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'Most of our history is not written:' Va. marks 400 years since first Africans' arrival in English North America

FORT MONROE — Feet from the shores that saw the arrival of the first Africans to English North America, Lynise Perry said the history and culture of her ancestors is one often overlooked or discounted.

The search for more led her to Fort Monroe in Hampton on Saturday with her two teenage boys, whom she said have also grown thirsty for knowledge of their background — something they said is lacking at school.

Here, they found flags from throughout Africa, traditional dances and music, retellings of the painful voyages that brought Africans to North America and commemorations for the centuries that saw them enslaved.

The programming drew hundreds to Hampton on Saturday and sought to mark the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first Africans, who arrived on the shores of Virginia aboard the English ship White Lion in 1619. The group of 20 to 30 Africans had been captured by a Portuguese group in Angola. The Portuguese ship, with 350 enslaved Africans aboard, had been headed to Mexico when it was attacked by two English privateer ships, who took about 60 of the Africans and sailed to Virginia.

The event featured speeches from elected officials, including African American leaders from across the state, who sought to commemorate the fraught history of black people in the U.S. and celebrate their contributions to the fabric of America.

“I wanted to come to a ceremony that would mark the 400 years, and in some way, find ancestral healing for myself and my family,” said Perry, 38, of Chesapeake. “I wanted my kids to be able to experience this.”

Like many African Americans, Perry said she hasn’t been able to trace her lineage beyond a few generations, as far back as great-grandparents who were sharecroppers in South Carolina. But she believes they were likely enslaved.

That history spurs lot of questions from her 13-year-old twin boys. One, who showed early interest in history, has begun to disengage. The other vocally complains about the gaps in African American history he already perceives.

“I’d like to learn about my history and my culture, not just this George Washington guy,” said one of the boys, Addae.

Candice Richards, 34, who traveled to Hampton from Glen Burnie, Md., echoed similar feelings.

“Being African American, I feel that there’s a part of my story that’s not told in school or history textbooks,” she said.

Richards said her nuclear family paid for ancestry tests that showed them to have roots in West Africa. She said she traveled from Maryland to reconnect with what she feels is part of her cultural history.

“I’m from Maryland, and I don’t know where my ancestors landed. Most of our history is not written,” she said, adding, “If you don’t know your past, you can’t understand your present.”

Jeffrey Blair also traveled from out of state, trekking from St. Louis to Hampton. Blair is the owner of a children’s bookstore focused on works that depict African American history and culture.

He now works with the group “Remember the 400,” which has sought to educate young black people about their heritage. The group had eight booths dedicated to African American history and achievements at the event Saturday.

“Our children often don’t learn about our people unless we’re talking about slavery or the history of civil rights,” he said, adding that his work began as he tried to raise his four children. “We want to empower young people with the knowledge, so that they feel this country belongs to them also.”

Virginia’s own K-12 educational curriculum may soon be revamped to include a clearer view of African American history and the contributions of that community toward building American society.

Gov. Ralph Northam announced Saturday in Hampton that he would call for a review of Virginia’s history standards to ensure “all students develop a full and comprehensive understanding of the African American voices that contribute to our story.”

The review will be conducted by a 34-member commission appointed by Northam, and will also include instructional practices and resources used to teach African American history in Virginia.

By July, the commission is expected to offer edits and suggestions to improve learning standards related to African American history. The broader review will also include plans for teacher training “to ensure culturally competent instruction.”

Northam on Saturday also said he “learned a great deal” from a monthslong racial reconciliation tour throughout Virginia following the blackface scandal that rattled his administration.

The tour consisted mainly of private conversations with African American leaders throughout the state after his 1984 medical school yearbook page was found to include a photo of a man in blackface standing next to another in a KKK hood.

“Over the past several months, as I have met with people around the state and listened to their views on the disparities and inequities that still exist today, I have had to confront some painful truths,” Northam said. “Among those truths was my own incomplete understanding regarding race and equity.”

Perry, the mother of the two teenage boys, said Northam’s remarks showed “evolution.”

“It gave me hope for change,” she said, “for a society that has respect for other people’s culture.”


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She is Virginia's only known transgender person in a prison of her identity gender. She hopes for release into a more accepting world.

TROY — Of the six gunshots Toni Nanette Hartlove fired inside her Hopewell apartment on New Year’s Day 1999, three hit her husband.

Sentenced to 33 years for murder, Hartlove was locked up in the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women where she remains today, unique among Virginia’s 30,000 prison inmates.

