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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Reflection on the Arthur Ashe Monument

by Joy Lim

Joy Lim is a Sophomore from Dallas, Texas majoring in Rhetoric/Communication Studies + Sociology and minoring in Anthropology. She is involved in the Westhampton College Government Association (WCGA), Alpha Phi Omega (APO), Delta Gamma (DG), Korean American Student Association (KASA), YouthLife, and is a mentor in the Peer Advisors and Mentors program (PAM). This is her first year working with the Race & Racism Project but she is interested in continuing this work in the future. She hopes to explore social justice issues not just on the University of Richmond campus but around the world as she continues her studies.

The most memorable monument that I visited was the Arthur Ashe monument located on Monument Avenue. Arthur Ashe was born in Richmond, Virginia and was the first African American man to be ranked as the number one tennis player in the world. As the monument resides in the middle of two streets, my friend and I parked further down the street, walked all the way to the left side of the monument, crossed the street, and approached the monument from the back. While walking down the street, we came across another statue just before the Arthur Ashe monument, which was quite disturbing. I had never seen the statue before and was alarmed at what I interpreted the statue to mean. Once I got home, I looked up the statue that we had seen and learned that it was a monument to Matthew Fontaine Maury, a Confederate naval officer. I was shocked at the statue’s imagery of tens of people struggling to lift up the world as a statue of Maury sits on a throne – of sorts – in front of them. After encountering this statue that glorified white privilege and entitlement, we came across the unpretentious monument of Arthur Ashe.

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How Long Shall the Wicked Triumph?

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.

On the 17th floor of the VCU Medical Center’s West Hospital rests an unexpected beast. Sure, there’s a plaque in the 1st floor lobby that states the Jefferson Davis Memorial Chapel is just an elevator trip away, but, if I hadn’t done research before showing up, I certainly wouldn’t have anticipated seeing its marble archway behind an unmarked wooden door, sharing the hall with an employee-only restroom and a spattering of what appear to be used waiting-room chairs.

The bits of information I could find online about this place were from three sources: a fairly recent blog post by Selden Richardson in the Shockhoe Examiner, a response from Richardson to a reader, and a MoveOn petition that appears to have gone online in 2015. There are no tours, no maps, and no information at the site aside from memorial plaques placed by the Daughters of the Confederacy in 1960 upon the chapel’s opening. The room has lights at both end, but its pews lie in darkness. West Hospital doesn’t even hold patients anymore, and narrowly evaded demolition about ten years ago. Still, its chapel is open for whoever wants to see it.

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The Story Beneath Our Feet

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 bunkhistory.org

I visited Lumpkin’s Jail (also known as the Devil’s Half Acre) and the African Burial Ground in Richmond–Lumpkin’s Jail was the largest slave-holding facility in Richmond during the mid 19th century. The jail historically has been home to the typical cruel and unusual treatment of enslaved people by Robert Lumpkin, who purchased the property and created a two story brick slave jail that held enslaved people until they were sold. After emancipation, a historically black seminary was founded and later on, a parking lot covered the area. We also visited the African Burial Ground, or, as it was originally titled in a city map, the “Burial Ground for Negroes.” As we learned from the historical markers on the site, it was a poor quality burial ground, with the danger of heavy rains washing the remnants and land into the James River, and also was where convicts were hung. After a new site opened, the grave site was abandoned and the construction of what would later become I-95 destroyed the land. In the 1990s, activists like Defenders for Freedom, Justice, & Equality and the Slave Trail Commission began working on commemorating and memorializing the site. It currently rests as a large field with information signs explaining the history, surrounded by memorials – it is not clear who left the current ones, but it is known that memorials left by survivors had disintegrated with time. Read more

The Importance of Community History

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 first site visit, I chose to go to the Pocahontas Island Black History Museum in Petersburg, Virginia. Like much of Virginia, Petersburg is full of rich history, and Pocahontas Island is no exception: it was home to at least two stops on the Underground Railroad as well as one of the first free black communities in United States, though enslaved Africans and white people lived on the land as well. As such, the area’s history spans from before the Revolutionary War to today, and the area is listed on both the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places. Although Pocahontas Island has government recognition, Preservation Virginia listed it as one of the most endangered historic sites in Virginia due to a lack of funding to adequately restore the important properties on the island in order to communicate the area’s historical significance. Accordingly, the Black History Museum is privately owned and operated by Richard Stewart, a 76 year old Pocahontas Island native. He began the museum in 2003 out of a desire to share his love for the area’s history with visitors to the museum.

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