Embracing Multiculturalism & Heritage Diversity


The New Richmond:
Embracing Multiculturalism and Heritage Diversity
Photo Courtesy of : Richmond Metropolitan Visitors and Conventions Bureau
Virginia Civil Rights Memorial    
Once the city with one of the largest slave markets in the United States, Richmond is now making positive strides toward slavery reconciliation, recognizing its diverse heritage and embracing multiculturalism. The capital of the state of Virginia, the city, for the last two decades or so, has added very important tributes and heritage sites to commemorate the contributions of people of African descent. An array of these tributes and recognitions to African Americans can be found throughout the city. Some of  its most significant black heritage sites can be found on the Richmond Slave Trail and in the Jackson Ward District.

The Richmond Slave Trail is a trail outlining the paths that countless slaves walked on their journey into forced servitude. The Slave Trail, where you can observe various black heritage tributes, is a walking tour with markers along the 2.5-mile trek found along the site of the Manchester Docks of the James River Canal. The entire path along the Richmond Slave Trail, located in the Shockoe Bottom District is filled with interesting bits of history about slavery and the slave trade, making it one of the most significant African Diaspora heritage trails in the United States. The markers along the trail are enamel plaques on granite bases describing an aspect of the area’s history as it relates to the slave industry and/or emancipation.

The Jackson Ward District, the location of several black heritage structures, is one of the nation’s oldest intact African America neighbourhoods. It is the largest National Historic Landmark District associated with African American history where blacks designed and constructed many of its buildings in the early 1900's. Here you will find a large collection of cast iron porches that constitutes some of Richmond’s great architectural treasures. Once referred to as the "Harlem of the South" because of its vibrant culture, lively entertainment and thriving community activities, the Jackson Ward District is continuously being rebuilt and revitalized. Also one of the birth places of black commerce in the US and once known as the ‘Wall Street of Black America’ because of its commercial institutions, Jackson Ward is experiencing growth again in business development.

Following is a list of ten top black heritage sites located on the Richmond Slave Trail, in the Jackson Ward District and throughout the city of Richmond:

 1.) The Slavery Reconciliation Statue- Located along the Richmond’s Slave Trail and one of the most important heritage sites in the city, the Slavery Reconciliation statue which was unveiled in 2007, is one of three of its kind worldwide recognizing the evils of the slave trade. The half-ton bronze, 15 ft. sculpture depicting two people melded in an embrace is a symbol of apology for slavery. Identical statues are in Liverpool, England and Benin, West Africa memorializing the British, African and American triangular trade route, now identified as the Reconciliation Triangle. Reconciliation statues are in these cities because for three quarters of the 18th Century, they represented one of the largest global commercial trade triangles of enslaved Africans.

 2.) Lumpkin’s Jail – Once one of the largest and most notorious slave jails in antebellum America, Lumpkin’s Jail is also now a part of the Richmond Slave Trail. The historic site is represented with a tiny building from that time period on display. Even though it was called a jail, Lumpkin’s Jail was really a slave holding pin for punishment where more than 300,000 enslaved blacks were once held. Robert Lumpkin, owner of this jail-structure married one of his slaves and at his death after the Civil War, she inherited his estate. She leased some of the property for a school that later expanded and moved to a new location. This expanded complex evolved into Virginia Union University, a historically black university founded after the Civil War in 1899.

3) Henry Brown Box- Located on the Canal Walk Plaza on the slave trail, this heritage site is a replica of a box that memorializes a heroic escape by a slave desperate for freedom.  It was when his wife and children were sold to another slave trader that Henry Brown decided he had nothing to lose if he tried to escape.  With the help of a sympathetic white storekeeper, Brown had himself nailed in a crate where he was packaged for 27 hours until his deliverance to freedom in the North.  Brown became a noted abolitionist speaker for the Anti-slavery Society. Near the Henry Brown Box, you can also view original auction houses where slaves were auctioned and sold.