Born Anthony Norman Dunlop on July 15, 1949, in New York City, Hartlove has always felt she was female. She began transitioning her body in 1975 with hormone treatments and surgeries completed in 1981 in Mexico. Now age 70, she is the only transgender inmate being held in a Virginia prison that matches her gender identity.

Hartlove hopes to be released soon to an outside world more accepting of people like her than the one she left behind two decades ago. In an interview last week, she spoke softly and was given to understatement.

“I’ve led an interesting life,” she said.

In a recent, high-profile Virginia case, Gavin Grimm, a transgender public high school student, went to federal court after the Gloucester County School Board denied him use of the boys restroom. Hartlove said she did not have a problem with the Virginia Department of Corrections two decades ago when she transferred from the Riverside Regional Jail to the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women.

“She is a female, so she is at a women’s prison,” wrote Lisa Kinney, a spokeswoman for the department, in an email.

Under department policy, only transgender inmates who have had reassignment surgery can be housed in facilities for members of their reassigned sex — and there is only one known offender in the Virginia system who has qualified, Kinney said.

Officials would not identify who that offender is, but the Richmond Times-Dispatch reached Hartlove through her attorney.

Lawyers in two other states who went to federal court in attempts to win recent transfers of transgender women to female prisons said that they were aware, anecdotally, of other transgender women in female prisons in other states, but that Hartlove’s case is unusual.

“That’s incredible that she’s been in a women’s prison since 1999. That’s absolutely incredible. That is not the norm at all across the country,” said Vanessa del Valle of the MacArthur Justice Center in Chicago.

Last year, del Valle went to court on behalf of a transgender female inmate, Deon Hampton, who was being held in male prisons but was eventually transferred to a female facility.

“In Illinois, where I practice, we had to fight long and hard for Ms. Hampton to be transferred to the women’s facility,” she said.

Hampton, however, unlike Hartlove, has not had transitional surgery.

As of last month, the Virginia Department of Corrections said there were 42 offenders have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria — seven of whom were born biologically female and identify as male, and 35 of whom were born biologically male and identify as female. An additional 20 to 25 inmates are under evaluation.

Gender dysphoria, a conflict between a person’s physical gender and the gender with which they identify, can cause severe distress, according to the American Psychiatric Association.

Most, if not all, Virginia inmates so diagnosed are receiving hormone therapy treatment from endocrinologists at the University of Virginia or Virginia Commonwealth University hospitals, Kinney said.

***

In an interview in mid-August at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women, Hartlove sat in a wheelchair she has been using since a back operation.

She complains that her hair cannot be done properly at the prison so she had hers cut off. “When I get out, I’ll get myself back together like I used to be. This is not the way I carry myself on the outside.”

Her nails neatly manicured, she rested her hands on a table in the visiting room at the prison, gesturing with them at times as she talked about her life.

“I was born in Metropolitan Hospital, Manhattan,” she began. She said her stepfather was in the U.S. Army. “We traveled all over the world.”

“I’ve always been, I guess you could say, on the feminine side from the day I was born,” she said.

Being transgender and a person of color has been complicated and at times difficult. “People have no clue whatsoever,” she said.

“I was in the closet for many years,” Hartlove said. Her identity, however, was hard to conceal and there was teasing and harassment from other children as she grew up.

She said her mother, Joyce Taylor, would tell her, “’Keep your head up and be strong and don’t worry about what people have to say.’”

The family settled in Aberdeen, Md., where she graduated from Aberdeen High School in 1968. She soon left home for Baltimore and a new life. At age 18 or 19, she said, “I decided to live as the person I really am.”

She received hormone treatments and started having surgery to transition to a woman’s body in 1975, much of it done in Rosarita, Mexico, by Dr. Charles Brown, who had stopped practicing in the U.S.

“He made you feel welcome; he didn’t make you feel different in any way,” she said of Brown. She moved to California where she said people were more accepting and open-minded.

There was more surgery in 1980 and it was finally completed in 1981.

Hartlove said she never doubted, before or after surgery, that she was doing the right thing.

But, she cautioned others, “It’s rough for you to take that step. You have to know what you are doing.”

“Once you lay on the [operating] table, it’s done. It’s over. There’s no going back,” she said.

After her transition, she returned to Baltimore, had her name and sex legally changed by the state of Maryland, and married a man who was later killed in a drive-by shooting.

She remarried, this time to John Hartlove. She said they had a house, two cars and a boat. Life looked good from the outside, but the marriage was rocky and there were a number of separations, she said.

