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Chelsea Jackson

Richmond’s New Art Gallery Raises ‘Important but Difficult Topics’


The Mending Project by Lee Mingwei is an interactive project where visitor's can bring their clothes to get stitched and pinned to the wall. (CNS photo by Katrina Tilbury)

Curtis Talles Santiago's "Infinity Series" uses jewelry boxes to depect scenes of violent injustice. (CNA photo by Katrini Tilbury

By Chelsea Jackson and Siona Peterous, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – With an inaugural exhibit that challenges the city’s Confederate history and racial divide, Virginia Commonwealth University will open its Institute for Contemporary Art next week, and it’s generating excitement not only in Richmond but also in national and international art communities.

The 41,000-square-feet Markel Center, where the ICA is housed, cost $41 million and sits at the corner of Broad and Belvidere streets – the city’s busiest intersection, with an estimated 60,000 cars passing by every day. The location signifies the impact that officials hope the institution brings to Richmond.

The city’s only stand-alone gallery of contemporary art, which will open to the public April 21, sits between VCU’s Monroe Park Campus and the historic Jackson Ward community – a point that for decades was the divide between black Richmond and white Richmond in the one-time capital of the Confederacy.

Joe Seipel, the interim director of the ICA, said the idea for the project has been around for decades. Seipel and the ICA team say they have worked to ensure that everyone feels welcome to come enjoy the art gallery, a goal he hopes to accomplish by keeping admission free.

During a press preview Thursday, New York-based architect Steven Holl said he looked to Richmond’s deep and complicated history for inspiration and incorporated certain aspects to bridge a gap between the growing presence of VCU and the larger Richmond community. Holl’s firm, known for specializing in educational and cultural projects, was chosen from more than 60 that submitted proposals for the building.

“This may be one of my favorite buildings I’ve been working on because it makes an urban statement, because there is a relationship between the campus and the city, and it also is a statement on the concept of time,” Holl said.

The relationship among time, space and race relation was a strong influence on the ICA’s opening exhibit, “Declaration,” said the institute’s chief curator, Stephanie Smith. She conceived the idea with Lisa Freiman, Seipel’s predecessor.

“After the 2016 presidential elections, myself and Lisa Freiman decided to reshape the ICA’s inaugural exhibition given the climate of our country,” Smith said. “We were inspired to create a project that we would speak and give a platform to a diverse group of artists whose works reflect currents in contemporary arts but also catalyze change, convene people across the divide and to speak to important but often difficult topics that are relevant here as well as our nation more broadly.”

Freiman abruptly stepped down as the institute’s director in January after five years of overseeing the planning phases of the project. In a press release at the time, Freiman stated it was time for her to resume other projects she had put on hold. Despite her absence, Smith continued with the vision that created “Declaration.”

The exhibit includes projects from more than 30 artists, many of whom were commissioned by the ICA and whose work speaks to social issues of the environment, gender inequality, race and sexuality. “Declaration” features a range of mixed media platforms – from audio and film to painting and graphic design.

Expanding on one of his previous exhibits, Paul Rucker, the ICA’s artist in residence, created “Storm in The Time of Shelter” for the ICA. It features Ku Klux Klan robes in urban and contemporary fashions. The life-size figurines wear KKK robes made of colorful fabrics such as African prints and various shades of camouflage.

On the opposite end on the first floor is a massive wall featuring a series of individual screen prints. The piece is the work of Amos Paul Kennedy Jr. and was created with the collaboration of local barbershops and salons. Each print is a quote from a conversation overheard in the shops, capturing the role these spaces play in the city’s black neighborhoods.

The diversity of “Declaration” reflects VCU President Michael Rao’s hope that the ICA will make the city an international destination.

“We hope to become through VCUs Institute of Contemporary Art a world-class cultural hub,” Rao said. He said the ICA will help “advance the arts and invoke human senses like they have never been invoked before.”

