Richmond: a city still in the midst of segregation

Latrease Gregory moved to Creighton Court after her home in the Blackwell community was demolished for revitalization. Now she said her home is once again being threatened by the promise of a healthier community, but she says the redevelopment in the Blackwell community left some people homeless.

 Driving along I-64, a newcomer to Richmond may not be fully aware of what is directly in their line of vision as they enter the city. Creighton Court, one of Richmond’s public housing communities, is one of the first public housing projects that can be seen from the interstate. On a short, 10-minute drive through Church Hill in Richmond’s East End a newcomer may unknowingly drive past five of the public housing sites all within a two mile radius of one another.

John Moeser, professor emeritus of urban studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, said that this concentration of poverty in the East End wasn’t an accident, but rather a means of maintaining the social construct of poverty. Moeser explained that the high density poverty that is concentrated in the East End is a result of segregation and ultimately the lingering effects of the Civil War.

Mayor Dwight C. Jones’ vision for redevelopment and revitalization to deconcentrate poverty within the East End begins with the redevelopment two of Richmond’s public housing communities, Creighton Court and Whitcomb Court.

 “When we talk about the density [of poverty], we’re not just talking about the fact that there are huge complexes that sit there alone. There are huge complexes that are closely located in close proximity to other large projects. Those residents, if you go and you visit the neighborhood, you’ll see that there are once stable neighborhoods in close proximity to all of them,” Douglas Dunlap, deputy director of the department of planning and development review, said.

 Jones said that Richmond faces a one in four poverty rate with people living below the poverty level. He said that 10 percent of the people living below the poverty level in Richmond are living in public housing, which is concentrated in the East End.

“Public housing is a model that was developed 50 years ago that is not operable in today’s society. It was meant to be a temporary option for people who had fallen on bad times. For many people it has become a permanent housing situation. The unfortunate thing is that it’s concentrated,” Jones said.

  Moeser explained that the concentration of poverty began in Richmond during the Great Depression and the onset of the New Deal when a federal agency, the Homeowners Loan Corporation, was created to curtail the foreclosure crisis. In the 1930s, this corporation, Moeser said, then decided to evaluate neighborhoods across the country as a way to determine the risk of providing loans to residents in those areas.

http://http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=rtwlpJe_8dY

Moeser explained that realtors evaluated neighborhoods in Richmond based on criteria the Homeowners Loan Corporation developed. Then neighborhoods were given grades “A” through “D”; “A” being the very best neighborhoods and “D” being the very worst. There was a color associated with each grade and red was associated with the grade “D.”

 Redlining is the term that was associated with the grade “D” because it meant that giving mortgages to people in these areas was very risky. What is interesting about the way Richmond was graded, Moeser explained, is that based on the different criteria, such as income levels of the population and occupations of the residents, many of the African-American communities should have received high grades.

 Moeser said that Jackson Ward, for instance, was considered the Harlem of the South, a hub for African-American culture and a stable neighborhood. It too was redlined along with every other African-American neighborhood in Richmond. He said that it is clear that the realtors never looked at the income or occupation of the residents because Jackson Ward was home to lawyers, doctors and business people.

 The redlined African-American neighborhoods eventually ran out of money because the community was labeled at risk for receiving loans. This meant it was difficult to even get a loan for repairs to a home, Moeser explained. Eventually all of the housing in these once thriving neighborhoods deteriorated and the communities became known as the “slums.”

 “The black neighborhoods tend to be clustered, and that obviously had to do with segregation. By law, blacks were zoned into certain parts of the city and whites in other parts of the city. That law was overturned in the early part of the 20th century by the Supreme Court, but there were other ways that Richmond kind of got around that Supreme Court ruling and it really led to a sharply divided city by race,” Moeser said. 

As the slum area in downtown Richmond began to grow in response to the lack of funding, slum clearance and urban renewal became the quick fix for wiping away any trace of African-American neighborhoods.

Eventually, Moeser said, many African-Americans were forced into public housing, most of which was built east of Chamberlayne Avenue.

“The powers that be were certainly not going to put public housing in white neighborhoods, were certainly not going to put it in affluent neighborhoods. They put all the public housing in those redlined areas and also in low income areas,” Moeser said.

Richmond’s first public housing community was Gilpin Court which was completed in the early 1940s. However, the construction of Gilpin Court wiped out a once stable neighborhood known as Apostle Town.

Moeser explained that there wasn’t enough public housing in Gilpin Court for all of the people who were living in Apostle Town as well as the public housing residents. This led to the residents of Apostle Town being displaced and scattering to different parts of the city, destroying yet another once stable community.

In the 1950s, the Jackson Ward community was also divided by a city project, the Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike, which is now I-95. Moeser said that when African-Americans from the Jackson Ward community were displaced they began to move north, into white neighborhoods such as the Barton Heights community.

Thad Williamson, an associate professor at the Jepson School of leadership Studies at the University of Richmond, said whites were able to avoid racial integration by moving to the suburbs which later became known as “white flight.”

“Lower income African-Americans who lost their homes were forced into public housing. This took place in the 50s so that’s when you increasingly began to see poor blacks move increasingly into the north Church Hill area,” Moeser said.

Douglas Dunlap, deputy director of the department of planning and development review, said that his family has lived in the East End since about 1955, and his mother still lives in the area. Dunlap said he could remember a time when as he was growing up when the neighborhood was more stable and most of the houses that surrounded his mother’s home were filled with families.

 http://http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZzIkbTnrdYA

“What you find now is a lot more blight, a lot more vacant properties, a lot of gaps in the streetscape because residences have been demolished. They’ve basically been abandoned by new investors who have come in and leased them out until they have declined to a point where they cannot be leased, or families have moved on to other neighborhoods,” Dunlap said.

Moeser explained that Richmond’s history is one of the primary reasons for the concentration of poverty in the East End. Over time this concentration of poverty has led to other problems in those areas.

 “High density poverty didn’t happen by accident. It was really by design that the white power structure was behind all of these projects, and they knew full and well what they were doing in terms of these projects really impacting black neighborhoods. Black neighborhoods were not as powerful politically as white neighborhoods, and so we look at the politics of the city, African Americans had a very small voice politically so their voice was essentially washed over and the consequence was the wholesale destruction of black neighborhoods,” Moeser said.

City Councilwoman Cynthia Newbille, who represents Richmond’s East End 7th District, said that the concentration of public housing is a much bigger issue than simply housing. This concentration of poverty is connected to the number of jobs that offer a living wage, access to public transportation and lack of funding for public schools.

Williamson explained that this concentration of poverty “has generated all kinds of problems including your residents being shut off transportation wise, socially, from employment opportunities, high rates of crime in those communities [and] the incredible violence problem that persists to this day.”

Moeser explained that when talking about creating mixed-use neighborhoods, the city must also think about the types of employers the redevelopment will attract to the area. He said it is not enough to simply have a job. Many of the single mothers living in public housing, he explained, have jobs, sometimes multiple jobs, but it’s just not enough to support a family.

“For a family of four, for instance; that family is in poverty if its total annual cash income is between $22,000 and $23,000. What about the family whose income is $23,100? They’re not considered poor, but that’s ridiculous,” Moeser said.

He continued to explain that there are an increasing number of families who don’t quite meet the official statistics for being below the poverty line, but they are still struggling because their jobs don’t provide enough money for them to survive.

The problem with redevelopment, Moeser pointed out, is finding the funds to successfully complete the project because there isn’t enough tax-base to fund the project.

In 1974, Susan Giller wrote Richmond’s housing: The good the bad and the ugly, an article for Richmond Magazine, and in it she raised a similar question: how does the city intended to pay for urban renewal? At that point she noted that federal funds for housing programs had essentially dried up.

Jones explained that for this project the city has set aside some pre-development money to begin redeveloping Creighton Court and Whitcomb Court.

As for the rest of the funding, Jones said, “The model we are going to use is the model where we bring in private developers to share in the expense so it will be a partnership between the government, the private sector and the philanthropy.”

Newbille said that the opportunity to redevelop public housing in Richmond comes with a great responsibility to learn from history and from other redevelopment projects.

