Most of my life has been spent living in Richmond's Fan District, which was home to four statues on pedestals honoring heroes of the Confederacy; three of them were removed last summer. Beyond monuments, to know what it was like in Richmond in the past, we look to history, which comes to us in many ways — stories told, popular culture and schooling among them.
Speaking of history, now I’d like to better understand the slave market business that once thrived in my home town. Moreover, I’d also like to learn more about how that particular aspect of local history was rather effectively covered up for so long.
Accordingly, it's time to shine a revealing new light on how our history books were cooked in the 20th century. A fresh and thorough look needs to be taken at how the truth was systematically processed into bullshit.
For instance, in 1961, my seventh-grade history book, which was used in all of Virginia's public schools, had this to say at the end of Chapter 29:
Life among the Negroes of Virginia in slavery times was generally happy. The Negroes went about in a cheerful manner making a living for themselves and for those whom they worked. They were not so unhappy as some Northerners thought they were, nor were they so happy as some Southerners claimed. The Negroes had their problems and their troubles. But they were not worried by the furious arguments going on between Northerners and Southerners over what should be done with them. In fact, they paid little attention to those arguments.
Well, in 1961, I had no reason to question that paragraph’s veracity. Baseball was my No. 1 concern in those days. Now, of course, those words of pickled history read quite differently than they did 60 years ago.
Living through the struggles of the Civil Rights Era, with its bombings, assassinations, marches, sit-ins, boycotts and school-closings, did much to open my mind, to do with truth and fairness about racism. However, for me, there was no moment of epiphany, no sudden awareness I was growing up in a part of the world that officially denied aspects of its past. More than anything else, it took time. Life experience taught me to look more deeply into things. To look beyond the Lost Cause stories of denial I had been spoon-fed.
Now I know that old history book, crafted in the early-1950s by "historians" hired and directed by the General Assembly, was an essential cog in the machinery that maintained the Jim Crow Era. And since that seventh grade history book was used for a long time, yet another generation of Virginians was subjected to a systematic torturing of the truth about the institution of slavery, causes of the Civil War, its aftermath, etc. My generation.
Richmond's school children today deserve better than their parents and grandparents got. Thus, it’s our civic duty today to do the right thing in our time. In 2021, let's do our best to put truth on a pedestal.