​​Schools Still Need State’s OK to Open Before Labor Day

By Chelsea Jackson and Katie Bashista, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. — Legislation allowing Virginia school districts to start classes before Labor Day is dead for this session of the General Assembly. ​

A Senate committee on Thursday postponed until 2019 consideration of the remaining two bills that would have given local school boards the power to decide when to begin classes.

The Senate Committee on Education and Health folded House Bill 1020 into House Bill 372 and then voted 9-6 to put off the legislation until next year.

Supporters of the bills said there are academic benefits to starting school before Labor Day.

“We lose roughly two weeks of the school year that other localities get for things like advanced placement testing,” said Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg of Henrico, who has been teaching for 12 years and is currently at Glen Allen High School.

VanValkenburg co-sponsored HB 36, which also sought to give school districts that authority. That measure did not get out of the House Education Committee.

Under the current law, in place since 1986, school districts are required to start after Labor Day unless they obtain a waiver from the Virginia Department of Education.

School districts can get the waiver if they have been closed an average of eight days per year during any five of the last 10 years because of weather or other emergency situations.

According to the department, 86 public school districts in Virginia have the waiver and already start before Labor Day.

Del. Roxann Robinson, R-Chesterfield, introduced HB 372 as part of her platform for education reform. She said she believes in giving school boards the authority to make decisions instead of state government bureaucrats.

Lovings’ Story Provides Inspiration for Valentine’s Day

By Chelsea Jackson, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving met in high school and fell in love in Caroline County in the 1950s. They decided to marry when Mildred became pregnant at 18.

At the time, they couldn’t wed in Virginia: Mildred was of African American and Indian descent, Richard was white and the state prohibited interracial marriages. So the couple married in Washington, D.C. Later, they challenged Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act – prompting the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down such laws across the country.

Valentine’s Day can be an opportune time to reflect on the Lovings and their perseverance in the face of legal and societal pressures. The Lovings’ ordeal resonates especially with interracial couples like Brittany Young and Josh Landry of Richmond.

“Josh and I have had plenty of people tell us we shouldn’t be together based solely on racial tension,” Young said. “I think if more people could see that stories like the Lovings’ are how we should look at love, the world would be a better place.”

The backdrop for the Lovings’ struggle was the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which made interracial marriage illegal in Virginia. After they married in D.C. on June 2, 1958, the couple returned to Caroline County.

After an anonymous tip to authorities that the couple was living together, Richard and Mildred faced ostracism, threats of violence and jail time. Originally sentenced to one year in jail, the judge decided to suspend their sentences if they agreed to leave Virginia for 25 years.

The newlyweds left their home and families for a new life in Washington. Eventually, they went to court to challenge their home state’s miscegenation law. On June 12, 1967, that case – Loving v. Virginia – resulted in a landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down laws in 16 states prohibiting interracial marriage.

Ken Tanabe, a designer, art director and teacher in New York, has promoted the anniversary of that decision asLoving Day – a day to celebrate multicultural unions.

“Without the Lovings, I may never have been born,” said Tanabe, whose mother is from Belgium and father from Japan. “I’m humbled by their struggle and grateful for their perseverance.”

Today, interracial relationships are relatively common. One in six newlyweds married outside their race in 2015, according to the Pew Research Center.

Mildred Loving was widely described as being African American, but later in life, she identified as Indian. Richard Loving died in 1975 and Mildred Loving in 2008, but their story lives on. The 2016 award-winning film “Loving” was shot in Virginia, and law students still study the case, which also figured in the debate over same-sex unions.

Last June, on the 50th anniversary of the Loving v. Virginia case, a historical highway marker was installed outside the old Virginia Supreme Court building, 1111 E. Broad St. in Richmond, to commemorate the Lovings’ triumphant love story. Caroline County is working on the placement of its own historical marker.

Schools May Get Authority to Open Before Labor Day

By Chelsea Jackson and Katie Bashista, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Summer vacation may be cut short for some Virginia students after two bills rescinding the so-called “Kings Dominion law” – which restricts schools from starting before Labor Day – passed the House this week.

House Bill 372 and HB 1020 would allow school districts to decide whether classes start before or after Labor Day. The difference between the two measures is that HB 372 would require districts to give students a four-day Labor Day weekend. Delegates approved both bills on split votes Tuesday.

