the voting laws of the state. Immediately after the Civil War, before these loopholes were exploited, there was a brief period where there a majority of African Americans were elected to political offices because of the boom in the population of African Americans. This triggered a systematic effort by white lawmakers in Virginia to reduce the impact of African American voters. A pre-voting test was created. A poll tax was levied on the residents of Richmond with the motive of discouraging the poor members (mostly people of color) of society from exercising their political rights. These moves, among many others like gerrymandering,  specifically aimed at curbing the rights of African Americans. Even though slavery was abolished, oppression was not.

Even though we have come a long way from previous acts of racism, we still have a long way to go when it comes to providing an equal platform for racial minorities. The prison system, higher dropout rate of minorities from high schools and colleges, and the celebration of the Confederacy through flags, statues, and monuments are all indicative of the fact that it is still not a level playing field. The symbolism of Confederate monuments is disturbing and a period of the country’s history that should not be celebrated. There have been several protests in order to remove the statues of Confederates from Monument Avenue in Richmond. The first step towards the goal of true equality is to acknowledge the shameful past and start a conversation about the issues of race from the past and present.

Vishwesh Mehta is from Mumbai, India. He is a rising senior at the University of Richmond who is majoring in Rhetoric and Communication Studies. Vishwesh is involved in various clubs on campus. He is the community outreach director of the South Asian Student Association. Vishwesh was a part of the Spring 2017 independent study (RHCS 387) on the Race and Racism Project. He is currently a Social Media and PR intern for the project.

 

Race & Redlining in Richmond

By Maryam Tahseen

Even though the city of Richmond freed itself from the shackles of slavery towards the end of the 19th century, the structures of systematic racism continue to discriminate against and marginalize the black community of the city. With the increasing black population of the city posing a threat to the mostly white City Council and General Assembly members in the late 19th and early 20th century, strategies such as the construction of Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike were used to displace and disburse residents from the majority black residential areas. The Turnpike cut a one block wide and an eighteen blocks long trench through Jackson Ward which was a majority black neighborhood.[1] These frequent displacements of black people and lack of financial support by the government meant that most of these people settled in either less-developed or impoverished areas of the city in the 20th century. To this day, the effects of these racially segregated zones are evident between the neighborhoods of East End and West End. While the East End suffers from issues such as food deserts and poorly-maintained schools, West End is home to some of the wealthiest communities in the Richmond area. Moreover, the ordinance by Henry W. Woody in the early 20th century to prohibit persons who could not marry each other from living next to each other led to a paucity of racial integration in the residential areas and its effects can still be seen today.

The gentrification of predominantly black neighborhoods in the city of Richmond is a poignant reminder of the city’s dark history. According to Rosa Coleman, president of the Greater Fulton Hill Civic association, her neighborhood in Fulton was completely bulldozed and its residents dispersed. While growing up, she remembers that her neighborhood in Fulton rarely had any electricity or indoor plumbing which again indicates the deplorable conditions of the black neighborhoods when compared to the white neighborhoods of the city. [2] Another black neighborhood in Richmond which has gone through gentrification is Church Hill. Through gentrification, the South of the neighborhood flourished while the longtime residents were pushed towards the north. As new businesses and restaurants continue to open in the South of Church Hill, the divide between the predominantly black North and white South becomes more and more obvious.

In the late 19th century and early to mid 20th century, the annexation of counties near Richmond was carried out in a way to specifically reduce the black voting strength in the majority black wards by splitting the newly annexed populations evenly throughout the wards. [3] Moreover, laws disqualifying voters who had committed a petty larceny further contributed to the muffling of black political voice in the city. Their lack of representation in the city politics and governance meant that policies to displace and destroy their neighborhoods got easily passed in the assembly. By using such ordinances and laws, the majority white councils of the city of Richmond were able to silence the voice of black communities for over a century until 1968 when a black person was elected to the general assembly.

