Remembering Slavery Alongside Confederate Heritage in Richmond

While the Virginia Flaggers have made a name for themselves for their insistence that a Confederate flag fly on the grounds of the Soldiers’ Home, along the Boulevard in Richmond, others have also taken an interest in the history of the site. A student from the Agua Dulce Dance Theater recently performed an interpretive dance in front of the Robinson House to explore its connection to the history of slavery.

The history and repercussions of slavery are very palpable in Richmond, VA. It seems as if just the smallest scratching of the surface opens up doors to this difficult legacy. Recent archeological excavations in the city have unearthed a slave jail and a burial ground. There are currently heated city-wide debates about whether these sites should be preserved for their historical significance or if a new baseball stadium should be built on the sites…

I am interested in exploring layers of memory, calling forth through my imagination people who may have lived in this specific place—particularly slaves. In this instance, I am exploring a “return,” a “remembering” of place, a struggle with both memory and reality, an exploration of what may have never been said, what could be said today. The impossibility of entering the house seems significant for my piece.

The VMFA is planning to turn the home into a visitor center that will include exhibits related to its connection to Richmond banker, Anthony Robinson Jr., as well as its use as part of the R. E. Lee Camp, No. 1, Confederate Soldiers’ Home. The home is currently closed to the general public.

13 comments add yours

  1. It just seems odd as if an artistic dance can evoke the memory of slaves at a place where the primary function was to house indigent Confederate soldiers for the remainder of their lives. But then again, many things have been turned on their heads over time.

    Read that the future of the house will let visitors “find an introduction to Richmond embracing war and peace, slavery and freedom..”. One hopes the human cost of the war to subjugate the South is emphasized.

    • One hopes the human cost of the war to subjugate the South is emphasized.
      Interesting choice of words, Jack. The black southerners who were liberated from slavery as a result of the war certainly wouldn’t have regarded the destruction of the Confederacy as subjugation.

    • When the Yankees marched in on April 3, 1865, was the city subjugated or freed? To a lot of the residents, it was the latter.

  2. It just seems odd as if an artistic dance can evoke the memory of slaves at a place where the primary function was to house indigent Confederate soldiers for the remainder of their lives.

    Robinson House has served many functions over the years, including as a private residence for almost 40 years, prior to it becoming part of the Soldiers’ Home. And yes, the Robinsons were slaveholders, so the performance there is entirely appropriate.

    There’s a very good (and comprehensive) history of the property in the VMFA’s application to have Robinson House added to the National Register.

  3. I like the dance and the dancer, but the videography is atrocious. The dancer evokes a ghost from the past, materialized on an ordinary contemporary Richmond day to remind the viewer of the full history of this lovely house. I hope she works on the piece a bit more, and re-shoots it with proper videography. It would be great to see a follow-up inside the house, too.

    • Well no wonder she left the Robinson house at a good trot as she no doubt has many other residences to demonstrate their history such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Ulysses Grant, Andrew Jackson, etc., etc.

      • Good illustration of the pervasiveness of black oppression as a building block of American greatness. As a symbolic representation, however, the dancer need not go to every site associated with slavery in America to point out that the beauty and graciousness of the antebellum South was built on the labor of enslaved peoples.

      • Well, she could certainly show Grant manumitting a slave, at considerable financial Cost to himself, as well as working alongside slaves in his farming days. Don’t know how you dance manumission, but I’m not a dancer.

  4. It would be great if the Virginia Flaggers were into protecting the Richmond slave burial ground in Shockoe Bottom. I’ve never seen them at city council in uniform like they did in Danville.

  5. Her dance would be greatly enhanced if she held a Confederate flag in each hand.

    • Such a prop might make for an interesting addition to her interpretation depending on what is done with the flags. Nice suggestion.

    • Good point. The tie in of the CBF to the defense of slavery would be challenging.

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