They moved to the Tri-Cities area to help her ailing mother, who was having difficulties with an adopted child in high school at the time.

In her accounting of events, Hartlove said her husband was fine when he was not drinking, doing drugs, or chasing other women. He could become abusive when he was intoxicated, she said.

There had been issues in Baltimore and again after they moved to Virginia. Police had to remove him from their home at one point, Hartlove said.

On Jan. 1, 1999, she said she emptied her revolver at her husband in self-defense. “I was just protecting myself,” she said.

According to a Times-Dispatch account of her trial, Hartlove testified that the shooting followed a quarrel in which her husband became verbally and physically abusive.

They attended a party on New Year’s Eve and then returned home. Then her husband left for another party and returned home early that morning belligerent and angry, she said. They argued and he cursed and attacked her in their Hopewell apartment, she testified. She retrieved the gun from the bedroom closet and fired all six shots in self-defense, she said.

According to testimony, her husband was on medication for seizures and his blood alcohol level was .07% when he was killed; in Virginia, a person is considered legally drunk with a blood-alcohol level of .08% or above.

Judge Robert G. O’Hara found her guilty of first-degree murder and use of a firearm in commission of a felony. That September, he sentenced her to a total of 33 years.

During her recent interview, Hartlove complained that her trial lawyers did not fully explore and present to the judge the couple’s bad history — some of which was in Baltimore.

Meanwhile, after a medical examination and review of her records, the Riverside Regional Jail housed Hartlove with other females there. Many jails in Virginia house both men and women in separate tiers.

Virginia prisons, which hold inmates for longer terms, keep the sexes apart in separate facilities. When Hartlove was transferred to the Virginia Department of Corrections, she went directly to FCCW on Dec. 1, 1999.

***

In the years since then, she said she has not had any real problems as a transgender woman with the staff or other inmates at FCCW, the state’s largest female prison. In a way, she said, it has been easier inside.

“It’s outside you find the people that want to judge you,” she said.

Other offenders at the prison ask her about her background, but she said she generally deflects the questions, preferring to keep things to herself.

“I tell them we all come from different walks of life and we have to join together to help each other,” she said.

She said the prison was a better place when she first arrived. Two big issues there now are drugs — the addiction treatment drug Suboxone, primarily — and not enough activities for the inmates. She said she spends much of her time reading.

She has had two surgeries, one for a back problem and the other for a thyroid issue, since she has been at FCCW.

Hartlove has battled with the department over medical issues, joining other inmates at FCCW and testifying in a long-running federal court case filed by the Legal Aid Justice Center in Charlottesville over health care at FCCW.

In an opinion written by U.S. District Judge Norman K. Moon earlier this year, the judge noted that Hartlove had taken phenobarbital and dilantin to control seizure disorders since 1969.

In November 2016, Hartlove began to feel disoriented and inebriated, and her speech slurred. She reported her symptoms to FCCW medical personnel and testified that she was not treated for them.

Later, she blacked out, fell, was taken to the FCCW infirmary and from there to the UVA emergency room, where she stayed for five days. It turned out that Hartlove was suffering from dilantin toxicity. The UVA hospital refused to return her to FCCW until her levels returned to normal, Moon wrote in his ruling.

Then on April 17, 2017, an FCCW nurse gave Hartlove three times the amount of phenobarbital that she should have had, according to Moon. Hartlove had to be monitored in the infirmary for six hours. The next day, Hartlove did not receive her phenobarbital, Moon wrote.

Hartlove said recently that as a precaution, she is being checked out for a mass in her left breast that she believes is related to a silicone injection, in case it is a tumor.

Her good-time release date — the 33-year sentence minus time off for good behavior — is not until 2027. However, she said she is eligible for geriatric conditional release, which would enable her to complete her sentence in the community.

She said her case went before the Virginia State Parole Board in June, but she has yet to hear back. She believes she may first have to live in a transitional house.

Her parents are deceased, and she is estranged from her brother and sister for reasons other than her sexual identity.

“I have nothing out there. No family,” she said.

The LGBTQ movement has come a long way since she entered prison. She is hopeful the outside world will be a better place to live than it once was.

“It’s so open now, it’s so wide open,” she said. She wants to find an apartment and live in Virginia Beach.

Beyond that, her plans are simple: “Buy me a puppy and raise my puppy and be happy until the good Lord calls me.”


Education
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The end is near: Changes could follow 2019-20 school year for Richmond area

Summer isn’t the only thing that’s almost over in the Richmond area.

