Wednesday, December 31, 2008

December 30th

Okay, I know. We're behind in our posts and we've only just begun. But I ask for your patience, because...well...we've only just begun. We're figuring so much out and learning so fast how to do this documentary theatre thing. The first thing is, don't call it documentary theatre. People think we're making a film, even though the word documentary is followed immediately by theatre. And we're talking about some of the smartest people I know. This is good news actually. It means that documentary films have taken a leap in terms of their importance in the cultural landscape -- the word documentary now only culturally applies to films, which is okay I guess. There are worse things that could happen with worse words.

We were in Richmond, Virginia on Tuesday and had amazing interviews with Dr. Edward Peeples, a civil rights activist and Viola Baskerville, Secretary of Administration in the cabinet of Virginia's Governer Tim Kaine. They were both instrumental in getting some measure of justice for a state-sponsored crime against humanity. Now I know what you're thinking -- someone must've been killed or something. No. This was something else entirely. In 1951, African-American students at Robert Russa Moton High School in rural Prince Edward County, Virginia engineered a walkout to protest their run-down school, which led to a lawsuit that was folded into the challenge that triggered the 1954 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court banning segregated public schools. Once the decision was handed down, Prince Edward County refused to integrate the schools. When counties were finally forced to do so in 1959, Prince Edward County CLOSED DOWN ALL PUBLIC SCHOOLS instead of integrating. So for five years, from 1959-1964, Prince Edward County schools were closed. White children that could afford it were placed in a private school, called "segregation academies" by some historians. Black children and poor white children had to either go to school out of district or forgo school altogether. (More on Farmville in a later post!)

Mrs. Baskerville, as a member of the Virginia State Legislature, led the drive to establish a $1 million scholarship fund that would help those that were robbed of an education in the early 60s to continue their studies. That package was increased by a million by a local private donor.

I found out that Mrs. Baskerville graduated from my alma mater, William and Mary. There's something that happens between black W&M alumni, a discussion that goes a little like this: "You went to William and Mary? I went to William and Mary." "Really? When?" "(Insert year here)." "Really? (Insert year here)." "Wow. How many?" "There were 60 in my class. You?" "6 black people in the whole residential college." William and Mary was a little late to the integration thing. But it certainly creates a strong bond with those that survived it.

Richmond is a beautiful city. According to Mrs. Baskerville, there are more 19th century stock buildings in Richmond than anywhere else in the country. Every house seems historic, especially along Monument Avenue, a celebration of the Confederacy it seems. I stress, IT SEEMS, because I have not looked at every monument on Monument Avenue. However, near the old train station (now a science museum), the first thing you would've seen 40 years ago as you walked into town was a roundabout circling a huge monument to Jefferson Davis. A little Googling tells me that there are six monuments on Monument Avenue -- four are Confederate war heroes, an oceanographer named Matthew Fontaine Maury, and tennis great, scholar, humanitarian, and very African-American Arthur Ashe. The Ashe monument was the last monument dedicated in 1996.

Richmond is indeed a beautiful city. It's getting more beautiful every day.

More on our visit to Richmond soon. Much more.


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