Although not as obvious, the structures of racism are still evident in various institutions of the city. According to Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia, black borrowers continue to become the victims of “redlining.” Based on their recent research on mortgage data, 13.7% of white borrowers had their loan applications denied while 34.6% of black applicants had their loan applications rejected. [4] The neighborhoods impacted by redlining today are the same that were historically excluded for lending.

Since most of the black residents in Richmond were former slaves, they not only belonged to low-socioeconomic backgrounds, but also had limited reading and writing abilities. Before integration in the educational institutions, most of the black schools were overcrowded, under-funded, and had low teacher pays. On the other hand, most of the schools with the highest educational standards were located in some of the wealthiest and “white-est” localities of the city. Even after integration, most of these schools were unavailable to black children because of the distance of these schools from their neighborhoods, coupled with the lack of public transportation available to these schools. The election of anti-integration governors such as Godwin further complicated the racial integration of classrooms. The lack of funding of majority black public schools magnified the economic boundaries between the black and the white neighborhoods in the region. The black community in Richmond still seems to be stuck in the vicious cycle of poverty because of the low educational standards of public schools in black neighborhoods. In 2012, United States’ official poverty rate was 15% while the city of Richmond had a 25.3% rate of poverty. A further breakdown of this statistic shows that the poverty rate amongst the white community in Richmond was 5% while the black population suffered from 30% rate of poverty. [5] The poorly funded schools in black neighborhoods over the course of the last few years means that employment opportunities are not as available to the black population in the city of Richmond. The unemployment rate was 14.1% for blacks as compared to 5.1% for whites.

Even though it has been years since the abolition of slavery, the scars of structural racism can still be seen throughout the city of Richmond.

 

Maryam Tahseen is a rising Junior majoring in Accounting with a concentration in Finance and minoring in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. She is from Islamabad, Pakistan. As an international student, she is very excited to uncover the lives of international students along with underrepresented minorities through this project. 

 

[1] Benjamin Campbell. Richmond’s Unhealed History, Selections, Brandylane Publishers, 2012, 155.

[2] Brian McNeill, “Social Work Students Explore Richmond’S Struggles With Race, Injustice”, News.Vcu.Edu, 2017, https://news.vcu.edu/community/Social_work_students_explore_Richmonds_struggles_with_race_injustice.

[3] Benjamin Campbell. Richmond’s Unhealed History, Selections, Brandylane Publishers, 2012, 136.

[4] Ned Oliver, Times-Dispatch, “Study Links Richmond Mortgage Denials To Race”, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 2017, http://www.richmond.com/news/local/city-of-richmond/study-links-richmond-mortgage-denials-to-race/article_84d2e614-823a-5902-83df-a14ae649eb61.html.

[5] Julian Hayter, City Profile Of Richmond (Richmond: University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, 2015), http://thrivingcities.com/sites/default/files/City-Profile-Richmond.pdf.

From Slavery to Jim Crow: Richmond Past & Present

By Jennifer Munnings

From slavery to Jim Crow, to separate but equal, laws in Richmond were constructed to marginalize and oppress black people while lifting up white people. The Confederacy lost the war against the continuation of slavery, but refused to let its racist ideals die so easily. The construction of institutions and laws created in the 20th century that targeted the black community had lasting effects and shaped Virginia and the city of Richmond.

Even with wins like the Supreme Court case Brown versus Board of Education in 1954 that declared that segregated public schools were a violation of the Constitution, the integration process was met with extreme resistance. Some schools closed down rather than allow black people to attend. In 1919, black public schools were overcrowded, underfunded, and the teachers were underpaid, which was to be expected when the government did not see a need to educate black people, believing that they were incapable of understanding the information regardless, and that they were destined to be laborers. Education being inaccessible to black people was an effective method in keeping black people in subordinate positions to white people.

