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The Changing Face of Virginia: Integration in Virginia

06/22/2011

This installment of The Changing Face of Virginia series is written by high school student and Blanton Scholar, Leah Cassada. Leah writes about integration in Virginia.

~Jennifer Rohrbaugh Nesossis, Programs Officer

Leah at the 2010 Blanton Scholars award ceremony.

My home town of Richmond has a rich history; what was once the capital of the confederacy is now the capital of our commonwealth. When the courts finally ordered city schools to be integrated, some went willingly, but many had difficulties moving on from an age of discrimination against African Americans. Black and white children were raised separately; they lived in different neighborhoods, used segregated public bathrooms, sat in separate sections on the buses, and even attended different schools. How can people learn to be loving and accepting of one another if they are not allowed to go near people different from them? The point is we can’t. How can we grow as a group if we don’t grow as individuals? We can’t be a decent country if we can’t even love our neighbors within our own borders.

People had a problem with integration because they were afraid of change and the unknown. If someone who has never been outside or looked out a window all of a sudden sees many different animals and objects both big and small, how will they react? They wouldn’t know what to think. Would you? With integration, everyone wasn’t expected to understand right away, but they were expected to carry it out. Many protests still went on into the 1970’s—parents refused to send their children to public schools and children refused to go. It has taken many years, but everyone has slowly became accustomed to an integrated world. Those who had reservations about integration were once a majority but are now a shrinking minority. It was up to leading Virginians to set an example.

It amazes me how a city can make such a change. It took Richmonders a while, but in March of 2008, the city unveiled the Reconciliation statue. This statue depicts two people embracing as equals. The monument is placed near a previous slave trading post. In the past this area was home to people who earned their wealth off of the labor of enslaved men and women. In that same area, there now stands a statue dedicated to the lives lost and families torn apart during a dark time in Richmond’s history. It shows how we as a society have grown. From an atmosphere that once included symbols of hatred and the “domination” of one race over another to one that now hosts a symbol of acceptance, beauty, and love, this area has grown immensely and definitely for the better. Richmond is home to many interesting artifacts and is the setting for many historic events. To get the most out of it, you just have to open your eyes!

Jennifer Rohrbaugh Nesossis is the programs officer for the Virginia Historical Society.

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