Field Trip, “Memorials and Erasures”

Oct 31, 2008

Professor Chidsey Dickson

Lynchburg College

 

Itinerary

 

8:00 am Circular Drive between Daura Gallery and Hopwood

8:15 am Old City Cemetery (Tour guide Ted Delany, Archivist and Curator)

9 am African American Legacy Museum (Tour guide Jim Taylor, Docent, Legacy Museum)

10:00 Dunbar High School

10:20 CVTC: Formerly, State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded (Tour guide Burk Blob, Director of Human Resources, CVTC)

                           **Lunch en route**

12 pm National D-Day Memorial (Tour Guide, Jim McCann)

2:30 pm Riverside Park (Where they filled in the public pool rather than desegregate it)

3:30 Return to L.C.

 

Overview

 

This fieldtrip will range across the city and surrounding area in search of a fuller understanding of the “memorials and erasures” of Lynchburg, Virginia. In search of memorials, we’ll go to the Old City Cemetery (most burials between 1806 and 1925) and to the  Bedford WW2 D-Day Memorial. If we have time, we might also stop by: Dunbar Middle School, Memorial Terrace, the Jubal Early Obelisk, and some of the “inner defenses” markers. For the “erasures” we’ll visit two sites in town (the CVTC and Riverside Park) that have historical significance but do not have adequate public remembrance.

 

Some of the erasures in Lynchburg include:

 

  • The CVTC’s historical marker. It neglects to mention that the previous institution’s role in the Eugenics movement, in particular the forced sterilizations of people deemed “degenerate”. All told, nation-wide, 65,000 Americans were sterilized from 1907 until the mid-1970’s. Some had severe mental retardation, some were autistic or had Down Syndrome; some were deaf or blind and some were guilty of being “poor and promiscuous,” as seems to be the case of Carrie Buck, the Lynchburg woman who was actually raped (and impregnated) by caretaker’s nephew. Buck’s case went to the Supreme Court, who agreed with the lower courts that Buck was “feeble-minded” and “promiscuous” and that, in the words of Oliver Wendall Holmes, it would be better for the world “if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for a crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility” society prevented this burden with a kind of “compulsory vaccination” (“the cutting of a degenerate’s Fallopian tubes”).
  • At The Old City Cemetery we’ll see how grave markers construct (and erase) histories. For instance, some African-American women, former slaves and servants, were buried in Old City cemetery with this inscription on their grave marker: “MAMMY.” ”Mammies” are racial caricatures of African American women whose plumpness made them suitable to work inside White homes (without provoking the  jealousy of white slave owner’s wives) and whose “agreeable natures” (think “Aunt Jemima” syrup) made them an advertisement for the humaneness of slavery: proof that blacks were contented with their lot as (well-treated) human chattel. The image of the “mammy” was obviously a white racist construct that helped justify slavery. Also, we’ll look at tombstone inscriptions and iconography. What can we infer from the people and their cultural values by decoding the text and symbols on gravestones? See Sturken: “According to the rules of classical and renaissance rhetoric, funeral oratory was intended to be a kind of instructive praise that inspired the audience to emulate the virtues of the deceased.”
  • The role that women played in the community’s struggles (all the wars, Civil Rights, Suffrage, etc) is not publically commemorated as far as I know.
  • The struggle to integrate schools and public places in Lynchburg took some 25 years and yet today there is very little of that struggle memorialized around town:

Ř      For instance, there is no remembrance of how Dunbar High School came to be razed in 1970. The schools had to integrate so rather than remodeling historic black schools, they bussed African-American students to suburban schools.

Ř      There is no remembrance of the fact that Riverside and Jefferson Park pools were drained and filled in with sod so that city officials could thwart the integration of public places. This tactic was known as “resistance.” In neighboring Prince Edward County, it meant the closing of all schools for 6 years.