Additionally, as a means of maintaining the racial hierarchy, Virginia schools refused to allow black people to be principals in black schools, creating problems of positive representation. White schools taught false histories, raising generations of students to believe that the people of Virginia were against slavery for the most part, when in fact they were headquarters for it. This notion was perpetuated by a book 10th graders had to read in the 1920s called “Slavery and Secession” by Beverly Bland Munford and social studies textbooks for fourth graders in 1965.  Virginia’s General Assembly controlled the rhetoric surrounding slavery, and generations of students were trained to believe a carefully constructed narrative surrounding its history that puts white southerners on a pedestal and completely ignores the humanity of black people.

Another method of control that Virginia used was residential segregation and in turn economic independence. The Federal Housing Administration used race as a basis of grading residential areas. As a result, all black communities received D ratings and were denied mortgages. Although this was legally reversed in 1977, Virginia continued this practice, and bank reviews show the disparity between mortgages given to white versus black people. As a result, black people were denied equal access to housing, this limited their ability to be independent of white people. Richmond gentrified black communities after 1964, destroying homes, and replacing them with public housing complexes and repaying the black people they displaced with a few hundred dollars and nothing else. Additionally, the construction of the I-95 turnpike which destroyed at least 1,000 homes in the historically black neighborhood Jackson Ward, highlights Richmond’s absolute disregard for black lives. The Richmond Times Dispatch said that the highway would improve the look of the city, meaning that the black people living in Jackson Ward were tainting it, and bringing down the attractiveness of the city.

With limited economic opportunities, and lack of support from the government, it is obvious that black people were pushed out of Richmond at every opportunity. The General Assembly sent free black people to Liberia in the 19th century, and in the 20th century, instead of providing black people with graduate schools, they created out-of-state scholarships. An independent, educated, and economically stable black person was something to be feared because they challenged the hierarchy and the legitimacy of white supremacy. Virginia’s government did all it could to challenge black people in achieving that status.

Richmond suffered greatly from 1955 to the 1970s. In Richmond’s Unhealed History Benjamin Campbell writes, “[Richmond’s] infrastructure was decaying, its bonding capacity was exhausted, and there was no new land for development or expansion.” In an attempt to rectify this, the city continued to implement laws that encouraged segregation and discrimination. This time however, the city was met with resistance, but white supremacist powers were stronger. Urban renewal projects are great examples of racism in Richmond as they highlight the power structures. The I-95 highway was placed strategically to involve white people more with the community and to destroy the historically black neighborhood. Richmond’s tumultuous history with racism is evident in its social structure, architecture, and governing bodies.

Jennifer Munnings is a rising sophomore, intending to major in Sociology with a minor in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. Jennifer is new to the Race and Racism Project, joining in Summer 2017 as a summer fellow. 

This Week in the Archives: What’s in a Mascot Name?

By Cassidy Lowther

On November 28, 1934, The Collegian released an article entitled, “Frosh to Hold Indian Trial at Cheer Rally.” The article discusses the rally presented at the car loop above the stadium in celebration of the rivalry between the University of Richmond and the College of William and Mary. Some of the plans for this Thanksgiving Day gridiron classic included widely-known speakers who were expected to delve into football history and spur Richmond toward a victory. Most notably, however, the article details an “important feature of the program” — the mock trial of the Indian chieftain, “Legrandesadebryantspackbridgers.” If found guilty by vote of the jury, the accused would be hanged, and then hoisted above the huge bonfire structure.

Tracing its origins back to 1896, the William and Mary football team was first nicknamed “The Orange and White” after their team colors (WM). It wasn’t until 20 years later, in 1916, the nickname “Indians” was first referenced in the 1916 edition of the Colonial Echo; referring to the basketball team. Between 1916 and the 1930s, the college logo and nickname continued to change and evolve with W&M earning the title of “Fighting Virginians” in 1923, changing their colors to green, gold, and silver in 1924, and adopting a 17-foot alligator named “Cal” as their mascot in 1927 (WM). However by the late 1930s, the W&M mascot was yet again changed; taking the place of “Cal,” the 17-foot alligator was an Indian pony named WAMPO (WM). Deriving its name from “William and Mary POny,” WAMPO often carried a rider in full Indian attire (WM).