Democratic Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg of Henrico, a co-sponsor of HB 36, which also sought to give school districts that authority, said there are academic benefits to starting school before Labor Day.

“We lose roughly two weeks of the school year that other localities get for things like advanced placement testing,” said VanValkenburg, who has been teaching for 12 years and is currently at Glen Allen High School.

Under the current law, school districts are required to start after Labor Day unless they obtain a waiver from the Virginia Department of Education.

To get a waiver, school districts must have been closed an average of eight to 10 days per year during any five of the last 10 years because of weather or other emergency situations.

According to the department, 86 public school districts in Virginia have the waiver and already start before Labor Day. They include Virginia’s largest school district, Fairfax County, and most districts in the western part of the state. Other large school districts in Virginia, such as Virginia Beach and Richmond, do not have a waiver to adopt a pre-Labor Day start date.

Opponents of the bill include members of the tourism industry who argue an earlier start date takes away from their business. A later start date means a longer season for attractions like Kings Dominion and Busch Gardens. Both theme parks employ teenagers who would have to quit if school began earlier.

The “Kings Dominion law” was put in place in 1986 and has been challenged several times. Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe supported the law and opposed an earlier start date to the school year. Gov. Ralph Northam has yet to take a position on the topic.

“We support the ability of local school boards to determine the start date and the end date of the school year,” said Andy Jenks, director of communication and public relations for Henrico County Public Schools.

Jenks said that while he does support bills that give them this authority, the next step is to consult with the community to see what opening school date will work best for them, a process Jenks said could take up to a year.

HB 372 passed by a vote of 76-22. HB 1020 passed 75-24. The legislation will move to the Senate for consideration.

Women Call for Action to Help Black Community

By Chelsea Jackson, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A group of African-American women called for action Wednesday on issues burdening the black community, including gun violence, lack of health care and inadequate educational opportunities.

Democratic Dels. Lashrecse Aird of Petersburg, Roslyn Tyler of Sussex and Delores McQuinn of Richmond were among those who discussed the needs of black neighborhoods, which McQuinn described as “without a shadow of a doubt in a state of crisis.”

“We are demanding that our colleagues both in the party and across the aisle to begin to adopt policies that and legislation that promote equity and opportunity for all,” said McQuinn, a former Richmond City Council member.

Tyler pointed to the growing number of gun-related deaths in predominantly African-American neighborhoods of Richmond like Creighton and Mosby courts, asking where the firearms are coming from.

This legislative session, Tyler sponsored HB 721, which would have required a background check for any firearm transfer, including those at gun shows and online. The bill was killed in a subcommittee last week on a 4-2 vote. Tyler said it will be back next year.

“Requiring background checks for all firearm purchases will keep firearms out of the hands of potential criminals and keep Virginia safe,” Tyler said.

Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, addressed the issue of health care. She said many African-Americans lack access to quality care because Virginia has not expanded Medicaid coverage as neighboring states have done with incentives from the federal government.

McClellan said lack of access affects whether people seek treatment for health problems.

“You should not make a decision on whether or not to receive quality care based on whether or not you can afford it,” McClellan said.

Aird said lack of funding for schools also is a problem. She is sponsoring a budget amendment that seeks an additional $64.2 million to help at-risk children.

“If we do not provide our students with the resources that they need in the classroom,” Aird said, “we will not be able to move the dial on getting more credentials, more degrees and more training in the hands of our children.”

Del. Marcia Price, D-Newport News, called for sisterhood and solidarity in fighting racial disparities and injustices.

“We cannot continue to allow certain populations to be deprived the rights and privileges freely offered to others,” Price said. “Oppressive systems targeting black and brown Virginians must end.”

Members of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women and the NAACP attended the news conference. They encouraged people to speak out about these issues.

“When you are silent, folks in the community think you are complicit and that all is well,” said Roslyn Brock, chairman emeritus of the NAACP national board of directors. “And we know that all is not well in our communities.”

