Into the fraught and wearying debate about Virginia history, and how to best memorialize it, comes a welcome summer breeze — an endeavor we should all be able to gladly embrace. On Saturday at frequently windblown Fort Monroe along the shores of Hampton Roads will gather the first convening of the African American Cultural Resources Task Force.
As explained yesterday by our newsroom colleague, columnist Michael Paul Williams, the task force was created last year by the General Assembly to identify, protect, and promote both the history of formerly enslaved Virginians and the places that can still help tell their stories. Preserving these sites is essential if we are ever to gain a deeper understanding of the torment and the terror experienced by those who were once bought and sold by fellow human beings — and the courage by which the enslaved endured and, eventually, prevailed.
For more than a century, polite society chose to ignore — if not actively erase — places associated with the stain of slavery. And yet they remain, at least for now. A more honest approach to the past has arisen in recent decades, and the will is growing to recognize ground once associated with an abomination that infected our entire nation.
It’s fitting that the first public event for the group will take place at Fort Monroe, where thousands fled bondage during the Civil War, seeking protection from Union troops. There are many such places in Virginia. One of the closest to home is Shockoe Bottom, where the slave trade thrived for decades before the Civil War, where human misery was sold for profit. RVA has stumbled in its efforts to consecrate this place and dedicate it to the unfinished business of elevating truth above myth. Perhaps the latest efforts, pursued across the commonwealth, will inspire a new birth of understanding and allow us to nobly advance past today’s narrow squabbles.
Celebrating African-American culture in Virginia means reaching far beyond the history of slavery. But it is the necessary beginning.
The Virginia Black Cultural Preservation Summit will be held at Fort Monroe Theater, 42 Tidball Road in Hampton, on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.