The mock trial of the Indian chieftain originated as a way to rally against William & Mary, rather than against Indian people as a whole; yet, it begs the question: What were the state of relations between Richmond, Virginia and indigenous people at the time? The students of Richmond at the time remained unfazed by such a violent act; this in and of itself, the very action of inaction, speaks to the prevalence of racism. In June 18, 1934, the Indian Reorganization Act, also called the Wheeler-Howard Act, was enacted by the U.S. Congress (Britannica). “Aimed at decreasing federal control of American Indian affairs and increasing Indian self government and responsibility,” the Indian Reorganization Act was a way the United States government attempted to show its gratitude for service to the country in World War I (Britannica). While this act was a step in the right direction, ultimately it was just one small measure towards the ultimate aim of establishing a more equal footing for Native Americans. In spite of the fact that Native Americans were granted citizenship in 1924, many states barred Native Americans from the right to vote until 1957 (America’s Library).

 

Cassidy Lowther graduated from the University of Richmond in May 2017, with a major in Rhetoric & Communication Studies. She is originally from Riverside, Connecticut. She worked on the Race & Racism at UR Project twice throughout her time at the University — first, in Digital Memory & the Archive (Fall 2016), and in an independent study (Spring 2017). Her biggest takeaway from working on the project has been the significance of the initiative’s mission in bringing about the untold history of race and racism at the University.

 

This Week in the Archive: Spiders to Confederates

By Joshua Kim

“Don’t call me a Spider!”

In the year 1941, the University of Richmond found itself embroiled in a fierce debate as to whether or not they should ditch the campus symbol — the Richmond Spider — to become the Confederates.

This proposal was introduced by alumnus W.F. “Tip” Saunders (’13), who believed that the Spider symbol was inadequate. Instead, he believed that the university should be known as the Confederates inspired by Richmond’s status as the capital of the Confederacy during the Civil War in 1861.

Saunders argued that the name matched the university, as it once was used as a hospital for Confederate soldiers, and also because alumni from the university had enlisted in the war to fight on the Confederacy’s behalf (Collegian, 1941).

When I first began reading the article, I expected it to contain multiple voices supporting the brand change. Instead, what I found was a campus split between change and tradition.

Saunders found support in multiple places. Much of his support came from local sports writers in downtown Richmond who agreed that, “…by use of the Confederate flag and yell, color would be added to the game…” (Collegian, 1941).

In addition to support from local sports writers, Saunders found support within the campus sports structures, specifically with Coach Thistlethwaite, head coach of the University of Richmond, who said, “I’d be proud to be called a ‘Rebel’ and proud to have my team called Rebels” (Collegian, 1941).

This support is very telling of the times as racism and segregation were very much the norm since Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), which legally upheld racial segregation in public facilities in its infamous “separate, but equal” doctrine.

Jim Crow laws began flourishing under Plessy v. Ferguson, and African Americans found themselves suffering from unequal access to a variety of things to which white people had access — including a university-level education.

Despite this, Saunders found a surprising amount of pushback, specifically from the student body and alumni. As was reported in the Collegian, “In the student body, Mac Pitt, president, spoke for a large section when he said, ‘Spider born! Spider bred! Spider dead!’’ (Collegian, 1941).

I began to investigate further to reveal more about what eventually happened. What I found was different from what I had expected.

While this article does state that the Pitt spoke for a large section of the student body, upon further research I found this statement was a bit misleading. I discovered this through an article published on October 17, 1941, titled:

“Shall It Be ‘Rebels?”

“The undergraduate can leave college with Rebel banners, Rebel seals, newspaper clippings headed ‘Rebels.’ We think Rebels more appropriate, better headline material, and certainly better for newspapers and cheering. …a change for the better is always welcome” (Collegian, 1941).