“Richmond has been described as a city of great social rest as opposed to social unrest. It’s conservative. It generally is kind of satisfied with the way things are because the way things are kind of reflect the way things have always been. So we’re not Chicago, we’re not Atlanta, so it just takes us longer. I don’t know whether we’re slow learners or if we just don’t care to learn, but I think it does have a lot to do with the nature of this place,” Moeser said.

 Moeser explained that although Chicago, for example, completed its redevelopment ahead of many major metropolitan areas, that does not mean that there were not costs associated with the redevelopment.

Moeser explained that in Chicago, the Cabrini-Green housing project and the Robert-Taylor Homes were two high-rise apartment complexes that made up some of the public housing. There was a lot of crime connected to these areas as well. When Chicago decided to redevelop, these two high-rise apartment complexes were destroyed and those residents were forced to find new housing.

For this same reason, Newbille said, she will not support anything other than one-for-one replacement, which would guarantee that any of the residents currently living in Creighton Court or Whitcomb Court would be provided with affordable housing if they were displaced.

Displacement is almost certain for some of the residents, Williamson explained.

If you think about standard development strategies, they usually call for doubling the density of the development and making it a mixed-income [community], which means basically only about one-third would be low income. That means that if you’re doubling the density of overall people, and making it one-third poverty, that means that two-thirds can stay and one-third have to go. You’re talking about having to find places to go for hundreds if not thousands of people potentially, if you redevelop everything,” Williamson said.

Jones explained that the redevelopment project, however, is in good hands, because Adrienne Goolsby was recently hired as the new chief executive officer of the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority. Goolsby, he said, comes to Richmond from Chicago, where she worked on the Cabrini-Green housing project and the Robert-Taylor Homes.

“I say that, to say that she comes with that kind of experience,” Jones said.

Although redevelopment in Richmond has taken much longer to arrive at, compared to other cities, public officials and many residents living in public housing have high hopes for the future of Richmond’s East End.

Gregory said that her dream for the community would be a community where her children are safe, have access to a good education and are able to see beyond poverty. She however questioned whether it is realistic to envision a community where doctors are living next to public housing residents.

http://http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=RWBztAhdBjA

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A churchyard of local celebrities

  On March 23, 1775 Edward Carrington stood outside the window of what is now known as St. John’s Church. A group of about 100 of America’s earliest leaders gathered at the small church in Richmond’s East End for the Virginia Convention.

Pictured: Ray BairdPhoto by Alix Hines

Pictured: Ray Baird
Photo by Alix Hines

    Patrick Henry, a man known as a powerful orator stood near the window and delivered a speech that would go down in history as his Give me Liberty, or Give me Death speech. His speech swayed members of the Virginia House of Burgesses to send Virginia’s militia to the front lines of the Revolutionary War. Henry’s words rang out amongst the crowded room and into the churchyard where Carrington stood:

It is in vain, sir, to extentuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace–but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!

      A buried history lies in Richmond’s St. John’s Church, which is the first public cemetery in Richmond.  It is a place known across America for being the site of Patrick Henry’s Give me Liberty, or Give me Death speech, but even more history lies beneath the surface of the churchyard.“The most important speech in all of American history, was Patrick Henry’s Give me Liberty, or Give me Death speech. Now it’s probably not the most popular but it’s the most important. People like to say the Gettysburg Address or King’s I Have a Dream speech but those were aimed at certain groups of people. This speech was aimed at America,” Baird said.

    Baird explained that there are roughly 13,000 people buried in the churchyard, many of which lie in unmarked graves. The churchyard is the final resting place for many of Richmond’s most prominent figures, as well as the average citizens who lived during the colonial era.

     Originally, Baird explained, William Byrd II, the founder of Richmond, designated half of the block where St. John’s Church is located to the Anglican Church of England. After the church was completed in 1741, Baird said people immediately began burying their deceased loved ones there. At that point, he said, the cemetery belonged to the church and was on the south half of the block. 

 

The churchyard was later expanded because the City of Richmond needed a public burial ground. The city then purchased the north half of the block to establish the first public cemetery.    

     “When people first started to be buried, a lot of them didn’t have a lot of money, so the graves were marked with simple stones, piles of stones and wooden crosses. They have long since gone. There are bodies all under the sidewalk,” Baird said.

       He explained that the churchyard didn’t have a fence around it during the colonial era so people’s farm animals wandered freely in the churchyard and rooted around in the graves. At the time the law did not require anyone to pen their animals, so the only way to keep them out was to build a fence.

        Baird added that many of the tombstones were not added for looks, but to keep animals from destroying the graves. However, only the wealthy were able to protect their graves. 

        Throughout the churchyard, Baird pointed to areas of decay. The epitaphs on some of the tombstones have faded or washed away, but Baird pointed out that some have been preserved by the family of the deceased. He explained that many of the tombstones were made of sandstone which weathers more quickly than slate. As the church expanded, Baird added, some of the graves were built over.

        Although the physical decay of the cemetery is visible to tourists, visitors are lured by the history and the stories that surround the churchyard.

        Sueann McCauley, a Charlottesville resident, said that she and her husband, Byron McCauley, and her friend, Jacqueline Hollinge, have been on a historical tour since Friday. She said they were on a tour to learn more about the Revolutionary War and the founding fathers.

         Sandi Bergman, the ghost host at Haunts of Richmond, who gives haunted ghost tours around Richmond, said she decided to feature St. John’s Churchyard in the Church Hill Chillers tour because there are some great ghost stories surrounding the churchyard. She added that many of the stories are based on historical events.        The stories surrounding St. John’s Churchyard range from a ghost story about an apprentice gunsmith to a man buried outside of the window where Patrick Henry gave his famous speech.

         Bergman said that her favorite ghost story is about a man named Daniel Denoon whose ghost doesn’t like to be confined to the churchyard. Denoon, she said, was an apprentice to a well known gunsmith, James McNaught. Before his death, Denoon completed his internship and was working as an office manager in McNaught’s shop. McNaught knew Denoon’s popularity as a gunsmith had grown and he feared losing him at the shop.

         According to Baird, McNaught, having reached a drunken state one day, called Denoon to the top of the steps of the shop, located around 18th and Franklin Street, and shot him.

         “People are fascinated to find out stories because it [St. John’s Church] is such a famous church and it’s been there so long. So many people know, at least to a degree, the Patrick Henry story. They are just fascinated to find out more about the church. They don’t all know a whole lot about it so they are interested to find out who’s buried there, why they’re buried there, and, of course, the stories of why they’re still walking around,” Bergman said.

          Baird explained that St. John’s Churchyard is also the final resting place of Edgar Allen Poe’s mother, Elizabeth Arnold Poe, who died of tuberculosis.

          Elizabeth Arnold Poe was very well liked in Richmond, Bergman said, but she was an actress which was not an appropriate career for a Christian woman during that time. However, because she was so well liked, the church parishioners petitioned the fathers of the church to allow her to be buried in the churchyard.

          The fathers of the church agreed, Bergman said, but they would not allow her to have a headstone.

           Baird explained that her body was placed in the south east corner of the graveyard five steps away from a yew tree, known as a symbol of eternal life. The location of her approximate burial plot is now marked by a tombstone with a small yew tree planted beside it.

           Edgar Allen Poe has yet another connection to the churchyard, Baird explained. A brick building visible just beyond the trees in the south portion of the churchyard was the home of Elmira Shelton according to Baird. Shelton is said to be Lenore, the subject of Poe’s The Raven.

           Baird explained that Poe was said to have visited her in her home two days before he left for Baltimore where he died. Although Shelton never publicly admitted it, Bard said there is speculation that she and Poe were engaged just before his death.

            Baird emphasized that although Poe was born in Boston, he considered Virginia home, so that itself is an important aspect of the history here.

            “It [touring historical places] makes more of an impression than reading in a book and looking at a picture of it. They’ll [children] remember doing things because it’s tactile,” Gray said.            Katherine Gray, a Chesapeake resident, said she brought her family to visit the churchyard because when she was a child she was “dragged” around Virginia to different historical sites and it made a positive impact on her.

            Sueann McClauley said that after growing up in the western portion of the United States and learning history from a different perspective, she has enjoyed living in Virginia and being able to experience places like St. John’s Churchyard that allow tourists to walk in the footsteps of people such as some of the founding fathers.