Ř       Trailways Bus Terminal (508 5th St.), now the site of Starlight Café, had a restaurant at the bus station. The restaurant was the first eating place to allow “racial mixing “ (8/7/1960). (For another kind of “racial mixing,”  see section below on “Lynchburg Community Dialogue on Race and Racism”

Ř      E.C. Glass High School integrated in 1962. Martin Luther King spoke there 3/27/1962 after Glass accepted two black students (whose IQs were published in the newspaper). The two students were, for the most part, shunned. Both turned out to lead very productive lives despite what must have been a tremendously challenging  ordeal of living in the “enemy camp.”

Ř      News & Advance Building. The paper was instrumental in the temper of times because of its reactionary stances. Its editorials and features represented civil rights activists as “agitators” and ingrates.

Ř      Patterson Drug Store sit-in (1960). 1020 Main St. (No longer there. Free

Clinic is at 1016 Main). This is where O.C. Thaxton used to work. Thaxton later led the “forced” integration of Lynchburg pools. He was told by Floyd McKenna (Recreation Department Director) and Police Chief R.O. Brooks that “if you insist on gaining  entrance to this pool, we will have to shut down all the pools in Lynchburg.” He responded that his tax dollars paid for the public pool so he was going to swim in it. McKenna and Brooks repeated their warning, “If you insist….” Thaxton’s curt reply: “I insist.” (Thaxton was there at the pool to provide evidence for a law suit he and Virgil Wood were bringing against the city of Lynchburg. They had to show that Lynchburg public facilities/places were in fact segregated).

Ř      Local colleges. All of them integrated in the 1960s. First RMWC, then LC, then SB. Sweet Briar was the last because the will that established the college  stated that the school should be for whites only.

Ř      Court Street Baptist Church (517 Court St.) was very vocal in giving voice to blacks during Civil Rights period.

Ř      Boonsboro Country Club Blacks were not allowed as members until 1987

Ř      Lynchburg  General Hospital     Employees had separate dining facilities. Blacks ate in kitchen. Black nurses could not work in surgery or obstetrics.

 

 

 

The Big Questions

This field trip, and accompanying readings, will help us explore how a city’s memorials and monuments shape the public memory of “significant” events and people. Why are many war monuments lifted onto pedestals while memorials to civic leaders are smallish plaques? Who decides which lives or events have “public resonance”—that is, importance for the identity of the larger group? Why does everyone know Martin Luther King but very few know Barbara Johns? Elaine Watson? Hermina Hendricks? Carl Pinn?

 

Can people get together and rethink a city’s use of memorials to tell the story of its past (and the direction of its future)? In other words, how could memorials be designed in the future?

 

Could memorials attract more visitors and really become apart of a community’s rituals if they were more:

o       Interactive? Allowing ordinary visitors to contribute to the construction of the public memory? Inviting, through their design, people to see themselves in the historical circumstance (I.e., the Vietnam War Memorial is made of polished granite so you see your face in the names of the dead. the names are etched so it seems to invite people to made rubbings of the names).

o       Physical? Like an installation or environment?

o       Extreme? Like “scaremare” or the “funhouse”?

o       ‘Shocking’? Like the work of Kara Walker or Michael Ray Charles*

o       Integrated into everyday life? Into schools and  malls and neighborhoods?

*These 3 websites address the issue of how contemporary artists have opened up the shameful issue of how to deal with the history of slavery and its racist superstructure: http://www.laep.org/artsonline/mrc/sambo.html   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Ray_Charles

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/cultureshock/provocations/kara/warning.html

 

 

Your zine project could deal with any number of possible issues or topics that come out of this fieldtrip:

 

Civil Rights in Lynchburg

Othering” and Law: Past and Present

The Representation of War

The Representation of Death

The Value of History

Difference between Art Installations and Historical Commemoration

 

After choosing a topic, you’ll want to find an idea/question worth thinking about and write an essay. You might want to do some freewriting on one of the following themes before deciding:

 

Broad Themes: #1 Public Commemoration

 

v     Where do we see acts of public commemoration in Lynchburg?

v     How many monuments vs. memorials? 

v     What is the function of these “acts” of memory-writing? Testify to greatness? Bring closure to trauma? Signify a “contested form of remembrance” (i.e, cut against the grain)?

v     What is the difference  between a memorial , monument, and a marker?