From this excerpt, what I gained was that the change from Spiders to Confederates was not as highly contested within the student body as I had previously thought.

Alternatively, I found that true opposition lay with the alumni:

“Graduates of the University of Richmond probably will be hit harder by a change than undergraduates. Alumni walked away with their sheepskins as Spiders. They left with Spider banners, Spider seals; newspaper clippings headed ‘Spiders.’ They feel an attachment for the name that the average student will not have if he recognizes that the term has been officially forgotten” (Collegian, 1941).

I was both surprised and disappointed.

When I read of opposition to the proposed change, I had hopes that it was because of the sense of the history of racism “Confederates” evoked. Contradictory to my beliefs, both articles highly suggested that opposition came more from comfort and pride in tradition, rather than actual racial progress.

Regardless, it was very interesting to find how much our campus environment reflected the larger Richmond scope on race and race relations.

Although the articles did not necessarily weave a tale about race relations, we can gather much of the story ourselves through the silence, instead. These silences tell us that, in 1941, race was not a major part of these students lives, and in place were conversations on tradition, sports, and southern pride.

Joshua Hasulchan Kim is from Colonial Heights, Virginia. He is a sophomore at the University of Richmond who is double majoring in Journalism and French. Joshua is involved in various clubs on campus: He is the co-president of Block Crew dance crew, the opinions editor for the Collegian newspaper, and is the Co-Director of Operations for the Multicultural Lounge Building Committee. Joshua developed this blog post as part of his work on a Spring 2017 independent study (RHCS 387). He is currently expanding this research with the support of an A&S Summer Research Fellowship.

Frustration, Archiving, and Reimagining Histories

By Karissa Lim

When I worked on the Race and Racism at UR Project in the class, Digital Memory & the Archive, I gained experience with creating metadata, examining documents in archives, and developing a timeline. I learned that during George Modlin’s presidency, the university struggled with racial integration; there was pressure from the government and student body to integrate while the board of trustees and administration attempted to appease them without taking significant strides towards full integration. Eventually, the university enrolled its first full-time black students. However, their experiences and the experiences of other people of color on campus are not well-known. My class attempted to uncover these silenced stories by searching through the university’s archives. We went through alumni bulletins, The Collegian, yearbooks, and more. Though we gained a better understanding of these students’ experiences, there is still so much more to learn and uncover.

What we learned through our work clashed with the image the University of Richmond currently promotes, which was frustrating to me not only as a current student but also as a student of color. The university boasts a diverse student body, but it is still a predominantly white institution where students of color experience some discrimination. In addition, Richmond students do not fully know about the racial struggles throughout the university’s history. Richmond students may believe that the school is progressive, yet may not know about the racial tensions and harsh realities that students of color experienced, which may have carried over to experiences today. They do not know that some of the buildings on campus, such as Freeman Hall and Gray Court, are named after people who were racists. The university’s history is complex, and we cannot ignore it or forget it. The voices of students of color past and present matter. This is why this project is so important. This is why archives are important. We must make sure that we find and preserve the voices of students of color so that we can challenge the current narrative and change the current campus culture.

Michelle Caswell would call this “strategic essentialism.” She writes in her chapter “Inventing New Archival Imaginaries” published in the edited volume Identity Palimpsests, “Through strategic essentialism, we can both acknowledge that identity categories are often socially constructed by the powerful in order to marginalize those who are perceived to fit within those categories, and at the same time, leverage those constructed categories to organize for common goals” (p. 41). Furthermore, Caswell introduces the concepts of memoryscapes and imaginaries. Through digital archiving, archivists create a digital memoryscape which creates an “opportunity for individuals to communicate memories, for communities to forge collective memories, and for individuals and communities to contest those collective memories once forged” (p.45). Furthermore, through digitization, these memories can be accessed more easily by more people, which allows for greater communication and contestation. Digital archiving not only preserves the past but can also help us imagine new possibilities. Caswell writes, “archivists are not just memory activists, but visionaries whose work reconceives imagined worlds through space and time” (p.49). Therefore, digital archiving—as my fellow researchers and I will be doing in the coming weeks—not only uncovers lost memories but also creates a space in which we can discuss, challenge, and reimagine these memories.