Changes to Come in Richmond’s Projects

Plans to redevelop public housing in Richmond could force residents to relocate while the city rebuilds the housing. The redevelopment could lead to healthier communities that have both housing and businesses. The process is meant to transform public housing communities into areas where people of all incomes would like to live.

Mayor Dwight C. Jones and his administration plan to address the issue of public housing in Richmond’s East End by working to deconcentrate poverty in that area. The two projects that the city plans to redevelop first are Creighton Court in Richmond’s East End and Whitcomb Court located in the Eastview area, bordering Jackson Ward.

With the large number of children in these housing projects, the city assures residents the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority will take the well being of the students into account when the relocation process takes place.

Chub Eberhardt, a Creighton Court resident, said he didn’t like the idea because it would mean separating members of the community.

“We are going to protest if they come over here trying to get this. People over here need this. We is a family group, we take care of each other,” Eberhardt said.

Maxine Cholmondeley, the interim CEO of the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority, explained that city officials cannot talk about neighborhood revitalization without working to revitalize public housing.

The goal according to Peter Chapman, the deputy chief administrative officer for economic development and planning, is to create neighborhoods that resemble the mixed-income communities that existed generations ago. Chapman explained that these mixed-income communities provide children with the opportunity to have role models from all walks of life within their immediate neighborhood.

“What urban policy experts came to the realization of, about 20 or so years ago, maybe a little bit longer, is that you cannot create healthy, economically and socially viable and vibrant communities if you concentrate and in effect, warehouse low-income people,” Chapman said.

Cholmondeley explained that the housing authority would be undertaking mixed-income housing, which would mean having people of different income levels living in the same neighborhood. Along with this idea of mixed-income housing, she said there is also the idea of mixed-use neighborhoods. Mixed-use neighborhoods would bring services to the community.

“In order to have a neighborhood that is desirable and a neighborhood where anybody would want to live, we want to have mixed-use. That again would be not only housing but it would be doctor services, libraries, schools, banks, coffee shops, office space and commercial space all in the same area so that persons who live there have access to jobs and services,” Cholmondeley said.

Chapman explained that right now Creighton Court and Whitcomb Court are located in what is known as a food desert. A food desert, he said, is described as an area where people have to travel long distances to buy basic consumer goods. By redeveloping the area and creating mixed-use neighborhoods, Chapman said the city would like to attract a supermarket and other businesses to that area.

When you look at taking on economic revitalization of hugely underinvested areas, you have to start somewhere and typically you start with a component that will help to spark redevelopment, catalyze redevelopment, send a message to local stake holders and non-local stake holders that this community is moving in the right direction,” Chapman said.

Chapman explained that the revitalization plan focuses on Creighton Court and Whitcomb Court rather than other housing projects in the city in hopes that redeveloping these communities will help gain support for eventually redeveloping all of the housing projects.

Creighton Court, he said, was chosen strategically because of its close proximity to Armstrong High School, which is another asset to the city. Chapman said Armstrong High School consists of an area between 22 and 24 acres that the city would like to redevelop as a residential area with some retail.

Whitcomb Court, on the other hand, was chosen because a private developer- who Chapman could not name at this point- was interested in doing work on a site close to the housing project. Chapman said the city considered Whitcomb Court because it could create some synergy between the redevelopment projects. 

Cholmondeley said that she and a group including the mayor, the chief administrative officer for the city, the deputy chief administrator for economic and community development, the superintendent of schools, two of the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority commissioners, and the president of the chamber of commerce took a trip to Atlanta to tour the property and hear how the Atlanta Housing Authority utilized the process. She said it made sense to visit Atlanta because it was close by and the city had been working on revitalization there since the ‘90s.

Cholmondeley also explained the concept of mixed-income housing and mixed-use neighborhoods is not unique to Atlanta. She said the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has been encouraging housing authorities to begin redevelopment for several years. Now that the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority has looked at the way Atlanta implemented the two concepts, Cholmondeley said the Richmond can adapt the idea to the situation here.

Chapman and Cholmondeley emphasized that this will be a long process, which will take place over the course of several years. Cholmondeley said the city will need different parts of the community’s support, including schools and businesses in the area.

Chapman said the city began the cherette process, which is a process that includes structured meetings with people who live in the communities affected by this redevelopment. The cherette process began in 2010 and brought residents together with the public and private sector to cast a vision for what they want the East End to look like. Chapman added that this does not mean all of the residents in Creighton Court and Whitcomb Court are aware of the proposed changes.

Although the redevelopment process would force families living in Creighton Court and Whitcomb Court to leave their homes, Cholmondeley explained that the housing authority has to secure housing for the residents. The housing authority would do this by either relocating them to another public housing unit or by providing a housing voucher that would pay for a portion of their rent.

Further, Cholmondeley said the housing authority will also be taking the schools into consideration because there are so many children that live in these housing projects. She said relocating families could mean the children have to attend a different school.

“A school is a school. You go to school for one thing and that’s to learn. You can make friends everywhere. I ain’t got no problem making friends. Most the time it is difficult going to different schools because then you go to school with enemies and people that are trying to make bad things happen for you,” Ilt Jackson, a student at Armstrong High School, said.

Chapman said there will be plenty of community meetings that will be posted through the community associations to further the community engagement and outreach during this process.

Jodeci Coleman, a student at Richmond Community High School, has been a resident of Creighton Court for about 15 years. He said the change could be positive for the community because it could change the dynamics of the neighborhood.

“We’re really very excited that the mayor has this as a focus- deconcentrating poverty- because we think it can only benefit our residents. We look forward to working with the city and moving this forward,” Cholmondeley said.

The Richmond Housing and Redevelopment Authority is expected to issue a request for qualifications to attract a master planner for the redevelopment of Creighton Court and Whitcomb Court sometime this week. Chapman added that within the next year, the housing authority and the office of economic and community development will be working closely with the chosen developer to create a revitalization plan that will also include a relocation plan for the residents of the two housing projects.

Women descend upon Capitol to protest ultrasound bill

Deb Lassiter, a Norfolk native, traveled to the Capitol of Virginia for the fourth time since Feb. 20 on Saturday to show her discontent with the current political temperature of the Virginia General Assembly.           

Photo by Alix Hines

Photo by Alix Hines

Women and men presented a united front against the ultrasound bill, which would force a state -mandated ultrasound be performed 24 hours before an abortion procedure could occur. Originally, the ultrasound bill would have required women to have a transvaginal ultrasound before having the procedure completed but the bill was amended to require only a transabdominal ultrasound. Protestors were outraged that Virginia’s legislature would mandate a medical procedure; one that many said violated women’s right to privacy and ultimately violated women’s rights.

Lassiter said the anti-abortion legislation in the  General Assembly is taking the fight for women’s rights back about 40 years to the bra burning era of the ‘60s. She said that it was sad that women are being forced to fight the same battle once again when there are so many other issues the government could be focusing on.

“Gov. McDonnell you’ve got to go, when you get pregnant let us know,” rang out in the crowd during Saturday’s protest. Sara Wallace-Keeshen, the northern Virginia organizer for Virginia New Majority, said that she came to the protest because she was disgruntled by the fact that Virginia’s majority-male legislature is trying to make life altering decisions for women.

 “I figure if you can’t keep Republicans out of your vagina, what chance do you have of affecting any positive change?” Lassiter said.

Ann Huebner and her 10-year-old daughter, Aili Waller, were among Saturday’s protesters as they stood at the top of a hill bearing a sign that read, “Gov. McDonnell Get Out Of My Vagina.” Huebner said she comes from a medical family, and even her father, a surgeon, supported her and her daughters’ presence at the protest because Virginia legislators are making decisions that medical professionals are trained to make.

“Women have very complicated medical situations. There are ectopic pregnancies, there are complications from fibroid tumors, cancer, all sorts of things that can happen when a woman gets pregnant and these fools are rushing in and acting like doctors,” Huebner said.

Kathy Greenier, director of the Patricia M. Arnold Women’s Rights project at the ACLU of Virginia, explained that by mandating an ultrasound the government is limiting access to healthcare for lower income women.