Virginia Republicans Announce Election Review Panel

By Chelsea Jackson, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – In the wake of a tied contest and other issues in last fall’s elections, Republican leaders in the General Assembly announced Thursday that they will form a panel to address such situations at the polls in the future.

“There were numerous questions raised during the 2017 elections,” said House Speaker Kirk Cox, who made the announcement alongside Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment. “This subcommittee will have the ability to broadly review these questions and determine what, if any, steps should be taken.”

Cox and Norment said the joint subcommittee will deal with concerns such as absentee ballots, the assignment of voters in split precincts and recount law and procedures.

“These issues are not about who wins or loses elections but about the confidence of the public in our elections,” Norment said. “We never go through an election without a contentious result in a closely fought contest. Citizens expect us to protect and ensure the integrity of the process.”

The subcommittee will be co-chaired by two Republicans – Del. Mark Cole of Spotsylvania County and Sen. Jill Vogel of Fauquier County. Cole chairs the House Privileges and Elections Committee, and Vogel chairs the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee.

“We need to examine these issues comprehensively, using a process that takes all viewpoints into account,” Vogel said.

The announcement did not include how many Democrats would be on the subcommittee. Republicans hold a slim majority in both the House and Senate.

Some Democrats have their own ideas how to address the election issues. Backed by the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, Del. Marcia Price, D-Newport News, introduced a bill that called for a special election in the case of a tie vote.

A House subcommittee killed that proposal, HB 1581, on a 4-2 vote early Thursday morning. The panel was split along party lines, with Republicans in favoring of killing the measure and Democrats against.

More than 100 Rally for Women’s Rights

By Chelsea Jackson and Jessica Wetzler, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – On the 45th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, a landmark case that legalized access to abortion, more than 100 people, including top state officials, gathered at the state Capitol in support of a woman’s right to choose.

The Virginia Women’s Equality Coalition kicked off its lobby day with a rally to support reproductive freedom and address issues women still face such as the wage gap and the stigma of abortion.

Amy Hagstrom Miller, the founder and president of Whole Woman’s Health, said women are still fighting many battles for justice.

“We have the #MeToo campaign and the Black Lives Matter movement, and we have powerful Democratic leadership in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Miller said.

That leadership attended the rally in full force, as Gov. Ralph Northam, Attorney General Mark Herring and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax spoke at the event.

“We are going to win this fight,” said Fairfax, who presides over the Virginia Senate. “I will bang that gavel in favor of progress and in favor of women for the next four years.”

Herring agreed, saying President Donald Trump’s administration threatens reproductive freedom.

“In 2016, we got knocked down,” Herring said. Referring to Democratic victories in last fall’s races for the Virginia House, he added, “In 2017, though, we got up and we stood taller and stronger than ever before … becoming a brick wall for women’s rights.”

Northam emphasized the importance of voter turnout by women. He said a group of legislators, most of whom are men, should not tell women what to do with their bodies.

The rally followed the anniversary of the 2017 Women’s March on Washington, one of the largest protests in U.S. history. It also came one week after a Senate committee killed a series of Democratic bills aimed at expanding abortion rights.

One of the measures would have allowed women to waive any mandatory waiting periods before receiving an abortion. In arguing against the measure, Sen. Richard Black, R-Loudoun, said such laws would “invite fraud in using state funds in order to fund elective abortions.”

Last year, when Republicans held a 66-34 majority in the House, they passed a resolution calling the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade a “Day of Tears.”

This year, as the GOP majority in the House has shrunk to 51-49, Del. Kelly Convirs-Fowler, a Democrat from Virginia Beach, sponsored a resolution to mark Jan. 22 as a “Day of Women.” It has been referred to the House Rules Committee.

“We will not be silenced; we will not be shamed,” Convirs-Fowler told Monday’s gathering.

At the rally, several lawmakers discussed their legislative goals:

●       Del. Kaye Kory, D-Fairfax, is carrying a bill to ensure that insurance policies cover a woman’s reproductive health needs.