I am excited to work with the Race and Racism at UR Project again and to continue the work I started last fall in Digital Memory and the Archive. The frustration I felt while completing work for the class has not ceased; I want to give a voice to silenced minorities throughout the university’s history so that we as a campus can begin to understand and challenge our collective memory of our school.

Karissa Lim is a rising senior at the University of Richmond double majoring in Psychology and Rhetoric & Communication Studies. She worked with the Race and Racism at UR Project during the Fall 2016 semester in the class Digital Memory and the Archive. She is working on the project again during Summer 2017 as a correspondent in Philadelphia, PA. 

The American Dilemma of Race and Progress

By Dom Harrington

My family has just concluded a four-hour conversation about race in America — from vehemently disagreeing about the value or lack thereof of #BlackLivesMatter to stumbling upon the infamous Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. vs. Malcolm X debate to finally ending with our different conclusions regarding whether or not the black community has achieved equality.

This past week, I had the distinct privilege of witnessing my older brother, Claude Lee Harrington II, graduate with honors from Washington University in St. Louis.  I was joined by my parents, my aunt, and my two maternal grandmothers.  My family has been in this country for generations, as far back as the 18th century.  Therefore, both my maternal and paternal sides were slaves until 1865.  Then, they were sharecroppers.  Then my grandparents, on both sides, moved from Mississippi to Indiana as a part of the Great Migration.  Therefore, it was an honor to attend this momentous occasion, hands interlocked, eyes swelling with tears as my brother’s name was called to get his diploma.

In our conversation, my father claimed that the very fact that my brother graduated from college and is going to law school is progress and shows that the Civil Rights Movement was a success.  In response, I asked the questions that prompted this post: What do real success and progress mean?  Who determines the answers to these questions?  These questions made me reflect not only on the collections I’ve analyzed through this project but how the work that we are doing adds to this enduring struggle for justice and progress.

This past fall I worked on President Modlin’s Papers. In the beginning, my team members and I had a hard time figuring out what exactly to do with the documents contained in the folder we were assigned. However, this course and project taught us that it’s incumbent upon archivists to be able to read against the grain and challenge dominant narratives that rest within the documents that they are provided. In the end, we examined this collection with a critical lens to see if integration was “inevitable” at the University of Richmond or not.  Even though my team focused on this university and its road to integration, our work informs the history of this country and its never-ending road to progress.  This is exactly the reason why I am thrilled to be working with this project this summer.

Like graduations, the Race and Racism project will mean different things to different people.  To me, as a black female student, this project is both cementing my story, and those who have come before me, unheard and unknown. Dominant narratives like that of progress need to be challenged, especially now in the age of alternative facts.  The thing about progress is, to know how far we have come, or how far we have progressed, we must know where we have been.  To much dismay, I’m not convinced that the majority of this country knows as much about where we have been, regarding our racial history than they should.  With an acknowledgment of where we have been, we could have much more fruitful conversations about where we are today. It is 2017, and we still can’t agree on whether or not the Civil War was about slavery or the states’ rights. Therefore, it is 2017, and we have Americans protesting the removal of statues of Confederate war heroes. Perhaps if the country, as a whole, were more knowledgeable about the history of slavery and the ideologies in which it was grounded that persist today, we wouldn’t have this issue.

It is certainly progress that my brother, a black male, has graduated college. Is it true progress if he will have to be twice as good, in every aspect, for the rest of his life?  Progress isn’t linear or unidimensional. It’s messy, and it’s difficult, but so are race and racism. Therefore, we have work to do.  We must ask the right questions, challenge the right institutions, and uncover the stories voices of those silenced and devalued, we can take down as many monuments as we want and talk until we lose our voices, but until we truthfully and critically understand where we as a country have been with race and racism, actual progress is impossible. So,  what better place to start with these questions than the site of memory that is the archive?