“On top of that, mandating an ultrasound can possibly raise the cost of the procedure, a cost that is passed to the patient which may make the procedure prohibitively expensive,” Greenier said.

Gabi Schatz, a student at Virginia Commonwealth University and one of the organizers for the original “Speak Loudly with Silence Protest” on Feb. 20, said that the ultrasound bill and the personhood bill, which was killed for the year, would not eliminate abortions entirely, even if it were passed in the future.

“Rich women are still going to be able to get safe abortions and poor women are going to go in back alleys. It’s [the legislation] not eliminating abortion, it’s eliminating safe procedures,” Schatz said.

 

 

Scott Price, director of public policy at Alliance for Progressive Values, suggested a scenario in which a woman, living in the southwestern part of Virginia, where there aren’t any abortion clinics, would have to take off work to travel to an abortion clinic. He continued explaining that she would probably have to stay overnight, get an ultrasound, and wait 24 hours to get the abortion. The time away from work, on top of the possibility of the price of an ultrasound rising in response to the ultrasound bill, would create yet another barrier for poor women to get this procedure Price, pointed out. 

Price described the ultrasound bill as, “a piece of Swiss cheese.” He said Sen. Janet Howell (D-Fairfax) put it well when she was quoted in a Huffington Post article saying that the Virginia legislature amended the ultrasound bill, removing the state mandated rape.

Price explained that, although he recognizes that Howell’s statement was hyperbolic, it wasn’t completely inaccurate. He said that rape is defined as forced penetration, and the original ultrasound bill would force women to have a transvaginal ultrasound done before having an abortion.        

Greenier said that based on the number of bills that restrict a woman’s access to choice introduced during this session of Virginia’s General Assembly, the fight for women’s rights has moved backward to some extent. On the other hand, she added that the fact that people are standing up for their rights, protesting and even gaining national media attention, speaks to the certainty that women and men are taking action in the fight for women’s rights.

Schatz said the protests might not have come together quite as well without social networking. She said it truly brought people from every age, every race, and both genders out to fight for women’s rights.

 

Capital Budget proposed at Richmond Planning Commission Meeting

Plans to craft Richmond into a tier one city dominated the proposed capital budget presented yesterday by Byron C. Marshall, the chief administrative officer for the city, at the Richmond City Planning Commission meeting.

Marshall said the city’s budget focuses on seven specific areas ranging from creating more inclusive communities and neighborhoods to working toward a more sustainable Richmond. All of the focus areas are designed to make Richmond a tier one city or a major metropolitan area within the country.

The capital budget, Marshall explained, proposes that the city invest in the riverfront. He said by making the riverfront more accessible, Richmond will attract more families to places like Belle Isle and Brown’s Island. Additionally, the city has plans to improve the Canal Walk for the same purpose of attracting tourists and bringing Richmond residents to the James River area.

Many of the highlights in the capital budget focus on bringing more private investors to Richmond to increase the value of areas that need attention. City officials are expecting investors to get good revenue in return to help fund some of the city’s other projects.

The Richmond Planning Commission also passed a motion to accept $85,000 from the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation to make Capitol Square greener by improving the storm infrastructure.

Rodney Poole, a member of the Richmond City Planning Commission, questioned why city officials are choosing to put less attention on the Boulevard Redevelopment Program and instead, focusing on the Shockoe Revitalization Plan.  The Boulevard Redevelopment Program would focus on redeveloping real estate along North Boulevard and could lead to a new baseball diamond for the Richmond Squirrels. Marshall explained that the Boulevard Redevelopment program would cost the city an estimated $50 million, whereas the Shockoe Revitalization Plan would cost an estimated $5 million.

Marshall said city officials hope that the development of areas such as Shockoe Bottom and projects that could include revitalizing the Landmark Theater would spur development from 17th Street to Broad Street.

 “We [city officials] would like to invest more money, but we’re constrained in some ways because we have to have enough tax base to pay the debt, and we’re not to the point where we can pay for it with cash. So that’s why we’re trying to focus on specific areas like Shockoe Bottom, the riverfront [and] the area around the Landmark theater, because we believe there are private investors who will put money into those areas,” Marshall said.

Marshall explained that with attractions like the Broadway musical, The Lion King, coming to the Landmark, selling over 80,000 tickets and bringing business for area restaurants, the city projects that by improving this venue, more shows like The Lion King will come to Richmond. The city’s proposed capital budget allots money for improving the theater’s sound system, making some structural improvements, and making the box office more user friendly by ensuring customers don’t have to stand in the rain to buy tickets.

Beyond encouraging investment in the city, the proposed budget also allocates money to developing two of Richmond’s projects, Whitcomb Court and Creighton Court.  Marshall said the city is looking to implement mixed-use development in these areas in hopes that these communities will be a place where no one can tell how much someone paid for their home. Marshall added that these new communities would be centered on schools and creating better overall environments.

Amy Howard, a member of the Richmond City Planning Commission, questioned why Whitcomb Court and Creighton Court were the two housing projects chosen for revitalization rather than some of the other possibilities.

 Marshall said Richmond city officials have talked to officials in Atlanta about their transitional process that took about 20 years to complete and, based on the responses from Atlanta officials and the dynamics of the individual projects, Whitcomb Court and Mosby Court were chosen.

 “It’s [implementing mixed-use development] easier if you can build something that people can see that they’re going to move to,” Marshall said.

The city, Marshall explained, would tear down facilities in those areas and build new housing. This, he said, would provide proof that the city will rebuild those areas and help people transition back into those communities.

Although city officials aren’t planning to implement mixed-used development in Mosby Court, they are planning to expand the Martin Luther King Jr. Middle school gym in hopes that it will serve as a community center.

A Pearl of Wisdom

Pictured left to right: Laurie Blakey and Laura Condrey, co-owners of Pearl’s Cupcake Shoppe.
Photo by: Alix Hines

​On the morning of every childhood birthday, Laurie Blakey, co-owner of Pearl’s Cupcake Shoppe, recalls going to her grandmother’s house where her favorite cupcakes were awaiting her. Blakey explained that her grandmother, Pearl, made every birthday special by having a house full of fresh flowers, a present and cupcakes waiting for her grandchildren when they arrived early on the morning of their special days. She said that Pearl made miniature orange blossom cupcakes, her favorite, for every birthday. Now Blakey features the same cupcake at her shop, Pearl’s Cupcake Shoppe.

​Co-owners Laurie Blakey and Laura Condrey opened Pearl’s Cupcake Shoppe March 1, 2010 at 5812 Grove Ave. Blakey and Condrey had worked together for years in the real estate business before they ventured into the world of cupcakes. Blakey had retired and was at her beach house. She explained that she was trying to figure out what to do with the rest of her life when a show about cupcakes came on T.V. While she was watching the show and contemplating her next move, Condrey called to catch up with her friend. Blakey then told Condrey about her idea to start a cupcake shop. Condrey immediately said she wanted to be a part of creating the business.

Blakey and Condrey said they both have their strengths and weaknesses. Condrey explained that for the most part, they make up for each other’s weaknesses. Blakey said Condrey is very task-oriented and focused on the job at hand, whereas she is focused on the bigger picture.

Condrey said Blakey is their marketing person. Blakey uses social media sites- such as Facebook and Twitter- to engage with customers. She said she is focused on spreading the word about Pearl’s Cupcake Shoppe and bringing more people in to try their cupcakes. Condrey, however, is responsible for the bulk of the baking.

Photo by: Alix Hines

“Have you ever seen the movie Field of Dreams? Well that’s a great movie, except it’s kind of a fantasy. You know [the saying], ‘You build it and they will come?’ Well, if you bake it and just put it in the showcase, you’ve got to get them [the customers] in here somehow or someway,” Blakey said.

Blakey said Pearl’s Cupcake Shoppe had a Facebook page three weeks before the shop actually opened. The goal of the Facebook page, she explained, was to build a fan base before the shop opened. Initially, the fan base was Blakey’s age or a little older, but now Blakey and Condrey are making strides to engage the younger crowds as well.