●       Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Prince William County, is co-sponsoring legislation to end the sale tax on feminine hygiene products.

Some of those proposals already are finding success. On Monday, the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee unanimously approved a bill by Sen. Jennifer Wexton, D-Loudoun, to require equal pay for equal work, regardless of sex.

Statistics show that working women in the United States are paid less than men.

“Latinas earn only 54 cents for every dollar a white man makes. Black women earn about 63 cents, and white women earn 78 cents,” said Margie Del Castillo of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health.

“In 2018, that is beyond unacceptable.”

Legislators Push for Workforce Development

By Chelsea Jackson, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A group of Democratic legislators on Thursday urged the General Assembly to approve a package of bills aimed at helping small businesses and training young people for good-paying jobs that don’t require a college degree.

At a news conference led by Del. Matthew James of Portsmouth, the lawmakers discussed several bills relating to workforce development and job creation in Virginia.

“Our No. 1 goal for this 60-day legislative session is to help improve the lives of all Virginians,” James said. “We’re here to help people get better jobs; we’re here to help small businesses get skilled workers.”

The House members said their bills would help small businesses grow and workers develop vocational skills:

  • HB 306, introduced by Del. Vivian E. Watts of Fairfax, would assist businesses that participate in the Virginia Registered Apprenticeship program, which provides on-the-job training. Under the measure, state agencies could give extra consideration to such businesses in awarding contracts for goods and services.
  • HJ 17, filed by Del. Eileen Filler-Corn of Fairfax, calls for a study on how to expand experiential learning and workforce development opportunities for high school students in high-demand fields.
  • HB 632, sponsored by Del. David L. Bulova of Fairfax, would require Virginia schools to offer courses and other activities in which students explore different careers, including in trades and technical fields.
  • Under HB 1407, introduced by Del. Jeion A. Ward of Hampton, the state would set a goal to award 42 percent of its procurement orders and contracts to small businesses and microbusinesses. In addition, state agencies could set aside certain contracts that only small businesses or microbusinesses could bid on.

Current law defines a small business as having 250 or fewer employees. Ward’s bill would define a microbusiness as having up to 25 workers.

James and Bulova said high-salary jobs in Virginia are going unfilled because there aren’t enough trained and skilled workers.

“We need to have those welders; we need those electricians,” Bulova said.

James said he hopes the legislation will“help Virginians ease their financial insecurities so they can sleep better and their kids can dream.”

Gender Equality Film Coming to the Byrd

By Chelsea Jackson, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Groups pushing for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution will screen a film Tuesday night at the Byrd Theatre about gender discrimination and its impact on American society.

The film, “Equal Means Equal,” is a documentary directed by Kamala Lopez, who has spent several years studying the topic. She heads an organization also called Equal Means Equal.

“I believe that the addition of a gender equality clause to the United States Constitution is not only the first necessary action to fix the problem, but the ONLY single action that will effectively begin to address what is a systemic and institutional crisis,” Lopez has written.

If added to the U.S. Constitution, the ERA would guarantee that “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

The screening of “Equal Means Equal” will take place at the Byrd Theatre, 2908 W. Cary St., at 6 p.m. Tuesday. Tickets can be purchased in advance through Eventbrite.

The ERA has a long history. It was originally written by suffragist Alice Paul and introduced in the U.S. Congress in 1923. In 1972, Congress approved the amendment and sent it to the states.

A constitutional amendment requires ratification by 38 states. But only 35 approved the ERA before the deadline (originally 1979 and later extended to 1982).

However, ERA supporters say there’s a legal basis for waiving the deadline. The Nevada Legislature ratified the amendment last year, and groups like Women Matter hope Virginia will follow suit.

Katie Hornung from Women Matter said many people are unaware that the U.S. Constitution does not guarantee equal rights for women.

“With women just getting really engaged politically all of a sudden in ways they haven’t been, there has been a push for education about what rights are and aren’t in the Constitution,” Hornung said.

The fight to ratify the ERA may have gained momentum with the national discourse about sexual harassment and gender equity and social media campaigns such as #metoo and #yesallwomen.

