Richmond soon will play host to a major international conference. Participants will gather April 6-9 to discuss Healing History: Memory, Legacy and Social Change. The timing and the location will prove propitious and blessed.
Momentous anniversaries fill the calendar for 2015. The Civil War ended 150 years ago; a new birth of freedom occurred with the constitutional amendment that abolished slavery. President Abraham Lincoln visited Richmond, the fallen Confederate capital, to the cheers and tears of the blacks who knew what caused the war. Their hopes went unfulfilled for decades. Richmond served as a center for Massive Resistance and other efforts to stymie racial justice. It also produced leaders who fought Jim Crow, leaders who argued in the courts against separate and unequal schools. Black Richmonders sat down at lunch counters off limits to them. L. Douglas Wilder made a breakthrough in Richmond and subsequently in Virginia. The grandson of slaves rose to the top in a state where the peculiar institution once flourished.
Richmond played a role in the American Revolution, whose unrealized ideals inspired the civil rights movement. Patrick Henry spoke for multitudes when he said, “Give me liberty or give me death.”
Fifty years ago, marchers crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge as they walked from Selma to Montgomery to dramatize the tyranny that persisted in a country dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Bloody Sunday and the peaceful march that followed awakened America’s conscience. Congress, at President Lyndon Johnson’s instigation, passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the 20th century’s most consequential civil rights law.
The Healing History conference will present diverse sessions whose topics will include museums and public history sites for education and healing; overcoming implicit bias in education; creating inclusive economies; identity, immigration and citizenship; inequality in our time; mobilizing the moveable middle; and other subjects of intellectual heft.
Delegates will visit the Slave Trail, the Reconciliation Statue, the American Civil War Museum, the “To Be Sold” exhibit at the Library of Virginia and other places of historical significance.
It has been said that countries fear knowing too much history. If the impulse reflects human nature, then it also denies humanity’s birthright. History stresses truth; truth invites reconciliation. The color line has been blurred but not erased. Conferences such as Healing History further a necessary process. Redemption is at hand.
Richmonders welcome civil conversation. When he visited the city to talk about his book “The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism,” Edward Baptist cited the region’s receptivity to discussions of issues other communities prefer not to address.
Healing History is sponsored by Hope in the Cities. There is indeed hope in the cities — in this city — and we shall never hope in vain.