Friday, December 19, 2008

Unvarnishing Virginia History

This week's announcement of what has been found at the Lumpkin's Slave Jail site in the parking lot of Main Street Station brought to mind a piece I wrote for STYLE Weekly, back when the late Rozanne Epps was the Back Page editor. Here's an excerpt of "Unvarnishing Virginia History."
In 1961, my seventh-grade history book, which was the official history of Virginia for use in public schools — as decreed by the General Assembly — had this to say about slavery at the end of its 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.

In 1961 I had no reason to question that paragraph's veracity. Baseball was my No. 1 concern in those days. Now those words read quite differently.
Click here to read the entire piece at STYLE Weekly.

Yes, I know there are Richmonders who would rather have left what remains of that slave jail/human corral covered up. But it is part of our history and what happened needs to be understood. The only way for our grandchildren to know how officially twisted my 7th grade history book was is to shine a light on the truth.

Eventually, I hope some sort of museum-like display and proper memorial will stand on the place where Lumpkin once did business in Shockoe Bottom.

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