As director of Virginia Humanities, I want to acknowledge the pain that our state and nation are feeling right now. I want to recognize especially the pain that Black Virginians and Black Americans are experiencing. The killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and Ahmaud Arbery are a horrific reminder of the brutal systemic and individual racism that continues to thrive in our nation. And as we struggle through a global pandemic, such injustice is evinced further by the fact that people of color are disproportionately being infected and killed by COVID-19.
I hear mutterings of how unprecedented these times are. Given the conflation of the pandemic, perhaps that is true. But, unfortunately, so much about this moment is not unprecedented. We only have to think back a few years ago to Trayvon Martin, Rekia Boyd, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, Jamar Clark, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice. These are just some of the names our national media have covered. There are so many others that are not picked up in the headlines. And looking back many, many, years, the list enumerating the names of Black people lynched and murdered by white people goes on.
At Virginia Humanities, we are steadfast in our belief that to build a better future, we must understand and speak truth to our past and present. To this end, we invite you to consider doing the following.
First, read The Death of George Floyd by my colleague, Kevin Lindsey, who leads the Minnesota Humanities Center. His powerful statement and reflection about Floyd’s death conveys the urgency we must all embrace to fight racism and inequity in this country, especially through the vehicles of storytelling and history.
Second, if you want to fight racism and make the history of our state accurate and inclusive, financially support the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center in Charlottesville and the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia, located in Richmond. These two organizations—one our local Black history museum, the other our state Black history museum—are leaders in telling the stories of Black Virginians and in facilitating conversations about racism and equity. With your backing, they can have an even greater impact with their missions.
Finally, if you want to know more about historical perspectives and the documented persistence of racism and inequity in Virginia and our nation, I encourage you to access the following Virginia Humanities resources and programs:
- Sign up and attend Josh Rothman’s talk entitled, A Biography of the Domestic Slave Trade, tomorrow, Tuesday, June 2 at noon.
- Participate in Alec Karakatsanis’s book discussion on Usual Cruelty: The Complicity of Lawyers in the Criminal Injustice System, about dismantling mass incarceration. This webinar will take place on Tuesday, June 18 at noon.
- Read in Encyclopedia Virginia how from the moment the first Africans arrived, violence has been directed towards Black bodies; how Black Virginians were disenfranchised after the passage of the fifteenth amendment; how racial terrorism has been a fact of life in the Commonwealth after emancipation; and, how the racial educational divide was exacerbated when Black citizens were denied access to public education through a policy of Massive Resistance.
- Listen to a BackStory episode about the history and legacy of lynching and a With Good Reason show featuring public historians reflecting on the nation’s racist past; a BackStory episode that explores the case for reparations and a With Good Reason show that looks at reimagining justice for Black girls in Virginia.
We are compiling a list of other resources that we will share with you, soon.
As Virginia Humanities seeks to create a just and inclusive future where all of our stories, histories, and traditions are known and respected, we must work each day with a commitment to values of empathy and compassion with our staff and with the people we serve across the commonwealth. That work is hard. But with you, I have faith that we can make that future a reality.