These stories tell me who I am

by Cory Schutter

Cory Schutter is a Class of 2019 graduate from Midlothian, Virginia. He double majored in Rhetoric and Communication Studies and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies (WGSS). He was a Bonner Scholar, a Center for Civic Engagement Ambassador, and a Student Coordinator at UR Downtown. He began his involvement with the Race & Racism Project in the summer of 2017, as an A&S Summer Fellow, then joined the team again via Digital Memory & the Archive, a course offered in Fall 2017. The post below is the written text of Cory’s speech at the 2018-2019 Lavender Graduation, sponsored by the Office of Alumni and Career Services, LGBTQ Spiders Alumni Group, and the Office of Common Ground. The event took place on April 11, 2019. 

2019 Lavender Graduation, with Cory Schutter in the center.

On a crisp October day 42 years ago, Anita Bryant came to the Robins Center to perform a “concert of sacred music.” The program was sponsored by the Richmond Area Baptist Associations, and did not claim a connection to any campus ministries. In protest, Richmond Citizens for Gay and Lesbian Rights organized a corresponding rally at Monroe Park, to educate and support L and G Richmonders. And a UR alum challenged her, wearing a “gay and proud” tshirt.

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Enduring Value

by Cory Schutter

Cory Schutter is a Class of 2019 graduate from Midlothian, Virginia. He double majored in Rhetoric and Communication Studies and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies (WGSS). He was a Bonner Scholar, a Center for Civic Engagement Ambassador, and a Student Coordinator at UR Downtown. He began his involvement with the Race & Racism Project in the summer of 2017, as an A&S Summer Fellow, then joined the team again via Digital Memory & the Archive, a course offered in Fall 2017. This post was written as part of a Spring 2019 independent study with the Race & Racism Project.

I spent the summer of 2017 as a fellow for the Race & Racism at the University of Richmond Project x UntoldRVA collaboration, an experience which shifted the way I viewed the impact of an archive on a community. Summer fellows had the opportunity to perform close-reads of local Richmond stories and trace these accounts back to materials from the public archive.

At the end of the summer, project alum Catherine Franceski and I found ourselves next to a whirring microfilm machine at the Library of Virginia. A footnote in James Sidbury’s book Ploughshares into Swords had us questioning some assumptions we had made about a late eighteenth century Black dentist named Peter Hawkins.

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What’s your experience with race and racism at the University of Richmond?

In October 2017, a cohort of students, faculty, and staff worked with radio creator and producer Kelley Libby to practice audio recording skills and to produce a brief audio piece for the Race & Racism at the University of Richmond Project. Faculty members Dr. Patricia Herrera and Dr. Nicole Maurantonio, project archivist Irina Rogova, junior Joanna Hejl, and senior Cory Schutter roamed the University of Richmond campus on a brisk Saturday morning posing one question to passerbys: What’s your experience with race and racism at the University of Richmond?

The below audio piece (with subtitles embedded) is a sampling of the answers they received. Thank you to Kelley Libby for editing, and to seniors Destiny Riley and Cory Schutter for narrating the piece.

 

This Week in the Archive: Obscene

by Cory Schutter

Cory Schutter is a junior from Midlothian, Virginia. He is double majoring in Rhetoric and Communication Studies and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies. He is a Bonner Scholar, a Center for Civic Engagement Ambassador, and a Student Coordinator at UR Downtown. He began his involvement with the Race & Racism Project in the summer of 2017, as an A&S Summer Fellow. This post was written as a part of Digital Memory & the Archive, a course offered in Fall 2017.

On February 23, 1984, Collegian staff writer Ginny Yoder broke a story on sexual harassment plaguing the University of Richmond: “Obscene: Women get phone calls.” Residents in the Westhampton College dorms and University Forest Apartments had begun to receive obscene phone calls from unidentified callers. An epidemic of sexual harassment began spread from phone to phone around Westhampton College.

“It’s traumatic for the girls,” Campus Police Chief Robert C. Dillard told the Collegian. This trauma would haunt Westhampton College as obscene phone calls continued into the early 1990s.

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Confederacy. Union. Freedom.

by Cory Schutter

On the tinted glass doors of the museum are three words: Confederacy. Union. Freedom.

These words frame a visit to the Museum of the Confederacy — three complicated, tense, load-bearing words. They frame the Civil War as an idealistic fight for freedom, and I wonder about the truth in this. When we talk about freedom, to whose freedom do we refer?