This year could mark an end of sorts for some area students who’ll be rezoned, end up in new buildings or see major changes to their academic calendar for the 2020-21 school year.

School divisions in the area have opened after Labor Day since the 1980s, but that could change; one local school system is close to moving to a year-round school calendar.

Here’s what to know:

Labor Day school openings

During this year’s General Assembly session, state lawmakers repealed part of what became known as the “Kings Dominion Law,” a requirement that said school districts without waivers must open after Labor Day.

Schools are now allowed to open as early as two weeks before the early September holiday. None in the Richmond area will yet, but it’s being considered for the 2020-21 school year.

Under the new law, students will have a four-day Labor Day weekend. School would be out the Friday before Labor Day through the actual holiday on Monday.

School officials in Chesterfield, Hanover, Henrico and Richmond have all said that opening before Labor Day next year is under consideration.

“Now that starting school prior to Labor Day is an option for us, we’d like to make this a community conversation in Henrico,” said county school system spokesman Andy Jenks when Gov. Ralph Northam signed the bill into law. “We need to hear from our teachers, parents, students and interested citizens prior to making any shifts to the traditional school calendar.

“Together, we’ll choose to do what’s best for schools and students in 2020 and beyond.”

Said Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras: “I want to talk to our families and our teachers about that, but all options are on the table.”

School calendars are normally developed in the middle of the school year, so we’ll have to wait a few months before pre-Labor Day openings are happening in the area.

Richmond schools and school zones

This could also be the last year of the current school zones in Richmond.

The city school system is in the midst of a divisionwide rezoning process, reviewing the boundaries for all 37 neighborhood schools in the city.

Once decided, the new school zones would take effect at the start of the 2020-21 school year, according to a timeline for the process.

A special rezoning committee is reviewing three options prepared by Ohio-based consultant Cropper GIS. All three options call for at least 1 in 10 students in the city to change schools.

Elementary schools would be the most heavily impacted under the current options, which aren’t final and have not been voted on.

The proposals call for rezoning in South Side, where the average capacity of an elementary school is over 100%. Others suggest the “pairing” of schools — creating one big school zone in the name of increasing student diversity.

The rezoning committee will meet again in September and make a recommendation to the School Board in the fall with a vote by the board — the body that actually has the power to change the zones — expected by the end of the calendar year.

Some community members have questioned the ability of the school system to implement the new zones — specifically the transportation of the new zones — under the current timeline.

The city is building three new schools that are all set to open at the start of next school year, though, and school leaders want as many students in the new schools as possible.

The construction of the new schools — George Mason Elementary, E.S.H. Greene Elementary and a new middle school on Hull Street Road — is on track, according to a group tasked with overseeing the construction.

The Joint Construction Team, which is made up of members of the school system’s administration, city administration and contractors, said at its meeting Thursday that the timeline remains for the three schools to open in the fall of 2020.

“We’re where we need to be,” said Michael McIntyre, the representative on the committee from AECOM, the firm that won the bid for the latest round of new school construction. “We’re in good shape.”

The school system has scheduled more community meetings on the rezoning proposals at Carver Elementary School (Tuesday), the Neighborhood Resource Center on Williamsburg Road (Wednesday) and the Southside Community Services Center (Thursday).

Hopewell year-round schools

While not official, this is likely the last school year in Hopewell where students aren’t in schools year-round.

The city school system is set to become the first in Virginia next year by having every school operate year-round. The School Board there signed off on the proposal from Superintendent Melody Hackney in May contingent on state funding.

“I am convinced from our research, a more balanced calendar will have a positive impact on students,” Hackney said Friday. “While significantly reducing the summer regression we know occurs when children are out of school for two months each year, it is also a tremendous opportunity to design exciting and experiential nontraditional learning experiences for students to voluntarily enjoy during their brief breaks after each academic marking period.”

While Hopewell will be the first division in Virginia to have every school open all year, several individual schools in the Richmond region currently go all year.

Bellwood Elementary School in Chesterfield County operates year-round, as does Patrick Henry School of Science and Arts in Richmond, the state’s first charter elementary school, and CodeRVA, a regional magnet school in Richmond where Hopewell sends two students.

The new Hopewell calendar would have nine straight weeks of instruction followed by either three weeks of vacation, two weeks of intersession — community projects, camps and field trips, among other things — or a combination of the two.

Students would get six weeks off in the summer. They’d still have 180 days of school like they do now, just spread out over the course of the full year.

Whether the division will receive the money it needs for implementing the year-round calendar is expected to be announced next month.