Dominique “Dom” Harrington is a rising junior majoring in American Studies and minoring in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.  She worked with the Race and Racism project for the Fall  2016 seminar, Digital Memory and the Archive. This summer, she is thrilled to continue working with this project remotely from her hometown of Indianapolis, Indiana.

 

This Week in the Archive: How Far Have We Come?

By Destiny Riley

During the 1930s, the University of Richmond’s very own Richmond College Glee Club made quite an impact not only on the Richmond community but also on various communities around Virginia. The Glee Club was led by Charles Troxell. Earning his bachelor’s degree at the University of Richmond, Troxell was an oratorio tenor and worked as choral teacher in Richmond, Virginia for many years, beginning in the 1920s. Throughout the city of Richmond, and eventually throughout the state of Virginia, he led the Glee Club as they performed minstrel shows and Negro spirituals. Minstrel shows, which originated in the 1840s, were created and written by White people to perpetuate stereotypes of Black people and were typically done in blackface. Negro spirituals were written by slaves regarding their suffering and despair, and how they would overcome.

Not only was the performances of the Glee Club problematic, so, too, was the overwhelming support from the University and the Richmond community. In an article from the University’s student newspaper, The Collegian, the author describes one instance of the Glee Club performing Negro spirituals as “excellent work,” and a “fine type of presentation” (Collegian 1933). A few months later that same year, another article that detailed a performance by the Glee Club was published in the Collegian. This time, the author discussed the University-sanctioned expansion of the Glee Club’s program and its major success in increasing support of its minstrel shows. The overwhelming support by the University and the Richmond community tells a tale of a longstanding cultural appropriation at the expense of Black people.

Though these articles were published in the early 1930s and performances of minstrel shows and Negro spirituals declined at Richmond after the 1970s, one has to wonder: How does cultural appropriation look today? Also, more specifically, how does cultural appropriation exist and look at the University of Richmond today?

Today, it is not common for groups and organizations to engage in cultural appropriation through the performances of Negro spirituals and minstrel shows. However, there has been a trend over the past few years of White rappers culturally appropriating Black culture in other ways. For example, Australian-born rapper Iggy Azalea exists in popular culture today as a modern-day minstrel. Azalea learned to “make a huge career for herself by mimicking the vocal patterns and phrases of a Southern black girl” (Zimmerman 2014). Azalea is not from the South, nor does her identity have any roots in the South. However, she appropriated Black culture for fame and profit. She does not physically wear blackface, but her appropriation of Black culture classifies her as a modern-day minstrel.

At the University of Richmond today, White rapper “Lil Dicky” provides a fascinating site for discussion. Born David Andrew Burd, rapper Lil Dicky graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Richmond’s E. Claiborne Robins School of Business. Though he may not explicitly acknowledge it, he plays an active role in cultural appropriation in the music industry and popular culture today. In a 2014 interview with New York Hip Hop Radio Station Hot97, Lil Dicky admits that he initially had little interest in rapping, saying that he “started rapping simply to get attention comedically, so [he] could write movies, write TV shows and act” (Lucas G. 2015). This quote exposes the underlying appropriative nature of the rapper’s career. While hip hop originated as a way for Black and Latino communities to relay their stories about injustice, poverty, and racism, rappers such as Lil Dicky have used it as a way to assert their White privilege. Many of the current students at Richmond are avid fans of Lil Dicky, even advocating for him to be one day be the homecoming performer, which poses the question of what that indicates about the University’s views on cultural appropriation today.