​Every Tuesday Pearl’s Cupcake Shoppe offers their followers a “Pearl of Wisdom,” through posts on their Facebook page or Tweets. Blakey and Condrey said they try to come up with quotes or something to help them engage with school-aged children. Blakey explained that when the new sign was hung outside, they also added a sign with chocolate raspberry cupcakes. The “Pearl of Wisdom” for that Tuesday asked school-aged children to find a chocolate raspberry cupcake. Blakey said parents like the “Pearl of Wisdom” because it encourages their children to try new flavors that they wouldn’t necessarily consider otherwise.

Photo by: Alix Hines

Pearl’s Cupcake Shoppe also uses its social media sites to engage with other customers. Blakey and Condrey explained that using social media sites gives them a chance to find out what everyone wants. Blakey said a woman wrote on the Facebook page the other day asking about Fall Fancy and Figgy Goat because she wants to try them.

According to Blakey, Facebook helps Pearl’s Cupcake Shoppe get a better idea of what its customers want daily, which helps the shop produce cupcakes to satisfy the customers. Pearl’s Cupcake Shoppe usually posts the flavors available that day on its social media sites. Blakey said social media is the best form of marketing because the business can control what they put on the site and then get feedback directly from the customers.

​“We can’t place an ad [advertisement] and get any kind of response like that,” Condrey said. ​

Blakey added that once the shop gets customers in the door, the product should sell itself. She explained that like anything in sales, the sales person is just there to offer the customer an opportunity to buy a product. ​

William Dunbar, a self-proclaimed amateur baker, said he found out about Pearl’s Cupcake Shoppe through a friend, but his daughter helps him check out local businesses online. Dunbar explained it is faster and easier for him to learn more about local businesses if he gets his daughter to look them up on social media sites. As for Pearl’s Cupcakes, Dunbar said he likes the icing and the cake from Pearl’s better than other shops in town.

​“I’d say their cupcakes are almost as good as my cakes,” Dunbar said. ​

Sarah Byrne, the manager of Sally Bell’s Kitchen on West Grace Street, however, said Sally Bell’s has been in business for nearly 80 years without using social media. She said Sally Bell’s Kitchen does have a website, but most of their customers come by word of mouth. ​

On the other hand, like Pearl’s Cupcake Shoppe, Michael P’Pool, operations manager at the Virginia Book Company, said social media definitely plays a role in his business. He explained that he too is trying to connect with his audience, which includes a younger group of people, just like the group Pearl’s Cupcake Shoppe is trying to target

“The amount of money I spend on Facebook and Twitter is significantly less than if I put an ad in The Commonwealth Times. It’s easier to directly gauge how effective it is. If I put an ad out, I don’t know really who’s responding to it,” P’Pool said.

​Pearl’s Cupcake Shoppe has used contests on Facebook to get feedback from customers. One contest allowed 60 people to suggest a new flavor. After the flavors were posted, Blakey and Condrey individually made a list of their top five flavor suggestions. When they finished making the list, they compared them and only two flavors overlapped, so they chose the seasonal flavor, the Deep Dish Apple. ​

Blakey and Condrey said their goal is to accommodate everyone in the showcase daily. Blakey explained that Pearl always had something for everyone, so that’s what she wants the shop to mirror. Pearl’s Cupcake Shoppe offers gluten free and vegan cupcakes every day to ensure that people who can’t have certain ingredients are still able to enjoy a cupcake. ​

In addition to providing a variety of cupcake options, Blakey and Condrey said they are always experimenting to come up with new flavors. Condrey said they test the cupcakes by putting several different frostings on the cake and dividing the cupcake among all the employees. She said everyone votes and the cupcake with the most votes makes it to the showcase.

“We try to come and go with the consensus of what everybody likes, but I think we definitely try a lot of things,” Condrey said.

One of their earliest experiments was performed before the shop opened. Blakey was working on a cupcake someone had requested for a Christmas party. The person throwing the party wanted a vanilla-based cake with white chocolate ganache and crushed peppermint on top.

As Blakey was tweaking her recipe, her son walked by and asked what kind of cupcake she was making. She explained to him that it was a modified “Plain Jane,” which is a vanilla based cake with vanilla butter cream frosting. Her son then decided to take a bite of this so called “Plain Jane.” Blakey said that after taking a bite he said, ‘there’s nothing plain about this Jane, she’s a bombshell.’ From there Blakey called it the “Marilynn Monroe.”

“Then I found out after the fact that Marilyn’s favorite thing to eat was white chocolate,” Blakey said.

The newest additions at Pearl’s Cupcake Shoppe are the Figgy Goat and the Vino Cup. The shop offers Red Velvet, Top Hat, Carrot, Double Trouble, Black & White and Pearl daily.

Pearl’s Cupcake Shoppe is also in the process of “going green.” Blakey said that Pearl’s now uses an iPad system to trake orders, which cuts down on the paper trail. In addition, the delivery van the cupcake shop uses is energy efficient. Blakey said they deliver up to 5 miles free for orders of a dozen or more.

With shows like D.C. Cupcakes on TLC and the rising popularity of cupcake shops across the nation, Blakey and Condrey said their homespun look and the quality of their cupcakes sets them apart.

Photo by: Alix Hines

“A lot of people try to make it so institutional and so unique to them that it can be anybody’s. That’s one thing D.C. Cupcakes is really hung up on- their swirl,” Blakey said. ​

Blakey said that at Pearl’s Cupcake Shoppe, the frosting is up to the decorators and that makes their product unique.​

Blakey and Condrey are hoping to keep Pearl’s Cupcake Shoppe on the cutting edge of technology using social media to promote their product, but hoping the sight of “homespun” cupcake will be the driving force behind consumers.

Tanya Gonzalez: A Career of Culture

Witnessing the triumphs of a community working to achieve the “American dream,” and helping families that have had a family member deported, are just a few of the events Tanya Gonzalez, manager of the Hispanic Liaison Office in Richmond, experiences during a day at work.

Gonzalez has been the manager of the Hispanic Liaison office since 2004 and describes her job as a juggling act because the office works in reaction to the needs of the Hispanic community it serves.

 Gonzalez’s roots are in Mexico, where her father was born. A disconnect from her culture during her teen years left Gonzalez searching for her roots in college. Eventually she was able to reconnect with her Mexican heritage and that has translated to her work with the Richmond Hispanic community. Gonzalez’s Hispanic culture isn’t just a part of her past but part of her daily life and the way she combines her passion for culture with her compassion for the people she serves.

 “I think that this job for her [Gonzalez] isn’t just a job, it’s almost like a mission,” Mayela Heifetz, a volunteer at the Hispanic Liaison Office, pointed out.

Gonzalez explained that she spent her formative years growing up in McAllen, Texas, located along the border between the United States and Mexico. According to Gonzalez, her father, a Mexican, has lived in the United States for more than 40 years now, but her mother was born in the United States. Gonzalez explained that her mother has always embraced the Mexican culture and speaks Spanish as well.

Gonzalez was able to preserve her Hispanic heritage because both of her parents emulated the Hispanic culture. At 4 years old, Gonzalez was introduced to dance, the one thing that helped her revisit her roots. In McAllen, she took ballet, jazz, Mexican folk dancing and Spanish Flamenco. However, Gonzalez’s family moved to Albany, N.Y., when she was 13 and there weren’t as many cultural options for dance. After the move to New York, Gonzalez said she left behind her once bilingual existence and lost touch with her culture for a period of time.

            “I didn’t know I was “Mexican” until I left McAllen,” Gonzalez said.

            A large portion of the people that live in McAllen are Mexican or Mexican American so Gonzalez said she didn’t know that she was “different” until after she moved to New York. Only a year after moving to New York, her family settled in Richmond, where they still live. Gonzalez said that it wasn’t until she went to college at Brown University that she was able to connect with her roots again.

At Brown she joined a dance group that practiced traditional Latin American dance along with more contemporary dances like the Salsa and the Meringa.  During college, Gonzalez studied abroad in Mexico which is where she was able to regain some of the Spanish she lost after moving away from McAllen. She said the experience gave her the opportunity to see Mexican society from the eyes of a young adult rather than as a young child visiting family.

“The most important aspect of the trip was understanding the classism dynamics of Mexico and seeing why people make the decision to go to the U.S.,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez explained while she was in college in Rhode Island she noticed there was a well established Hispanic community and organizations that provided services to the community. During summer breaks, she would return to Richmond where she would notice that the Hispanic community was growing, but there weren’t resources for that demographic in Richmond.

