Richmond: Last night in town
Tonight is our last night in Richmond, VA. We leave early tomorrow morning (around 4:00 a.m. to be exact) for Harrisburg, PA and the National Civil War Museum. After that, it’s next stop Gettysburg.
We have found Richmond to be an incredible place. Every person we’ve talked to has led us to another source, and we’ve heard over and over again — from scholars, historians and people in the thick of the debate — that what we’re doing is crucial, that our efforts to reach a workable dialogue in which different viewpoints come together is key. Dr. Robert Engs, Professor Emeritus in African American History at the College of William and Mary told us Tuesday evening that the Civil War very well could have happened because people from either side just refused to listen to each other, or to communicate on any meaningful level. Here’s hoping we don’t get to that point again.
Since the last time you heard about our stay in Richmond, we spent a morning in Mechanicsville with Darryl Starnes, former Chief of Heritage Defense with the Sons of Confederate Veterans. When we first arrived at his house — a charming homestead called “Mimosa,” situated on a large spread, wall to wall with family heirlooms and Antebellum finery — Wednesday morning, Starnes was understandably defensive. He had at some point given an interview which resulted in a “hatchet job” which made the SCV seem like a bunch of inhuman monsters.
Once we assured him that this was in no way our intention, Mr. Starnes drove us around Mechanicsville for a taste of what Southern life is all about. We saw plantations and locations ripped straight from history, including the plantation where Edmund Ruffin committed suicide, as well as a surprise historic location that we feel pretty positive has never been filmed before.
Wednesday evening was perhaps the most moving part of our trip for me. We walked the Richmond Slave Trail, a walking journey designed to represent the path of Richmond’s slaves from the auction house down to the river, where they were shipped into the deep south. Along the way, we discovered an intense overlapping of modern urban Richmond and its slave trading past. We saw where the blocks used to build the gallows where Gabriel Prosser was hanged in October of 1800 were used to support the Broad Street overpass today. It’s an absolutely eerie sensation to feel time folding over on itself this way, and walking the trail at night (when slaves would have walked it because Richmond’s good people didn’t want to see a parade of slaves being marched through the city’s streets in broad daylight) made the whole thing unforgettable and moving.
Today, we spent time at the Library of Virginia, whose exhibit “Union or Secession: Virginians Decide” provided some excellent insights and scholarly historical debate from unexpected sources Gregg Kimball and William Freehling.
It’s been a great stay in Richmond, and we hope to find this kind of intensely interesting discussion and meaningful historical footage on the next leg of our journey in Pennsylvania. We’re far from finished, and we’ll almost certainly be back in Richmond at some point, but for now: onward and upward.