 

Arthur Danto, an art critic, says: “We erect monuments so that we shall always remember and build memorials so that we shall never forget.” Monuments are not built to commemorate defects; the defeated dead are remembered  in memorials….lives “sacrificed for a set of values” (Sturken* 403). A monument, which usually features “alpha males” (rulers and victors), offers closure on war with a “narrative of victory or bitter price for victory” (404).

 

“Memorials tend to emphasize specific texts or lists of the dead, whereas monuments are usually anonymous” (403).

 

“Markers” are perhaps the least substantial of all commemorative acts. They formally designate some place or person or event "historical" but without the larger pretensions of a monument to direct our behavior—to shape our values.

 

For instance, there’s only a marker  for Dunbar High School.  But the Memorial Terrace there are statues of alpha males. Those are definitely monuments to the two wars that matter to the “South”: the Civil War and WW2. They have heavy iconic (and somewhat cryptic) messages to impart.

 

*Marita Sturken “The Wall, The Screen and the Image: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial” From The Visual Culture Reader Ed Mirzoeff 1998.

 

v     How are visitors led in, directed, controlled? From what distance are you supposed to look at the monument/memorial (m/m) and how does that affect its effect on a visitor and/or its cultural significance?

v     How/when/why was the m/m created? (What were the sources? Who were the specific audiences?)

v     How has the m/m changed since its opening? (i.e. Any additions? The Vietnam War Memorial began  two walls of black granite. Since 1984: they added a flag, statuary of 3 soldiers, and statue commemorating women who served in the wall)

v     What counts as a “failed” monument/memorial? To succeed do they have to serve as the “focal point for a group” as the Confederate cemetery did for years (but no longer does)?

v     Can people in a community create a counter-ritual with a monument at its center? I’m thinking of Prof Todd’s statement: “Memorials tell me about where I come from, whether I want to come from there or not.” Is it ethical to use a m/m in a way contrary to how it was intended?

v     How do m/m “distract” or “soothe” audiences? (I.e.,  Todd’s comment that the Appomattox monument to the surrender of the Confederates includes  humorous reference to Custer—who was late to the signing because he’s so vain that he was taking a lot of time to prepare his dress and coiffure—to “sooth and distract visitors from political controversies over military history and racial issues.”

 

Broad Themes: #2 Was the Civil Rights Successful?

 

 The Classical Era of Civil Rights* (CCR) begins with Brown Vs. Board of Education (1954) and Montgomery Alabama Bus Boycott (1955) and ends with Voters Rights Act (1965). In this period, Civil Rights activists were reformists and assimilationists—their objections and demands were consistent with the liberal philosophy of American economic and social system. Achieving these goals (desegregation of pools  and other public facilities) did not threaten material losses to whites.

 

The CCR movement had at its core MLK and the politics of reform and nonviolence. As represented in history books, it made “symbols” of MLK and Rosa Park, rather than seeing these people as complex historical agents, which would make room for considering other people involved in the broad movement, like historically underrepresented women: Ella Baker, Septima Poinsette Clark, Fannie Lou Hamer, Mary McLeod Bethune, Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt, Mary Church Terrell, and Ida Wells-Barnett.

 

The Post-1965 Era of Civil Rights consists of demands and rhetoric that were in the most part rejected by whites, even liberals, because of the achievement of goals for Blacks meant material losses to Whites. Critical to this era are the writings of Paul Robeson, W E B DuBois, Marcus Garvey, MLK (as an advocate for the war on poverty and a critic of Vietnam War), Malcolm X, and a number of women activists: Angela Davis, Johnnie Tillman, Audre Lourde, Peggy MacIntosh, bell hooks, to name a few.