Gonzalez explained that after graduating from Brown, the growing Hispanic community is what pulled her back to Richmond. She said she knew she wanted to be a part that community and all the changes that were taking place regardless of the results.

“I was a Latin American Studies major so I knew I wanted to do work with the Spanish speaking community and in Providence there’s already a large established Latino community. I could see there were agencies and organizations that had services, that provided services and I knew that here in Richmond that didn’t exist,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez taught Spanish for a year at Matoaca High School in Chesterfield. From there, she worked for Refugee and Immigration Services which is now Commonwealth Catholic Charities.

One of her co-workers, Wilken Fernandez, an interpreter for the Hispanic Liaison Office, said he remembers meeting Gonzalez nine years ago when she worked for Refugee Immigration Services. Fernandez explained that Gonzalez helped his family enroll his daughter, who will graduate from U.Va. this year, in a local school. Fernandez has worked with Gonzalez for five years now and said her passion to serve the underserved shows through the impact she has had on the Hispanic community.

Her [Gonzalez’s] Mexican roots, and her passion for the diverse Hispanic heritage, have also played a very important role in her interaction with the community that she serves,” Fernandez said.

It has been eight years since the Hispanic Liaison office opened its doors, and Gonzalez said she hasn’t had a chance to catch her breath. Gonzalez was hired as the manager of the office and her co-worker, Paz Ochs, was hired as the liaison. Initially there wasn’t any space within a government building for the office, so it was located in a private building in the heart of the Hispanic community. She said this was a blessing in disguise because the staff was able to build trust within the Hispanic community before moving to a government building.

“The one thing I would have done differently is to be able to plan for six months and then open up and start services, but the need was such that we couldn’t do that. We really did not have the option to do that. So it was like from day one, people sort of already knew me from the work I was doing with Refugee and Immigration Services,” Gonzalez said.

Now, the office is located at 4100 Hull St. Road. At first the change in location became a challenge for the Hispanic community because the government building was initially protected by a security force that was unable to speak Spanish with patrons trying to access the office.

Now the Hispanic community seeks out the new office for assistance frequently. The size of the Hispanic Liaison Office has doubled as the volume of patrons increased, and since the new office opened, the number of full-time employees has doubled as well. The growth of the office is in response to the growing Hispanic population living in Richmond, she explained.

Gonzalez said the language barrier is a consistent challenge among the customers the Hispanic Liaison Office caters to daily.

“We sort of have that dichotomy of needs that we interact with on a daily basis from the people that are really just trying to survive day to day, to the people that have been here now for awhile, are making it, are becoming successful, and sort of want to go to that next level of the ‘American Dream,’” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez explained that the work that the Hispanic Liaison Office does is divided into three categories. The first is working to provide immigration assistance by referring newcomers to different places around Richmond that can provide services to meet their needs. For example, she explained that the Hispanic Liaison Office doesn’t provide English as a Second Language classes, but they can help clients find the class that is right for them.

The second area of assistance the office provides to the Hispanic community includes all community building activities. Gonzalez said that, from now until April, the Hispanic Liaison Office is offering a tax site at Ramsey Memorial Church, located at 5900 Hull St. Road, to anyone who needs tax preparation assistance. She explained that, although the office sees primarily Spanish speaking clients, this tax site is open to anyone who meets the maximum income to have their taxes prepared through the site. Gonzalez also mentioned that Paz coordinates with the Virginia Poverty Law Center to make a legal clinic available to assist victims of domestic violence with their immigration paperwork.

Finally, Gonzalez said the third area focuses on working internally with different departments within the city. The Hispanic Liaison Office helps city departments hire more bilingual staff, Gonzalez explained. She added that the office looks at brochures or listens to phone systems for different city departments to ensure that they are bilingual accessible. Gonzalez said the office is responsible for making suggestions that would ultimately make it easier for people who speak Spanish and are in the process of learning English to access these resources.

Gonzalez explained that, although her job as manager of the Hispanic Liaison Office is a hectic one, the wide range of work and the community that she serves keeps her there. Unlike some supervisors, Gonzalez comes in contact with the people she is working for on a daily basis, which means she hears the triumphs of people who are making it in the United States and the stories that break her heart about families being torn apart.

“We see some of the most amazing people come through the office, and a lot of times people that are experiencing very difficult situations and hardships. Resiliency and just spirit we see of the people we interact with is amazing, and I’m humbled by that almost every day,” Gonzalez said.

Although the office is on the local government level, she pointed out that the full time staff is faced with issues that have stemmed from federal government policies. Gonzalez said she has seen more families that have felt the effects of deportation, some losing the person who provided for the family, and they come to the office to get assistance. She explained that the Hispanic Liaison Office is not allowed to lobby or advocate in response to federal legislation, but she does let people know who their representatives are and how to contact them.

Gonzalez said immigration is often portrayed in the media as a “polemic and just divisionary issue,” but that isn’t the case if people would look at the human side of the issue.

“Unfortunately, we’ve [citizens in the United States] gotten to the point where there almost can’t be any dialogue about it [immigration] because people are so divided over it. Politicians use it in ways to further their careers and get votes versus trying to really figure out the right solution,” Gonzalez said.

The Hispanic Liaison Office is working to bridge the gap between cultures to display the beauty of a variety of cultures through their Imagine Festival that is held every year at Broad Rock Park. Gonzalez said that cultural exchange can be used as a strategy for community unification.

Not only does Gonzalez’s day job provide a way to preserve the Hispanic culture while also helping immigrant families adapt to a new environment, in her free time she remains closely tied with her roots through a dance group called La Mezcla Que Baila where she met her husband, Ricardo Ramirez. Gonzalez said that she was the director of the group when Ramirez joined, and eventually their loved blossomed as the group performed throughout Richmond.  She said they both share a love of Mexican folk dancing.

Heifetz described Gonzalez as very interested in not only Mexican culture but in learning about other cultures as well. Heifetz said Gonzalez doesn’t have a work schedule because she is constantly involved in the community she serves. In her time away from work Gonzalez said she enjoys watching horror movies and she has a secret talent for music mixing, a metaphor for the life she lives.

 

Time Traveling: The 150th Anniversary of the Civil War

  About 150 years ago, history teacher Ruth Johnson’s great, great grandfather arrived in the United States as one of the many three-hundred dollar soldiers joining the fray during the Civil War. On the boat from Europe, he met the young lady he would eventually fall in love with.

When they arrived in America, the two soul mates parted ways. She went to live with her family in Cincinnati, Ohio, and he went on to Philadelphia to join the Union army to take the place of a man that didn’t wish to fight for the North. He later relocated to Cincinnati where fate took over and he encountered his love once again.

“They were walking on opposite sides of the street along one of the main streets in Cincinnati and they saw each other again…” Johnson said.

Johnson explained that 13 kids and several generations later, she’s working to learn more about her great, great grandfather. Recently, she found his mustering out papers so she hopes that the government will place a tombstone on his unmarked grave.

Not every Civil War story is a love story, but the Virginia Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission is working to document as many stories from across Virginia during its commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War as possible.  The commission was established in 2006 by the General Assembly of Virginia. The commission is responsible for five different projects within Virginia to commemorate the Civil War. These projects include An American Turning Point: The Civil War in Virginia, which is a gallery exhibit and a panel exhibition; a history mobile; the Civil War 150 Legacy Project, which is a digitization project through the Library of Virginia; conferences travelling to universities across the state; and a Sesquicentennial DVD.

            The digitization project, according to Andy Talkov, the exhibition coordinator for Virginia’s Civil War Sesquicentennial, is attempting to collect documents from across Virginia relating to the Civil War and emancipation. Talkov explained that the goal is to put these documents into a digital format and make them available to the public online.

“I think the thing that’s true about all of these projects is that the project goes to the people as opposed to the people having to come to the project,” Talkov pointed out.

He explained that the exhibit will be travelling to eight regionally diverse museums across the state so most Virginians over the next four years will only be about an hour away from the exhibit.