4) Maggie Walker National Historic Site - Located in the Jackson Ward District of the city, this historic site includes the home of the first woman in the US to charter and serve as president of a bank. The bank that Maggie Walker ran and a visitor’s center are also a part of this national historic site. The home where Walker lived for more than 30 years is open for tours, fully furnished with some originals and styles of furniture from that time period.  The bank is still intact today where you can experience firsthand how banks operated back then. The visitor’s center is where you can learn about the life and accomplishments of Walker.

5) Hippodrome Theatre – Also located in Jackson Ward, this historic theatre was an entertainment venue in the 1920’s and 1930’s, where Richmond's legendary Bill “Bojangles" Robinson performed. While the Jackson Ward area was once known as the Harlem of the South, Hippodrome was like its “Apollo” where many noted entertainers like Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole, Ray Charles, James Brown and Billie Holiday performed.  Now completely restored and renovated, Hippodrome is a live music venue and theatre that seats 800 people, with various rooms and sections for entertainment. The Hippodrome adjoins the W.L. Taylor Mansion that features a two-level restaurant with a 120- seat ‘listening room’ where guests can enjoy live entertainment in an intimate setting.

6) Black History Museum and Culture Center- Founded in 1981 and opened to the public in 1991, the museum is also located in the Jackson Ward District not too far from the Walker House. The Black History Museum and Culture Center is a repository for visual, oral and written records, and artifacts commemorating the lives and accomplishments of blacks in Virginia. The museum holds works by renowned artists, and extensive collections of African artifacts from different ethnic groups throughout Africa.  On display at this museum, you will find the bust of Oliver Hill, a prominent black attorney who helped mandate some of today's laws including the historic Brown vs. the Board of Education Bill.

7) Virginia Civil Rights Memorial – Located in Richmond’s Capital Square, this magnificent memorial commemorates the bravery of Virginian children who, more than 50-plus years ago, walked out to protest their run-down schools which triggered the 1954 decision by U.S. Supreme Court banning segregated schools. Unveiled in 2008, the memorial of 18 figures cast in bronze displayed on an eight feet high and twelve feet long granite wall represents this key event in the history of Virginia Civil Rights. Among the bronze figures represented are Richmond's noted attorney Oliver Hill, who took on this case and Barbara Rose Johns who was only 16 years old when she orchestrated the school’s strike. This is the first memorial statue depicting blacks and women in prominent roles on the grounds of Richmond’s Capital.

8.) The Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church - Organized in 1867 by legendary slave minister John Jasper, one of the nation's most well-known post Civil War African American preachers of that time, this church is a very important and popular site along Richmond’s black heritage trail. It is where Jasper, who served as pastor for 34 years, first delivered his famous "De Sun do Move" sermon. He went on to deliver this sermon by invitation more than 250 times to both black and white audiences, and once before the Virginia General Assembly. Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church has a large collection of materials documenting its long history and a room dedicated to the memory of John Jasper.

9) Arthur Ashe Statue – The first black winner of the Wimbledon, Ashe brought pride and honour to his hometown of Richmond as well as to the nation. The city commemorates their beloved late tennis star, who was also committed to AIDS awareness, education, and a civil rights activist, with a monument that was unveiled in 1996 before thousands of spectators. The monument is a bronze 12-feet statue of Ashe with his hands in the air, one with a book representing education and the other with a tennis racket representing sports. It is said that his hand with the book is held higher to emphasize that education is the most important.

10) Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson Statue- This statue is in honor of a man who began dancing for a living at six years old. Robinson later toured with a troupe in Washington, DC and performed with the black theatre circuit when he was in his teens. He became famous around the country as a tap dancer and actor of stage and film after being in the production of ‘Blackbirds’ in 1928. Dedicated in 1973, the nine and a half feet aluminium statue of the famous tap dancer stands on a six feet tall black marble pedestal portraying ‘Bojangles’ dancing down a flight of stairs. The story goes that Robinson in 1933 saw how dangerous the traffic was at a particular intersection, especially for children, so he paid to put a traffic light there. The statue of him is erected at that very intersection in Bojangles Park.