Three resolutions have been introduced before the 2018 General Assembly to have Virginia ratify the ERA:

A similar proposal by Surovell was killed in the Senate Rules Committee last year. His legislative assistant, Philip Scranage, said Surovell believes the amendment has a better chance this time around.

His optimism stems partly from the election of 12 additional women to the Virginia House of Delegates, bringing hopes of change for this legislative session.

Outgoing Governor Urges Lawmakers to ‘Work Together’

 By Chelsea Jackson and Jessica Wetzler, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Gov. Terry McAuliffe delivered his farewell State of the Commonwealth Address on the opening day of the General Assembly’s 2018 session, making a final plea for legislators to expand Medicaid and saying the state is in good hands as he passes the baton to a fellow Democrat, Ralph Northam.

With a smile, McAuliffe took the podium Wednesday night before a joint session of the House and Senate as he announced his pleasure to address the General Assembly “one final time.” The Republican side of the chamber appeared silent while Democratic lawmakers stood, cheered and banged their desks in appreciation.

Once again, McAuliffe urged the General Assembly to expand Medicaid, the federal-state health care program for low-income Americans.

“The chief issue that demands your attention is making a clear statement that, in a new Virginia economy, health care is not a privilege for the few – it is a right for all,” McAuliffe said. “Put the politics aside. It’s time to expand Medicaid in the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

In his address, McAuliffe said that at his inauguration, he promised to maintain the state’s reputation for strong fiscal management, to make Virginia the greatest place in the world for veterans, military service members and their families, and to be a brick wall to protect the rights of women and LGBT Virginians from discrimination.

“Four years later, we have kept those promises,” McAuliffe said. “And we are a Commonwealth of greater equality, justice and opportunity for all people as a result. That is a legacy we can all be proud of.”

McAuliffe spoke not just to legislators but to everyday Virginians as he recited progress the state had made during his term.

“In the coming years, I hope you will build on that foundation by using your voices and your votes to make Virginia more equal, more just and more prosperous for all people, no matter whom they are, where they live or whom they love,” McAuliffe said.

He took notice of political battles, such as Republicans suing him for contempt when he attempted to restore, in one fell swoop, the voting rights of about 200,000 felons who had completed their sentences.

McAuliffe established the record for the most bills vetoed during his time in office – a total of 120.

“I absolutely hated having to veto a record 120 bills – but those bills took Virginia in the wrong direction,” McAuliffe said. “They attacked women’s rights, equality for LGBT people and access to the voting booth. They hurt the environment, and they made Virginia less safe. I honestly wish they’d never made it to my desk.”

McAuliffe received several standing ovations during his address, but perhaps the loudest followed his statements regarding Heather Heyer, the 32-year-old woman who was killed protesting a rally of white supremacists in Charlottesville in August. Everyone on the floor took the moment to stand and applaud for the remarks about Heyer.

McAuliffe, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, was elected governor in November 2013, defeating Republican nominee Ken Cuccinelli.

During his term, Republicans had a two-thirds majority in the House of Delegates, making it difficult for McAuliffe to pass his key priorities, such as expanding Medicaid. But Democrats made big gains in last fall’s elections. As McAuliffe leaves office, the GOP holds a slim margin in both the House and Senate.

“Virginia is a different place than it was four years ago, and for that we should all be proud. But there is still more work to do,” McAuliffe said.

He later added, “As I look across this room, I see many new faces. The people of Virginia, in their wisdom, have made significant changes to the composition of this General Assembly with a simple message in mind: work together to get things done.”

In their response to McAuliffe’s speech, Republicans took issue with his rosy assessment of the state’s economy. They said that Virginia has been eclipsed by other states and that McAuliffe has neglected rural areas, especially the coalfields of Southwest Virginia.

“With fierce competition between states to attract and retain businesses,” said Del. Benjamin L. Cline, R-Rockbridge. “Virginia simply cannot afford to stagnate. Our past achievements will not sustain a prosperous future.”