Dennis Bidwell, a resident of Morgantown, W.Va., came to Richmond for his eldest son’s wedding but he stopped by the Virginia Historical Society to look at the Civil War exhibit. He explained that he grew up in Michigan, so he learned the Union version of Civil War history.

Bidwell said he thought it was important to come to Richmond to see a different perspective on the war. He said that the exhibit made him realize the impact the Civil War had on the country.

The exhibit is divided into two sections, “Surveying War” and “Waging War,” according to Jennifer Guild, senior officer for public relations and marketing at the Virginia Historical Society.  Guild emphasizes that dividing the exhibit into two sections was the best way for the Virginia Historical Society to tell the story of women, enslaved African-Americans, and children who were just as much a part of the war as the men fighting on the front line.

Talkov explained that because the exhibit had to be modular so it could travel around the state, the commission chose to tell the story of the Civil War in a “thematic way.” He said that people usually come to a museum to see the material history or all the “stuff,” but the commission wanted to make the exhibit more about the people associated with the objects.

The commission, Talkov said, came up with criteria for choosing the objects that would be on display. He explained that the commission decided to only display an object if they had a photo or portrait to go with it. Talkov said the commission focused on connecting the objects to a person to tell that person’s story.                       

The watch on display in the exhibit belonged to Thomas Jonathan Jackson, who is best known as “Stonewall Jackson.” Talkov said that it is understood that “Stonewall Jackson” had a system where his troops would march for 50 minutes and then rest for 10 minutes.

Talkov explained that the exhibit is designed to make the audience think about Jackson’s use of the watch.

A Confederate uniform coat is one of the other objects on display in the exhibit. Talkov explained that most exhibits like this one would tell an audience about the man who wore the coat and all the battles he fought. Instead, the commission chose to tell the story of the women who made the uniforms.

Talkov said groups of women came to a Richmond clothing depot where they were given packets to produce the uniforms. The women would sew each stitch by hand and, upon returning the uniform, would receive a payment.

“In a way it’s kind of the Rosie the Riveter version of the Civil War,” Talkov said.

Instead of focusing completely on the men fighting in the Civil War, the commission wanted to bring light to the people on the home front, similar to the way the Rosie the Riveter icon brought attention to women during World War II.

Johnson said she greatly appreciated the fact that the exhibit didn’t tell the story of the Civil War battle by battle. As a former history teacher in Northern Kentucky, Johnson said she focused on the social and intellectual history of the Civil War when she taught. Johnson explained that she, too, focused more on the clothing, hair styles, jewelry, dance and other types of cultural norms when teaching, similar to the way the Virginia Historical Society told the story of the Civil War.

Guild explained that each section of the exhibit poses a question that is meant to get the audience thinking about the Civil War in a different way. The Virginia Historical Society is looking past the usual version of the Civil War to tell the stories of those people whose accounts are not often shared with the public.

Talkov emphasized that he and others on the commission wanted to show how African-Americans were claiming their freedom when the war began.

Unfortunately he, explained there isn’t much material evidence to depict the escape from slavery, so the commission used firsthand accounts to create a simulation. According to Guild, the simulation allows the audience to take on the role of an enslaved African-American on their journey to freedom.

Ultimately, the Virginia Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission is working to create a better picture of the Civil War for Virginians through the exhibits, conferences, and the history mobile. By travelling around the state, the exhibits will reach a variety of areas that were affected by the Civil War in different ways, and will try to educate the public about the war through the stories unique to those areas.

The gallery exhibit will remain at the Virginia Historical Society until Dec. 30, when it will begin travelling to other parts of the state. In January, half of the exhibit will be on display in Hampton and the other half will be displayed in Winchester.

A National Treasure Hunt

Andy Beyer lived in Harrisburg, Pa., for seven years and never knew there was a waterfall in her hometown. One day as she was passing through, she decided to stop and do some geocaching. Her GPS lead her to a cache near a waterfall that she never knew existed. She skeptically went to the location and found not only the cache she was looking for, but the waterfall as well.

Geocaching is a game that involves people across the nation and the world hiding objects for others to find, and then posting the location online. After the location is posted, anyone can look for that object using a GPS or a smartphone. Participants visit the geocaching website, type in their zip code, and then the website provides the user the coordinates of geocaches near them. Beyer said that the geocachers enter the coordinates into their GPS and start looking for the cache.

“Geocaching is using multi-million dollar satellites to find Tupperware in the woods,” Diane Leiter, a member of the Central Virginia Geocaching Association, said.

This national treasure hunting game began in May 2000 when 24 satellites improved the existing GPS system. Beyer said that a guy in Portland, Ore., Dave Ulmer, decided he wanted to hide something, what would become a “cache,” in the woods. He later gave his friends the coordinates of the cache to see if they could find it, and geocaching was born.

James Denison, a 21-year-old VCU mass communications major, explained that once someone finds a geocache, or a “cache,” you have to sign the logbook found inside the cache. He said that he and his fellow geocaching friends came up with a team nickname to write on the logbook, so everyone else that looks at the logbook will see how many caches the team has found. Beyer, on the other hand, goes by the same caching name every time she goes on a hunt. She goes by orangereverie, which she chose because orange is her favorite color and reverie means daydream.

Leiter said that many of the geocaches have different trinkets such as trackables, travel bugs and coins for people to collect and replace with other items.

Beyer pointed out that the trinkets depend on the size of the cache. She said caches can be as small as a magnet the size of a button to as big as an ammunition can or a bucket. Micros, or the smallest caches, that usually contain just a magnet, only have room for a logbook.

Beyer said that the biggest cache she has found so far was in Hershey, Pa. As she was wandering through the woods looking for the cache, she saw a bowling bag. Inside the bowling bag she found a bowling ball that was the cache. Beyer said that the cache contained a marker for signing the bowling ball.

Leiter has about 30 travel bugs, which are caches with special tags on them indicating where the bug is from and where the bug needs to go. Travel bugs can travel across the nation or across the globe.

Leiter explained that she brought two travel bugs, Hot Wheels buses, to Tennessee to visit her friend who is a librarian at school called Chuckey Doak. Leiter named the Hot Wheels buses Chuckey and Doak in honor of the school. Leiter said the two Hot Wheels buses are racing to their destination.

“I have some [travel bugs] in Europe, one in Australia, one in England, two in Germany, a couple in the Netherlands. I’ve got one down in the Caribbean. I don’t know where they are now I’ll have to check again,” Leiter said.

The Richmond Visitor’s Center lists geocaching as something fun for anyone interested in exploring the area and learning more about Richmond’s history. Toni Bastian, manager of the Richmond Visitor’s Center, explained that other places in Richmond were already hiding caches near their businesses. She said that the visitor’s center decided to place a geocache there to get people inside the visitor’s center to look around. 

“When they find the cache they are directed inside this facility and pick up one of these coins. I also give them a discount in the shop and a travel counselor  has to hand them this [a cache].It gives them a little more time in the center  and hopefully they’ll decide to go do some other things,” Bastian said.

Denison said that the best cache he almost found taught him a lot about the American author and poet Edgar Allen Poe. He explained that it was a multi-cache, or a cache that led his group from one cache to the next by providing hints. The final cache is the one that has the trinket. Denison and his group of friends went to four different locations including Poe’s birthplace and a statue of the late poet. Finally, with the last GPS coordinates in hand, the group drove 30 minutes south of Richmond to look around in a person’s backyard, only to leave empty handed. Denison said they might not have had the correct coordinates for the final cache.

Beyer, who moved to Richmond this past July, explained that a geocache actually helped her find Pocahontas State Park.

“It took me to a lake that was undergoing recession so it was actually turning back into forest. There were trees and stuff actually starting to grow out of the lake,” Beyer said.

Bastian said that geocaching helps families visiting the Richmond area learn about historical facts and landmarks. She said that it makes the experience more relevant for the whole family.

Leiter said that when she first moved to Virginia about 5 years ago, geocaching was her incentive for getting out of the house to explore the area.

Beyer said she joined the Central Virginia Geocaching Association online before she moved to Richmond or even had a house in the city. She said that members of the group helped her figure out where to live and suggested neighborhoods for her. So far, Beyer has gone to one of the association’s “meet and greets” at Capital Ale House held on the 3rd Saturday of the month. She said it was a nice way to get to know members and discuss geocaches that she has found.

