Archive for the ‘black history’ Category

Monument to Maggie L. Walker would be fitting tribute to her & Richmond

Potential site for Maggie Walker monument, the intersection of Broad Street, Adams Street and Brook RoadA resolution to support a monument to famed Richmonder Maggie Lena Walker has passed through Richmond City Council.

She was an educator and is best known for being the first woman to charter and serve as president of a bank in the United States. Her home in the 100 block of E. Leigh Street in Jackson Ward is a federally protected National Historic Site. She was born in Richmond in 1867 and died here in 1934. She is buried in Evergreen Cemetery.

NBC12’s Laura Geller wrote:

In a city of monuments, leaders want this monument to be a big deal. They do not want something that will blend into the background, but a statue that will make people think about the accomplishments of the first African-American woman to run a bank…Under the ordinance, the city will study if the intersection of Broad Street, Adams Street and Brook Road will make for a good location. Originally, [Councilman Charles] Samuels wanted the statue to go on Monument Avenue but he’s been convinced Jackson Ward is the perfect place. The project will be funded through private donations.

Richmond is a city of monuments and Jackson Ward is the perfect place for this one. With all the economic growth and physical improvements to the neighborhood once known as the “Harlem of the South” and the “Black Wall Street of America” because of its reputation as a center for both black commerce and entertainment.

According to CBS6’s Mark Holmberg:

Currently, only a large tree sits in that triangle made by the three intersecting roads downtown, just a few blocks from where Walker’s Consolidated Bank & Trust now sits. But there’s much more standing in the way. Specifically, funding, as the last portion of the resolution points out. The city council vote was largely symbolic, noting the city will have to make sure it owns that triangle before it can even consider using it for this monument.

Knowing who owns the quirky triangle is important [locator map]. It would be a shame for that tree to go, but that much-improved section of the Broad Street corridor could use another attraction to continue its resurgance.

Marcus S. Jones Jr., 1971 graduate of Maggie Walker High School and president of the Maggie L. Walker Statue Foundation. He said to CBS6’s Holmberg: “I’m going to try to get a grant, written for $500,000 to a million dollars.”

Arthur Ashe statue on Monument Avenue in Richmond, VirginiaAs I did when I wrote about my proposed statue to Lewis Ginter, let’s use Richmond’s statue honoring tennis champion and Richmond native Arthur Ashe as a comparison.   

Ashe is honored with a 12 foot tall bronze statue at Monument Avenue and Roseneath Road that stands on a 87,000 pound granite block and rises 28 feet above the street. It was created by artist Paul Di Pasquale and was dedicated in July 1996 with a cost of nearly $450,000 (according to figures from the Richmond Times-Dispatch).   

Bojangles Park in Jackson Ward in Richmond, VirginiaIf the property transfer brings no larger cost to the city than the tree removal and some cosmetic work, a monument to Maggie L. Walker in that spot could cost between $500,000 and $750,000, depending on the artist and scale of the monument. The size of the triangle should keep the sculpture to a scale similar to that of Bill Bojangles Robinson, which conveniently resides four blocks away north on Adams Street, forming a nice bookend of sorts for Jackson Ward.

Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson in Jackson Ward

Bojangles Park in Jackson Ward in Richmond, VirginiaWHAT: Statue to Bill Bojangles Robinson in Jackson Ward in downtown Richmond, Virginia.

LOCATION: At the intersection of old Brook Road, West Leigh and Price streets, in the south corner of the triangular Bojangles Park.

ARTIST: John Temple Witt.

DEDICATION: June 30, 1973.

DESCRIPTION: This 9 1/2 ft. aluminum figure of the famous tap dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson stands on a 6 foot high black marble pedestal. The Statue portrays Bojangles dancing down a flight of stairs. It is sponsored by the Astoria Beneficial Club.

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Close up of the Bill "Bojangles" Robinson statueBill “Bojangles” Robinson was born May 25, 1878, in Richmond. He was an American tap dancer and actor of stage and film. Audiences enjoyed his understated style, which eschewed the frenetic manner of the jitterbug in favor of cool and reserve; rarely did he use his upper body, relying instead on busy, inventive feet and an expressive face.

A figure in both the Black and White entertainment worlds of his era he is best known today for his dancing with Shirley Temple in a series of films during the 1930s. He died of heart failure, penniless in New York City, November 25, 1949.

Sadly, Bojangles Park is very small and the streets are busy at this intersection. I love this setting and the statue itself, but it’s tough to enjoy the scene with visitors and small children without worrying about traffic.

Of course, that’s part of why he’s honored. The story goes that in 1933, while in Richmond, he saw two children risk speeding traffic to cross a street because there was no stoplight at the intersection. Robinson went to the city and provided the money to have one installed.

Fountain at Bojangles Park in Jackson WardThe triangle park is well-maintained, as is much of the architecturally intriguing Jackson Ward these days. So many renovated homes and old buildings are being brought back to life.

The park also includes an old animal drinking fountain, which I find to be fascinating in its own right. I wish that many more of those existed around the city as an attractive link to the past. It’s easy to envision someone with a horse carriage taking advantage of a fountain like this one on a “long” trip from downtown Richmond to Ginter Park and the North Side 100 years ago.

‘Headman’ statue on Brown’s Island

Paul DiPasquale's ‘Headman’ on Brown’s IslandWHAT: ‘Headman’ on Brown’s Island in downtown Richmond, Virginia.

LOCATION: Brown’s Island near the foot of the bridge over the Haxall Canal at the of 7th Street.

ARTIST: Paul DiPasquale.

DEDICATION: Nov. 25, 1993 (bronze statue).

DESCRIPTION: The 9 1/2 foot tall bronze sculpture commemorates the contributions of the black boatman on the James River. His two arms are holding an oar and his head looks to his side over his shoulder. The boat is made of cypress and oak and his hands are attached to a wooden oar.

