Knowledge and inspiration for Election Day, November 8, 2016— and every day thereafter:
Fellow East End volunteer Bruce Tarr sent me this December 6, 1919 front page from the Richmond Planet, the city's black newspaper. Recall that 1919 was the year of Red Summer, when a wave of white mob attacks against black people and lynchings swept the country—from Connecticut to San Francisco, and all over the South. No coincidence that this violence happened on the heels of World War I, from which black veterans returned tested and hardened by battle. Many would not willingly bow down to Jim Crow again. When struck, they struck back.
At the end of this bloody year, the Planet, at the time the most outspoken black paper in the South, published a front page drawing by George H. Ben Johnson: BLACK POWER, How Will He Use it? This was half a century before Stokely Carmichael. Johnson and Planet editor John Mitchell weren't talking about identity or symbolism—nothing wrong with that. In fact, this is our focus: how true stories of the black experience build a foundation of knowledge that allow us to feel—to know—that we strong, accomplished, fully American, and so much better than the propaganda that asserts we are less than others.
But this was a straight-up toolbox view of black power—the power of the laborer, the farmer. And the voter. News we can use about tools we have at our disposal. Right now.
We've been back in Virginia full-time since Memorial Day weekend, settling into our RVA rhythm after four-plus months in New York. We never expected to be Richmonders, but we're increasingly at home here—returning felt right. A big part of that is our work at East End Cemetery, which has connected us to people, places, and history we might never have known.
And so much has happened since we've been back! Seemingly out of the blue, the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, a state-chartered agency, awarded East End and neighboring Evergreen a $400,000 grant—seed money for their preservation in perpetuity. The following week, VA Governor Terry McAuliffe made a statement at the cemetery in support of the grant. That was a surreal moment. (When a fellow volunteer asked Thomas Taylor, who has maintained his family's plot for decades, whether he ever thought a sitting governor would visit East End, he said, with a wry laugh and not a moment's hesitation, "Only if he was being buried here.")
On the same day McAuliffe came, a mini-herd of goats from Bright Hope Farm & Apiary arrived on the scene, part of a trial to see whether the voracious nibblers can help us tame some of the rampant overgrowth that still obscures much of the cemetery. Over the course of several days, other goats were cycled in and managed to pack away a goodly patch of greenery.
Meanwhile, we've continued our documentation of the cleanup effort. Buzzfeed recently published a gallery of Brian's photographs with a piece he wrote about recent developments at East End. It's hovering around 100K views—so keep clicking!