Sen. A. Benton Chafin, R-Russell, said McAuliffe put Virginia at a competitive disadvantage with other energy-rich states.

“The last four years has seen some very pitched and contentious battles here in Richmond,” Chafin said. “Gov. McAuliffe began his term by initiating and championing a nearly four-month-long budget stalemate. Now, he is concluding his term by advancing the very same proposals that nearly resulted in our first-ever government shutdown.”

Monday marks 50th anniversary of ‘Loving’ decision

By Chelsea Jackson, VCU Capital News Service

RICHMOND – In Caroline County in the 1950s, Richard and Mildred Loving began an important story that would become an award-winning film: falling in love, getting married and then getting thrown in jail – because he was white, she was black and Virginia had outlawed interracial marriage.

As depicted in the movie “Loving,” the young couple faced ostracism and threats of violence. Eventually, they went to court to challenge the state’s ban against miscegenation. On June 12, 1967, that case – Loving v. Virginia – produced a landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down laws in 16 states prohibiting interracial marriage.

Monday marks the 50th anniversary of the ruling. Supporters call it Loving Day– a day to reflect on and celebrate multicultural unions.

The founder of the Loving Day website, Ken Tanabe, has a personal connection to the celebration.

“The Lovings’ story and case are important to me because my father is from Japan, my mother is from Belgium, and I was born in the U.S. Without the Lovings, I may never have been born. I’m humbled by their struggle and grateful for their perseverance,” said Tanabe, an art director, animator and educator in New York.

The website lists dozens of Loving Day events that will be held around the world, including in Paris and Tokyo, and across the United States – from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles.

No events are listed in Virginia, the Lovings’ home state. But state officials will mark the occasion by dedicating a “Loving v. Virginia” historical highway marker. Gov. Terry McAuliffe will speak at the dedication, which will be held at 1 p.m. Monday at 1111 E. Broad St. in Richmond. (The Virginia Department of Historic Resources will erect the marker in Caroline County.)

“Though it has been 50 years since the Loving decision, it’s still important to share their story and educate people about its significance. According to a Gallup poll, 11 percent of Americans still disapprove of interracial marriage,” Tanabe said. “As Loving Day celebrations spread across cities in the U.S. and around the world, so does a more positive and nuanced conversation about who we are.”

While Loving Day celebrations spread, another couple from Pennsylvania is using their story to commemorate the Lovings’ place in history.

Farrah Parkes and Brad Linder are an interracial couple in Philadelphia and creators of The Loving Project. The pair produce a biweekly podcast that chronicles the everyday lives of interracial couples.

The project has received a positive response; it was featured on IndieWire’s list of “must-listen podcasts” for 2017.

For Linder and Parkes, the Lovings’ case holds significance because without it, they may have never had the chance to be together.

“For me, it is sort of the ultimate civil rights issue because it gives me my right to be who I am,” Parkes said. “I couldn’t imagine someone telling me no.”

In the podcast series, Linder and Parkes interview other interracial couples, including same-sex couples.

Richard Loving died in 1975 and Mildred Loving in 2008. They may not be here to see the lasting impacts of their brave fight for a basic right, but it can be seen all around. According to the Pew Research Center, one in six newlyweds is intermarried.

But the circumstances that led to Loving v. Virginia still elicit strong feelings of injustice.

“It was obscene and absurd to have a law on the books that made it illegal for whites and blacks to marry,” said Ana Edwards, who chairs the Defenders’ Sacred Ground Project, which is devoted to civil rights.

“My parents married in 1960. My mother is white; my father is black. Aside from the myriad feelings that come from getting married at the tender age of 22 and 23, there must also have been the tightness in the belly from knowing that you are taking a step that society as a whole is not quite ready to accept.”

Text of the ‘Loving’ highway marker

According to the state Department of Historic Resources, here is what the marker will say:

Loving v. Virginia

Richard Loving, a white man, and Mildred Jeter, a woman of African American and Virginia Indian descent, married in June 1958 in Washington, D.C., and returned home to Caroline County. In July they were arrested for violating Virginia’s laws against interracial marriage. The Lovings were convicted and sentenced to one year in jail, suspended on the condition that they leave Virginia. The American Civil Liberties Union unsuccessfully argued their case before the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals in 1966. In 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Loving v. Virginia that laws prohibiting interracial marriage violate the Constitution’s 14th amendment.