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Paul DiPasquale's ‘Headman’ sculpture on Brown’s IslandBrown’s Island is one of the most essential outdoor party places in downtown Richmond, and Headman is there to welcome visitors to at the bottom of the staircase as they cross the long footbridge to enter the island.

The vistas from Brown’s Island of the downtown skyline, the James River, CSX train viaduct and the many other man-made structures makes this a great place to unwind.

Big events like the Richmond Folk Festival & Friday Cheers. All the summer food & music festivals, adventure games, car shows — down to the daily lunchtime walkers — all of it. Since the first time I noticed the boatman, I always take a few moments to see how he’s doing.

The original fiberglass version of ‘Headman’ was stolen away in 1989 to Hanover County, shot full of holes and vandalized. The current bronze statue was dedicated in 1993 and has held down the fort at Brown’s Island ever since. I think the city does a great job of making wonderful little places like this for people to see the diverse history of this old town.

Recovering one plot at a time at Evergreen Cemetery

Clearing Evergreen CemeteryI helped bring Oliver A. Scott and Edloe B. Scott back to life.

Not really, but their burial plots at Evergreen Cemetery are at least once again free from the shackles of garbage, ivy, broken trees and ravages of Mother Nature reclaiming a forgotten landscape.

It took at least four hours of work, but a group of volunteers and I worked to reclaim the lost cemetery. It is a daunting task to completely remove more than half a century of neglect, but rewarding. This kind of work needs to be delicate so as not to disturb the graves — you can’t just clear-cut the entire landscape.

Volunteers from VCU at Evergreen CemeteryFormed in 1891 in Richmond’s East End, the express purpose of the Evergreen Cemetery Association was to establish a black cemetery that would rival Hollywood Cemetery.  It became the final resting place of many of Richmond’s leading African-American citizens, including Maggie Lena Walker, John Mitchell, Jr., and Rev. Andrew Bowler.

Opened with no means for perpetual care, the cemetery has been left unchecked and is overgrown by trees, ivy (poison and English) and weeds. It has also been terribly vandalized and is littered with dumped garbage.

Volunteers at Evergreen CemeteryThe regular volunteers got there start in Summer 2008 when they took the challenge to search for the grave of Pearl Williams.  What is has become is a quest to find another several thousand lost sites, one by one.

One of the main organizers, John Shuck, called the effort an archeological dig, landscape clearing and genealogical search all in one. I agree. As we worked, I got the feeling that I was resurrecting history — reclaiming something beautiful and valuable that had been lost.

The path coming back to life at Evergreen CemeteryI met a wonderfully delightful and invested 12-year-old boy, Noah (green jacket, above), who comes out with his father, Mike, every weekend. Noah was quite experienced with encouraging and guiding volunteers on what needed to be done and helping set goals within a three-hour work time frame.

We picked a plot that had a suspected path next to it and by the end of the day the group had cleared two and a half plots and uncovered the path. Envisioning a goal and attacking it.  Plus, the conversation was uplifting and positive — a great environment for giving your time for a good cause.

Oliver A. Scott family plot at Evergreen CemeteryClearing the cemetery will take years, and the small core of volunteers needs your help. Rally your friends and family and give three hours of your time one Saturday morning. Get a troop together. As you can see at right, we got a lot accomplished in one day. Compare it with the photo at top, which was after about an hours work.

See more:
Evergreen Cemetery Families: Yahoo Group & Twitter
Richmond Times-Dispatch: Michael Paul Williams
Church Hill People’s News: Evergreen Cemetery
Flickr photo group: Evergreen Cemetery

Touring forgotten Evergreen Cemetery

Images of Evergreen Cemetery in Richmond, VirginiaI was given a tour of a forgotten land. It would have been more encouraging if it had been in a Central American jungle and we were looking for the ruins of a Mayan temple. No, it was Richmond, and we were seeking the ruins of what was supposed to be a symbol of blacks finding a measure of equality.

My tour guide was John Shuck and he is leading a group of volunteers trying to recover the jungle that has become Evergreen Cemetery, located in the far East End of Richmond. From the book Built by Blacks, by Selden Richardson:

[It] was created in 1891. It was laid out by the Evergreen Cemetery Association on a high ridge overlooking the valley formed by Stony Run and Gillies Creek; it was planned to be the African American equivalent of Richmond’s high-style Hollywood Cemetery for whites.  From below, dense woods obscure the effect of the massed monuments on its hillside, and the historic gravestones extend deep into the woods, where the dead are forgotten amid overgrown paths, upturned monuments and anonymous graves.

Maggie L. Walker at Evergreen CemeteryIt became the final resting place of many of Richmond’s leading African-American citizens, including Maggie Lena Walker and John Mitchell, Jr. Their plots and the surrounding plots are cleared, though roughly. There are thousands that aren’t, many forever lost.

Opened with no means for perpetual care, the cemetery has been left unchecked and is overgrown by trees, ivy (poison and English) and weeds. It has also been terribly vandalized and is littered with dumped garbage. From Built by Blacks:

The message that Evergreen first broadcast, that of parity and permanence, has become defused and blunted. The neglected cemetery distresses and confuses its few visitors, and the architecture of what was intended to be a memorial park can affect those who enter it.

Read Built by Blacks or Here I Lay My Burdens Down: A History of the Black Cemeteries of Richmond, Virginia by Veronica Davis. Gather your friends and do something about the cemetery.

See more:
Evergreen Cemetery Families: Yahoo Group & Twitter
Richmond Times-Dispatch: Michael Paul Williams
Church Hill People’s News: Evergreen Cemetery
Flickr photo group: Evergreen Cemetery