For Leiter, geocaching is a way to explore the unknown or to travel to places that seem interesting.

 “I think that people enjoy geocaching because it’s finding things. It’s almost like the whole era of buried treasure… There are not really many opportunities to just find something that’s lost, something that not many people know are there, but you can find,” Denison said.

Beyer explained that her addiction to the game lies in its connection to the outdoors. She said she likes the idea of treasure hunting. Beyer and Leiter both commented that geocaching can become a family hobby, or a chance to drag a loved one around searching for a tiny object. Beyer emphasized the importance of geocaching in bringing to light places that often go over looked. The geocachers agreed that geocaching is a new twist on an old game that explorers have been playing for centuries.

The Man Behind the Organ

 The lights dim, stars begin to shimmer across the black curtained backdrop, and the audience members think the movie is about to begin. Suddenly, the thundering sound of “The Mighty Wurlitzer Organ” hits them. Moviegoers new to the Byrd Theatre are intrigued as they see an organ rising from beneath the stage but those familiar with Byrd Theatre tradition hope to once again be enthralled by the experience. Then the house organ player, Bob Gulledge, turns to the crowd and says, “You ready to sing?” The familiar tune “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” got the whole crowd singing along this past Saturday night.

         Gulldege can be found scoping out the crowd entering the Byrd Theatre on any given Saturday evening in Carytown. He explained that he walks around before the movie begins to evaluate the moviegoers’ mood, and then decides which songs he should play before the show. He also takes into account which movie is being shown and the age group of the audience.

      “This is the only place where in the course of 10 minutes you can go from Hank Williams to Puccini with just one key change. You just have to look and see who’s here,” Gulledge said.

        He explained that he wouldn’t play something like Phantom of the Opera for a group of children waiting to see a Disney movie. Gulledge added that he realizes he’s not up there to play for his own amusement, so he tries to end his show with a “kicker” to get the crowd singing along.

     The Byrd Theatre has been welcoming Richmond moviegoers for 82 years. In the past, Gulledge explained that the Byrd Theatre was a place where people went to get updates about world events by watching news reels. He said it was more than a casual movie experience because people got dressed up in their Sunday outfits and brought the whole family to see the movie.

     He added that the Byrd Theatre wasn’t nearly as large as the other theatres in town, like the Loews or the National. For what the Byrd Theatre lacked in size, Gulledge said it made up for in extravagance. Gulledge pointed out that the Byrd Theatre has the biggest organ in town, Italian marbled walls, and a Czechoslovakian crystal chandelier. He described the Byrd Theatre as a type of museum, preserving what the theatre stood for in 1928.  Gulledge explained that there have only been 13 house organists during the time the Byrd Theatre has been open.

     Gulledge has been the house organist for the Byrd Theatre for 13 years. He first came to the Byrd as a teenager with a church group, and was stunned by the size and the sound produced by the grand organ.

     “I was taking piano lessons at the time, and I saw the organ sort of thunder across the floor, and that massive console comes up on that lift in the pit. Of course that was new to me. I’d never seen anything like that, and it was like, you know what, I’ve got to do that!” Gulledge said.

     After seeing the grand organ being played in the theater, Gulledge asked Eddie Weaver, the house organist at the time, to give him lessons. Gulledge explained that Weaver was a musical and entertainment icon within the Richmond community for more than 50 years.

     “I didn’t get lessons right away. He sort of said, you go and take five years of piano lessons and then come back and we’ll talk about it. I don’t know if he was really thinking I’d come back, or if that was just a nice way of saying go away, but anyway it worked out” Gulledge said.

      Looking back, he realized the piano lessons allowed him to master the “fundamentals of music.” After taking five years of piano, Gulledge described the transition to the organ as almost natural.

     

Photo by Alix Hines

Photo by Alix Hines

He explained that the only differences between the instruments are having multiple keyboards for the organ and the addition of playing with foot pedals. Gulledge said that the unique part about the Wurlitzer organ found in the Byrd Theatre is that the piano on the left side can be played on the organ’s console. He said because organ has “multiple speaking voices” unlike the piano, the musician can be more creative and not worry as much about the technicalities of playing. Gulledge characterized the organ as an “expressive instrument.”

     “You can make them [organs] speak in a whisper and almost cry, or you can kick it up, and almost make it roar with rage,” Gulledge said.

     Gulledge expressed how remarkable it was that he was given the opportunity to learn how to play the organ from Weaver, who actually played the organ when it was essential to the success of a show. Gulledge honed his craft on the very same organ he plays today, an organ designed and scaled by the Wulitzer Organ Company specifically for the Byrd Theatre.  

     The Wulitzer organ found at the Byrd theatre is much larger than organs found in smaller theatres “because they had to compensate for the acoustics of the building in that dome,” Gulledge said.

     He explained that the organ is important because there are only about a hundred organs like the Wurlitzer in the United States. Many organs have actually been moved from their intended place, but the organ at the Byrd theatre has remained in its original spot all these years. He noted that organs like the Wurlitzer used in the Byrd Theatre are usually only found in grand houses like Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

     Although Gulledge said he doesn’t write his own music, he has come up with a few tunes unique to the Byrd Theatre. The introduction, as the organ is being lifted up onto the stage, was actually written by accident.

     One morning, Gulledge was trying to come up with a grand introduction that would capture the audience’s attention when the cleaning lady came into the theatre. She used a leaf blower to blow all the trash from the previous night to the side so clean-up would be easier. As she was cleaning, Gulledge said his music began to grow louder and louder until he had this grand entrance. He entitled it Opera’s Opus because the cleaning lady’s name was Opera.

     Gulledge recalled seeing the marquee for the Byrd Theatre as a young child, and being mesmerized by the entire “Byrd experience.” Now generations of people are returning to the Byrd with their children to see Gulledge play.

     “When I was in college at Virginia Commonwealth University, my friends and I came out for every sing along that he played, and it was just so cool to see people in the community out. You’re in a theatre with a couple hundred people singing Christmas carols at the top of your lungs or ‘Grand Old Flag’ with Bob playing, and he’s really important to the community,”  Hilary Montgomery, a Byrd Theatre employee, said.

    “Having Bob here is obviously a sense of nostalgia, but it’s also a wow factor, especially for younger kids who are just coming to the theatre… It’s a form of time travel where kids can come and see a movie like Pirates of the Caribbean for example, and that might be their first movie ever, but they get to see something and be a part of something that’s been around for 83 years,” Champ said.

     Gulledge, like so many others, was drawn to the theatre’s unique experience. He explained that people view the Byrd much differently than they do other theatres in the city because of its long history. The support of college students, as well as the appreciative audience, has helped the Byrd remain a commodity in the community according to Gulledge. He has high hopes that the people who love coming to the Byrd Theatre will continue to support it.

     “There’s an awe and a wonder about this place, and when they hear that organ for the first time, it’s not unusual on Saturday nights for people to just go crazy in here. They sing and they clap along with some of the music, and they seem to genuinely enjoy being here,” Gulledge said.

      Although Gulledge has no intention of leaving the Byrd any time soon, he is giving lessons to one student. Gulledge said that his current student “has an incredible memory and a natural sense of music.”

     When he isn’t at the Byrd Theatre, Gulledge also works at the Steinway Piano Gallery in Rockville, Md., as a sales consultant.

     When Gulledge has time off he loves playing in the Chesapeake Bay with his two grandsons, Tristan and Alexi.

     Gulledge lives near the Chesapeake Bay, so he usually arrives about 30 minutes before the 7:15 p.m. show to warm up. Although he doesn’t get to practice very much on the organ, he does practice on his piano at home in Virginia Beach.

     “He likes to please the crowd. He knows there are certain songs that are going to get a reaction based on certain crowds,” Damion Champ, a Byrd Theatre employee, said.

     As for his experience with the Byrd Theatre and the Richmond community, Gulledge said, he always enjoys meeting people from the audience that just stop to say hello and offer encouraging words. In addition, Gulledge said he appreciates the people that continually support the Byrd and make meaningful contributions to the preservation and restoration of the organ.

     Gulledge concluded that he tries to make the movie event all it can be, and that he is truly lucky to be a part of the whole experience.