State will help clean up historic black cemeteries

By Chelsea Jackson, VCU Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Hollywood Cemetery flaunts pristine iron gates, beautiful mausoleums and monuments, and majestic views of the James River. This gorgeous scenery is sorely lacking at two other historic cemeteries less than 15 minutes down the road.

When created in the 1800s, Evergreen and East End cemeteries were envisioned as high-end resting places for important African-American figures, just as James Monroe, Jefferson Davis and other prominent Caucasians were buried at Hollywood Cemetery.

But today, the African-American graveyards are far from high end. They are marred by cracked headstones, broken fences and overgrown vegetation stretching to the tops of the trees. At Evergreen and East End, rest in peace is more like rest in distress.

The condition of these gravesites could change when House Bill1547 takes effect July 1. Introduced by Del. Delores McQuinn of Richmond, the new law will distribute funds to organizations to assist with the cleanup of “historical African-American cemeteries and graves.”

McQuinn has long had an interest in the cemeteries; she has relatives buried there. She said she appreciates the efforts of volunteers who have worked to spruce up the gravesites.

“I am grateful for the many volunteers and interest that people have taken into helping to maintain to the point that it’s presentable,” McQuinn said.

HB 1547 will benefit cemeteries that were established before 1900 for the interment of African-Americans and are owned by a governmental entity or nonprofit group. Under the law, the state will help cover the cost of maintaining such sites. Eligible cemeteries will receive at least $5 for each grave, monument or marker for an individual “who lived at any time between January 1, 1800, and January 1, 1900.”

East End Cemetery in Henrico County has 4,875 graves that qualify for assistance; Evergreen Cemetery in Richmond has 2,100.

John Shuck is the site coordinator for the East End Cemetery Cleanup and Restoration Project and the assistant coordinator for a similar effort at Evergreen Cemetery. Shuck had come across the cemeteries while exploring his interest in genealogy more than nine years ago.

Shuck said beautifying the cemeteries is a long-term commitment.

“The first thing you do when you go in there is clear it, but then you have to maintain what you clear. That’s what we’re hoping some of these funds will do,” Shuck said.

The two cemeteries hold the remains of African-Americans who had a significant impact on Richmond, Virginia and the nation. They include pioneering business leaders Maggie Walker and Hezekiah F. Johnathan and crusading newspaper editor John Mitchell.

Given the stature of such figures, how did the cemeteries fall into a state of neglect?

Shuck attributed the lack of attention to the migration of black families up north for jobs during the Depression, leaving no one to care for the graves.

But many people believe race also was a factor.

“I don’t think that the interest nor the commitment was made to that cemetery like Hollywood Cemetery received,” McQuinn said.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe made that point when he signed HB 1547 on May 17. He said the new law will remedy a long-standing injustice. “Unlike Confederate cemeteries, black gravesites have gone centuries without state funds allocated for their maintenance and preservation,” he said.

McAuliffe said the state has made annual payments to maintain Confederate gravesites. In addition, in 1914, the General Assembly appropriated $8,000 – the equivalent of $190,000 in today’s dollars – to improve Hollywood Cemetery. And in 1997, the state provided $30,000 to restore Confederate graves at Oakwood Cemetery, less than two miles from the dilapidated African-American cemeteries.

Under the new law, Evergreen and East End cemeteries finally will receive financial help, too. McQuinn has hopes of creating a “garden of reflection” where people can come to learn and connect with their history. That will take money, but McQuinn is optimistic it will materialize.

“I don’t have any doubt that we will get there,” she said.

Want to help? Here’s how

Evergreen and East End cemeteries need volunteers to help with cleanup and maintenance. If you want to volunteer or would like more information, contact Marvin Harris at mharris@mapinv.com or John Shuck at jshuck @rocketmail.com.

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