Even though these are ten of the top individual black historic sites in the city, a heritage tour here would not be complete without a visit to the American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar and Richmond's Capitol Square. Tredegar is the nation's first museum to interpret and represent aspects of the Civil War to include African American perspectives along with the Union and the Confederate views. At Capitol Square, you will find the Oliver Hill State Building named for Richmond's law-making prominent black attorney. The Oliver Hill State Building is the first and only building on Capitol Square to be named for an African American. Capital Square is the location where the country's first elected African-American Governor, Douglas Wilder took oath.  On the lawn of Capital Square is an oak tree planted in honour of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which was dedicated by his wife, Coretta in 2001.  
Other places in Richmond that recognize black culture and heritage include the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the Virginia Historical Society and the Maymont Estates.  The museum of fine arts contains an entire African art gallery as well as an art collection by African American artists from colonial times to the mid- 20th century.  A current exhibit at the Virginia Historical Society is on the history and contributions of blacks before and after the Civil War and also a permanent slave data base containing thousands of entries from Virginia where people can trace their roots. The Maymont Estates, once the home of wealthy railroad magnate James Dooley and his wife Sally, is now a house museum with elaborate Victorian furnishings on expansive, beautiful acreage where there are many types of gardens, and a park with tram rides and animals.  Here you will find the 'Belowstairs Exhibit" that is a miniature museum about the black domestic staff that once worked in the mansion.  When visiting, you might even get to meet and hear a talk from Doris Walker, great-granddaughter of the estate's former head cook, who helped with the present display at the museum.
A great way to explore Richmond’s black heritage trail is with a tour directed by the Elegba Folk Society, the city’s culture ambassador. With this tour you can even get to experience a re-enactment on the slave trail. As the richness and importance of its black history and contributions are continuously being recognized in Richmond, now is the time to visit for enjoyable and enlightening experiences in a city that is on the move in positive directions. For more information, visit www.VisitRichmondVa.com.   
Written By:
 Kitty J. Pope
Photos Provided Courtesy of :
Richmond Metropolitan Visitors and Conventions Bureau

2 Responses to Embracing Multiculturalism & Heritage Diversity

  • Kay R says:

    My family and I are researching our vacation this summer and found your site in the process. This section is really useful for us, but I also wanted to let you know that I love the slideshow we found on the landing page! You have acquired a loyal following in my house. Happy New Year!

  • Darnell Peachtree says:

    I live in Richland,Mississippi just outside of Jackson now, but I grew up just outside of Richmond, VA.  It had been close to two decades since I had been back there, as all of my family is down here now, but I wanted to see what "home" looked like and show my daughter where I grew up this last August.  I could not believe my eyes as I walked through Richmond with her and my wife. It had changed so much. There were so many places that recognized our suffering and accomplishments as African Americans. My daughter is 17 and I never realized how little she knew about our history as African Americans until that day.  Since that time back in August I have been researching and showing my daughter different sites, books and articles on our history as a people.  To my pleasant surprise she is absorbing it like a sponge.  There are many things that I have learned in the process as well and it has become a real bridge and bond between my daughter and I.  I have rattled on I know, but I wanted to let you know that coming from someone who has visited alot of sites I can authoritatively say this is BY FAR THE BEST SITE WITH THE BEST VARIETY I HAVE FOUND YET! My daughter and I both have subscribed to your newsletter and look forward to learning more from you.  Thank you for stepping up and filling in the gap that seems to exist in good quality factual accounts of our history that is also entertaining to read. The only thing I would ask, is if you have thought about including video or audio narrations at some point? I would love to be able to listen to some of your stuff while I am stuck in traffic.

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