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Basements and Bontemps

by Cory Schutter

We’re halfway through the summer and I’m proud to say that I’m mastering the lost art of finding books in the library basement. Surrounded by the smell of forgotten books, I’ve learned that there’s something sacred about moving bookshelves, running my finger along book spines, and finding the right call number.

Black Thunder. PS 3503 .0474 B5x 1968.

I’ve found Arna Bontemps’ fictionalized 1936 account of Gabriel’s Revolt, and I start thumbing through the pages. I have to pause at the first words: “Time is not a river. Time is a pendulum.”

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I imagine the way these swaying narratives sketch a harmonograph of stories with geometric relationships to us and each other. As students learning the work of activist archivists, we have a burden to bring the immaterial world into the physical one. This work triangulates forgotten stories, spreadsheets of metadata, and the creation of new spaces of memorialization. The pendulum is always swaying between the past and the present – stories meeting spaces.

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Highways of Meaning

by Cory Schutter

It’s difficult to wrap my head around Richmond’s provenance. I don’t want to repeat what has already been said. So many individuals have put pen to paper or voice to air and expressed the history of Richmond. They’ve challenged what we know, forever altering the way we have driven down streets and tried to manufacture a city of meaning.

This city comes to life through the pages of Dr. Benjamin Campbell’s Richmond’s Unhealed History. I’ve been reading selections from the book in the process of indexing self-determination narratives in Richmond with Untold RVA. The metanarrative of Richmond’s Unhealed History presents me with a new way to interpret this city. I can no longer look at these streets with a macro perspective, I have to consider the stories I don’t know.

I want to ask questions all along bustling Cary Street, and ask strangers if they’ve heard of Lott Cary, the self-made missionary and physician (Campbell 2011). I want to drive to the corner of 15th and Broad and see where insurrectionists were hanged on the gallows. I want to hear these whispered stories – but I don’t know if such silences can be broken.

This summer, I’ll be reading against the grain: looking for omitted narratives, coloring outside the lines, creating vocabulary to describe worlds that we haven’t discussed. But I struggle to find a word that describes Richmond – my tongue wants to use the word paradox, but I know this is too flimsy to describe a city with such a multifaceted history. Perhaps palimpsest would be a better descriptor, but my heart finds this too analytical and inaccessible. I want a word with a visceral connection that evokes blood and memories and conspiracy.

I want to know more about Cerelia Johnson (2011). Her story is one of resistance. Cerelia served as an elevator operator in City Hall and brought information to her pastor about the city planning to destroy her neighborhood. I have so many questions about Cerelia – I want to know her story of challenging power. I want to know if she’s still alive. I want to know if she has a nickname, what inspired her, and if she continued her resistance. I want to put a face to her name. I want her story to be celebrated – she is more than just a line of words on a page.

How can I describe a city that served as a panopticon for black bodies? How was it that the same fluid soil that gave life to Maggie Walker’s business empire was the same soil turned to mud by bulldozers gashing a highway through the heart of Jackson Ward?

I want to know the stories of power. When male city planners in the 1950’s sliced open the veins of Richmond to create the I-95 highway, did they know that they would destroy the city’s soul? In what ways can I symbolize the fingerprints they left on a city older than them – the way they constrained infinity with sketches of concrete ribbons?

The interactions and improvisations upon Richmond’s body have forever changed the way I view this city. Is there any way to emancipate the city that I have begun to know, to liberate it  from the dominant narratives that have constrained its being? I believe the stories that I’ve heard are more than locally situated nostalgic musings on the past – they have the ability to rupture understanding. How can you build a highway of knowledge on top of a highway of death?

I want a word that makes your eyes water, and you don’t know if its because of the smoke and mirrors or the pride in your heart. I want to describe Richmond with a word that smells like the rain that poured down on Brother General Gabriel’s revolution, with a word that describes the silence of parking lots and superhighways that cover slave yards.

I want to know how these questions of civic identity can be complicated, and I know that my work with Untold RVA will unpack these questions. I look forward to being confronted with more questions, more stories, and a more personal understanding of this city. This summer will be a search for more questions, and a process of learning to be content with some of those questions going unanswered. Because, when I read Richmond, my hunger for answers is often met with the silence of the historical record.

This city is not a conclusion in search for a cause, or a question that has to be answered. This city is self-determined, by gross injustices and glorious reawakenings. It is a city of constrained narratives that asks for liberation.

And so I can only describe this city with its name: Richmond.

Cory Schutter is a rising junior at University of Richmond, a double major in Rhetoric and Communication Studies and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. He is a Bonner Scholar, a Center for Civic Engagement Ambassador, and a Student Coordinator at UR Downtown.

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