 

 

Black activists in this period made demands about

  • equal opportunity in employment (most trade unions barred blacks)
  • fair housing (most neighborhoods had “covenants” that barred selling property to blacks; most city planning policies served developers; for instance, see where highways, dumps, refineries were built; also see “white flight” and “gentrification” in major cities like NYC, D.C. and Portland)
  • Affirmative Action (most standardized tests were biased towards Euro-American Culture and years of cultural isolation made rapid assimilation of the elite culture difficult even if desired)

 

Black activists in this period also made self-empowerment arguments that did not include narratives/images of racial harmony but severely criticized  mainstream assumptions and institutions:

  • Black Pride and Afro-centric (as opposed to Eurocentric) Aesthetics
  • Feminist Critique of Patriarchy (including the often patriarchal leadership of social movements)
  • Support for Decolonization in Africa, Caribbean and Asia (Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania, Vietnam, South Africa)
  • Criticism of the US involvement in Vietnam in general and, more specifically, the use of black underclass for the “all-volunteer” armed forces

 

As vital as the CCR was to the American democratic value of an egalitarian  society, the post-1965 CR has been to the American democratic values of pluralism, self-determination and dignity. The post-1965 CR has inspired and provided strategies/examples for the National Farm Workers Association (Chavez), Chicano Movement, Native American Movement, Gay/Lesbian/Queer Movements, Disability Rights Movements and Independent Living Movement.

 

So, to some extent, it is possible to say that the CCR was successful in opening space for

  • Legislation that would make it illegal  to segregate the society
  • The Post-1965 CR
  • Later civil rights movements both in the US and internationally

 

Some problems with this argument. Dropout rates and median income of African-Amercians indicate that some of the post-1965 CR goals (economic parity and self-empowerment of black communities) have yet to be realized.

 

The official history and the public commemoration of the entire Civil Rights Movement in Lynchburg, VA also indicate that the movement was not successful since young people have no voice in decisions affecting their lives (schools) and since so little public discussion or memorialization seems to acknowledge the ways in which the struggle for equality and dignity continues today.

 

What is recorded about the struggle in history books (at least those written by white authors) often seems somewhat slanted towards an interpretation of the struggle that values the nonviolent and reformist aspects of the movement over more militant stances on poverty and racism. There are good arguments to be made that progress requires careful reform and assimilation, but there are good arguments on the other side, too.

 

For example, you can read in Clifton Potter and Dorothy Potter’s Lynchburg: A City Set on 7 Hills:

 

Lynchburg avoided the violence and polarization that threatened many southern communities during the desegregation  crisis of 1950’s and 1960’s due to the conservatism and good sense of the ‘old guard,’ and the black churches and fraternal organizations’ decision to follow the path of reason and non-violence.

 

Even if it is true that the protests and militant rhetoric in Danville and other southern cities had some negative outcomes (polarization, clashes with police), it is also true that “violence and polarization” have in many places resulted in greater social gains for the oppressed than patient lawful obedience  and biracial deliberation.

 

In another history of the struggle,  James Elson’s Lynchburg: The First 200 Years, the author seems disappointed that blacks continued to lobby for change after they had gained admittance to the white school:

 

Much to the dismay of many white citizens, the more Lynchburg integrated, the more aggressive blacks seem to become.

 

The language seems to imply that whites’ “dismay” signaled an equal stake in the issue for them as the one blacks had, which seems far from the truth. One example of the “aggressive” behavior that Elson mentions came in 1971 when 40 black students walked out of the E C Glass in protest because the Principal would not hear their request for a Black history week. They had WW Thornhill, later Lynchburg’s first black mayor, intervene on their behalf with the School Board. Their demands: apology from the Principal, an increase black studies, and amnesty from the School Board.

 

 

*Most of the historical information is drawn from an article by Judith Rollins: “Part of a Whole: The Interdependence of the Civil Rights Movement and Other Social Movements.” Phylon. Vol 47, No. 1 (1st Qtr., 1986), pp 61-70.