Those of you living in the Richmond area will find this documentary to be particularly interesting. In 1993 the city organized Healing the Heart of America, which among other things included a walk through Richmond in an attempt to address lingering tensions over slavery, race, and history. Some of the interviews are quite interesting. You can see the legacy of this walk in such programs as The Future of Richmond’s Past as well as the incredible work of Virginia’s Sesquicentennial Commission. It is interesting to see the changes to the city’s commemorative landscape in the last twenty years.
You may remember that a few weeks ago Virginia Flagger Tripp Lewis was arrested on the grounds of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts following a conflict with museum security. This recent incident reflects a pattern of behavior in this group. It’s a desperate plea for attention and a clear indication that very few people are listening or care enough to advocate in one way or another for the group. I’ve said from the beginning that I respect their right to protest, but at this point I see no clear road leading to success. In fact, the tactics of Mr. Lewis and others have only worked to marginalize the Flaggers.
The following video was filmed before Christmas on the grounds of Richmond’s Oakwood Cemetery. It is an important cemetery for those who care about the proper treatment of Confederate graves. In the video Lewis raises a Confederate flag on cemetery grounds to replace those which have mysteriously disappeared. From there he takes us inside a small office that oversees the grounds.
Lewis is clearly looking for a fight. Unfortunately for him, no one in the office has the least bit of interest in what he insists is a case of vandalism and disrespect. At the tail end of the video Lewis is encouraged to end his little stunt and leave. Even worse, I have no doubt that they did not ask the female employee for her permission to post the video. Knowing that this video was filmed before Christmas helps to place the VMFA incident in proper perspective. Given that his mild-mannered approach did not work, Lewis decided to step it up a notch in front of the museum. Again, no one cared about his crusade, but in this case he confronted the wrong people.
Those of you in the Richmond area should make it a point to check out Ray Carver’s one-man show, “Gettysburg 1963″ which will premier at the Gayton Kirk Presbyterian Church on Saturday February 23. I was invited to participate in a panel discussion following the show, but the organizer didn’t realize that I no longer live in Virginia. It’s times like these that I really miss the Old Dominion. There is just so much going on in the Richmond area alone.
Here is a little taste to wet your appetite.
Over the weekend I took some time to answer a few questions about Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln as part of a forum for the journal Civil War History. The roundtable discussion that will come out of it will be published in the September 2013 issue. One of the questions focused on the movie’s connection to the sesquicentennial. I offered a few thoughts, but one thing I noted is that we shouldn’t ignore the fact that it was filmed in Richmond and Petersburg. It appears that both communities embraced the opportunity to host a film about Lincoln. Of course, we can attribute much of the enthusiasm to the financial benefits that both cities enjoyed, but it is worth acknowledging that in the former capital of the Confederacy there were no major protests undertaken re: the filming of a movie about Lincoln. Lincoln was welcomed in Richmond 150 years ago and it is nice to see that this is still the case.
The Virginia Department of Tourism has set up a website that allows visitors to trace Lincoln’s steps through Virginia. Today I came across this collection of videos that focuses on Petersburg and vicinity, which provides visitors with even more information.
“It is altogether fitting and proper that we should this.”
I am hoping to catch Spielberg’s Lincoln movie this weekend. My plan is to write a review, but please don’t expect a narrowly-focused critique of how well the film reflects current Lincoln/Civil War historiography. Such an approach almost always fails to capture the intention of why people make movies and why we go to see them. As a historian and teacher, what I look forward to seeing is theatergoers and students who are sufficiently moved to learn more by picking up a book or traveling to the historic sites themselves.
The state’s department of tourism has already created a website that allows visitors to follow Lincoln’s movie and historical footsteps through Richmond and Petersburg. They are assuming that the movie buzz will bring people to Richmond. I assume the NPS will be offering guided tours and other materials to help tourists navigate their way through these two cities and we can assume that other historical institutions in the area will also benefit from increased traffic.
The tour offers a blend of Hollywood and history, with Richmond standing in for Washington, D.C., and historic Petersburg portraying itself. Lincoln spent a good deal of the final days of the Civil War in both cities. As emancipated people cheered, he famously walked the streets of the smoldering former capital of the Confederacy in April 1865 as it fell to Union forces. Lincoln also spent about two weeks in Petersburg, home to the longest military siege on American soil. Its architecture still bears the scars of the war, including cannonballs embedded in brick facades.
I just love the idea of visitors walking Richmond’s streets with Lincoln on their mind just as thousands did when he visited the city in April 1865. It’s, after all, American history, folks.