Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A Tale of Two Cities; Same Past

The say that timing is everything. Well, after spending some time down in Charleston, SC where I happened to spend some years during my college days I returned and found the Sunday edition of the RTD and the article concerning Richmond's slave trail which tells the story of the African Slave Trade and the role of Richmond.

I have been living in the Richmond area virtually all my life and found that though I welcome the vision behind the project and that the story of the slave trade deserves and needs to be told, however, I ponder exactly why in todays times it seems to always come down to one side of the story or another.

What I mean is for years, seems like forever, we have had a City Council in Richmond who at every attempt distances itself from the City's history pre-1865. Those behind the scenes seem content on pushing the Museum of the Confederacy out of Richmond altogether even after demonstrating it was making money. The Council has always in its history refused to acknowledge those African -Amercians who played roles within the Confederate military or those slaves who fought to defend the lands in which they were raised. In the same light as casting every Virginian as a slaveowner are we saying that all African-Americans were slaves. I hope the trail will dismiss some tof the myths behind our own history. I hope that it portrays the truth and not a mere portrayal of how some would like it to have been because if that happens its not "historical" at all but merely a means to continue the divisiveness that always seems to follow any discussion regarding our history.

It saddens me as a father that in 2007 our children do not really get the opportunity to embrace our capital city's history, other than drive-by monuments and a few museums. I look at a city like Charleston, SC which has completely embraced its past, the good and the bad, and has moved in the direction of truly honoring that past by bringing in every aspect of its community's involvement. Charleston tells the story and I hope someday Richmond will follow. Charleston uderstands that its future is indeed its past. It is not today a haven for Fortune 500 companies or big business and is built an economy as a city on what amounts to a great tourist industry built on the backs of hardworking people proud of their history and who have realized the greater good in embracing it.

In Charleston you will find a city telling a rich tale of triumph against the odds. The seaport city has a merchantile history that even today shows its head in its ports of commerce, an architectural history that has defied hurricane after hurricane all along the Battery, an Amerciana history, an occupation history as it was held by the British during the Revolutionary War (think The Patriot starring Mel Gibson) its slave trade history and of course its Civil War era history. Each part of the history is expressed. You see it all has its place because as a people that is who the people of Charleston are. You will find different languages spoken throughout as you walk, dialects from the Carribean and African nations as descendants of slaves identify with both their natural and historical pasts with a low-country soul about it. In all it is quite charming.

This kind of charm I feel is why when travel studies or surveys are conducted Charleston rate so high and Richmond often never makes the list. You see people are not distuinghing our fine city from that of any other and in that lies the problem. The Capital of the Confederacy is a part of our rich history that many would rather have us forget. You see it is still too painful for some they tell us. For me though I think our history is used as a means to keep us divided, to keep us at odds, keep that feeling no matter how small of fear in each other that should one side or another have to fed it with a little political ferver they will from time to time to keep us heading down that same path we have been on since the 70's. What politcians and mouth-pieces of causes know and we often forget is that it is not the promise of the future that will heal this great city but the true honoring and reconciliation of our past that will. Only then will we really come together. Only then can we be one ship made right by truth and forgiveness. Only then will we be ready to show the world exactly who we really are as a people. This city establishment has failed to be the mentor in this respect.

I look at a city like Charleston, much smaller than Richmond, and yet a community that is using its rich history to benefit its future. Charleston has its share of issues; schools, poverty, jobs but it appears that together as a community they recognize that one of the biggest economical impacts they have is their city itself and all it represents. I ask myself exactly when will it come to pass Richmond has horse-drawn carriage tours taking people up and down Monument Avenue daily telling the story of Richmond's history pre and post Civil War all the while narrated by an African-American who is descended from the very people he his telling the story of. When that happens. When we can take pride in the fcat that we have embraced our past no matter how painful and a Virginian descended from slaves can where the uniform of a Confederate or drive a carriage that has the stars and bars emblem on it we will know that the powers that seek to culturely divide us have begun to lose their grip on our great City.

It is my hope that the Slave Trail and other historical endeavors in Richmond will be marketed effectively and that the counties in and around the city opt to make it a part of public school education. I will take my children but in the end my friends I will teach my children that it takes more than a statue placed within the confines of the city to bring "reconciliation", but a committment to dialogue with a foundation that we are ALL Richmonders and ALL Virginians and have much to be proud of together.

If there is doubt in anyone's minds what "real" reconciliation brings maybe we only have to look as far as Charleston, SC. Indeed its a tale of two cities with the same past.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The politcal history of Richmond is so intrenched with the reality of intergration and its impacts on the face of the city that politically it seems to have never moved on. Everything still has to pass the black & white test I afraid and neither side appears to have the will to get beyond differences