It has been over eighty years since the articles about the Richmond College Glee Club were written. The University community, however, still actively supports cultural appropriation at the expense of Black people. The archive presents us with various examples of the University’s problematic views and how they were manifested in the early to late 20th century. Though no organizations on campus are performing in blackface or singing Negro spirituals any more, the support from students for artists such as Lil Dicky raises a vital question: How much have the University’s views on race and cultural appropriation truly progressed?

 

Destiny Riley is a sophomore from Maumelle, Arkansas majoring in Rhetoric & Communication Studies and minoring in Sociology. She wrote this blog post in response to research she conducted during her Spring 2017 Independent Study (RHCS 387), during which she developed content for the Race & Racism at the University of Richmond Project. Specifically, she was a member of a team that developed the digital exhibit, “Performance & Policy: Construction of Race Through a Musical Lens.”

This Week in the Archive: Appreciation or Appropriation?

By Joshua Kim

“Semi-classical tunes, Negro Spirituals and service songs will highlight the Pop concert to be given by the Westhampton and Richmond College glee clubs…” (Collegian, 1942).

On November 13, 1942, The Richmond Collegian featured a small article describing an event in which the Westhampton and Richmond Glee Clubs would host a pop concert featuring a variety of songs, including “Negro Spirituals.” The first question that came to mind was, “Why is a club, composed of white people, singing Negro spirituals?”

Negro spirituals were an integral part of slave culture. Spirituals were a way for black slaves to express their joy, their sorrow, and their hope for freedom. Some argue that spirituals were codified protests of slavery. Perhaps the most famous of these is Go Down, Moses:

“When Israel was in Egypt’s land
Let my people go
Oppress’d so hard they could not stand
Let my People go

Go down, Moses
Way down in Egypt’s land
Tell old Pharaoh
Let my people go”

This song was most famously used by Harriet Tubman who used it during her various trips to the South as a means to identify herself to slaves. To slaves, Israel represented the North where they could obtain freedom from the “Pharaoh,” the white slave owner. Tubman was the Moses of her time, traveling way down into Egypt’s land, down the Mississippi, in order to help over 300 slaves escape.

To many, these spirituals hold an intimate story; they weave a tale of peril and suffering, of escape and new life. These spirituals are a testament to the black struggle. They are not for white people, let alone any other race, to sing.

Yet, both glee clubs have a history of singing Negro spirituals — the last archived occasion being in 1955.

This begs the question: Why? Why did these groups of white men and women feel compelled to sing Negro spirituals? What about these spirituals did they identify with?

Today, we face a complex debate on cultural appreciation versus cultural appropriation. From music, to fashion, to even hair styles, the act of white people doing, and being praised for, things that black people have been doing for years has found itself in what seems like every aspect of political discourse.

Although our various acapella groups no longer sing Negro spirituals, this does not mean that our campus is free of this problem of cultural appropriation. In 2016, a white student dressed as a “Native-American” for a Halloween party causing a large debate about cultural appropriation to resurface within the student body.

What these concerts and costumes reveal, however, is not a vehement attack against black people or ethnic minorities in general, but rather an unconcerned ignorance of cultures outside the dominant white culture that has established itself at the University of Richmond.

There is no proof as to whether these students had a certain agenda behind their choices, yet it is very telling of the ignorant nature behind these choices. It is quite problematic when a group of white students, attending a university in the former capital of the Confederacy, decide to sing songs that were inspired by the oppression that black slaves faced under white rule.

 

Joshua Hasulchan Kim is from Colonial Heights, Virginia. He is a sophomore at the University of Richmond who is double majoring in Journalism and French. Joshua is involved in various clubs on campus: He is the co-president of Block Crew dance crew, the opinions editor for the Collegian newspaper, and is the Co-Director of Operations for the Multicultural Lounge Building Committee. Joshua developed this blog post as part of his work on a Spring 2017 independent study (RHCS 387). He will be continuing his research with the Race & Racism at the University of Richmond Project during Summer 2017 with the support of an A&S Summer Research Fellowship.

 

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