Tag Archives: Virginia history

The Reconstruction Story Rarely Told

by James A. Bacon

America’s culture wars are national in scope, but they hit especially close to home in Virginia, which was, before the current cultural cleansing, home to many monuments to Confederate soldiers and generals. Central to the struggle over history is a desire by many to replace narratives that whitewashed the evils of slavery and segregation with “true” narratives that highlight White guilt. The danger is that the narratives now in vogue will be no more reflective of reality than the happy-darky renderings of 50-year-old Virginia history textbooks.

We can all agree today that slavery and segregation were moral abominations. But the history as morality tale — of unremitting evil perpetrated by Whites against Blacks — leaves out a lot. History is complicated. The history of Reconstruction and its aftermath is extremely complicated.

As a starting point for studying Southern history, you would do well by reading Philip Leigh’s book, “Southern Reconstruction. I thought I was fairly well versed in American history. It turns out that there was much I did not know. Continue reading

Virginia’s First Anti-Racists

Maybe it’s not so surprising that Black students in Wise County schools out-perform their racial counterparts in Loudoun County (see previous post) when you consider that far Southwest Virginia was the first region of the Old Dominion to integrate — years before Civil Rights legislation was enacted. Frank Kilgore, a long-time coalfields booster, sent two photos as evidence. The first, above, shows the first integrated Little League team in the South — Norton, Va., 1951. Continue reading

State Anthem Controversies: Carry Me Back to Old Virginia

James Bland

by James Wyatt Whitehead V

In the early 1870s, a young pre-law student at Howard College was inspired by classmate and future wife, Mamie Friend. James Alan Bland would listen to the homesick sentiments of Mamie and her home in tidewater Virginia. During a trip to meet Ms. Friend’s family the two sat down together with pen, paper, and a banjo. Bland composed his song to illustrate the reflections of a freed slave, who in old age, embraced memories of a former life on a plantation. The apologue conjures up memories of a simple agricultural life, the beauty of the natural world of tidewater Virginia, and a strong affection towards a former master.  According to the “Psychology of Music,” Bland uses the key of A to declare innocence, love, cheerfulness, and acceptance of one’s affairs. C minor reinforces key of A with a languishing sigh of a home sick soul. The G major invokes calmness, rustic scenery, faithfulness, and friendship. Using the lens of modern scholarship, it is easy to find flaws of Mr. Bland’s ode. The lines below are difficult, illogical, and subservient to the modern ear.

“There’s where the old darke’ys heart am long’d to go,
There’s where I labored so hard for old massa,
There’s where this old darke’ys life will pass away.
Massa and missis have long gone before me,”

In order to understand “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny”, the reader must come to know James A. Bland. He was born on October 22nd, 1854 in Flushing, New York, to a free and educated African American family. James’s father was the first African American to graduate from Oberlin College in 1845. The family relocated to Washington, D.C., in the late 1860s where the head of the family worked as an examiner in the U.S. Patent Office. James and his father enrolled together at the Howard College. Father studied law and son studied liberal arts as a pre law major. Continue reading

If Only Robes Could Talk

Portrait of John Marshall with robe

“To listen well is as powerful a means of communication and influence as to talk well.”
     — John Marshall

by James Wyatt Whitehead V

John Marshall, fourth Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, wore the same judicial robe for 34 years. Preservation Virginia, which maintains the John Marshall House on Marshall Street in Richmond, displays the garment, one of the greatest relics of the U.S. Supreme Court, since 1911, when Marshall’s great granddaughter donated it.

Wear, time, light, temperature, and humidity  took a toll on the artifact, but a 12-year preservation campaign to “Save the Robe” resulted in success. On April 15th via a webinar, Marshall’s robe was revealed to the public once again. Continue reading